b. 10/11/1898 Maryport, Cumberland. d. 12/01/1940 Bucquoy, France.
Edward Benn “Ned” Smith (1898-1940) was born in Maryport, Cumberland on 10th November 1898, at the home of his parents, 1 North Quay. His parents were Charles Henry and Martha (nee Benn) Smith. After schooling locally, “Ned” as he became more commonly known became a coal miner at the Oughterside Colliery, until 1917, when he enlisted with the Lancashire Fusiliers at the age of 18. In a little over a year, he would promoted to the rank of Sergeant and be awarded the DCM and VC for separate incidents in August 1918.
On 10th August 1918, then a Corporal with the 1/5th Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, he was leading a daylight patrol near Hebuteme in the Somme Area of France to examine points in the German lines where information was required. As the patrol was about to retire, Ned Smith saw a party of about 40 Germans about to take up outpost duty. Despite being heavily outnumbered by the German soldiers, Corporal Smith led his small party of men and engaged the enemy, breaking up the German party and causing severe casualties. As well as receiving the Distinguished Conduct Medal for this action, Ned Smith was promoted to the rank of Lance Sergeant.
Only 11 days later, during the period 21st to 23rd August 1918, east of Serre, France, Lance-Sergeant Smith while in command of a platoon, personally took a machine-gun post at The Lozenge (Hill 140), rushing the garrison with his rifle and bayonet. The enemy on seeing him coming, scattered to throw hand grenades at him, but heedless of all danger and almost without halting in his rush, this NCO shot at least six of them. Later, seeing another platoon needing assistance, he led his men to them, took command and captured the objective. During an enemy counter-attack the following day he led a section forward and restored a portion of the line.
At the age of just 19, Ned was the youngest soldier to be awarded the VC during the Great War. When he returned home in 1919, he was greeted by a crowd of overr 6,000 in Maryport. A local newspaper described him as thus: “Sergeant Smith is not only a VC but looks it. He is a British soldier every inch of him. He is an A1 man from the crown of his head to the soles of his feet. …. He has not only won the VC but he has a chest on which to display it.”
In 1920, he attended the VC Garden Party at Buckingham Palace, where he was the youngest VC present. Ned remained in the Army and served for a further 21 years in China, Malaya and Ireland before retiring with an Army pension in 1938 having attained the rank of Regimental Sergeant Major. He then joined the Corps of Commissionaires for a year in London.
However, with war looking imminent in the summer of 1939, he re-enlisted with his old Regiment. In the Second World War with the rank of Lieutenant (Quartermaster) Edward Benn Smith VC, DCM, served with the 2nd Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, which was among the first of the British Expeditionary Force to be sent to France. Unfortunately, members of the Lancashire Fusiliers were some of the earliest casualties of the war, and sadly, these included Ned, who died on 12th January 1940 at the age of 41, from a self-inflicted gun shot wound in the QM store, very close to where his VC action took place. He was buried in Beuvry Communal Cemetery Extension, France. He never married.
His medals including the VC and DCM was held privately until 1996, when they were purchased at auction at Spink’s, London by Michael Ashcroft and are now displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: BEUVRY COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION , BEUVRY, FRANCE.
PLOT I, ROW B, GRAVE 7.
Kevin Brazier – Cemetery Map.
John Patterson – Image of a replica set of Smith’s medal group at the Lancashire Fusiliers Museum, Bury.