John Robert Smith

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John Robert Smith
Born 7 May 1897(1897-05-07)
Died (aged 20)
Education Park Elementary Council School, Boston Grammar School (1909-12)
Employer General Post Office, Coventry; Royal Engineers

John Robert Smith was born on 7th May 1897 and received his early education at Park Elementary Council School in Tunnard Street. He moved to Boston Grammar in 1909. He left in 1912 and started work at the General Post Office in Coventry. In mid-1915 he joined the army and entered the Royal Engineers. It was not long before, after basic training, he was posted to France and the battle zone.

On one occasion he was engaged, with a group of engineers, in laying a phone line at the front. They came upon a dug-out occupied by enemy soldiers and captured them, about 80 in all and also took a machine gun.

In March 1918 the Germans launched a fierce "Spring Offensive" and on 26th March John and a comrade, Corporal Edward Watts, were taken prisoner. They were put in a prison camp with 300 other British soldiers. At night they used to pick nettles, dandelions and boil them with potato peelings for food.

Life in prison camps was tough and John and Edward decided to try to escape to the British lines. They succeeded in getting out of their camp but privations of life in prison had so weakened them that after a short distance both were exhausted. They took shelter in an old dug-out to rest, were spotted, captured and taken to a different prison camp.

There they were "treated like dogs" which drove them to desperation. They decided to make another escape attempt, hoping to reach the British lines which were 12 miles away. They succeeded in obtaining some German clothes, eluded the guards and got away. They moved under cover of darkness and hid during the daylight. On the second night they reached the front-line on the German side. From out of the darkness came a challenge from a German sentry.

John dived for a ditch and Edward jumped into a shell hole. A shot rang out and Edward heard groans coming from the ditch. The sound of the shot caused both sides, German and British, to open fire with machine guns and mortars. For 15 minutes it was too dangerous for Edward to move. Then all was quiet and he was able to crawl over to the ditch where he found John shot dead.

Edward managed to get across no-man’s-land to the British lines where he collapsed from exhaustion. John’s body was buried by the Germans.

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