William Thompson Smout was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. He is remembered on the family memorial at Wardsend Cemetery.
Born locally in May 1886 William was the son of Edward Thompson and Martha Hannah Smout. Before the war he worked as a steam cooper making barrels.
In 1915, at the age of 29, he signed up with the York and Lancaster Regiment. He later joined the 8th Battalion, also known as the Pontefract Pals.
On July 1st, 1916, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, his battalion engaged in action. At 7.30am, the artillery barrage had lifted and William went over the top. The battalion came under heavy fire and most men were killed or wounded almost immediately. Some of those men who survived fought their way to the third line of the German trenches, but only one man returned from that point. This date witnessed the greatest loss of life in a single day in the history of the British Army.
William’s battalion consisted of 680 men and 23 officers – only 68 men, and no officers, returned. William’s body was never found.
As well as at Wardsend he is also remembered on the Thiepval Memorial in France. The memorial commemorates more than 72,000 men of British and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and who have no known grave. The majority of those commemorated died during the Somme offensive of 1916.
The photograph at the top of the page is of the Memorial Plaque given to William’s family. The plaques were issued after the First World War to the next of kin of all British and Empire service personnel who were killed as a result of the war. They came to be know popularly as the Dead Man’s Penny because of their similarity to the much smaller penny piece. William’s plaque has been handed down and remains in the family. (With thanks to Jackie Kent for the photograph)