We’re always very grateful to hear from other researchers and historians whose work connects with our work. In this case it was perfect timing to hear more information about Sidney O’Carrol Smith (known as Carl), who has a memorial brass in Old St Paul’s, as today (25 Aug 2016) is the exact 100th anniversary of his death at the Battle of the Somme in World War One.
John Stackhouse from Christchurch contacted us, having found our previous story about Smith, as Smith is a subject to his own research, and he has the soldier’s service medals. He sent me an article he recently wrote about Smith, published in New Zealand Memories, which weighs up the possibility that Smith was the first New Zealander to land at Gallipoli on the fateful morning of 25 April 1915. It has been established that Captain William (Billy) Beck was the first member of the New Zealand main forces to land on that fateful beach as part of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force, but Smith – who, though a New Zealander, was serving with the Australian Imperial Forces – was one of the first 100 members of the Australian forces to land that morning. The New Zealand troops watched on from their boats anchored off the Gallipoli coast awaiting for their chance to land, thus making Sidney Smith one of the first New Zealanders ashore, around 4am on 25 April 1915.
Smith and his brass memorial at Old St Paul’s
Smith wrote emotionally and honestly to his mother about the events of that traumatic dawn:
The most trying time I have had yet was the time in the rowing boats before we landed. After leaving, in deathly silence, the battleships on which we had just come, we just sat in the boats, being towed silently in shore for two and a half hours. The moon was up for the first hour and a half, and then it was down, and in pitch darkness we stealthily crept in. It was the most nerve-wracking time I have ever known.
Then a voice from a battleship came across the water, ‘Go ahead and land. Good luck,’ and we silently crept away from the big ship. After another half hour’s creeping we could see we were about 200 yards from the shore, when zip, zip, zip, the bullets whizzed.
Then nerves were forgotten and as soon as we could we hopped out of the boats, all the time under terrible fire, up to our armpits in water, struggled ashore, got under some sort of cover, and when there were enough of us charged.
From the time we heard the first bullet till we charged was not five minutes. The next four days and nights – I hardly knew which was which – was hard going.
Smith wrote this description to his mother while serving in France in the trenches. The idea of a 25 year old writing these words about such extreme events – while surrounded by further chaos – is very affecting. This letter was published in the Brisbane Courier in August 1915 as his mother provided a copy to the paper for publication. The newspaper recorded that he had been one of the first 100 to land at Anzac Cove.
After landing on 25 April 1915, Smith took part in a number of battles at Gallipoli until becoming very ill and being sent to hospital in England. His mother Eleanor sailed from New Zealand to be with him in hospital. After his recovery, he was offered a commission in the British army and became a 2nd Lieutenant in the 5th Battalion, Rifle Brigade. He travelled to France, where he wrote the above letter, and later took part in the Battle of the Somme, which began in July 1916. He was severely wounded six weeks later, and died on 25 August 1916.The newspaper report about his death mentioned that his mother was still in England, and that she was to return to New Zealand immediately.
John provided me with lots of extra information about Smith, including that his parents has split long before he went to war, which is why he and his mother Eleanor left Christchurch and came to Wellington, where he was educated at the Terrace School, and Eleanor ran the school Chilton House (later Chilton St James). John tells me that Eleanor and her other son attempted, against Sidney’s will, to ‘pull strings’ to have Sidney repatriated to New Zealand after Gallipoli. The relationship between Mrs Smith and her estranged husband remained strained after their son’s death, as there was a dispute as to who should receive his medals.
This split is also why there are two memorials to Smith in New Zealand – one in Wellington at Old St Paul’s, and one in Christchurch, erected by his father, in the graveyard of the beautiful St Paul’s Papanui (as seen below). Yet another memorial is in France, at Dernancourt Cemetery, near the Somme.
Smith’s memorial at St Paul’s Papanui, and the church and its churchyard; and Smith’s gravestone in France.
Thanks to John for contacting me.
Sources: John Stackhouse, New Zealand Memories magazine, April 2016 and information he provided to me in August 2016. Quotes from letter to Smith’s mother republished in the Brisbane Courier, 30 August 1915, p10; See also Press, 1 September 1916, p8