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SMITH, John Grant MC (1888-1921)

SMITH, John Grant MC (1888-1921)

John Grant Smith, the son of Reverend John Millar Smith and Eliza Jane Ramsay nee Grant was born at Taradale, New Zealand on 16 November 1888. He came to Australia with his parents when his father was posted to The Manse at Barrabool Hills, and later to Daylesford. He was educated at Geelong College where he was enrolled on 1 August 1898. He left in 1905. His address at enrolment was ‘The Manse’, Barrabool Hills, Victoria.

The Annual Reports list him as the awardee of the followinh prizes:
1899 2nd English Junior College Upper Form.
1899 2nd History Junior College Upper Form.
1899 1st Scripture Junior College Upper Form.
1900 2nd History Lower 4th Class.
1900 1st Latin Lower 4th Class.
1900 1st French 2nd Class.
1900 2nd Scripture Lower 4th Class.
1901 2nd English Upper 4th Class.
1901 2nd Latin Middle 4th Class.
1904 1st Geography University Form A.

During World War I, he enlisted on 22 February 1916, age 28, at Dimboola with 41 Battalion (3rd Reinforcement Group). He embarked on HMAT A46 Clan MacGillivray on 7 September 1916. He was promoted to Lieutenant on 16 July 1917, and wounded in action on 30 March 1918.

The battalion history, The Forty-First, described events on 8 August 1918:
'The operation, on first thought, appeared suicidal; but on further consideration appeared to have a fair chance of success, owing to its very boldness and the great element of surprise. Although time was limited, full arrangements were made, which if they had been carried out, would have saved many valuable lives. Broadly the the arrangements were, that the artillery and machine guns were to put a standing barrage on both sides of the trenches parallel to our advance, and we would follow a ‘creeping’ barrage moving in front of us at the rate of one hundred yards in four minutes. At the same time Mericourt would be bombarded by the trench-mortars, and the light mortars would accompany the attackers. We were offered tanks, but refused them, for many reasons. It was ticklish business getting the three companies – A, B and D – who were assaulting, into the assembly positions without the enemy’s knowledge, but in the course of the afternoon the move was carried out successfully, and the reserve company, C, held the front. While the three companies awaited zero hour, a general fear was that enemy planes would come over and locate this gathering, and all felt relieved when a strong scout patrol, with the familiar concentric markings, flew overhead. The trench to be captured was divided into three parts: the portion adjacent to the Somme was A Company’s share in the enterprise, and D Company’s sector came next, with B Company’s on the right.

At 8.30pm the ‘Show’ started and the attackers moved out in skirmishing order. The support given by the artillery was disappointing, being so feeble that it could not be called a barrage. Being once committed to the venture, no one had a thought of turning back, but pressed forward in short rushes, calling into play all experiences and lessons learnt in former fights. In spite of terrific machine-gun fire from all flanks and in front, they won through with bomb and bayonet, and the help of the trench-mortars. As we had expected, darkness came to our aid and enabled our men to close with the enemy. Time and time again, deeds of valour were performed, amongst which Lt J E ‘Joe’ Woodford’s¹ noble self-sacrifice stands out conspicuously. This brave officer, giving his life for his platoon, rushed a machine gun that was holding them up, from the front, thus allowing his platoon to come in from the flanks. The fight raged for forty-five minutes, and then the green success rockets soared up from the region of the Somme.

The holding of these captured trenches during the fight is worthy of note. Each company had three platoons facing the east, and one facing the west, to guard against counter-attacks likely to be made by the enemy. Throughout the night these garrisons also kept capturing Huns, and in Cateaux Wood, a party of two officers and seventy other ranks surrendered to a post belonging to A Company. This fight, which ranks as the best single-handed endeavour the battalion ever engaged in, cost us seventy-five men and five officers, but we took in prisoners alone over two hundred men, besides wounding and killing over one hundred of the enemy. The trench-mortars under Lt ‘Dave’ Brown² did splendid work, and this sterling officer, who died from wounds received in this fight, had the Military Cross conferred upon him. Amongst those who worthily merited, and in some cases received, recognition, were ‘Bluey’ Walker³, DCM, Captain P F Calow, MC 4, Lt J Grant Smith, MC, Lt J J Hanley5, and Lt E D Price6, MC.'

John Grant Smith was awarded the Military Cross vide London Gazette 30997, 7 November 1918:
'During operations near Hamel on 8 August 1918 his Company Commander having become a casualty, he immediately assumed command and took his objective, together with three Machine Guns and a number of prisoners. On 12 August near Mericourt sur Somme in command of a Company, he captured five Machine Guns and seventy prisoners. By his courage and fine leadership he contributed largely to the success of the battalion.'

John Smith returned to Australia on 16 January 1919. Prior to his service in the AIF he was a master at Launceston Grammar School, on his return from service he took up his work in the Solomon Islands, where he died of malaria on 8 December 1921 while being taken to Tulagi for medical treatment.

Pegasus of May 1922 reported the circumstances of his death:
'We regret to record the death of J G Smith on 8th December last. He was managing a plantation in the Solomon Islands, and died while being taken to Tulagi for medical treatment. He was buried at Tulagi with military honours. Jack Smith was for seven years at the College, under Norman Morrison, and left in 1905. He served through the war, and on his return took up his work in the islands. While there he won the esteem of all who knew him, and the Board of Directors of the Company for which he worked have expressed themselves in terms of high appreciation of his conduct, both as a manager and as a man.'

The Australian War Memorial (AWM) website outlined the history of 41 Battalion:
'41 Battalion was raised at Bell’s Paddock Camp in Brisbane in February 1916 with recruits from Brisbane, northern Queensland and the northern rivers district of New South Wales. It formed part of the 11th Brigade of the 3rd Australian Division. After training in Australia and Britain, 41 Battalion arrived in France on 25 November 1916. It entered the front line for the first time on Christmas Eve 1916 and spent the bleak winter of 1916–17 alternating between service in the front line, and training and labouring in the rear areas. Compared to some AIF battalions, the 41st’s experience of the battles in Belgium during 1917 was relatively straightforward. It had a supporting role at Messines on 7 June, captured its objectives at Broodseinde on 4 October with little difficulty, and was spared the carnage of Passchendaele on 12 October. It was some of the battalion’s more ‘routine’ tasks that proved its most trying experiences. At the end of June 1917, the 11th Brigade was ordered to establish a new front line west of Warneton, in full view of the Germans. Work carried on night and day under heavy shellfire and the period became known to the battalion as ‘The Eighteen Days’. The start of August found the 41st holding ground captured by two of its sister battalions in a feint attack on 31 July. Enduring continual rain, flooded trenches and heavy shelling many of the battalion’s platoons dwindled from thirty-five men to less than ten. Belgium remained the focus of 41 Battalion’s activities for the five months after its action in October 1917 as it was rotated between service in the rear areas and the front line. When the German Army launched its last great offensive in March 1918, the battalion was rushed south to France and played a role in blunting the drive towards the vital railway junction of Amiens. The Allies launched their own offensive on 8 August 1918, and the 41st played an active role both in the initial attack and the long advance that followed throughout August and into September. The 41st participated in its last major action of the war between 29 September and 2 October 1918 as part of the Australian-American operation that breached the formidable defences of the Hindenburg Line along the St Quentin Canal. The battalion was out of the line when the war ended, and was disbanded in May 1919.'

His brothers, Eric Grant Smith (1894-1953Eric Grant Smith (1894-1953) and Leslie Robert Grant Smith (1895-1969), were also educated at Geelong College.

¹ Lt John Edward Woodford, the son of Edwin and Elizabeth Woodford, of Grangetown, Yorkshire, and Charters Towers, Qld, killed in action on 12th August 1918, buried Heath Cemetery, Harbonnieres, France, Grave II.H.14.
² Lt David Brown, the son of William Edward and Mary Ann Brown, of Annandale, NSW, and Charters Towers, Qld, seconded to 11th Trench Mortar Battery, died on 17th August 1918 of wounds suffered there, buried St Sever Cemetery, Rouen, France – Grave B.6.27 (Officers’ Plot). He was awarded the Military Cross for service on 11-12 August 1918.
³ Private John William Walker, of Parkham, Tasmania, awarded the DCM, gazetted 5th December 1918.
4 Paul Francis Calow, of South Brisbane, awarded the Military Cross, gazetted 11th January 1919.
5 John James Hanley, Mentioned in Despatches, gazetted 11th July 1919.
6 Ewen Douglas Price, of Brisbane, awarded the Military Cross.

Sources: Pegasus May 1922 p38; Geelong Collegians at the Great War compiled by James Affleck. pp 313-314 (citing The Pegasus; The Forty-First: being a record of the 41st Battalion AIF during the Great War 1914-1918; Australian War Memorial).
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