Ceremony held for soldier whose story resembles that of ‘Saving Private Ryan’

Don Watson, of Gore Bay, displays this collection of medals and ribbons that commemorates several of his uncles’ (all from England) participation in World War 1.

GORE BAY—A special service was held in England this past September for the family of a soldier whose story resembles that of the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ and who has family ties to Gore Bay.

“Oh, it has been incredible. It’s crazy that for 100 years no one really looked at or took much notice of the story and what had happened. Now in the past couple of years the story is getting noticed and is in the forefront,” stated Don Watson of Gore Bay.

The story is of Wilfred Smith, of Barnard Castle, County Durham, who was the only surviving son (of a total of six) of Margaret Smith, of Bridgegate. Wilfred Smith’s brothers Robert, 22, George Henry, 26, John William Stout, 37, Frederick, 21, and Alfred, 30, were all killed on the front line between 1915-1918. Wilfred was brought home from the First World War battlefield.

“Oh it is good that it is all coming out, it is fitting and I’m so glad that all of this recognition has taken place,” said Mr. Watson. “My mother would be delighted that her brothers are being recognized like this. She would have been about 11- 12-years-old at the start of the war.”

“I can’t imagine what my grandmother went through with the loss of five boys. And she not only lost five boys but my grandfather passed away in 1918,” said Mr. Watson. “She went through an awful lot.”

A special service was held this past September in Barnard Castle’s newly unveiled war memorial at the Bowes Museum this past September, which marked the 100th anniversary since Wilfred Smith’s death at the age of 72, on September 19, 1916.

Wilfred Smith had suffered chronic chest problems throughout his life because of a mustard gas attack by the Germans. He and his wife Hannah raised five children in his home town.

In the movie ‘Saving Private Ryan,’ there were three brothers who had been killed in the war and a fourth one was to be returned home. However, as Mr. Watson explained, his grandmother Margaret Smith (married to John) had six sons that left their home in the northeast of England to fight in the First World War, the only one surviving being Wilfred. But it was how he survived and the Queen’s role in his rescue that has only in the last couple of years become known.

Five of Mr. Watson’s uncles died in the war, but the sixth, Wilfred Smith, was saved when the local vicar’s wife in Barnard Castle, England wrote to Queen Mary and the queen sent a letter to the Department of Defence for consideration to bring Wilfred home. He was then returned home.

In the small town of Barnard Castle, County Durham, there is a memorial to the local men who died during the First World War. Among the names of the fallen etched into stone are Mrs. Smith’s five sons.

Robert died first, in September 1916. George Henry died less than two months later; Frederick died in July 1917, while the eldest, John William Stout, who had their mother’s maiden name because she was not yet married when he was born, died in October 1917. The fifth son, Alfred, died in July 1918.

At the Bowes Museum, a memorial was erected to residents who fell in the Great War, including Wilfred’s brothers. His mother laid the first wreath at its dedication in 1923, chosen by the war veterans for the honour. Wilfred was at her side.

Mr. Watson pointed out there were five girls in the family as well: Sally, Margaret, Katherine, Elizabeth and Lillian (his mother).

The Smith brothers were remembered at a special ceremony held at the Bowes Museum on September 19 to mark the 100th anniversary since the first brother’s death, on September 19, 1916, reported The Northern Echo in its September 20, 2016 edition.

Students from Thrybergh Academy, in Rotherham, recorded a song along with their music teacher in memory of the Smith family and their sacrifice. And, along with students from Barnard Castle School, they performed ‘The Boys from the Poor House Yard’ live for the first time, reported the Northern Echo.

The Northern Echo reported that in speaking to the school’s music teacher Chris Clayton, students had originally studied the family’s history during the school’s remembrance service in November 2015 when he was asked to write  a poem which quickly developed into a song as he was so moved by the family’s story. All proceeds from the song, which was officially released at the ceremony, will go to the Royal British Legion and Help for Heroes.

Many of Mr. Smith’s family members still live in the town, and attended the service, which also included a procession to the town’s war memorial in the museum grounds, led by the Royal Dragoon Guards, it was reported. A wreath laying ceremony also took place.

The Northern Echo reported the youngest daughter of Wilfred, Diane Nelson and her daughter, Amanda Harrison were among the family members who attended this event.  Mrs. Harrison, 50, is one of 13 of Mr. Smith’s grandchildren, and said she felt “honoured” when Mr. Clayton approached her about the song. “I just felt quite emotional to think someone wants to write a story about our family because they fought for all of us,” she told the Northern Echo.

“For my mother to lose five brothers, and my grandmother to lose five sons, I get a little emotional when I talk about all of this,” said Mr. Watson.