Guardsman H H Smith

Herbert Henry Smith served with the GG between 1928-31, but was recalled to the colours in 1939 and joined the 3rd Battalion which was amongst the first BEF units to cross the Channel (1st Infantry Div, 1st Guards Brigade). He was a member of No 4 Company. On May 21st, 1940, the entire BEF, division upon division, was aligned along the west bank of the River Escaut in Belgium, where it successfully fought off a determined assault by the Germans. The 1st Guards Brigade was in the Pecq sector, No 4 Coy of the 3rd Bn being positioned forward on the river bank. No 3 Coy was held in reserve at a village a mile back. Shortly after morning stand-to, an artillery barrage was laid down over the riverside positions, causing heavy casualties, this being followed by a river assault crossing by a large enemy force. Smith was wounded and captured, his companions killed.

He was reported MIA (missing in action) and Lance-Corporal Nicholls of 3 Coy, who won the VC in this action was reported KIA (killed in action). 1st Gds Brig then withdrew to the Pecq Road (the cornfield and Poplar Ridge being between the road and river), and withdrew to the Ypres-Comines Canal. During the night, the Germans recced the west bank and found L/Cpl Nicholls gravely hurt but still alive. He was captured and taken back to the Regimental CP where Guardsman Smith, also a prisoner, dressed his wounds and cared for the gallant boxer until they could both be transferred to hospital. Nicholls and Smith were in Stalag XXB for the entire war, and legend has it that Hitler, who had served as a corporal himself during WW1, offered to present Nicholls with his VC - this the battalion boxer apparently rejected out of hand, although it is doubtful that the story has any basis in fact. Upon repatriation Smith returned to his native Worcestershire where he worked as a horticulturalist until his death in 1983. He never discussed his wartime experiences with the family. The photo shows him in 1945.

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