LANCE CORPORAL WILLIAM GAYNER SMITH
SOUTH AFRICAN INFANTRY
15TH OCTOBER 1917 AGE 34
BURIED: BUFFS ROAD CEMETERY, YPRES, BELGIUM
William Smith's parents and his wife all lived in Bristol, England but he himself had emigrated to South Africa sometime before 1904 where he joined the South African police force. At the outbreak of war he returned to Europe as a member of the South African Infantry. Wounded in July 1916 he must have convalesced at home in Thornbury, Bristol where in October 1916 he married Mary Annie Gayner, a distant cousin. The Bristol Mercury commentated that, "owing to the bridegroom having only recently recovered from wounds received in action in July last in France the wedding was of a quiet nature". He returned to France and was killed in action on 15 October 1917 during the First Battle of Passchendaele.
Smith served with the Second Battalion South African Infantry. John Buchan, in his History of the South African Forces in the Great War, writes that:
"On the night of the 13th the 2nd and 4th South African Regiments moved up to the front line, taking over trenches held by part of the 26th and 27th Brigades, which had been engaged in that attack on the 12th which was foiled by the disastrous weather. The relief was very difficult, for the whole country had become an irreclaimable bog, and the mud was beyond all human description. There was intermittent shelling during the 14th and 15th, and much bombing from enemy planes."
Smith was killed either by the 'intermittent shelling' or the 'bombing from enemy planes' but the mud in which men literally drowned could have been a factor too.
His wife, Marjorie Annie Smith, chose his inscription; it's a phrase that had been made popular from songs and films of the period. There were two films with the title and in both a wronged man proves himself worthy of the name soldier. In one of the songs a young woman explains what has made her pick a particular man to marry:
Though he's a soldier, a common soldier
He has got the pluck and muscle for a soldier
And I'm proud to say the dear's
One of the Dublin Fusiliers
And he's proved himself a soldier and a man.
The other song is more mournful. It features in a set of Bamforth postcards - which, by the way, reveal a total ignorance of the life of a soldier - and in this song the soldier dies. The last verse concludes:
Oh! Father, who in heav'n above, hath all things in Thy span,
Remember him who yields his life, is a soldier and a man.