Sydney Alexander James SMITH MM and Bar

Badge Number: S25891, Sub Branch: Glenelg
S25891

SMITH, Sydney Alexander James

Service Numbers: 2112, S212330
Enlisted: 4 June 1915, Enlisted Keswick Barracks Adelaide 3rd Reinforcements 32nd Battalion
Last Rank: Sergeant
Last Unit: Army Training Units
Born: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia, 2 December 1886
Home Town: Gawler, Gawler, South Australia
Schooling: Not yet discovered
Occupation: Machinist
Died: Natural Causes , Adelaide, South Australia, Australia, 22 December 1960, aged 74 years
Cemetery: Centennial Park Cemetery, South Australia
General Section, Path AA, Site B189
Memorials: Gawler Council Gawler Men Who Answered the Call WW1 Roll of Honor, Gawler May Bros. & Co. Limited WW1 Roll of Honor
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World War 1 Service

4 Jun 1915: Enlisted AIF WW1, Private, SN 2112, 32nd Infantry Battalion, Enlisted Keswick Barracks Adelaide 3rd Reinforcements 32nd Battalion
7 Feb 1916: Embarked AIF WW1, Private, SN 2112, 32nd Infantry Battalion, --- :embarkation_roll: roll_number: '17' embarkation_place: Adelaide embarkation_ship: HMAT Miltiades embarkation_ship_number: A28 public_note: ''
31 Jul 1917: Involvement AIF WW1, Lance Sergeant, SN 2112, 32nd Infantry Battalion, Third Ypres
8 Aug 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Sergeant, SN 2112, 32nd Infantry Battalion, "The Last Hundred Days"
29 Aug 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Sergeant, SN 2112, 32nd Infantry Battalion, Mont St Quentin / Peronne
29 Sep 1918: Involvement AIF WW1, Sergeant, SN 2112, 32nd Infantry Battalion, Breaching the Hindenburg Line - Cambrai / St Quentin Canal
11 Nov 1918: Involvement Sergeant, SN 2112, 32nd Infantry Battalion

World War 2 Service

30 Sep 1939: Involvement AIF WW1, Sergeant, SN S212330, Army Training Units, Homeland Defence - Militia and non deployed forces
30 Sep 1939: Enlisted AIF WW1, Sergeant, SN S212330, Adelaide, SA
7 Sep 1942: Discharged Citizen Military Forces (CMF) / Militia - WW2, Sergeant, SN S212330, Army Training Units, 3rd Training Battalion

Awarded the Bar to the Military Medal - actions 27 / 28 August 1918

'Sergeant SMITH has at all times shown himself possessed of skill, courage and initiative in handling his platoon. He has rendered very able assistance to his Company Commander on several occasions in the line. During the operations on the 27th and 28th August this N.C.O. after his Platoon Commander was wounded took control of the situation and by skilful handling filled a gap in the advancing line. He has at all times shown great gallantry and courage and his work has earned him the respect and admiration of his Company.'
Source: 'Commonwealth Gazette'
Date: 17 October 1919

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Awarded the Military Medal for actions near BELLICOURT

'During the period 29th September/1st October 1918 while the 32nd Battalion was engaged in operations near BELLICOURT Sergeant SMITH displayed great powers of leadership and much gallantry, bravery and devotion to duty. He was of the greatest assistance to his Platoon Commander who when the Company passed through JONCOURT placed Sergeant SMITH in charge of detached posts all of which were under almost constant enemy artillery and machine gun fire. The task of visiting these posts at intervals was dangerous in the extreme, but was carried out with skill and courage which greatly heartened the men occupying the posts. He at one time made a special tour when the hostile barrage fire was so intense that it seemed a counter attack on our positions was imminent, and throughout carried out the hazardous duties with entire success.'
Source: 'Commonwealth Gazette' No. 75
Date: 17 June 1919

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Biography

Born in Melbourne on 2 December 1886. His mother was recorded as being Mrs Grace Kerr, later of Market Street Minyip.

He enlisted in June 1915, and was drafted to the 3rd Reinforcements of the 32nd Infantry Battalion.  which was in training at Mitcham Camp south of Adelaide. The reinforcement draft did not embark until early 1916, which was potentially a stroke of luck because they were held in Egypt until June and then re-embarked directly to the UK and went straight into Depot Training with the 68th Training Battalion.  Thus they missed the fighting at Fromelles in July, which had decimated the 32nd Battalion and the rest of the 5th Division.  

He must have demonstrated leadership potential early because he was appointed acting Sergeant during the course of basic training at Mitcham and for the voyage to Europe.  After reverting to Private on arrival in Depot training, he again was appointed Temporary Sergeant on the 9th April 1916 . As they completed depot training and prepared to embark for France, Sydney was reverted to Private yet again as was common practice because of the personnel establishment of the parent unit.

He and his colleagues embarked on the Transport Princess Clementine from Folkestone on 30 December 1916 and after processing through Etaples he eventually joined the Battalion on the 7th February 1917.  It, and the other units of the 5th Division, which had only recently completed rebuilding and retraining after the catastrophe at Fromelles.

Shortly afterwards, the Battalion was committed to a series of actions as part of the follow up of the Outpost village campaign.

Promoted Corporal on 9 April 1917 and Lance Sergeant on 9 July 1917, it was apparent that they could 'not keep a good man down'!

Then by late July, the AIF deployed for the largest operation of the war to date - what was to become known as 'Third Ypres'.  In a gruelling series of battles, some of which were tactical successes, the Offensive utlimately failed strategically; to dislodge the Germans from the heights overlooking Ypres (Ieper) as had been planned.  It began well following the 3rd and 4th Division successes at Messines in June, but ground down into a hideous war of attrition and bogged down completely in the mud and mire at Passchendaele.

Sydney progressed through all of this and in early 1918 was promoted Sergeant.

The Battalion and its parent 5th Division were held in reserve when the German Spring Offensive burst over the Allied line. 

With the German's offensive power muted, it was the Allies' turn and on the 8th August the "last Hundred Days" campaign began.

Sydney was recommended for and subsequently awarded a bar to the Military Medal (paradoxically the initial award was for a later action) for his actions near Proyart on 27/28 August.  The 5th Division remained on the southern bank of the Somme while the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Divisions crossed to the north bank and then crossed the Canal du Nord to mount one of the most successful operation of the war; the capture of Mont St Quentin.  The 5th Division crossed the Somme under fire and into the town of Peronne, which they secured on 2nd / 3rd  September.

Monash's troops then shifted their attention to the NE and in late September early October, in conjunction with US Forces the Australians attacked and breached the Hindenburg line near Bellicourt - Riqueval - Bony, and then culminating in what was to be the AIF's last major action of the war at at Montbrehain pon the 5th October 1918.  It was during this phase of the fighting that Sydney was recommended for and subsequently awarded the Military Medal for his actions near Joncourt.

Shortly afterwards the AIF was withdrawn for rest and recuperation.  By that stage many Battalions were less than half strength and reinforcements were thin on the ground.  The armistice was declared on the 11th November and the extended process of repatriation began.  Sydney returned home on 5 July 1919. 

According to RSL Membership records, which he joined in 1936, Sydney was later resident at 7 Hope St Dover Gardens  he was married to Ida May and their children were Ken and Marion.

When WW2 broke out, Sydney once again signed to the colours, applying his undoubted experience to preparing the next generation of young men for the defence of Australia.  Tens of thousands of young men who joined the militia subsequently transferred to the 2nd AIF, and most received their basic training at the hands of experienced campaigners from another War.  While the nature of war had changed, what was required of the young men who would make up the fighting force had not.  They went on to deploy overseas in the country’s name.  Sydney rendered three year’s valuable service taking his discharge in 1942, at which time he was posted to the 3rd Training Battalion.

Source:  Service Record, RSL membership records, 

 

Steve Larkins April 2016

 

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