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Uniform, cap and badge of an RNVR man


Aurel Sercu
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Living near Ypres I have always focussed on WW1 events near that town, and specifically in my village (Boezinge). No need to concentrate of course on the Navy or "anything that sails". (Yes, we have the Ypres - Boezinge - Yser Canal, but the RN has always ignored it. ;)

So I felt sure that I would never have to bother about the Navy. Until I was intrigued by an officer who was said to have given his name to "Admiral's Road" (from Wieltje halfway to Boezinge). At last I got a photo of the man (Thanks, Pam !)

Cyril Aldin Smith, Commissioned Honorary 2nd Lieutenant RM 26/9/14 (...) Commissioned Temporary Sub Lieutenant RNVR 1/8/15 and lent to 6th Division. He was KIA near Wieltje (N.E. of Ypres) on 9/10 June 1916.

I had never wondered about the uniform of this RNVR man lent to 6th Div. But of course now, having a photo, I have to ...

This is what Dave "Croonaert" has already told me :

It certainly is an odd cap. The rest of the uniform appears correct (RN braid would be worn on the cuffs, but "Army style" ranking systems can also be encountered) as he would have been wearing "army" uniform considering his role. The cap is what gets me though - if not a naval pattern peaked cap, then a khaki cap with navy blue cap band was usually worn - with the RN cap badge (or the battalion badge for RND). This cap appears "all army", but with an odd badge that doesn't really resemble any linked RN badge (unless it's simply been "smudged" for publication).

My question : is there anyone around who can tell me more, hopefully about the cap badge ?

(Sorry the photo is not very clear.)

Aurel

post-92-1232723750.jpg

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from the CWGC

SMITH, CYRIL ALDIN

Initials: C A

Nationality: United Kingdom

Rank: Lieutenant

Regiment/Service: Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve

Unit Text: R.N. Div.

Secondary Unit Text: attd. H.Q. 6th Div.

Age: 39

Date of Death: 10/06/1916

Awards: D S O

Additional information: Son of Mr. and Mrs. Samuel Smith, of Redington Rd., Hampstead, London; husband of Mrs. Madge Aldin-Smith. Commissioned R.M., 26th Sept., 1914, and 1st March, 1915; served at Antwerp; Commissioned R.N.V.R. 11th Sept., 1915, and lent to 6th Inf. Div. D.S.O. April, 1916, for work against enemy trenches; developed use of bullet-proof shields and Bangalore torpedoes; known as The Admiral.

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference: Addenda Panel 57.

Memorial: YPRES (MENIN GATE) MEMORIAL

Smith does not appear to be typical of the RND

His early RM commission was as a Motor Owner Driver and was thus probably as an 'Honorary' 2nd Lt

The second RM commission in March 1915 could well be the regularisation of this anomaly,

as the Motor Owner Driver Hon 2nd Lts became Temporary 2nd Lts RM at the latest by June 1915

His transfer to the RNVR in Sept 1915 suggests the RND, but when did he get attached to the 6th Div?

His DSO was for action 'on the nights of March 13-14 and 14-15, 1916 in connection with enterprises against the enemy's trenches south of Verlorenhoek' (London Gazette, 7th April 1916; nb - there was also a mention in Gen Haig's despatch of 30th April 1916)

However, at that time the RND were still occupying the Aegean islands

If asked to guess, then I would say that as one of the MODs, this chap got left behind with the BEF, and by 1916 he was more army than RND

and perhaps this explains his curious cap badge, whatever it is

I look forward to hearing the real story soon

best regards

Michael

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Commissioned R.M., 26th Sept., 1914, and 1st March, 1915; served at Antwerp; Commissioned R.N.V.R. 11th Sept., 1915, and lent to 6th Inf. Div.

(...)

Smith does not appear to be typical of the RND

His early RM commission was as a Motor Owner Driver and was thus probably as an 'Honorary' 2nd Lt

The second RM commission in March 1915 could well be the regularisation of this anomaly,

as the Motor Owner Driver Hon 2nd Lts became Temporary 2nd Lts RM at the latest by June 1915

His transfer to the RNVR in Sept 1915 suggests the RND, but when did he get attached to the 6th Div?

(...)

If asked to guess, then I would say that as one of the MODs, this chap got left behind with the BEF, and by 1916 he was more army than RND

and perhaps this explains his curious cap badge, whatever it is

Michael,

I have been doing research about this "eccentric" man for the past 5 weeks, and have learned a lot (also because I am in touch with his great-nephew). I must say, however that his life before he was here in the area, is a bit of a blind spot for me (not being familiar with RM, RNVR, ...) When exactly did he become attached to 6th Division ? I wish I knew an exact date.

I know he was "reported wounded with BEF 21/7/15", and I guess that was when he was here in the area. And "seconded to 6th Army Corps BEF 14/9/15".

And also "RM Commission terminated & Commissioned Temporary Sub Lieutenant RNVR 1/8/15". It's all a bit of a puzzle to me. (And I try to focus on what he did when he was in the Ypres area from summer 1915 (?) till his death on 10 June 1916.)

It was not until a week ago when I got hold of this photo that I began to wonder about his uniform and cap and badge. (In my naivety or subconsciousness maybe before I had imagined him in navy blue in the Wieltje / Verlorenhoek area ? :huh:

And so I wonder if someone can shed some light on that "smudged" (?) cap badge ?

Aurel

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The October 1915 Navy List has the following:-

ND [for Naval Division], Smith Cyril A., Lieutenant [Temporary] R.N.V.R., seniority 11/9/15, serving under War Office.

David.

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Aurel,

I hope that very soon this will catch the eye of H2 or one of the other RNVR/RND experts

However, until that point, more thoughts (for whatever they are worth):

Your "seconded to 6th Army Corps BEF 14/9/15" is just a few short days after his (per the CWGC) RNVR commission on 11/09/15

I think that this suggests that his relationship with the RND was perhaps 'on paper only'

As I mentioned earlier, most (if not all) of the RND, did not leave the Aegean until mid-1916

A brave man and a fascinating character - I look forward to learning more

Michael

PS: David, thanks for your look-up confirming the date of his RNVR commission

and the "serving under War Office"

Edited by michaeldr
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Here is his entry from the D.S.O. Book 1916-23, Naval & Military Press.

SMITH C. A. [D.S.O. L.G. 7.4.16].

Born 9.6.1877; son of Samuel Smith; educated Christ's College, Finchley; joined the R.N.D. 25.9.14 as 2nd Lieut., and became Lt., R.N.V.R. He served in the European War; was wounded 21.7.15; mentioned in Despatches by Sir D. Haig 30.4.16; won the D.S.O. south of Verlorenhoek in April 1916. His Father writes: "He came home to England to receive his decoration from the King in early June 1916, and returned about the 7th June. On the 9th June he organized a raiding party to destroy an Observation Post just North of Ypres into No Man's Land, where the Germans surrounded them, and my son was wounded. He has not been heard of since". Maj.-Gen Sir W. E. Ironside [then a Lieut.-Col.], said in a letter dated 9.4.16: "I can assure you that he has earned his distinction several times over. Always jolly, he was welcomed by everybody. The dangerous work which he was daily carrying out with explosives was just suited to his temperament. I used to tell him that I should have to chain him down". He was presumed to have been killed in action 9.6.16.

David.

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A fascinating officer. I think the RND connection may be a bit tenuous. Clearly his initial commission as an Hon 2/Lt RM (Motor Owner Driver) for the Antwerp/Ostend operations in Autumn 1915 had a peripheral connection with the RND but it is not clear that such officers were formally part of the RND, albeit the ad hoc transport (London buses, Rolls Royces, et al) had been organised in support of the RND.

The fact that he then retained an RM commission (and remained in UK???) until six months after the RND had embarked for the MEF reinforces my view that he was not 'hard-core' RND. This is supported by the fact that in the RND entry in the January 1915 Navy List (effective date 18 Dec 1914) he does not appear in the list of five Hon 2/Lts RM Motor Owner Drivers still included in the Divisional Staff. In fact I cannot see him in any of the RND entries in 1915 Navy Lists, so I think he must have moved on to other duties. I do not think his transfer to Sub Lt RNVR on 1 August 1915, and promotion to Lt five weeks later (11 Sep 1915) indicates, a continuing RND connection. In any case he was already serving with BEF by this time and had been wounded and invalided in late July 1915. It would be interesting to know which army unit he was serving with in July 1915 because the only information I have is his secondment to VI Corps on 14 Sep 1915, as noted by Michael.

Maybe John Morcombe knows more.

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David, Michael, Horatio2,

Thank you so much for all that. And as I feared : the jigsaw puzzle pieces are become more ... complicated. For me. But I'm sure (I hope) that one day they will all fit together. And if they don't, well, this will be consistent with Cyril Smith having been an rather eccentric and puzzling personality.

Just this (and the question arises from the fact that I am not at all familiar with certain things).

Is what these two sources (CWGC and Naval records) say, in agreement ? (Apart from the fact that Naval records are more detailed)

CWGC

- Commissioned R.M., 26th September 1914 and 1st March 1915

- Served at Antwerp

- Commissioned R.N.V.R. 11th Sept 1915 and lent to 6th Inf. Div.

Naval records

- Honorary 2nd Lieutenant RM 26 September 1914 (Motor Owner Driver 1914, 20HP Straker Squire)

- 2nd Lieutenant R.M. 1st March 1915

- R.M. Commission terminated & Commissioned Temporary Sub Lieutenant R.N.V.R. 1 August 1915

- Temporary Lieutenant R.N.V.R. 11 Sept 1915

- Seconded to 6th Army Corps BEF 14 Sept 1915

Is this OK ? Or does anyone think : There is something wrong or suspicious about this or that ?

By the way, when referred to in Reports and War diaries for 13 March 1916 (when he led a patrol) and 9 June 1916 (day of his death), it is as "Captain Smith, R.N.V.R." In official documents after his death, it is as Lieutenant Smith.

As to Horatio's question which army unit he was serving in in July 1915 (when he was wounded) ...

T. Marden in "Short History of the 6th Division" : "(...) he was hit in the neck by a splinter from a bomb"

No date or unit is mentioned. And I do not even know if this refers to that wound on 21st July 1915.

Also this, from documents after his death :

"Lieutenant Cyril A. Smith, D.S.O., R.N.V.R. (...) was lent from the Royal division to the Army for special service with the BEF, France"

and

"Lieut. Smith, D.S.O., R.N.V.R., joined this [6th] Division about October 1914 but under what circumstances exactly is not recorded."

And in T. Marden this is confirmed by : "In October 1914 he seized the opportunity (...) to make his way to the front. Arrived there he contrived to get himself attached to the 6th division Headquarters". (I am not sure if this is in agreement with what I quoted from the CWGC and Naval sources I quoted at the beginning of this posting.)

Does this help, or does it make things even more confusing ? <_<

Aurel

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By the way, when referred to in Reports and War diaries for 13 March 1916 (when he led a patrol) and 9 June 1916 (day of his death), it is as "Captain Smith, R.N.V.R." In official documents after his death, it is as Lieutenant Smith.

Aurel,

I think that this is indicative of this chap's confused status in the field

The Captain's rank here is the army equivalent of the navy's Lieutenant

(someone writing the report and equating two rings [navy] with two pips [army]) Please ignore this line

This should not be mistaken for a reference to the naval rank of Captain!

I will be glad to hear of anything further which you find on this

Good Luck

Michael

Edited by michaeldr
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Thanks, Michael ! And this is welcome, and takes away a little bit of the mystery at least.

(And maybe I should have thought of that Lieutenant > Captain, for I think there is a similar "shift" in the Belgian army too. But the time I served my country is almost 40 years ago. :-)

Aurel

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Aurel,

Many thanks for your PM and the kind remarks.

Please ignore the third line in my last post above

[in my race to get to the kitchen and attend to the trout and its sauce

I have tripped myself up (of course a Captain has three pips, not two)]

Nevertheless, I am sure that the gist of my post was understood

By the way, the trout turned out to be excellent

Michael

(who made it to two stripes

but not to two rings or to three pips)

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Clearly Smith was a bit of a 'character' but perhaps not the only one. The Motor Owner drivers seem to have been a law unto themselves in some cases - or you could call it 'using their initiative'.

General Blumberg, in "Britain's Sea Soldiers", Chapter 28 - Royal Marine Motor Transport Company - states, with reference to the Motor Owner Drivers recruited for Antwerp: " ... These cars and their drivers proved very useful for transport of ammunition and wounded at Antwerp, though the bill for compensation to the large limousine and other luxury cars involved was a heavy one. Many of the drivers attached themselves and their cars to the 7th Division and 3rd Cavalry Division at Ostend, and it was some time before they were all rounded up and returned to England by Sir John French's Staff after the return of the Royal Naval Division to England. It sounds as though Smith remained 'on the loose' after Antwerp.

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Thanks, Horatio2,

And what you write about this character (and so far I have learned he was a 'character' in civilian life too), somehow makes me understand something I read in T. Marden a little better :

"Lieut. Smith was an owner driver in charge of a convoy of 'buses with the Royal Naval Division at Antwerp, whence he escaped to France."

Whence he "escaped" ! (That must have been in or before Oct 1914. Germans were in Antwerp on 10 Oct 1914 if I remember correctly.)

Yes, it looks like Cyril Smith did not accompany his colleagues to Ostend, and preferred to stay in Antwerp, and was 'on the loose' during and after his stay in Antwerp.

Aurel

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I think "escaped" may be over-egging the reality, except to the extent that the whole of the RND "escaped" from Antwerp (except for those captured or interned in Holland). Blumberg details the transit of the RM Motor Transport Company's buses from Antwerp via Salzaete and Bruges to BlankenBerghe and on to Ostend and Dunkirk around 9 to 11 October 1914. Some buses were lost to breakdown.

Blumberg then describes the unit as "nobody's children" and how they were, with Winston Churchill's agreement, lent to the Army from 15 October, based at St Omer (GHQ BEF). They continued their work in France as an RM unit (presumably including the incredible Smith). The Company was formally taken over by the Army in August 1915, handed over to the ASC, and the RM unit was disbanded. It may be no coincidence that Smith's transfer to an RNVR commission also dates from August 1915. Other officers of the Company moved from the RM to the RNAS and the Tank Corps.

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Thanks, Michael.

What a nice vehicle !

And I am imagining Cyril Smith in this car ...

Cyril Smith's own car had "become worn out some time prior to the date on which he was missing [9 June 1916], and it was exchanged for another one."

Aurel

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And thanks, Horatio2, for the correction and extra information.

So Cyril Smith's escape was not an individual escape if I understand correctly.

Aurel

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A fuller picture is beginning to emerge! A pity none of our cap-badge experts have had a crack at identifying his badge in your post #1.

What's the date, could be an OTC badge, It's not Navy Div. Maybe even Navy & Army Canteens without a bit more detail.

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I have no idea about the date.

Yet in a way it reminds me of a question a friend asked (and which I couldn't answer) :

"Could this photo be an old one as he is not wearing his Sam Brown?".

Am I right when I think a Sam Brown is an officer's belt to the shoulder.

But I don't know if this is relevant here ...

Aurel

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A little more background to this interesting officer. His entries in the pay and appointing registers at the FAA Museum confirm his RNVR commission dating from 1 August 1915.

He was "promoted Temp. Lieut., and re-appointed for RN Division 11 September 1915. Lent to the War Office for service with the Expeditionary Force 14 September 1914."

A further note in his entries: "While he is serving under W.O. this officer will continue to be paid at Crystal Palace. His pay will be classified 'S.of S. for War (Misc.)' for ultimate recovery from War Office who will repay as from 14 September 1915."

Although the equivalent record for his earlier RM service is absent the RNVR record does note that he was drawing specific Army allowances (including Field Allowance of 2/6d per day) from 1 March 1915.

When the RND transferred from MEF to BEF in May 1916 his accounts were kept separately from the bulk of RND pay accounts although all were now serving with the Army.

All this confirms my earlier assessment at Post #7 that his connection with the RND was very tenuous

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Living near Ypres I have always focussed on WW1 events near that town, and specifically in my village (Boezinge). No need to concentrate of course on the Navy or "anything that sails". (Yes, we have the Ypres - Boezinge - Yser Canal, but the RN has always ignored it. ;)

So I felt sure that I would never have to bother about the Navy. Until I was intrigued by an officer who was said to have given his name to "Admiral's Road" (from Wieltje halfway to Boezinge). At last I got a photo of the man (Thanks, Pam !)

Cyril Aldin Smith, Commissioned Honorary 2nd Lieutenant RM 26/9/14 (...) Commissioned Temporary Sub Lieutenant RNVR 1/8/15 and lent to 6th Division. He was KIA near Wieltje (N.E. of Ypres) on 9/10 June 1916.

I had never wondered about the uniform of this RNVR man lent to 6th Div. But of course now, having a photo, I have to ...

This is what Dave "Croonaert" has already told me :

It certainly is an odd cap. The rest of the uniform appears correct (RN braid would be worn on the cuffs, but "Army style" ranking systems can also be encountered) as he would have been wearing "army" uniform considering his role. The cap is what gets me though - if not a naval pattern peaked cap, then a khaki cap with navy blue cap band was usually worn - with the RN cap badge (or the battalion badge for RND). This cap appears "all army", but with an odd badge that doesn't really resemble any linked RN badge (unless it's simply been "smudged" for publication).

My question : is there anyone around who can tell me more, hopefully about the cap badge ?

(Sorry the photo is not very clear.)

Aurel

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  • 2 weeks later...

A Forum member provided me with a photo of Cyril Smith from another edition of The Graphic, and also sent me this improved version of the cap badge. (Thanks, Michael P ! ;)

I wonder if this might make someone exclaim : "Of course ! This is .... " :rolleyes:

Aurel

post-92-1234632424.jpg

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