James SMITH


Regiment:               Royal Field Artillery, Highland Division
                               Ammunition Column  

Rank & Number:    
Not Known  

Born:                       23 December 1883; Dunoon  

Died:                       17 January 1953; Largs  

Other:                     
Brother of William Smith



JAMES SMITH
was born 23 Dec 1883 in Dunoon, to parents James, a shoemaker, and Mary Ann Marshall (who were married in Largs on 02 Jun 1882).  He died in Largs on 17 Jan 1953, aged 69.   
He married Catherine McLean at Old Kilpatrick, Dunbartonshire in 1925, and they had three children.  

His grandfather was William Marshall, Largs Bellman from 1860 to 1896; in 2013 the family presented his town crier’s bell to Largs Museum.  He is also descended from Billy Marshall, King of the Gypsies (b. 1672), whose gravestone in Kirkcudbright states he died, “aged 127”.  

Before the war, James was a gardener at Southannan Estate, Fairlie.  After the war he moved to Old Kilpatrick, where he worked as a storeman (from daughter’s birth certificate, 1926).  The family moved to Gateside Street, Largs in 1928, where James worked as a car park attendant at the seafront car park, and later for the Gas Board as a meter reader.  

In the 1901 Census, James, aged 17 and an apprentice gardener, is living Govan Bank, Fairlie with parents James (50, shoemaker, b St. Andrews, Elgin) and Mary (38, b Largs) and siblings Johanna J (13, b. Fairlie) and Wm M (13, b Fairlie)  

In the 1911 Census, aged 27 and a gardener, he is living Springbank, Fairlie with parents James (60, shoemaker & repairs) and Mary Ann (48, m 28 years, 3 children) and brother Wm Marshall (23, yacht draughtsman)   His daughter still has his “Fairlie Medal”, which was presented to returned servicemen by the village in Jan 1920.  Mrs Marshall (James Smith’s daughter) is the only person we came across during our research who knew about this medal.    


SERVICE DETAILS  
  
No medal index card was found, but his regiment is given on the plaque as ‘R.F.A.’, and his family advise he served with the Bute Mountain Battery.  The Largs & Millport Weekly News added him to the Roll of Honour of enlisted men on 13 Feb 1915 (Smith, Pte. James, Ross-shire Battery, R.F.A.), and on 08 May 1915 it reported that he “left this week for somewhere abroad”.  In Aug 1915 the newspaper printed a letter he sent to Charles McNair at Fairlie Post Office, headed “From James Smith, Fairlie, one of the members of the Bute Mountain Battery who was drafted into the Ammunition Column sent to France” in which he described his journey from Fairlie to France, via camp in Greenwich where his section trained mules to haul ammunition.  The following month, on 4 Sep 1915, another letter was printed, this one giving details of the unit’s activities since arriving in France.  A keen poet, in June 1916, the Largs & Millport Weekly News printed a poem he sent from France, along with a five franc note he asked to be donated to the Red Cross.



Extracts from the Largs & Millport Weekly News:-  

13 February 1915

Roll of Honour:  Smith, Pte. James, Ross-shire Battery, R.F.A.  

8 May 1915
          
2nd Lieut. R.B. Fife and Privates Tom Miller and James Smith left this week for somewhere abroad.  

4 September 1915

The following letter is from Gunner (or is that correct now?) James Smith, Fairlie, one of the members of the Bute Mountain Battery who was drafted into the Ammunition Column sent to France, and gives an account of the doings of that unit of the army since it left England:-    B.E.F., France, 8 August 1915  
We have removed our camp three times since landing in France.  At former camps we bathed in the canals, but here we were compelled to take the “Order of the Bath” at a town near by.  The baths there could pass through about 1000 men each day.  For those from the trenches it was a splendid place, for there, also, they could get a clean shift of underclothing, leaving their own to be washed and cleaned for those following.  At this camp our blankets were taken from us, but we have still our great coats.  While at this camp I visited a village which during the early days of the war had been shelled by the Germans.  The church steeple and clocks were destroyed, the roof was off, and large shell holes were made in the walls.   A number of houses were demolished and others were smashed and battered by shell and shrapnel.  Inside, shop fittings and house furniture lay upon the floor.  Drawers and wardrobes were ransacked and lying about in confusion.  In one house I visited a large-sided portrait of an elderly lady hung upon the wall, looking peaceably on the ruins of what I suppose had been her home.  The front doors were all boarded up and in the unshelled part people dwelt as usual.  Some of the houses were patched up to make them more comfortable to live in.  At the entrance to our camp was the grave of a soldier who in the early days of the war had been sniped while doing sentry go.  During our slack time a few from each section went up daily to do a little trench-digging.  We also assisted the cause by carting road metal to make good some of the roads.  Our stay at this camp lasted a fortnight, then we shifted to another a few miles off.  We do not like to be in a camp too long, but like to see new scenery.  Our next abode was also in an orchard where no troops had been.  The grass was lovely.  The cherries had been newly plucked by the owner, but a few sweet ones remained, although not for long.  The pears were sampled daily also.  We stayed here for a fortnight and then received word that a railway journey lay before us.  With rifles slung we moved to the station, unharnessed the mules and put them into trucks.  This is a fine mode of travel, sitting with the side door open viewing the scenery as we jog along.  The harvest had begun with the cutting of winter wheat.  The crops we passed through were sown in small lots of from a quarter acre to an acre or two.  The chief crops here are wheat, oats, potatoes, early peas, broad beans, and kidney beans, an odd patch of barley, and also many clover patches.  Church spires are conspicuous objects in this flat country.  Tall clumps of trees and red tiled houses make a nice picture.  We passed over a good number of canals and numerous railway crossings in the earlier part of the journey, but further on the country changed to hill and hollow, which rejoiced our Scottish hearts.  Further on we passed through a swampy stretch which was divided into small squares with numerous water-ways cut through it.  Those squares were cropped, and a boat or two were seen besides some men who were busy plying the rod from the banks.  We reached a town at the coast at 9 p.m., watered and fed the animals, and put on another squad to watch them.  The rest got the opportunity of buying some tea and buns or biscuits at a Red Cross stall before making themselves a bed of straw to have a “doss”.  I slept soundly, meanwhile the train rattled along the coast and away inland again.  Someone shouting – “Show a leg there! show a leg!” at 6 o’clock next morning awoke us to the fact that we had reached our destination.  
We got our lot off safely and marched through the town and a few villages to our camp.  At one spot on the way we halted on the top of a hill reached by a road cut into the face of it.  Round the outside of the plain stretched a large wood, and grazing near the lake were over a hundred brown cows, with a milkmaid and dog in attendance.  Our camp was in the grounds of a large mansion among long straight lines of trees, the lines stretching nearly a mile.  Here we put in our posts, stretched the mules’ ropes on, and tied up the animals by their head chains.  When we had them tied with ropes they often chewed them through, and had a joy run for a time until caught.  We had everything in order and a good breakfast by ten o’clock.  I had my usual visits to the villages near.  The only shops are the “estaminets” or pubs as we would call them.  At this time the hours in which they are allowed open are from 11 to 1 p.m., and from 8 to 8.30 at night.  The sale of cognac, the equivalent to our whisky, is debarred.  The villages are chiefly composed of farm buildings on both sides of the street; with the manure pits in the centre of the farm squares.  A peculiarity about a French house is that the front door goes straight off the street into the kitchen, which makes that room rather public.  In one village I saw quite a number of women enjoying their slices of bread and jam outside their front doors.  The people usually bake their own bread.  To our taste they do not put enough salt in it.  We stayed in this beautiful camp a little over a week and then departed to another a few miles away.  This time it is in a common cow field, but we are getting good weather, except on one night when we had a severe thunderstorm with a super-abundance of rain.  We have been kept fairly busy running with shell and bomb to the battery columns.   
I was pleased to hear of Ian McLauchlan winning the D.C.M. honour.  This is good for Fairlie, but I am afraid West Kilbride will have the audacity to claim him as their townsman.  

6 November 1915

Mr. William Miller, Secretary of the Tobacco and Cigarette Fund has received acknowledgements for parcels from the following:  Pte. T. Blakely, Dardanelles; Lance-Corp. R. McLachlan, prisoner of war; Ptes. A. McCallum, A. McLean, D. McCallum, D. Douglas, J. Smith, T. Miller, T. Messenger, France; and D. Thomson, W. Anderson, A. Stalker, wounded.  

20 May 1916
        
Driver James Smith of the Bute Mountain Battery was home on furlough during the week after a year’s service at the French front.  

17 June 1916
       
Fairlie Cigarette And Tobacco Fund:  Letters of thanks have been received recently from James Ramsay, Wm. Ramsay, John Currie, John Ward, A. Erskine, James Smith, Tom McLaughlin, Charles Rodger, Tom Messenger, Hugh Burden, Wm. Balchin, Tom Miller, Wm. Stewart, John Fraser, Duncan Douglas, Dan McCallum, Allan McCallum, Alex. McLean, Alfred Davis, Arthur Crawford, and a postcard from Robert McLachlan, who is a prisoner of war in Germany.

24th June 1916
Poetry And War Relief:  The following poem was sent from a soldier serving in France, with a donation to a war relief fund.  In this case, in conformity with the author’s injunctions, we have handed over the five franc note to the Red Cross Society through one of the local agencies.  The poet has not given a title to his lines, which are as follows, and which we have simply named:- 

FAIRLIE
 
Improvements great have taken place,
Which sure will benefit the race Of Fairlie folk,
who do reside,
Down on the coast of Firth of Clyde,
Sheltered by hills on eastern side,
Among old trees which still abide,
A blessing we,
the planters leave
For benefits we now receive,
the forethought which,
from Auld Lang Syne,
To those who, in the present time,
Do strive to keep up its good name,
Has lived to make a place of fame;
The lighting of the village streets,
And for the laying down of seats Up Fairlie Glen,
by fount and shore -
And still there's room for many more
For use of those who come down from town,
Their young folk also do bring down
To play upon the rocks or boat,
A good supply is kept afloat.
At Stephen's slip or Knox's quay
Good stable boats you will agree,
But if when fishing they don't take
Please do not blame the mussel bait.  
Of water pure a good supply
Comes down from reservoir on high Among the hills. 
This helps to get
In summer time the houses let.
There is a spot no more we'll see
Beneath the large horse chestnut tree
On low built wall at Parker's gate,
Where oft the youths did congregate.
Here all the topics of the day
Debated were. Each had his say
The heightened wall, as one will see,
Is no improvement you'll agree.
This favoured place, for you and I
At Parker's gate we say good-bye.  
The Public school perched on the hill
In which the children get their fill
Of knowledge so to make them fit
In later years to do their bit.
An addition which was built of late
Brings our fine school quite up to date.  
The esplanade so smart and neat
Down by the shore along
Bay Street Here may one rest and quiet get;
The minstrels have not found us yet.
Down Stephen’s handsome steps we turn,
And shape a course 'cross Cowan's burn
On to a path make with cement
A workman laid to my content.
This was a useful work indeed,
Although oft strewn with drift seaweed
By winter gales and by spring tides
With mixture of some sand besides.
An ancient text can still be seen,
The words thereof and what they mean
are hewn in stone and set on high
To be observed by passers by.
Though carved out many a year ago
Their truth remains for ever so.
“In ragings even of the sea,
To still again a word from
Thee Brings calm and makes serene again.
For here as there Thy power doth reign.”
A bit along some steps are cut
The better to go down and up.  
The whole improvement seen today
Is better than the rough old way
The wrack which often lodged on shore
In summers past did smell galore,
With flowing tide this seaweed floats
The ebbing which leaves many coats.
But this complaint did pass away,
When the Association had its say
To keep the foreshore sweet and smart,
It agreed to move it off by cart.
Up steps at north of New Mid Row
I make towards Knox's pier below,
Past where the red tiled houses stood
In days gone by. 
If memory could
But bring to mind the dwellers there,
Their children whom they reared with care,
In rebuilt houses some still stay;
The red tiles are not seen today.
What man is that meets my eye,
“Why, that is Knox,” the children cry,
The older folk gave me a look,
Surprised I didn't know my book.
“Bring in that punt,” I hear him shout
“When you come in your ears I'll clout”
I turned my head, and on I went
Along a broad path of cement
Why made so wide you'd like to know
To guard the drain-pipe down below.
Fair heel and toe I sped along,
Its smoothness made me break in song.
This path of ease came to a stop,
A path appeared among the rocks
Which did appear at first to be
A rough hard way along for me.
Made for to suit with nature's plan
By master masons' art.
The men To whose desire it was begun,
Had passed away, their work is done.
Cut into here and made up there
With tap to set the stones in fair
Has made a road the mothers may
Their offspring take on sands to play;
Let here the sand and salt sea air
Dispel their grief and banish care,
Away from city's restless throng
Make Children happy all day long,
With shout and laugh to ply their spade,
Or maybe in the sea to wade,
What would we give once more to be
A happy child beside the sea!
I turned my head, and on I went
Along a broad path of cement
Why made so wide you'd like to know
To guard the drain-pipe down below.
Fair heel and toe I sped along,
Its smoothness made me break in song.
This path of ease came to a stop,
A path appeared among the rocks
Which did appear at first to be
A rough hard way along for me.
Made for to suit with nature's plan
By master masons' art.
The men To whose desire it was begun,
Had passed away, their work is done.
Cut into here and made up there
With tap to set the stones in fair
Has made a road the mothers may
Their offspring take on sands to play;
Let here the sand and salt sea air
Dispel their grief and banish care,
Away from city's restless throng
Make Children happy all day long,
With shout and laugh to ply their spade,
Or maybe in the sea to wade,
What would we give once more to be
A happy child beside the sea!
With this my thought I struggle o'er
The sand and shingle on the shore
Past ancient boat-house.  
All the talk Is “Have you seen Rab Miller's walk.”
Named after him with due respect
He sees that it is all well kept,
For any hour he has to spare,
'Tis his delight. You'll find him there
Removing seaweed, painting forms,
 Mending damage caused by storms,
Sprinkling gravel with bare head
This is his joy, as I have said.
Half way along the Glen burn flows
Out underneath a bridge it goes
To meet the sea on Firth of Clyde
Which to the Isle is three miles wide
The crowning of King Edward dear,
This bridge, by peasant and by peer,
Was built to keep his memory bright.
He Kept the Peace and loved the Right.
I reach the end.  
The turnpike road Brings me right back to my abode


N.O.B.O.N.   (Family have confirmed this poem was written by James Smith)





Profile / Horse Images courtesy Hetty Marshall
Medal Image courtesy Fairlie Community Association



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Fairlie Community Association SCIO
Scottish Charity No. SC028785