A minute’s silence was observed at Burnley Town Hall today (Tuesday 24th April) as part of a ceremony to remember the bravery of a First World War soldier.
The civic event was held 100 years to the day of the death of Private Henry Smith who was awarded the Military Medal and Bar for his heroism in saving the lives of his comrades.
His medals and other memorabilia were unveiled in a display cabinet at the town hall. They will eventually be moved to a permanent display at Towneley Hall. The items were gifted to Burnley Council by military memorabilia collector Mr Victor Freeman, who travelled from his home in Plymouth to be at the event.
Pte Smith was awarded the Military Medal and Bar after, acting as a stretcher bearer, he repeatedly carried wounded comrades to safety over open ground under constant enemy machinegun fire. Just five weeks later – on 24th April 1918 – he was killed in action in France.
Organisers tried to discover relatives of Pte Smith but with no success.
The Mayor of Burnley, Councillor Howard Baker, told the audience, which included representatives from the Armed Forces Covenant: “I am particularly proud to be at this small and poignant event.
“This display is recognition of this young man from Burnley who died serving his country in the war exactly one hundred years ago today.
“For me, it is also a way of highlighting the story of all the men and boys from East Lancashire and from our borough who found themselves in the trenches on the Somme, at Passchendaele and at Ypres, and in many other places. Men who worked in Burnley’s cotton mills, and factories and – like Smith – in the local mines. Men who answered the call and who served their country. Men who wanted to fight in the interests of people like us.
“More than 4,000 soldiers from Burnley lost their lives in the course of the First World War – it had a massive impact on our borough.
“When peace finally came, people made a simple promise to those who had given their lives, or who had been injured or maimed. The promise was ‘we will remember’. This morning we are helping to keep that promise.
“I want to state my thanks to Mr Vic Freeman for his generous donation of Private Smith’s medals to the borough.”
Pte Smith was a well-known Towneley miner before he enlisted in the Army in 1908. He was serving in Africa with the 2nd East Lancashire Regiment when war was declared and in November 1914 he was drafted to France where he served until his death. At that time his home address was 27 Richard Street, Burnley and he had connections with St Mary’s RC school and church. Pte Smith is remembered with honour at Adelaide Cemetery, Villers-Bretonneux.