Solving the Mystery
On the face of it, there were few clues to identify the author of a series of anonymous articles which appeared in the Tank Corps Journal from March to December 1921.
The full title was The Wanderings of “D” in France (More especially of 12 Company) By a P.B.I. – showing that the writer had previously been in the “poor bloody infantry”, like many other members of the new unit. He gave a few details of his previous service – at Loos, Lens, and on the Somme – but not enough to identify his former regiment.
The writer was careful to preserve his anonymity throughout, and although he included many personal anecdotes, there was nothing that could identify him. Until, that is, he described the preparations for the Battles of Arras and Bullecourt in early 1917, and gave a vital clue:
March 26th and 27th were spent in drawing Tanks and equipment at Erin... I found No. 795 fairly easily and proceeded to examine it with a friend...”
The unit War Diaries sometimes contain so-called ‘Battlegraphs’ listing the tanks involved in each action. One of these shows that tank D46, with the manufacturer’s number 795, took part in the Battle of Bullecourt on May 3, 1917, and gives the name of its commander:
The second initial was clearly incorrect, as the Tank Corps Book of Honour shows the Military Cross was awarded to Lieutenant Edward Glanville Smith following the battle.3 With a full name it was possible to find his medal index card, which showed he was previously an infantry officer in 17th Bn London Regiment.
The next step was to see if this tied in with the other evidence given in The Wanderings of “D” in France. Significantly, the writer says “We took High Wood and we took Eaucourt L’Abbaye, but my brother was badly wounded in the first and my best chum killed in the second”.
The 1911 Census shows that Edward Glanville Smith did indeed have an older brother called Norman James Kissock Smith. The final confirmation came in the War Diary of 17th Bn London Regiment, following an attack in High Wood on September 15, 1916: “Wounded Lt. N. J. K. Smith”.
There could be no further doubt about the author of the articles, and the next challenge was to track down his descendants. As usual, the Deborah team’s genealogist, Alan Hawkins, searched out birth, marriage and death records, wills, and censuses to prepare a family tree – no easy task with such a common surname.
After this Vince McGarry used his journalistic skills to contact Catherine Piper, the granddaughter of Edward Glanville Smith, to find what further light she could shed on his story.
The first surprise was that she knew nothing about the articles that had triggered our quest, but was delighted to find he had left such a detailed account of his wartime activities.
For the Deborah team, there was also a wonderful surprise in the rich collection of documents and artefacts retained by the family, which illustrated many aspects of the story told in The Wanderings of “D” in France.
At the start of his account, Edward Glanville Smith – known to his family as ‘Glan’, or by his initials EGS (pronounced ‘eggs’) – says “the writer has only a small diary of dates and names of places with which to assist his memory in the writing of the following reminiscences.”5 In fact, this diary consisted of a single of sheet of paper which had been preserved by his descendants, (the front and back are shown together as a single page).
The family also had the original of a signed photograph which appeared in the journal, showing four tank commanders who took part in an attack in the Ypres Salient on August 22, 19177 (for a full account of this see Deborah and the War of the Tanks Chapters 9-12).
It was also possible to identify Glan’s “best chum” who was killed at Eaucourt l’Abbaye, as his family had kept a rare pamphlet paying tribute to Second Lieutenant Arthur Thompson, who died on October 1, 1916.7 This includes a letter from “his close friend and fellow-officer... Glanville Smith”, and so another mystery was solved.
1 The Wanderings of “D” in France in Tank Corps Journal, May 1921
2 War Diary of 4th Tank Battalion in National Archives (WO 95/110)
3 Tank Corps Book of Honour pages 89-90
4 Medal index card
5 The Wanderings of “D” in France in Tank Corps Journal, March 1921
6 War Diary of 1/17th Bn London Regiment in National Archives (WO 95/2737/1)
7 Documents in possession of Edward Glanville Smith’s family