John Smedley was born in Derby in 1898, his parents were William Smedley and Elizabeth Rigby. When John was born he was the youngest of 11 children.

The family lived in the St Lukes area of Derby, which is quite close to the city centre. On July 15th 1897, the year before John was born, six of his brothers and sisters were baptised at St Georges Mission Church in Derby.  At the time the family were living at 61 Sherwood St in Derby. I cannot find any baptism for John, possibly with the family moving to Whittington, where they were living by 1901, there wasn’t time get it arranged.

In 1901 the family were living at 174 Sheffield Road Whittington and John was by now four years old.


William was working as a Spring Smith.  A Spring Smith was the person who made the springs for carriages.  As there was the Chatsworth Wagon Works at Old Whittington, and also wagon works in New Whittington, then I think it is safe to assume that William was employed quite close to home!

There were ten children living at home in 1901, John was the youngest. Five children were already working, Samuel at 13 was a potters labourer!   One of John’s older sisters Eleanor, who was 18 years old in 1901, had stayed behind in Derby and was living with her father’s brother George and his family.

I have not been able to find any school records for John as yet. Sadly for the family, John’s mother Elizabeth died on 1904 and was buried in Old Whittington churchyard on the 2nd November aged just 45 years old. This would leave William with three children under         10 years to look after as well as the older children.

The next record for John is the 1911 census.


As the census records shows now there are just three of John’s siblings at home.  John is now 13 years old and it would appear that he hasn’t started work yet.

The family are now listed at living at 174 Blocks, Brushes from the map below the Blocks were above the Brushes Pottery at the top of the map.

the blocks

Thanks to John Barnett for advising me on the location of the Blocks.

John’s sister Elizabeth and brother George had married and were both living in Whittington with their respective spouses, William was also married and living in Unstone.  Samuel had died in September 1903 aged 15 years and is buried in Old Whittington churchyard.

John enlisted in Chesterfield in the 9th Battalion Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment (Sherwood Foresters) his Service number was 22195.

cap badge sherwoods

Cap badge of the Sherwood Foresters courtesy of

He certainly enlisted before he was 18 and was one of the many young boys (250,000) who enlisted under age. This excerpt taken from  may explain how so many young boys managed to slip through.

Official government policy was that you had to be 18 to sign up and 19 to fight overseas. In the early twentieth century most people didn’t have birth certificates, so it was easy to lie about your age.

Recruitment officers

It didn’t help that recruitment officers were paid two shillings and sixpence (about £6 in today’s money) for each new recruit, and would often turn a blind eye to any concern they had about age. At the same time, though, some officers thought the fresh air and good food of the army would do some of the more under-nourished boys a bit of good.

Unfortunately, as with many others, John’s service records were destroyed in 1940 when a bomb hit the War office repository in London and I cannot confirm the date that he enlisted.

The 9th Service Battalion was formed as part of 1st new Army (K1)  and moved to Grantham to join the 33rd Brigade of the 11th Northern Division. It’s difficult to be sure of John’s movements. but according to his medal card, he definitely arrived in the Balkans (Gallipoli) before 31st December 1915.

The divisions movements were as follows:

July 1915 Embarked for Mudros from Liverpool, most of the Division sailing on the Aquitania and Empress of Britain.

6/7th August 1915 landed at Suvla Bay more can be read about Suvla Bay here


Image from

The result of the Suvla Bay landings was failure, none of the objectives were achieved and the British advance was stopped after 800 metres.

In December 1915 the Division were evacuated from Gallipoli and moved to Egypt via Imbros.

The Division landed at Alexandria on 2nd February, 19th February saw the Division take over a section of the Suez Canal defences.  According to John’s medal card, he definitely arrived in the Balkans (Gallipoli) before 31st December 1915 and would have been involved in the move to Egypt.

John Smedley was killed on 13th May 1916,  the Grave registration report shows that he drowned.  He would have been 18 years old, only just old enough to enlist and certainly not old enough to be sent overseas!


John was awarded the British War and Victory Medals along with 14/15 Star, which awarded to anyone who entered the theatre of war before 31st December 1915.


John was buried at Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery in Egypt, a very long way from home. Information on the cemetery can be found at

The inscription on his grave reads:

‘Thy Will Be Done’


Picture courtesy of

His father William died in 1936 in Chesterfield.  According to the 1939 registration records John’s brother, George, was still living in Old Whittington at Church Street working as a Blacksmith.

John is remembered on Old Whittington and the Brushes War Memorials.


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