WWII Normandy veteran, Roy ‘Smudger’ Smith, from Sittingbourne in Kent died in hospital on Friday 23 June - he was 97.
Roy Smith is survived by his two daughters, Linda Harvey and Teresa Rising, five grandchildren and eleven great grandchildren.
Roy was born in November 1925 in Sittingbourne, Kent, the second youngest of seven children. From a poor family, Roy left school at 14 to start a job in a grocery store called Pearks Dairies, making deliveries to customers on a bicycle until he was called up shortly after his 18th birthday.
Private Roy ‘Smudger’ Smith served with the 4th Battalion The Dorsetshire Regiment and went over to Normandy on a landing craft a couple of weeks after D-Day. Roy was a Bren gunner and moved through Normandy and into the Netherlands where he was taken Prisoner. A POW for approximately six months, Roy weighed below 7 stone when he was freed. After medics had deemed him fit enough, he was flown home in a Lancaster to recuperate before being flown back to Germany to serve with the occupational forces for approximately one year.
After the war, Roy returned to his former employer - now called Liptons - working his way up to store manager, and stayed with the company until his retirement. Roy met his wife, Sylvia, at a bus stop when she asked him the time, fearing she may have missed the last bus. It was love at first sight and they courted until their marriage in 1954. Sylvia died in 2011.
This year, Roy travelled to the Netherlands in May for Dutch Liberation and to Normandy in June for the D-Day commemorations with the Taxi Charity for Military Veterans. His driver on both occasions was London cab driver and Taxi Charity volunteer Micky Harris. A special bond forms between the veterans and the cab drivers, and on the final day of the Normandy trip in June, Micky decided he would take Roy onto the beach.
Micky Harris takes up the story: "You get to know the veterans really well on these trips which is why most of us volunteer. During the Taxi Charity visit to Normandy, Roy had shared that he had always felt guilty that he had not got his feet wet when his landing craft had reached Sword Beach a few days after D-Day. On the final day of our trip, we were visiting Sword Beach, so spontaneously I decided to see what I could do, and dragged Roy’s wheelchair down the beach and into the water’s edge. Some 79 years later, Roy finally got his feet wet and the guilt he had previously felt seemed to lift."
Phil Harvey, Roy Smith’s grandson, said: "My family cannot thank the Taxi Charity enough for what you did for my grandfather. He truly found peace through your kind actions. I have taken him to many events in recent years, but when he came back from your trip to Normandy, I truly saw a difference - the ghosts had been laid to rest - and that is down to your actions."
Brian Heffernan, London cab driver and chairman of the Taxi Charity, said: "No one can underestimate what the trips we arrange for acts of commemoration do for the wellbeing of our veterans. Roy had only been on two trips with us but our volunteers had formed a lovely bond with him and we were deeply saddened to hear the news of his passing so soon after we returned from Normandy. Stand easy, soldier – your duty is done."
Roy’s funeral will be held on Tuesday 18 July at the Garden Of England Crematorium, Sheppey Way, Bobbing, Sittingbourne, Kent, ME9 8GZ.
In lieu of flowers, Roy’s family has asked for donations to the Taxi Charity: www.dignityfunerals.co.uk/funeral-notices/23-06-2023-roy-smith
About Roy Smith
Roy Smith never spoke about what he did in the war - the only thing his two daughters knew was that he was made a POW after being captured at Arnhem. In 2014, his grandson, Phil Harvey, decided he wanted to know more about Roy’s experiences and as a family they took him back to Arnhem, the first time he had returned since being captured.
This experience brought back many memories for him. It was a very emotional moment being back in the woods where he surrendered with Lt Col Tilley after crossing the Rhine. On this visit, the Dutch people treated my grandfather like royalty and he will always be grateful to them for this. Since that visit, Roy has opened up more, and has been involved in some commemoration events, all of which stopped due to the dreaded lockdown! Here is his story. He apologises for it not being the most detailed - the memories have been buried for some time.
Roy was born November 1925 in Sittingbourne, Kent, the second youngest of 7 children all of whom are now deceased. From a poor family, Roy left school at 14 to start a job in a grocery store called Pearks Dairies making deliveries to customers on a bicycle. He started on a salary of 10 shillings per week which was raised to 12 when he was promoted to working at a counter. Roy always took his mother a bunch of flowers every payday and he continued to work for this company until called up to war shortly following his 18th birthday.
Roy completed his 15 weeks training at Canterbury with the Buffs and after completion was sent to Upminster, Essex where his D-Day training took place. Following this, Roy was sent to Newhaven where all the men he trained with were split into various regiments to help make up the numbers. Roy was put into the 4th Dorsets and never saw anyone he trained with again until many years after the war even though a couple of the men he trained with joined the Dorsets as well.
Not involved in the first wave of D-Day, Roy remembers going across the channel on a boat full of bicycles and landing on Sword Beach. When he landed, he remembers the beach being flat and sandy with not a lot on it by the time he got there.
The 43rd Division, of which the 4th Dorsets were a part, landed in Normandy from 20 to 23 June and were fully ashore and concentrated around Bayeux by 24 June D+18. Roy actually made two crossings - the first attempt never made it due to bad weather and he returned to England; the second crossing was successful.
Roy was involved in many, as he called them, ‘skirmishes’ on his way through Normandy to Caen and the battles of Hill 112. He remembers being alongside tanks carrying the dragon logo, the 43rd Wessex division. Roy was a Bren gunner; always out front of the main body of men he was with. One particular time he was told to advance by his commanding officer and was assured there would be little German resistance. Having witnessed the area come under heavy shelling/ bombing beforehand, he marched ahead confidently. As he approached the area, ahead of the main group, he could see lots of Germans clear as day loading mortars and machine guns. The main group behind retreated when the Germans opened fire leaving him and the guys he was with very exposed and stranded. Realising they were trapped, the men decided they had two options, be captured or make a run for it. There was a small opening so Roy and a few others made a run for it under heavy fire - those that didn't were killed or captured. Once back to the main force, in a wooded area, he was poured a tea. When he went to drink it, there was nothing in his mug. Confused, Roy looked at his mug and it had a hole through it. The mug was always on his backpack by his neck - this is how close he came to being killed when making his escape. The German area was heavily shelled again and then they went back and took the area.
After Caen, Roy remembers marching to Bayeux and then having numerous ‘skirmishes’ in small towns, villages and farms through France, Belgium and into Holland. In Holland, there seemed to be a lot of waiting around with the 43rd’s tanks and the Guards Armoured Division. One morning, the sky was filled with Dakotas flying overhead. This is when they were told to march and all he knew was he had to ‘catch up’ with the airborne who had flown over in the planes. He remembers the tanks all travelling along narrow roads where they would be ambushed by the Germans. It was his group’s job to clear the way of this German resistance to allow the damaged tanks to be cleared and the convoy to keep moving onwards.
Eventually he reached the south bank of the Rhine west of Arnhem, near Driel, where plans were made to reinforce the Airborne troops across the river around Oosterbeek. Roy remembers being asked to volunteer to cross the river to act as a diversion to allow the airborne to return. He was one of the 315 Dorsets who crossed and was one of the men that reached the north bank. Crossing the river, he said the sky was lit up like the most extreme firework display. The current of the river was very strong and they managed to land and get into the woods on the other side. After digging in and coming under heavy fire, he saw a German carrying a flag who announced they were surrounded. He was with Lt Col Tilley who then made the decision to surrender his men.
As a POW (POW no 25815), he was taken to Stalag 12A and was there for a few weeks before being moved to a camp - he believes at Halle. Whilst there, he was on working parties repairing sewage drains and railways damaged by Allied bombing raids. On one occasion, he was asked to take an injured prisoner to a hospital on a cart. Whilst on his way, a German lady approached him, gave him two bread rolls, a cigarette and a kiss on his cheek and whispered that her son was a POW. It was at this point that Roy realised it was his 19th birthday that day - this moment has never left his thoughts and he has always remembered this kind lady.
A POW for approximately six months, Roy and the other Allied soldiers with him were marched away from the Russians towards the American soldiers who released them. Roy had significant weight loss as a prisoner, weighing below 7st when he reached the American soldiers. After medics had deemed him fit enough, he was flown home in a Lancaster to recuperate before being flown back to Germany to serve with the occupational forces for approximately one year.
After the war, Roy returned to his former employer, now called Liptons, working his way up to store manager and this is where he stayed until his retirement. Roy met his wife, Sylvia, at a bus stop when she asked him the time, fearing she may have missed the last bus. This was love at first sight and they courted until their marriage in 1954. They had two daughters and lived very happily, socialising with friends and family and taking many holidays abroad after they both retired. Unfortunately, Sylvia was diagnosed with dementia in 2006, and Roy cared for her until she went to a care home in 2008 where she died in 2011.
Until his death, Roy still lived in the home he had shared with Sylvia and was self-sufficient, enjoying his TV and music and seeing his two daughters, five grandchildren and eleven great grandchildren regularly.