The stories behind the story
In April 1940 John went to France with the British Expeditionary Force as a sapper in the Royal Engineers. And he took his weapons of choice with him - gun, pencil and paper!
Useful WW2 Links
Links to music on Premium Beat:
Note: Please bear in mind there are spoilers over the tracks in connection with copyright protection.
Bill Cheall's published memoirs, which depict his Dunkirk exploits and much more, but for much less than £20!
Corporal Sapper John Frederick Smith 1911798 of 689 Coy the Royal Engineers, WWII
John proudly displaying his WWII medals in 1981 on Armistice Day
Full show transcript:
FT Episode 15 – The War Poems of Sapper John Frederick Smith, WW2
More great unpublished history!
They say that life in the Army, is very fine,
But you can't beat the boys of Six Eight Nine.
This is the WW2 poetry of Sapper John Frederick Smith of the British 689 Coy R.E..
I’m Paul Cheall, son of Bill Cheall whose WW2 memoirs have been published by Pen and Sword – in FTFDTH.
Welcome again. It seems like every month I’m coming across new material to use in the show and I thank all those people to date who have sent memoirs or letters in.
One such person is
Rita wrote in a while back regarding the episode on little ship The Bee –
Her Dad was in the BEF and was rescued from Dunkirk. And I’m very pleased to say that Rita has sent me her Dad’s very entertaining poetry.
Rita tells us;
“Dad was in the Royal Engineers and later joined the Dunkirk Veterans, which sadly disbanded as there were so few still alive.
He was injured by a reversing Lorry during the retreat. But was rescued on The Canterbury which we believe was the British Rail cross channel ferry. He boarded in Dunkirk Harbour, and was taken to Chatham in Kent.
After that he spent the rest of his service as a despatch rider in Scotland.
He had two friends Jimmy and George Whales who came from Co. Durham and they kept in touch for many years.
“Dad was born 1914 and lived in the London region. He passed away 1994. He was married to Annie Renham in 1936 and had three children,
There Violet and Rita herself, and middle child John born 14th April 1940. So listener I had to read that twice cos John’s date of birth, 14 April, meant that father John would have been in France the day his son was born!
Thankfully the Germans wouldn’t have invaded at that point but can you imagine the feelings going on either side of the channel at the prospect of John senior meeting his demise?
How fortunate he got back to England safely to see his new born little son! I asked Rita about all this and she said her dad wasn’t allowed back to England for the birth for obvious reasons but he did manage to send John an embroidered card from France which he still has as a momento.
John enlisted for military service with the Royal Engineers in Jan 1940 at his Recruiting Centre in Sutton, Surrey in England
My Dad made several references to the engineers in his story,
always remarking on how crucial their support was in rebuilding roads or bridges, not to mention the role of some of them with bomb disposal and mine clearance.
So, John went to France with B.E.F. as a sapper ….
And he took gun pencil, paper and possibly some fag packets with him …
So, this is the poetry of Corporal Sapper John Frederick Smith 1911798 of 689 Coy the Royal Engineers, WWII
We all met in France, out on the old Somme,
Went out and came back, no matter where from,
Jimmy, George and myself were always three pals,
Shared all our fags, our troubles, and tales,
Worked in the mud, and all kinds of weather,
Did guards and fatigues, all kinds, together.
Went on parade, stood, spit, polish and shine,
Whatever we did, wherever we went, we toed the line.
It's funny that – war - makes all pals like us,
Do things, and say things, and not cause a fuss,
So, when it's all over, we hope we can see,
All people, together, like Jim, George and me.
Written whilst serving with B E F France 1940
SIX EIGHT NINE
They say that life in the Army, is very fine,
But you can't beat the boys of Six Eight Nine.
They've all been to France, are most volunteers,
Had more kicks and jankers, than they have had cheers.
They make you smile, when you get browned off,
A very good crowd, and each one a toff.
Always a smile, be it wet or fine,
That's the spirit of lads in Six Eight Nine.
Never a fight, nor harsh words are said,
From first thing in morning, till time for bed.
It's a pity that those above us can't say,
That they wish they were better, in every way.
But who cares, as long as we are all pals,
Don't worry over regs, and are hard as nails.
When we get parted, we don't know when,
The saying will be, they were all jolly fine men.
But when the time comes, and we all look back,
We’ll say Six Eight Nine, was best of the pack.
Written in Brixton, London during the blitz with lads of 689 Coy R.E.
In these days of trouble and war,
Whether we be rich or very poor,
Let us hope that when we pray,
We pray for peace, to come and stay.
Why should we have to kill and slaughter,
Someone's loving son or daughter,
When we were born to love and cherish,
Not to take up arms to kill or perish.
Written whilst in the thick of London Blitz 1940
That’s your lot listener.
I wonder if John in his wildest dreams ever thought his compositions would be read out loud to a large audience. So, good on you John, many thanks for your contribution, and I hope everyone enjoys it as much as I have.
And many thanks to Rita for taking the trouble to send it in together with various photos you’ll find in the show notes at FTP.co.uk.
If anyone else has any poems, anecdotes or memoirs they’d like to hear on the show, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Bubbling under in the not too distant future there’s going to be more coffee with veteran Wilf Shaw, who’s going to regale us with more entertaining war talk from WWII North Africa and Normandy.
Anyone who’s listened to Wilf’s previous chat in Episode 4 will know how full he is of entertaining stories and I’ve got some more great photos to go with it too.
In his own words, Wilf is “still trespassing” on this planet, so this is a rare opportunity to hear another first-hand account of the war.
And I’m soon going to be covering the most frightening and breath-taking piece of history, in a memoir on Gallipoli by Fred Reynard who you may recall was the chap who wrote the Dunkirk Bee memoir.
And you know what? I’ve just been sent an enlarged version of the Bee memoir and I’m currently trying to work out whether to merge what are now two versions into one, or just to publish the second on its own. Watch this space!
Thank you for listening – this was Fighting Through, episode 15.
If you’ve enjoyed John Smith’s war poetry, you might like to take a listen to Doug Gray’s D-Day poetry in episode 8 if you haven’t already done so.
See you soon, listener, and stay with me for the PS …
Bye bye now!
I must share with you a story about some shoe polishing brushes I’ve got. I’ve 3 of them and my parents gave them to me many years ago when I first left home, and I can remember my Dad giving me a lesson on how to best use them – spit and polish like in his army days..
Well, I’ve used those brushes loads of time over the years and it was only the other day that I was inspecting one of them to check which one was for the black polish and blow me I noticed a marking on them. And it was a WD stamp from the war years, along with my Dad’s army number, 4390717. One of them was dated 1940 - no doubt they polished Major Petch’s boots on a regular basis. OMG – maybe they even went to Dunkirk.
If you’d like to see them, together with other photos and the words to John’s poems, take a look at the show notes at FTP.co.uk.
If you’re on Twitter, please do look me up and follow me. It’s Paul Cheall and there’s a link in the show notes.
Finally, this is a question about the music I use on the show, from Dominick Guida
Hello from the States! First off I love your podcasts. I had a quick question about the name of the song playing in the background of a few of the podcasts. It's the one playing when you're reading some of Monty's D-Day speech. Keep up the great work! Dom.
Dominick it’s great that you've emailed me because I love that music – and no-one has ever commented till now. So thanks for your kind words.
The track is Sweet Adrenaline by Delicate Beats and I got it from Premium Beat, a Royalty Free music site but it wasn't totally free - they never tell you these things!
I’m putting a link to PB.com in the show notes.
Out of interest, the intro I use is Our Mighty Hearts,
The sad one is Heading Home.
And the outro is In Victory,
I’m about to use Sweet Adrenaline for the outro so if you like it stay connected – I’m going to play the whole thing right through.
If you want to hear Monty again – it’s episode 10 about Dunkirk little ship the Bee.
Bye bye now – see you soon!
Enjoy Sweet Adrenaline ….
Corporal John F Smith WW2 Sapper
An example of John's typed WWII poetry
John made his cap badge on fabric and embroidered it - Framed along with some of his poems, John and pal were kitted out together
Miniatures of John's medals
Bill Cheall's wartime shoes brushes, showing WD mark and service number
D-Day the CD with Stan Hollis VC
Dunkirk the CD