John Jacob Smith, our dedicated WWI soldier

This year marks the centenary of the Battle of Passchendaele, Belgium. On Saturday 14 October at 10.30am for 11am a march and memorial service will be held at the Cenotaph at Maitland Park, to remember the 34th Battalion, “Maitland’s Own”, along with 35th and 36th Battalions from “Newcastle” and all soldiers and nurses who fought in World War I. 

There are 690 names on the Maitland and District “Roll of Honour”.

One of those is John Jacob Smith, born at Clarence Town to Jacob and Elizabeth Smith. He was 38 when he enlisted to join the 34th Battalion D Company on 5 January 1916. His unit embarked from Sydney on board HMAT A20 Honorata on 2 May 1916.

The family possesses six letters Jacob sent home. The first was written on 30 April 1916 from the Military Camp, and the last was sent from England dated 14 November and sent to Jacob’s brother Philip, one month and two days before he was killed. This letter tells much of the times in which it was written.

Dear Brother

I am writing my last note before going to the front and I hope you will not be surprised, and please let my brothers and sisters know and old friends.   It may be a few weeks before we get to the firing line, but I don’t think we will last long there by all accounts. Well dear Brother I am well prepared, and I suppose I will have another chance of going to Communion. I was at Mass and Communion last Sunday, and I have several Blessed medals. Tell Father and Mother not to worry about me as it may be a good place to face death, for a man gets prepared to meet his creator as well there as anywhere else. It was Father’s birthday a few days ago, and I wish him many returns of the day. If I get killed outright I want you to draw my money and give one third of it for the education of Priests, and one third to the Nuns in Brookfield for the upkeep of their Order, and the rest you may divide amongst the rest of my brothers and sisters equally if they are in want of it, yourselves included. I want a few Masses said for me out of it too before you divide it. If any of my private articles are sent home to you, I want you to keep the Fountain Pen, and Belt, and send my Pocket Book to Katie Gippel. This will be all so I wish you all good-bye, and tell Father and Mother I am sending my best love.

I remain your fond brother, Jacob Smith

If any of the articles are not sent through, do not worry for after all it may not matter so much if you have tokens or not.

A Merry Christmas to all.

Jacob was killed on the Western Front on 16 December 1916. He is buried at Cite Bonjean Military Cemetery, Armentieres. France. He was a soldier for 11 months and 11 days.

The Smith family also has a letter from Bishop Dwyer to Father Keenan, 22 December 1917. This letter acknowledges receipt of a cheque for £20 from Philip Smith of Clarence Town on behalf of his deceased brother for the education of priests.

All are welcome to the march and memorial service on 14 October. For details, please call 0407 588 954.

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Ruth Trappel Image
Ruth Trappel

Ruth Trappel is Acting President, Maitland and District Historical Society. 

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