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Knottingley and Ferrybridge Memories

WARTIME MEMORIES OF

FRANK SMITHEY

Frank Smithey was born at the family home on Fishergate, Ferrybridge, in 1921 to parents Mr. and Mrs Hollings Smithey. Frank’s father was well-known around Ferrybridge for playing on the spoons and bones and was often to be seen playing in the Harry Preston Band. Many of the older residents of Ferrybridge will remember Harry Prestons Accordian Band.

Frank Smithey

Frank was the fourth child into the family with eight brothers and sisters. When he attained school age he was enrolled at the Ferrybridge Junior and Infants School where he remained until he moved up to the Senior School where he was to stay until he was of school leaving age which at that time was 14 years.

Upon leaving school Frank began his first job working at Jackson’s glassworks as a ‘yard lad'. When he reached the age of 16 years, which was the age level required to move into the ‘shops’ where the bottle manufacturing took place, his first job was as a 'taker in', putting bottles into the leah’s to finish off before they were examined for faults. He later moved on to the 'press and blow' machine producing 5lb sweet jars. The leader of the group was the gatherer, Bramwell Horton, a well-known Salvationist. Frank continued with this occupation until he received his call up papers for military service in 1941.

After passing his medical examination at the Examination Board on Woodhouse Lane, Leeds, he was enlisted with the R.A.S.C as a driver and was sent to join a regular army unit stationed at Blackpool. It was in this unit that he received his military training, and upon completion he was posted to Bangor, Northern Ireland where he stayed for some twelve months. He was then relocated to Hillsborough, County Down, where the home of the Governor Central of Northern Ireland was situated. During his time there that he quite often saw members of the Royal Family who were visiting the area, and were enjoying the hospitality of the Governors residence. He recalls seeing our present queen as a young girl and her parents the King and Queen. He also saw the Duke of York shortly before he was involved in the tragic air accident which was to cost him his life.

On his return to England, Frank's company were posted to army barracks in Sussex. They performed their normal duties along with training for the D-Day landings planned for June 1944. Part of his duties entailed water-proofing his vehicle and carrying out tests in water conditions.

Although he did not in fact cross the channel on June 6th, he did serve the last nights guard duty prior to the fleet sailing which happened from every one of the southern Embarkation Ports. He described it as an amazing sight to witness the massed fleet of ships and troops awaiting their sailing orders.

Franks company sailed some three or four days later from the Gosport Hards Harbour and coincidentally was aware that his father had previously worked on them when he had moved around the country under the movement of Labour Act. Gosport Hards were concrete slopes down to the water which enabled liberty boats to lower their ramps to allow the loading of military vehicles. Frank and his fellow comrades stayed aboard one of the liberty boats for a couple of nights before sailing across the channel and arriving during the evening on the beach at Arramanche, Normandy. His lorry was loaded with ammunitions to supply the forward troops, Infantry, Tank Regiments etc.  After carrying out water-de-proofing of his vehicle, his company were sent on detachment to the Royal Engineers, who were part of the 3rd British Infantry Division.

During the winter months of 1944 his Company’s role changed and they switched from carrying ammunition supplies for the forward troops to working with the engineers supplying ballast and tarmac so repair work could be undertaken to the damaged and unmade roads which were in danger of causing the supply lines to bog down. This was an essential duty to ensure continuity of war materials reaching our forward fighting men.

In the spring of 1945 the Company continued to support the engineers who had now moved up the line to occupy the forward positions and were responsible for the maintenance and building of new ‘bailey bridges’ and tank crossing points due to many of the bridges and vital crossings being destroyed by the retreating German forces.

On one occasion Frank remembers that they raided a local brickyard and completely emptied it of its stock of bricks to be used as ballast. They worked continuously for three days and nights to carry out important repairs to an entry road to one of the river bridge crossings. It came as a complete shock the day following the repairs when while sitting eating sandwiches and listening to the BBC radio news broadcast, they heard the newscaster report that a river bridge crossing had been established and troops were now moving across it.

When Frank's Company finally crossed the Rhine into Germany he was driving his lorry loaded with ballast for the engineers when he spotted a soldier in a beret wearing the badge of the East Riding Yeomanry waiting with his tank regiment to cross over the river. Frank's younger brother George was also serving in the Yeomanry. Frank asked the soldier if he knew of his brother George Smithey and the soldier replied "Yes, very well...  In fact", he said, "on your return journey I will have him back here to greet you",  and that is what happened. Frank and George were both overjoyed to see each other. George was also somewhat fortunate to be able to share the contents of a parcel Frank had recently received from the Hull Daily Mail.

Frank continued his military service in Europe until the end of the hostilities was declared. He was demobbed in Germany and returned to Taunton, Somerset, for his final discharge from military service. He was also issued with the famous civilian demob outfit for his return home.

Frank’s future wife, May, had a friend called Mary who had approached Frank and enquired if he would be interested in making up a foursome for an evening out. He said he would most certainly be interested and so he went to meet May, who was but 16 years old at the time. The evening was a great success and the couple courted for three years until they were married.

During Frank’s time away from home on active duty, May had found work in a munitions factory situated at Thorpe Arch, Wetherby. She was employed in the Aircraft Inspection Department. The work entailed the inspection of aircraft munitions. She stayed in this work until the end of the war when the factory was closed down.

Frank Smithey with his wife May
after their wedding in 1942

Frank had married his wife May, who was a Pontefract lass, in 1942 in a wedding ceremony held at All Saint's Church in Pontefract. On his return home Frank rejoined his wife who was by this time living with her parents on the Willow Park Estate. They enjoyed a successful and happy life together for over 58 years until May's unfortunate death in March 2000, just two weeks before her 77th birthday. They had a son Kevan, born in 1948, who was followed by their lovely daughter Karen in 1956. He has three grandchildren, Kevan has a son Stephen and Karen has a son Jonathon and a daughter Cheryl.

Although Frank has lived in Pontefract since 1942 he still fondly remembers living in Ferrybridge as a boy. He remembers attending the Infirmary Sunday Gala’s and joining in the sporting activities and games. He was also a regular supporter of Ferrybridge Amateur Football Club and recalls that the games were played on a field which later became the Pinders Garth Estate. He also enjoyed attending the charity concerts held in the school hall.

Frank now leads a quiet life in Pontefract and is a member of the Royal British Legion.

Frank Smithey was talking to Maurice Haigh.

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