First World War hero’s story is made into book by family 40 years on
14:43 12 June 2014
The memoirs of a Plaistow man’s life in the Royal Navy during the First World War have been immortalised in a book.
Fred Smith, known as Smudge, joined up in 1913 to escape a troubled upbringing, serving King and country for seven years.
One of four siblings, Fred was born in Plaistow in 1894 and attended Stock Street School until he was 14.
His mother died when he was just 13, and he was bullied by his two German stepsisters.
“He was known as Smudge because he was small, he wasn’t fed enough,” said his great-nephew, Graham Rogers, who has helped publish the book.
“There were a lot of people named Smith and they used to give nicknames to tell them apart.”
Fred trained as a stoker at Chatham, where he had to learn how to swim.
Just a few months later he was diving into icy waters to rescue passengers from a torpedoed ship in the middle of the Atlantic.
“He had only just learnt to swim and then he had to dive overboard to save a woman and two children from drowning.
“People tend to think of U-boats as being in the Second World War, but they were used in the First World War as well.”
He stayed on after the conflict, rescuing civilians caught up in the Russian revolution and the Crimea.
Whilst in the Navy he married Louisa, who had lived on the same road as him as a child, and despite being offered a promotion he chose to leave in 1920 when Louisa fell pregnant with their only child, Rosina.
Their wedding wasn’t the only one both families attended, as Fred’s brother George married Louisa’s sister Alice.
Fred was given a sum of money after leaving the Navy which he used to purchase a home in Sidcup, where the family remained.
“He used to commute up to London to work for the Post Office,” said Graham, who lives in Hampshire.
“During the Second World War he worked on the telecoms.”
It wasn’t until he was much older that Fred wrote his recollections down.
The 200-page memoirs were scribed in a series of school exercise books and were found by Rosina following Fred’s death.
She passed the books onto her own daughter, Wendy Reader, who decided to get them published 40 years after they were discovered.
“We took it to publishers but they said it needed too much editing, so we edited it and published it ourselves.
“It goes up to 1920, and I don’t know whether he intended to write more or whether he died before he could.”
Smudge’s Story is available online in both ebook and paperback form.