Smellie, John Arthur
Smellie, John Arthur

John Arthur Smellie was born on 21 June 1916 in Lincoln. I don’t know the circumstances of John’s birth but his family came from the Chainhouse  Lane/Newgate Lane area of Whitestake. His father was John Smellie (b. 1888 in Preston). In 1911, John snr was living with his father and stepmother at Sheephill Lane, Whitestake, and was working as a painter and decorator. In 1915, John snr married Elsie Hall (b. 1889 in Whitestake). John Arthur was born the following year, and a sister, Dorothy Isabel, was born in 1926. The couple may have had other children in the intervening years but I don’t have any records.

In 1938, John Arthur married Hilda Dunn (b. 1914 in Preston). The following year according to the 1939 England and Wales Register the couple are registered as living at 166 Scotter Road, Scunthorpe, and John is employed by the Potato Marketing Board. The following year, however, the family is back in Lancashire where daughter Phyllis is born.

John Arthur joined the Army, enlisting in the Royal Armoured Corps, and was posted to 10th Royal Hussars, a tank regiment. In November 1941, the regiment deployed to North Africa with the 2nd Armoured Brigade, joining 7th Armoured Division.

In June 1940, Italy had declared war on Britain and France, and British forces immediately crossed from Egypt into Libya (an Italian colony). Italian forces invaded Egypt in September but eventually British, Indian and Australian forces began to take the upper hand, leading to the capture of Tobruk by British and Australian troops in January 1941. With the fall of Benghazi a month later the Italian army was effectively defeated and surrendered. At this point, Churchill ordered a halt to the advance to allow troops to be moved to the defence of Greece. And Rommel was appointed to take charge of the Afrika Korps. These two events led to a major shift in the fortunes of the North Africa Campaign. By the end of March, Rommel was ready to begin his advance; British forces withdrew from Benghazi and Rommel laid siege to Tobruk on 10 April. The siege was eventually relieved on 9 December. On other parts of the front, Axis and Allied forces were engaged in a number of battles and skirmishes with no clear outcomes; the Allies had numerical superiority but poor leadership. Rommel began his second offensive on 21 January 1942, capturing Benghazi by 29 January, at which point the front line was established between Gazala and Bir Hakeim (see the map).

Smellie, John Arthur

Battle of Gazala 1942

Axis forces assaulted the Gazala line on 26 May, and on 13 June – “Black Saturday” – they inflicted heavy losses on the Allies and on 21 June the Axis captured Tobruk.  John Arthur Smellie was killed in action during the Battle of Gazala, on 29 May 1942. He was 25 years old.

Following the capture of Tobruk, the Axis forces advanced quickly into Egypt and by the end of June they had reached El Alamein. Both sides then dug in. In August, Montgomery was appointed to command the Eighth Army and began an intense period of reinforcement and retraining. On 23 October, Montgomery launched Operation Lightfoot, the start of the Second Battle of El Alamein, and on 5 November, the Axis lines were broken. Winston Churchill, in The Hinge of Fate, later wrote “Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat.” Not quite true but why let the facts stand in the way of a good sound bite!

Rank: Trooper

Service Number: 7920514

Unit/Regiment: Royal Armoured Corps, 10th Royal Hussars

Date of death: 29/05/1942

Age: 25


Memorial Reference: Joint grave 4. C. 22.

Additional Information: Son of John and Elsie Smellie; husband of Hilda Smellie, of Preston, Lancashire.

Smellie, John Arthur