Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Remembering a Veteran: From Oxfordshire to Ireland to France to Italy to Prisoner to Escape—Signalman Eli Smith's Adventurous War


Whatever thoughts Eli had about army life, it would be safe to say that what followed was not one of them. In 1916, 18-year-old Eli Smith from Old Hill, Staffordshire, enlisted in the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars (QOOH) and made his way with others to Ireland where he was to learn his military skills in the aftermath of the Easter Rebellion.

In December that year, he was next part of a group of 200 soldiers that were sent to France to join the 1/4 Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, arriving two days before Christmas 1916. The Battalion fought in France until November 1917 when it was posted to Italy for the start of the Austro-Hungarian offensive.

Off to the Infantry

Fighting continued until 15 June 1918 on the Asiago front, when Eli was reported missing in action. His family found out that he was a prisoner of war in Austria, having been wounded. He had sustained a shrapnel wound to his chest which would have been fatal but for his cigarette case in a breast pocket. He was found by the Austro-Hungarians two days later.

Eli was sent to a hospital in Vienna and, once fully recovered, found he was the only Englishman there. Although a POW, he was treated well and offered work within the hospital helping the surgeons and on the wards with dressings. He is shown in the photo below working as a surgical aide in an Austrian Army hospital.

POW and Hospital Orderly


One week before the Armistice, he managed to obtain an Austrian coat and cap and set off toward the Italian lines, where he revealed his identity. He was eventually released to the authorities, who arranged his passage home. He returned to the bosom of his family and friends where he was given a hero’s welcome-home party. Eli was by now twenty-one-years old. He’d had his adventure.

[If any of our readers have any details about Eli's later life, please post them below.  MH]

Source: Oxfordshire Museum

No comments:

Post a Comment