First World War centenary: Story of Dagenham pierrot who entertained troops

Alexander Smith's First World War campaign medals

Alexander Smith's First World War campaign medals - Credit: Archant

Not everyone who took part in the First World War was involved in fighting. In this week’s feature to mark its centenary, Sophie Morton meets the son of a one of the war’s lesser-known heroes – a pierrot who entertained the troops

Harold Smith

Harold Smith - Credit: Archant

The First World War wasn’t going to get in the way of one man’s love of performing.

Alexander Smith's First World War campaign medals

Alexander Smith's First World War campaign medals - Credit: Archant

Pte Alexander Reginald Smith joined the 17th London Regiment in December 1915, where he performed as a pierrot, entertaining the troops.

“They were called pierrots because they used to perform on piers,” explained his son, Harold Smith, of Emerald Gardens, Dagenham.

“He travelled all around France trying to boost morale.

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“People don’t always realise how important they were.”

In August 1918, however, his war was cut short by a gunshot wound to his left arm.

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Harold, 90, said: “He was hit in the arm and had to go to hospital.

“There were only a few months left of the war when he got injured, and he didn’t go back.”

He was officially discharged in July 1919 and given a war pension.

Born in Poplar in 1894, Alexander attended Smeed Road School in Bow, leaving at the age of 14 with a school report praising his attendence, conduct and athleticism.

He passed away in 1963, leaving two sons and a daughter, the youngest of which was Harold.

The family moved to the Becontree Estate in the early 1930s, becoming one of the first families to live there.

“When he left the army, he worked on the buses at Barking bus garage, and I joined him when I came out of the army myself in 1947,” said Harold, who still lives in the house his family moved to in in 1939.

“That was what he did for the rest of his life, and I loved working on the buses with him.”

Harold also shared his father’s creative streak, entertaining residents of the care home in Dagenham where his wife, Mary, spent her last few years of her life.

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