William Hardwick Smith was born in Slingsby, Yorkshire, on 12th April 1887, the oldest of four children to John and Sarah Smith. John was a house painter, but William had his sights set a seafaring career.
By the summer of 1909, he had enlisted in the Royal Navy. He gave his previous profession as seaman, and his place of birth as Manchester, but there is no documentation to confirm either his previous role, or to challenge his Yorkshire birth.
Joining the navy as a Stoker 2nd Class, his service records give his height as 5ft 8.5ins (1.74m) and show that he had auburn hair, grey eyes and a fresh complexion. William had a number of tattoos as well, including a ship and anchor, clasped hands and heart, a woman’s head and bird and the words “True Love” and “W Smith” on his right forearm.
During his initial five years’ service, Stoker Smith served on six different vessels, attaining the rank of Stoker 1st Class in the process. His career was not entirely without problems, however, and his records show that he was detained for 28 days for being AWOL in 1911, and imprisoned again for a further twelve days two years later.
As his term of service came to an end, the storm clouds of war were knocking on England’s shores, and William volunteered for a further seven years. During this time, he was primarily based at HMS Pembroke, the Royal Naval Dockyard at Chatham, Kent, although he was also assigned to the depot ship HMS Dido. Again, his time on board saw him spend two further periods in the brig, although his exact misdemeanours are lost to time.
Back at HMS Pembroke in the summer of 1917, William found himself in an overly packed base. He was billeted in the Chatham Drill Hall, which was being used as temporary accommodation.
On the 3rd September 1917, the German Air Force carried out its first night-time air raid. They scored a direct hit on the Drill Hall; Stoker 1st Class Smith was amongst those killed instantly. He was 30 years old.
William Hardwick Smith was laid to rest, alongside the other victims of the Chatham Air Raid, in the Woodlands Cemetery, Gillingham.