Marshall, . A soldier's story Present day photo of veteran Smiler Marshall World War One veteran Smiler Marshall Veteran Albert 'Smiler' Marshall recalls only too well the terror of battle. The former Essex Yeomanry soldier, who was 105 in 2002, remembers one incident in 1917 as being even more horrifying than the Somme. 'One afternoon at about 4pm we learned that soldiers from the Oxford and Bucks regiment were to go over the top at 6pm. By nine o'clock every single one of them was dead. 'We went out with the Royal Army Medical Corps to bury them all. An officer held up a white stick as we went into No Man's Land. It was a sign to ask the enemy to stop firing, and they did. We could only dig down a few feet and cover them with a bit of soil, burying them where they lay. It was horrible.' 1915 photo of veteran Smiler Marshall on horseback Smiler Marshall on horseback in 1915 But having lived through the terror, Smiler, now of Ashtead, Surrey, believes it would be wrong to pardon those who were shot at dawn. 'I didn't know anyone who was executed or who had anything to do with a firing squad but we all knew about the penalty. But it didn't occur to you not to fight. You didn't think about it, you just did it. And you just took what came your way.' ' regularly lost a friend, or someone near you. The thought never left you that you could be next.' And Smiler saw only too well what came the way of many of his comrades. 'You lived in these trenches for days and days with nothing happening but bombardments, but you regularly lost a friend, or someone near you. The thought never left you that you could be next.' But Smiler, believed to be the last surviving World War One veteran to have fought on horseback, did have some sympathy with at least one man who was punished. 'One day I was ordered to stand guard over a chap who had been tied to a wheel, without food or water, as a punishment for something. I can't remember what he'd done. But I felt sorry for him so I put my fag up to his lips so he could have a smoke. It was a very risky thing to do because if anyone had seen me they'd have tied me to the wheel as well! 'Years later I was walking down Oxford Street in London and I saw him. He recognised me immediately and thanked me. He said he'd never forgotten that fag.' (, Shot at Dawn: Cowards, Traitors or Victims? By Peter Taylor-Whiffen) The Scotsman Fri 20 May 2005 10:50am (UK) Last Great War Cavalryman Dies at 108 By Tony Jones, PA The last surviving British cavalryman from the First World War has died at the age of 108. Albert Marshall lied about his age to sign up for service in the Great War and even volunteered to return to the front line after being injured and sent home to convalesce. In 1998, he was awarded the Legion dHonneur, Frances highest honour, in recognition of his gallantry. He was believed to be the second oldest man in England. His son, John Marshall, 73, said his father died in his sleep on Monday at his home in Ashtead, Surrey, from pneumonia and old age. He added: He went to join up (in 1915) and the man behind the desk said How old are you lad?. My father replied 17, but the man said Would you leave the room. He went outside then came back in after a bit and the man asked him again how old he was. Eighteen, my father said, and was allowed to join up. We as a family never knew a thing about his war experiences. We knew he was in the First World War, obviously, but it was not a subject spoken about. It was only when he joined the veterans association and all the media attention he received after his 100th birthday that we learnt about what he did. Mr Marshall, known as Smiler, was born on March 15, 1897, the year of Queen Victorias diamond jubilee, in Elmstead Market, a small Essex village. He had a life-long passion for working with horses and in January 1915, aged 17, joined the Essex Yeomanry. His carer, Graham Stark, a volunteer from the World War One Veterans Association, said: The young men that joined up didnt think they were being brave. The old Victorian values just kicked in. People didnt put themselves first it was a duty. We consider them heroes but they wouldnt consider themselves in that way. The soldier took part in his first major battle during the autumn of 1915 at Loos in northern France. Mr Marshall once said: The cavalrys job in winter was to hold the front line. There were three lines of trenches, mud and devastation. Mr Stark said the old soldier told him he worked in small mounted units of four. One man would hold the reins of the other three horses while his comrades fought the enemy on foot. While serving in Flanders he was shot through the hand and spent 1917 convalescing in a Newcastle hospital but volunteered to return to the front and was back in position by spring 1918, now with the Machine Gun Corps. After the Armistice he volunteered to serve again, this time in the growing Anglo-Irish conflict. Mr Marshall said years later: In battle your friends were getting wounded and killed and then you had to bury them. But you took it all in your stride. He was demobbed in 1921 and married his childhood sweetheart, Florence. After working for the Essex and Suffolk hunt he later became a country estate worker in Surrey. John, the only survivor of Mr Marshalls five children, said: He was a bubbly character this sums up his nickname. Latest News: 21 May 2005 LAST OF THE HORSEMEN Incredible life of Great War cavalry hero 'Smiler' Marshall By Gill Swain AS he spotted the enemy, the memory of his comrades' suffering was as fresh as new blood. Fired with rage, Albert Marshall drew his sword, dug his spurs into his horse's flanks and charged. Galloping across that field in France in 1916, the steel flashing in his hand, Albert was fighting like men had done against the Romans, against the Normans in 1066, in the Crusades and in colonial wars. His death this week at 108, the last British soldier ever to ride to war or wield a sword in battle, marked the end of an era. Not that Albert was a military man at heart. His nickname was "Smiler" and he liked to live up to it. He was a country boy who spent his life in the saddle. He was also a throwback to a more hierarchical age. He spent his life in devoted service to people in "the big house" and, as he grew frail, they in turn looked after him. He never had a mortgage, never paid rent or tax and rarely took a holiday. He owned little and coveted nothing. "His was a stress-free life. He didn't have any worries," says his grandson, Alan. Albert was born the son of an agricultural worker in the Essex village of Elmstead Market, in 1897, an era when horses were still the only means of getting about, apart from your own two feet. At 6.30am on the day after his 13th birthday he started work as a shipwright's apprentice but soon wriggled out of it to be a stable boy on the local country house estate. When Lord Kitchener came calling at Christmas in 1914, Albert answered, even though he was still only 17 and had to pretend that he was a year older to get into a cavalry division of the Essex Yeomanry. "I thought nothing about the war. I just thought of riding horses and being with my mates," he told the Daily Mirror in 1997. Larking about on parade on his 18th birthday, he threw a snowball and was ticked off by the sergeant major. "I'm talking to you, Smiler," he yelled. The name stuck. It's amazing to think that Albert was still only a teenager when he confronted the Germans at the Battle of Loos in September 1915, which cost 50,000 British casualties. When he was 101, Albert recalled the carnage with the matter-of-fact attitude of the typical Tommy. "It wasn't too bad when you got used to the shelling. If you were in the front line, they couldn't shell because they were too close - though they could get you with bullets, grenades and trench mortars." H E remembered "being lousy all the time" and having only two baths in three years. "It was pretty grim," he said. But whenever he was in a sticky spot, Albert would sing his favourite hymn, Nearer My God To Thee. It was a talisman he used all his life. He didn't fear death. "When you lost a mate, you thought: 'Well, that could be me tomorrow.' By accepting that, I wasn't afraid of it." The cavalry's role was to break through enemy lines and hold the position until the infantry arrived. "Sometimes we had to hold the line for two days or more, dug into our holes and fighting off the enemy." The worst thing he ever saw was a summer meadow choked with the bodies of hundreds of boys from the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry, who had poured off a train the previous evening wearing new uniforms with shiny buttons. "By 9am, they were all dead. We had to bury them, one or two to each grave. It was terrible. They looked beautiful - so young and clean and smart. I can still see their faces." Soon afterwards, at Camb-rai, Albert spied 100 Germans and thirsted for revenge. He said: "When they saw us thundering towards them, they ran like heck back to their trenches." In March 1917, he was shot through the hand but, after recovering, volunteered for the new Machine Gun Corps. One day, a shell exploded nearby and buried him up to his waist in mud. One of the men trapped with him called out that if Smiler was still alive, he should sing his trademark hymn. "So I did. It gave us a bit of comfort." Theirs was a comradeship too deep for words in peacetime. "We were all the best of pals," was all Albert could find to say. After the Armistice, he returned home to his childhood sweetheart, Flo. He landed a job as a groom at Great Bromley Hall in Essex and married in 1921. It was an age of innocence, even ignorance. "My wife wasn't interested in anything intimate for months after we married, as her mother had frightened her. Never mind, we went on to have five children." They were Kathleen, Cyril, Geoff and twins Jean and John. Albert outlived them all except John, now aged 71. He also leaves 12 grandchildren, 24 great grandchildren and five great, great grandchildren. W HEN his employer moved to near Guildford in Surrey, Albert - a terrier man with the Essex and Suffolk hunt - went with him. Soon afterwards he lost his right eye when a clipping from a horse's mane pierced the retina. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Albert volunteered for the Home Guard and moved to a cottage in Ashtead, Surrey, to work for the Maples family. He taught generations of children to ride, organised gymkhanas and became a skilled amateur vet. Albert was regarded as one of the family and worked in the greenhouses until he was over 100. His beloved Flo, with whom he had "never a cross word", died in 1984. He'd never taken her to France, having no desire to revisit the battlefields. But TV crews increasingly came calling on him... He was persuaded to go to Arras in 1998 for a Songs Of Praise special but though glad to visit the grave of his best friend, Lenny Percival, who had fallen dying into his arms, he thought the horror and the suffering were best forgotten. He'd talk reluctantly and only to honour the memory of his mates. He accepted the Legion d'Honneur, sang trench songs for TV and attended at least 10 Palace garden parties. In his final years he was prepared for the end. "He had a charmed life but it was long enough and he was very tired," says his daughter-in-law, Maureen Marshall. Fittingly, the last cavalryman's body will be borne on a horse-drawn carriage to his funeral on Tuesday. And when the congregation sings Nearer My God To Thee, they will think of a good man's life of service, well lived and content.


Return to Names List