Duncan Smith began work at RBGE as a probationer or trainee gardener on the 4th January 1909 at the age of 24, receiving training and work experience in RBGE’s Arboretum, Herbaceous and Glass Departments. His work was “performed carefully, skilfully and intelligently” and his exam marks were such that when his probation ended on the 30th December 1911, he was appointed gardener in RBGE’s Herbaceous Dept on the 1st January 1912, Regius Keeper Isaac Bayley Balfour noting in May 1913 that he was giving “every satisfaction” in that role. (Probationer Gardener Register)
Smith enlisted after the outbreak of war on the 4th September 1914, joining the 5th Royal Scots as Private 2099. After training, Smith’s regiment joined the 88th Brigade of the 29th Division in March 1915, given the task of landing on and capturing the Gallipoli Peninsula; but first, a long sea voyage. The 5th Royal Scots sailed from Avonmouth on the S.S. Caledonia, appropriately, on the 20th March, arriving at Alexandria in Egypt on the 2nd April. On the 11th April they continued their journey with a two day voyage to Lemnos. From there a 50 mile journey across the Aegean to the Gallipoli Peninsula, leaving on the 24th April and reaching it on the 25th, the day of the first landings.
We don’t know what Smith’s Gallipoli story is. As a Royal Scot he would have been part of the Allied Force’s attempts to take the small village of Krithia and its nearby hill of Achi Baba, the first obstacle on the long road towards capturing Constantinople – a futile dream as it happened. He would have also defended his trench against Turkish counter attacks (see Private W.H. Morland’s story for more details of what the 5th Royal Scots went through during the Gallipoli campaign). We don’t even know exactly what date he died – some RBGE records have a date of the 11th June 2015, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has a date of the 10th June, but Army records and some RBGE records have the date as the 13th June, so it may be that this date is most probable, but we will likely never know the truth. All we know is that Private Duncan Smith died from wounds received at Gallipoli. When or how he was injured is not known. It may well have been during the 3rd Battle of Krithia which began on the 4th June 1915. This was the Allied Army’s 3rd attempt to push east along the Gallipoli Peninsula towards the village of Krithia which ultimately didn’t succeed. Smith may have been defending his trench or attacking someone else’s. But trench warfare at Gallipoli was quite different to that faced by Smith’s counterparts in France. Like these soldiers, the men at Gallipoli were given time off from the trenches, but it was often more dangerous to be on relief in Gallipoli than it was to be on the frontline. There was nowhere to go, no allied villages to visit, nowhere to find a safe distance from the shelling or the snipers, nowhere to even have a wash or change clothes. You could be shot or bombed going to fetch water or visiting the latrines – any movement was dangerous. On some beaches you could even be a target for Turkish forces on land on the other side of the Dardanelles Straits.
Smith’s name is the first I’ve seen on the Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects though – a poignant entry, again recoding that Smith died of wounds, and that the money he possessed, £5 6s and 8d, along with a War Gratuity of £3, was split between his father, Dugald, a Tarbert fisherman, and Duncan’s siblings, Peter, Archie and Jean.
Smith, like so many at Gallipoli has no known grave, receiving a mention on the Helles Memorial on the same panel as his fellow RBGE colleague and Royal Scot W.H. Morland, and on the RBGE War Memorial. We will remember them.
With thanks to Garry Ketchen for sharing some of the genealogical research.
For information on the Royal Scots in Gallipoli click here.
To read all of the RBGE WW1 Botanics Stories posted so far, and to access the RBGE Roll of Honour, please see our poppy field page.