Orders, Decorations and Medals (8 September 2015)
Date of Auction: 8th September 2015
Sold for £2,800
Estimate: £2,000 - £3,000
‘Exposing the ships of the Support Squadron [at Walcheren] had been a deliberate ploy to distract German fire while the Marines landed, and the casualties among the ships were heavy: only seven out of 27 survived unharmed. In March 1945 Smith was surprised, however, to learn from the London Gazette that he had been awarded, posthumously, a mention in despatches “for gallantry and great devotion to duty during the assault on Walcheren”. When Smith pointed out that it was another officer, Lieutenant Leonard George Smith, who had been killed, and that he was alive and well, the Admiralty promptly awarded Smith the Distinguished Service Cross.’
John Jarvis-Smith’s obituary notice in The Daily Telegraph, 22 May 2015, refers.
A fine Second World War “Operation Infatuate” D.S.C. group of five awarded to Sub. Lieutenant J. F. Jarvis-Smith, Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, whose Landing Craft Gun (Large) took terrible punishment off Walcheren in November 1944, a direct hit on the bridge killing or wounding all present: he assumed command, brought the crippled vessel out of action and delivered its many wounded to a hospital ship
Distinguished Service Cross, G.VI.R., reverse officially dated ‘1945’ and privately engraved ‘Lieut. J. F. Smith, R.N.V.R., D.S.C.’; 1939-45 Star; Atlantic Star, clasp, France and Germany; Africa Star, clasp, North Africa 1942-43; War Medal 1939-45, mounted court-style as worn, together with Normandy Veterans’ Medal, as presented to the recipient by the Regional Council of Normandy at an investiture in 1994, good very fine (6) £2000-3000
FootnoteD.S.C. London Gazette 10 April 1945.
John Frederick (afterwards Jarvis-) Smith was born in Streatham, London in March 1924. Educated at Woodmansterne Road Primary and Central School, Tooting, he was a chorister and London Y.M.C.A. singles tennis champion.
Having joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (R.N.V.R.) in 1941, and participated in the North Africa landings at the end of the following year, Smith returned home to attend H.M.S. King Alfred, the “Wavy Navy’s” officers’ training establishment at Hove, Sussex.
Graduating as a Midshipman in May 1943, he was allocated to landing craft duties, possibly as a result of his earlier experiences off North Africa. Be that as it may, he saw action off Sword Beach on D-Day in a Landing Craft Gun (Large) (L.C.G.(L.), which vessel continued to lend support fire on the left flank of the British landings for the remainder of the month.
Walcheren - Posthumous M.I.D. - ‘Alive and well’ - D.S.C.
Smith next saw action on 1 November 1944, as part of “Operation Infatuate”, the amphibious landings on the heavily defended Dutch island of Walcheren. His landing craft, L.C.G. (L.) No. 11, commanded by an Australian, Lieutenant T. M. Foggitt, R.A.N.V.R., was deployed in the Support Squadron, which force, as quoted above, suffered heavily.
No. 11 closed to within 1,000 yards of the beach, her two 4.7-inch guns being used to soften up the enemy’s defences but, in common with many of her consorts, she was repeatedly straddled and hit by return fire. Gordon Holman, a war correspondent, takes up the story in his report, Big Guns v. Little Ships:
‘A quiet spoken Australian naval officer, wounded at the Westkapelle landings, told me yesterday the story of great gallantry of the men in the gun support vessels at Walcheren. Lieutenant T. M. Foggitt, R.A.N.V.R., is 38, married and with one small daughter in Brisbane, where he was an optician until he volunteered for the Navy.
At Westkapelle he commanded one of the converted landing craft which gave gun support to the Commandos.
These lightly built vessels fought at point-blank range with heavy German batteries at Walcheren protected by thick concrete which formed part of the formidable coast defences.
“Heavy German guns opened up on us almost before they came into our range,” he said. “The guns in my vessel L.C.G. (L.) were manned by Royal Marines. They were anxious to get into action because they knew their own fellows were in action on the beach.”
“We went in firing with heavy German stuff dropping all round us, and fought our way in until we were exchanging round for round with the German 9-inch batteries at a range of about three quarters of a mile.”
“Then,” he continued, “a shell hit the bridge. Of the four officers who were standing there I am the only survivor. I was wounded.”
“Another shell hit the engine room, and the leading motor mechanic, who was in charge, had both his arms fractured. Leading Stoker Arams, of the Royal Navy, carried on and kept the engines going for about 10 minutes while we tried to get out of trouble.”
“The only officer who was not a casualty was Sub. Lieutenant J. F. Smith, R.N.V.R., age 21. He did a wonderful job organising damage control and disposal of casualties.”
“The gunnery control officer had been knocked out, but Sergeant Jackson of the Royal Marines still managed to keep the M.G. firing.”
“Of the 25 vessels that had gone in at dawn, nine had been sunk and eight were badly damaged.”
Of the men in the gun support craft he says: “They were the grandest bunch of fellows - it was worth coming across the world just to have the honour of fighting with them.” ’
Smith had been lucky in the extreme. He had been ordered by Foggitt to the wireless office just moments before the bridge took a direct hit; on rushing to the assistance of his fellow officers after the impact, the wireless office was destroyed by another enemy shell.
On Thursday 6 March 1945, the following announcement appeared in The London Gazette:
‘For gallantry and great devotion to duty in the assault on Walcheren, in which operations they lost their lives:
Mention in Despatches (Posthumous)
The ensuing list of men included the recipient, ‘Temporary Sub-Lieutenant John Frederick Smith, R.N.V.R. (Exeter).’
A correction - and the award of his D.S.C. - duly appeared in The London Gazette of 10 April 1945 and he received his award at Buckingham Palace on 20 July 1945, an event attended by his mother who had earlier been sent a telegram to say that her son had been killed in action. This was not Smith’s first encounter with the King, for in August 1943, he attended the “King’s Box” at the Royal Albert Hall.
Having latterly been employed as a Demolitions Officer at Wilhelmshaven, Smith was released from service in March 1947. He became a successful shipbroker, working for Murco and the Greek shipping magnate John Latsis; in 1971, mindful of the wartime confusion over his name, he formally changed it to ‘Jarvis-Smith’. He died in May 2015, aged 91, having privately published Recollections, a copy of which is included.
Also sold with a quantity of original documentation, including the recipient’s H.M.S. King Alfred graduation certificate as a Midshipman, R.N.V.R., dated 21 May 1943; Restricted Watchkeeping Certificate for ‘Major Landing Craft’; an old hand written copy of ‘Big Guns v. Little Ships’, namely the above cited feature submitted by the Naval Reporter Gordon Holman; an original copy of The London Gazette, 10 April 1945; Buckingham Palace investiture card and the admittance tickets for his mother and sister, dated 20 July 1945; three ships’ “flimsies” for appointments in the 330th L.C.G. (L.) Flotilla (December 1944 to May 1945), H.M.S. Turtle (July to October 1945) and H.M.S. Royal Rupert, as a Demolitions Officer (May 1946 to January 1947); a letter of reference from the Naval Officer-in-Charge, Wilhelmshaven, dated 24 January 1947 and his Order for Release from Naval Service, dated 29 March 1947; together with a photographs album and correspondence in respect of his visit to Normandy on the occasion of the royal visit and commemoration of the D-Day landings in June 1994, including an investiture letter from the Regional Council of Normandy.