‘Making Woolwich’ Their Stories: Francis Smith (1873-1911)

by Helen Moon

Amongst the many stories of how men came to join the Royal Regiment of Artillery, that of Francis Smith must be one of the more unusual. 

Unsure if military life was for him, Francis Smith first enlisted under the false name, ‘John Thomas’ at Seaforth, Liverpool in 1892. Three months later, he was transferred to the Royal Artillery at Woolwich, where he fled the barracks in September 1893. He was caught, found guilty and jailed until 1894, forfeiting any benefits he accrued from his existing service.

After his release from jail, he was posted to India in October 1894. Clearly having had a change of heart about his military career, he was promoted to Lance Bombardier (the RA-equivalent of Lance-Corporal), before being promoted again to Bombardier in 1900.

In 1909, he returned to the United Kingdom and was made a Sergeant in the Royal Artillery’s Highland Howitzer Division. He died in Scotland in 1911, as a result of a tragic training accident, aged just 38.

We’d like to offer our thanks to Janice & John-Paul Newland of Eltham for sharing their family story with us. Are you interested in discovering your family’s history? Then contact or visit the Search Room at Greenwich Heritage Centre, and the team there will help you to find out more.


Do you have a story that you would like to share? Leave us a message in the comments are contact Greenwich Heritage Centre on 020 8854 2452.

Tags: royal artillery, ra, making woolwich, mark tindle, greenwich heritage centre, ghc, woolwich, rght, hfllondon