Frederick Charles Smith

Memorial: Thornbury - St Mary's Church

Regiment: U.S.Infantry Regiment

Rank and number: Captain

Parents: Thomas Cox Smith and Eliza Smith

Marital status: Married

Home address: Porch House, Castle Street, Thornbury, Bristol and New York

Pre-war occupation: U.S. Army Recruiting Officer

Date of birth: 1884

Place of birth: Thornbury, Bristol

Date of death: 01/01/1919

Buried/Commemorated at: Meuse-Argonne American Cemetery, Romagne; Thornbury United Reformed Church Memorial Tablet

Age: 34

Further information:

Wooden Memorial Board

Frederick Charles Smith was born in Thornbury in 1884, the son of tailor Thomas Cox Smith and his wife Eliza. He had three brothers and a sister. In 1901 Frederick was working as a tailor. He was known to be a good athlete, playing in the local cricket and football teams

Frederick served for several years with the Oldown Troop of Royal Gloucestershire Hussars

Frederick went to live in the United States of America, where he joined the Army, entering the service in New York. He was a recruiting officer for Brooklyn for three years. He was married but his wife’s name is unknown. In 1917 he was sent to Camp Jackson where the 371st Infantry Regiment was being organized. This regiment was one of four segregated units that comprised African- American soldiers commanded by white officers. The main American Expeditionary Force refused to have African-American soldiers in combat roles so these Regiments operated under French command

Frederick arrived in France in April 1918, serving as a Captain with 3rd Battalion. From 26th September the Regiment saw action in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive

Frederick was gassed in late September, spent several weeks in hospital, and then returned to duty

The surgeon of 3rd Battalion, 371st Regiment, 1st Lt. Percy Deckard wrote ‘We were billeted in French village of Bruyeres, east of Epinal, when Capt. Frederick C. Smith, in command of our Supply Co., accidentally was instantly killed at 9:10 p.m. on January 1st 1919 while handling a grenade which exploded in his hand. He was a very efficient and popular officer and had served our Regiment with great credit as well as industry during the entire war. It was a great blow and shock to us all and seemed so hard that, after giving so freely and passing through so much without mishap, he had to go thus, when the war was over and the Regiment was about to leave for home. ..He had seen service in Regular Army in the Philippines and other parts of the World’

According to a newspaper report ‘his widow received the cablegram of his death just when she was expecting one notifying her of his return with his Regiment to the United States’

African-American soldiers received numerous French citations, including the Croix de Guerre and Légion d'honneur.
No American Medals of Honor were awarded to black soldiers in the First World War

Two have since been awarded posthumously by Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama, recognising in 1991 the ‘conspicuous gallantry, extraordinary heroism and supreme devotion to his men’ of Corporal Freddie Stowers, 371st Infantry, and, in 2015, the heroic actions of Sergeant Henry Johnson, 369th Infantry, who was wounded 21 times, while rescuing a fellow soldier from capture and saving the lives of other comrades

Frederick’s brother, William Gayner Smith, is also remembered on the Thornbury Memorial

By kind permission, this information is based on the following source(s):

Thornbury Roots website. Thornbury and District Museum Research Group