Captain James Arnold Smithwick of Kilkenny
Very few families in Kilkenny remained unaffected by the Great War and the parallel struggle for Irish independence in the period 1914 to 1922.
Captain James Arnold Smithwick, born in 1881, was the elder surviving son of Francis and Marion Smithwick, a highly respected Kilkenny merchant family. Francis represented Kilkenny city in parliament in the years 1880 to 1885. James attended Clongowes Wood College in Co. Kildare, where he was a contemporary of James Joyce. In 1900, he enlisted in the 45th (Dublin) Company of the 13th Battalion, Imperial Yeomanry, which was raised in Ireland from the landed gentry and the Irish Masters of Fox Hounds. The battalion served in the Boer War and Private Smithwick survived the conflict. At the outbreak of the Great War on 4 August 1914, James earned a commission and was attached to the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment, which landed in Boulogne, France on 14 August 1914.
On the 19th October 1914 his battalion stormed the village of Le Pilly, which it held and entrenched. However, the possession of the village threatened German communications and its forces made a determined effort to capture it. The next day the 2nd Irish Regiment was cut off and surrounded by German forces, three times its number. The Irish battalion suffered 578 men lost in the whole action, with 250 taken prisoner, of whom only 50 were not wounded. Captain Smithwick was seriously wounded in three places and lay for several hours unconscious on the stricken battlefield, before being picked up by a German ambulance. He was taken to an Internment Camp in Germany, where he was detained for nearly ten months. On the 27 October 1914 he wrote to his brother Richard:
“My Dear Dick, I am here, wounded and a prisoner, and I am being well treated. As you have seen by the casualty list, the Regiment suffered very heavily. It is bad luck being here, but I am lucky to be above ground. I escaped until half an hour before the end without a scratch; then while trying to retire with some of my men to deal with a machine gun firing at us from our left rear I was grazed on the shoulder and on the hand. They next got me plumb on my right breast. It hit my compass, then on to a rib, and through the muscles on top of my stomach and out at my left side. Narrow squeak!! It knocked me clean out at the time, and I am a bit stiff and sore, but it is going on well and there is no danger.
Your fond brother.”
This letter was written in the early days of his interment, unfortunately, his condition quickly deteriorated and his wounds were slow to heal. Consumption, directly traceable to his injuries, set in, and thereafter there was very little hope of a full recovery. The Kilkenny officer was repatriated to England, and conveyed to Wandsworth Military Hospital. At a later stage he was brought to a private nursing home in London, where he was frequently visited by his brother, Richard. Captain James Arnold Smithwick, of Archers Street, Kilkenny, died aged 34, on 9 November 1915 and was interred at Foulkstown Cemetery, Kilkenny.