Knaresborough man finds touching WWI memorial in Iraq

Sgt Marc Smelt.
Sgt Marc Smelt.

With the First World War in everyone’s thought in this centenary year, a team of soldiers found a touching memorial in an unexpected location.

Near the oil city of Basra in southern Iraq there is a Commonwealth war memorial paying homage to the men who lost their lives in the Great War.

A Knaresborough man, Sgt Marc Smelt, made the trip from his base in the area with his colleagues and found, much to his surprise, a name from the Yorkshire regiment on the memorial among 40,500 names.

Through subsequent research Sgt Smelt identified his fallen comrade, a Capt Simonet, and was impressed by his resolve.

“Simonet was badly hit during our advance towards the Turkish trenches and should have gone back to the rear,” he said.

“He insisted on going on, however, and led the next attack very gallantly and was almost immediately hit in the head and killed instantly.

“It always saddens me to hear of a fallen comrade, however, as an ex-soldier I can’t help but sneak a cheeky smile knowing that he was a handful for the enemy right until the bitter end.”

The memorial first stood on the main quay of the naval dockyard at Maqil, north of Basra, but was removed as offensive to the Iraqi people in 1997 and Saddam Hussein had it reconstructed in the isolated area where is still stands.

Every November as laurel wreaths are laid and poppies are worn, Sgt Smelt’s colleague Durham McCormack said the fighting in the Middle East is worth remembering as much as the trenches of the European front.

He said: “The very sight of the structure provokes strong emotion for the nations of the fallen as powerful as any cared-for war memorial in the world.”