Sefton Gets Ship Shape and Bristol Fashion

William John Smith

Written and researched by David Bohl, with the kind help and documents supplied by World War 1 historians worldwide.

With such a common name Billy Smith was a difficult man to track down as the only clue we had was a newspaper cutting in Applebee's Minutes Book that said he played rugby for Bristol.

A chance reading of  the Western Daily Press of the 14th September 1915 recorded the AGM of the Bristol Rugby Volunteer Corps being held. The key points stated that Mr W.J.Smith was their Hon. Secretary and at the end of the proceedings he was presented with a barometer and silver rose bowl on the recent occaision of his wedding. This information enabled the correct person being found.


Born in 1890 in St Georges, Bristol he played his rugby to a high standard representing Gloucestershire at County level and played cricket for Avonside C.C.

With the outbreak of World War 1 it looks like he was very involved with the formation of a Bristol Rugby Volunteer Corps and by 1915 was its Hon.Secretary.
His joining up papers with the Army Sevice Corps in 1916 contain a signature which is undeniably the same as the entries in the Sefton Minutes book of 1921.


He was posted to France in 1917 sailing from Southamton to Le Havre and worked at probably the most important job of the war, the canteen !  
By 1918 he was wounded by Shell Gas and repatriated back to Blighty and discharged from the Army. After his recovery he rejoined just in case the war prolonged.

[ - military]

He continued playing his rugby with team mates who survived the war.

Press reports continue to heap praise upon him for his efforts to revive the Bristol Combination (their league system).

Prior to the hostilities Billy was a Brewery Clerk, probably at Bristol Bewery Georges and Co. They purchased extensive premises in Bath Street in 1919.
With a new family and greater ambitions Billy sought or was offered a position at Cains Brewery in Liverpool. 
The reason for his hooking up with Sefton RUFC is not known but he must have made an immediate impact as he was made Chairman in the 1921/22 season, a postion he would hold for five years. 


The club was in a sound financial position, and with the knowledge that the need for a permanent ground was the greatest of the present handicaps, a start was made with a ground fund. Thanks to the energies of the treasurer, Mr. John Milbourn, and the president, Mr W. J. Smith this was eventually achieved in 1929, see Survey.


Despite being in Liverpool, Billy still received accolades from Bristol and  never lost touch with his other great love, which was Avonside Cricket Club. He would always travel down for the Annual dinner to present the "W.J.Smith Bats" to the best batsman and bowler of the season.


Billy was heavily involved with Sefton until the Second World War, after which the trail so far has gone cold.
In 1938 he did write a very impressive article in a Bristol match day programme urging for more support at the club.



Army Service Corps Cap Badge

Victory Medal
British War Medal


Billy passed away in Liverpool's Royal Infirmary in 1958 aged 67

[photo courtesy Walker Cains Brewery]

 William John Smith



Appendix - Army Service Corps 

The Army Service Corps (A.S.C) of 1914-1918

Narrative from The Long, Long Trail (The British Army in the Great War)

This section of the Long, Long Trail will be helpful for anyone wishing to find out about the history of the units of the Army Service Corps. Note that the ASC is the same as the RASC: it received the Royal prefix in late 1918.

The unsung heroes of the British army in the Great War - the ASC, Ally Sloper's Cavalry. Soldiers can not fight without food, equipment and ammunition. In the Great War, the vast majority of this tonnage, supplying a vast army on many fronts, was supplied from Britain. Using horsed and motor vehicles, railways and waterways, the ASC performed prodigious feats of logistics and were one of the great strengths of organisation by which the war was won.

Who or what was

Ally Sloper?

At peak, the ASC numbered an incredible 10,547 officers and 315,334 men. In addition were tens of thousands of Indian, Egyptian, Chinese and other native labourers, carriers and stores men, under orders of the ASC. Yet this vast, sprawling organisation - so vital to enabling the army to fight - merits just four mentions in the Official History of the war.


The ASC was organised into Companies, each fulfilling a specific role. Some were under orders of or attached to the Divisions of the army; the rest were under direct orders of the higher formations of Corps, Army or the GHQ of the army in each theatre of war. 

The Army Service Corps in the First World War


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