Able Seaman Driver Laurie John Smee

Service number 181
Ranks Held Able Bodied Driver, Private
Birth Date 1890-12-05
Birth Place Australia: South Australia, Victor Harbor
Death Date 1955-05-31
Death Place Australia: South Australia, Adelaide
Final Rank Able Seaman Driver
Unit 1st Royal Australian Naval Bridging Train
Conflict/Operation First World War, 1914-1918

Laurie John Smee was born on 5 December 1890 at Victor Harbour, South Australia. His father John Alfred Smee had immigrated to South Australia from England in 1877 where he later met and married Emma Taylor. In the years after leaving school, Smee trained as a seaman and took up employment with Howard Smith Ltd. in Melbourne, a shipping company that served passenger and cargo routes along the Australian coast. He also joined the Royal Australian Naval Reserves (RANR) and on 27 March 1915 the 23-year-old joined the newly-formed Royal Australian Naval Bridging Train (RANBT). The RANBT had been formed in Melbourne a month prior and was to be manned by navy reservists under the command of Lieutenant Commander Leighton Seymour Bracegirdle. Smee, who had experience in driving horses, was one of the three hundred initial reservists in what was intended (but did not come) to be a horse drawn engineering unit attached to the British Royal Naval Division (RND) then serving on the Western Front.

After several months spent training, 181 Able Bodied Driver Laurie John Smee and the first contingent of the RANBT embarked from Melbourne on 4 June 1915 aboard the troopship HMAT Port Macquarie. After first arriving in Egypt, the men arrived at the island of Lemnos on 21 July where they prepared to support the coming British landings at Suvla Bay on the Gallipoli peninsula. On 7 August the men landed under fire at Suvla Bay and proceeded to perform the important logistical work that would occupy them for the coming months. Among the most important of these roles was the assembly and maintenance of wharves and piers, which would enable the loading and unloading of both troops and equipment. The men also took to work unloading and loading barges, repairing and stockpiling engineering equipment, and maintaining the water supply to the front line troops. In his diary, Smee writes of the conditions under which the men served, often under constant artillery fire and without adequate cover.

With the evacuation of Allied troops from the peninsula in December, Smee and the RANBT were heavily occupied with maintaining the temporary piers they had constructed as troops and equipment were evacuated to ships waiting offshore. After the majority of troops had been evacuated, Smee and most of the unit were evacuated to Lemnos themselves. A small group of men were left behind to maintain the piers until the last troops had been evacuated and they effectively became the last Australians to leave the peninsula in the early hours of 20 December. At Lemnos, nearly two hundred men of the RANBT went on strike due to the fact they had not been paid for five weeks, but this situation was later resolved.

In January 1916, Smee and the RANBT returned to Egypt and served along the Suez, operating and maintaining the important pontoon bridges that spanned the Canal. The unit was eventually disbanded in March 1917 with its members given the choice of joining the other services or returning home for discharge. Smee chose to return home to Australia and arrived back in July. The following month he was discharged, having spent a total of two years and thirty-six days serving abroad.

After the war Smee returned to South Australia and in 1920 the 28-year-old married Florence May Langham at Adelaide. The couple had one son together, Jack. Laurie John Smee died on 31 May 1955 at Adelaide at the age of 64.



Date of birth 05 December 1890
Date of enlistment 20 May 1915
Date of embarkation 04 June 1915
Date returned to Australia 29 May 1919
Date of death 31 May 1955