A century on, how a Yorkshire farmer’s temper sealed his fate in war

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WHEN David Kitchen’s great grandfather had a violent argument with his boss it was to have tragic and unforeseen consequences.

Around the outbreak of the Great War Arthur Smith was married with children and in a farming job which should have kept him in West Yorkshire til the war ended.

But his secure life as a farm manager in Guiseley, near Leeds was to be shattered in a moment of madness in Otley’s market square.

“The family was comfortable so even when the First World War came along they had no real reason for anxiety about the future,” says Mr Kitchen, who is retelling the compelling story to family history groups.

“Arthur’s responsibilities included accompanying his employer, the farmer, to the market each week.

“Once the morning’s deals had been done the farmer would meet up with friends and spend the afternoon in the pub. Arthur was to wait outside with the horse and cart until his employer was ready to go home.”

In the pouring rain, Arthur waited outside the pub in Otley’s market square.

His temper was already widely known and on this occasion his mood must have been particularly foul as he stormed off and returned to the farm at nearby Guiseley.

Later on, when his boss caught up with him, the hot-headed Arthur let fly with a punch, according to family witnesses.

Inevitably, he lost his job as a farm manager and the house that went with it.

“Unsurprisingly he seems to have been blacklisted by other farmers in the district,” says Mr Kitchen.

At this point, at a low ebb and with an uncertain future, it seems that Arthur decided his only way out was to join the Army.

Mr Kitchen describes his great grandfather’s actions at this point as “storming out” on his family in order to enlist.

“He had previously tried to enlist in the Army but had been turned down as he was in an occupation, farming, which was deemed essential to the war effort.

“Now unemployed, though, he was accepted and was enlisted in the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment.”

It wasn’t long before he realised that he had made a big mistake in leaving behind his family and a life of farming.

“At some point he was redeployed to a machine gun company. This role was notoriously dangerous and came with a short life expectancy as they became priority targets for the enemy who would want to silence the guns as quickly as possible.”

The end came on November 30 1917 during fighting at Cambrai, France.

A witness later told Arthur’s wife Hetta what had happened.

“He told Hetta after the war that one moment Arthur was there and a moment afterwards nothing existed of him. He had taken a direct hit.”

Mr Kitchen says his great grandfather had expressed his sorrow at leaving his wife and children in a letter home shortly before he was killed.

He apologised to Hetta for being short tempered and for joining the Army.

“He said that he deeply regretted his actions and that it had all been a big mistake. He asked that she speak with local farmers, and get him into a job which would get him back home - which clearly was never going to happen.

“Most telling in the letter was an apology for how he had been as a husband and a promise to be different when he came back home. This letter was lost, most likely when Hetta died just after the second war. These things were not so valued then.”

Mr Kitchen, 56, who now lives in Norfolk, believes Arthur’s story is worth reflecting upon.

“When I was growing up my mum would tell me stories about Arthur and when I got into my fifties I wondered if they were true or not. I spoke to my uncle and did some research with war records. It turns out the family stories were true.”

“Arthur’s name is on the lychgate memorial at Guiseley Parish Church. I often drive along Queensway. As I leave Town Gate I always look across to the traces of medieval fields on the left hand side and the farm building further up and think of Arthur and this chain of events.”