About Me

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London, United Kingdom, United Kingdom
A mythical beast - a female wargamer! I got back into wargaming in the summer of 2011 after a very, very long break and haven't looked back since. I must admit that I seem to be more of a painter/collector than a gamer, but do hope to correct that at some point in the near future. My gaming interests span the ages, from the "Biblical" era all the way through to the far future. I enjoy games of all sizes, from a handful of figures up to major battles (see my megalomaniacally sized Choson Korean and Russian Seven Years War armies).

Friday, 12 March 2021

Another Black Soldier At Arnhem

You may remember that back in September 2019 I wrote a series of posts for the 75th anniversary of Operation Market Garden. One of those posts was about black soldiers who fought at Arnhem. In that post I detailed the three that I had been able to confirm - Trooper Bolton of the Recce Squadron, Private Roberts of the Pathfinders and Corporal West of 156th Battalion. I was sure there were probably others.

I'm currently reading Ian Ballantyne's "Arnhem: Ten Days In The Cauldon". In the chapter about Wednesday 20th September he mentions another black soldier from the Pathfinders (21st Independent Parachute Company) - Sergeant Joe Smith. It was one who I had thought (from photos) possibly could be, but nothing I had read made any mention of his race (the black-and-white photos didn't help - in some he appears as light skinned as everyone else, in others he looks heavily tanned) . Following the reference in the book, I found the original article where Joe's son had left a comment

Sergeant Joseph (Joe) Norris Smith

Joe Smith was born in London in 1918. His father, Norris Smith, was an African American actor-singer who had come over to Britain with a production of "In Dahomey" in 1903 and then decided to settle.

After leaving school, Joe worked as a laboratory assistant. He joined the Territorial Army in 1938 in Salford as a member of the 39th Searchlight Battalion RE (later the 39th Searchlight Regiment RA). He transferred to the Glider Pilot Regiment (it's not clear if he completed his training as a glider pilot) before being selected in 1942 by Major Lander (the original CO) for the 21st Independent Parachute Company, where he was one of the first batch to complete parachute training at Ringway. He also trained as an assault pioneer and drill instructor. Prior to Arnhem, he served in North Africa, Sicily and Italy.


Joe was one of the small party attached to 1st Parachute Brigade for Operation Husky, tasked with parachuting in about 90 minutes before the main glider landing to mark out two landing zones for the brigade's glider-borne equipment. He and Corporal Brown were assigned a drop zone just north of the Primasole Bridge. Some time after landing, Joe realised that his pistol and grenades had gone astray during the jump, so he acquired an abandoned Italian "Truppo Speciale" carbine.

"At 0800 hrs Corporal Brown glanced across the bridge and out of the morning mist came Sergeant Smith, as calmly as if out for a country walk."

Italy (Taranto)

Although not parachuting in, the Company did take part in the operations around Taranto. On arrival the new CO, Major "Boy" Wilson (actually the oldest officer and oldest parachutist in 1st Airborne Division) sent them out to scavenge some transport. Joe managed to take away a motorcycle "while what seemed like half the Italian Navy" looked on.

In San Severo, the Company bedded down for the night in the Town Hall. As they were leaving in the morning there was a complaint that the toilet had been damaged; Joe obtained pen and paper and wrote a note saying that General Montgomery would reimburse them for the cost.

At some point during the move from Foggia to Apricena, Joe took over from Sergeant Binick of 1 Platoon who had been evacuated to hospital with hepatitis.


By the time of Operation Market Garden, Joe was platoon sergeant of 3 Platoon. He was great friends with Sergeant Kenneth "Val" Allerton (the platoon sergeant of 2 Platoon). and the only person in the company who knew Val's true identity (Gerald Lamarque; he'd adopted the Allerton name after jumping ship in Ireland in 1940 so that he could join up for the war. Allerton/Lamarque was later imprisoned for murdering his ex-wide's boss who had been sexually pestering her; while in prison he wrote "The Cauldron" under the pen-name "Zeno", a fictionalised account of Arnhem). 

"Leading The Way To Arnhem" includes several anecdotes relating to Joe at Arnhem, many of which involve bottles of whisky or brandy.

After Arnhem, Joe was one of several NCOs given field commissions and sent for officer training. The sources differ at this point. Paradata suggests that he remained with the company until its disbandment in 1946, then transferred to the Lancashire Fusiliers and later to the Royal Army Pay Corps. His son says he served as an officer with the Parachute Regiment and the SAS. The short bio in "Leading The Way To Arnhem" (I will note that my copy cost less than half the price it is currently going for!) says he was posted to 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment. I suspect that the information on Paradata is wrong as he doesn't appear in any Pathfinders photos from Norway and Palestine.

In 1951 he was promoted to Captain and retired with the rank of Major in 1962. After leaving the Army he became a teacher, retiring from that profession in 1982. He was a founder member of the 21st Independent Parachute Company Club.


  1. Defo, nice find, quite a character

  2. Well done. It's easy to overlook that the battles we represent on the table were fought by human beings each with their own stories. Makes the gaming all the more richer when those stories are brought to light.

  3. @ Matt - thanks. :)

    @ Fire At Will - cheers! He certainly seems to have been. :)

    @ Disgruntled Fusilier - thanks! The stories and experiences of the soldiers who fought the battles are often more interesting than the accounts of the battles.
    Of course now I'll need to paint up a figure to add him to my collection. :)

    @ Martin - hardly research. Read something in book, check source in end-notes, read source, check against other info sources I have, write post. :)

  4. Thanks again Tamsin for another interesting piece of history.

  5. Very interesting! I just watched A Bridge Too Far last weekend. How historically accurate would you say that film is?

    1. Thanks.
      When you consider how large the scope of Market Garden was, they didn't do a bad job in terms of historical accuracy. They obviously had to merge several individuals into a single character (eg, Major Carlisle was an amalgam of Major Tatham-Warter, Captain Eric Mackay and others; the SS general played by Curt Jurgens was a composite of Harzer, Harmel and possibly Student).
      Geography of filming locations also had an impact - the "King Tiger" coming across the bridge never happened (two Tiger Is did arrive in Arnhem on the Wednesday but their approach was through the town from the North - my guess is that looking North from the bridge there were a lot of modern buildings so they couldn't film the tank coming from that direction). The flamethrower attack on the bridge bunker was actually done from the top floor/attic of a house - the layout in Deventer where it was filmed didn't allow for that.
      It also misses the 2nd and 3rd airlifts. For the bridge pocket, you get the impression that only 2nd Btn are involved when they accounted for just under half of the troops present.
      The Oosterbeek pocket isn't terribly well represented. The film also gives the impression that Sosabowski's Polish troops didn't manage to reinforce 1st Airborne - in fact, about 150-200 of them did make it across, adding to the Polish AT troops who had arrived on the Wednesday. There was also a disastrous attempt by the 5th Dorsets to reinforce the pocket on the Saturday.
      Given budgetary, geographical, casting and length-of-film constraints, I'd say they did as good a job as they could reasonably be expected to on the historical accuracy. In any case it is a rollicking good film with a tremendous score.