Trumpet Major William Smith, originally a 3rd King’s Own Light Dragoon, lived in Knutsford after his years of military service which included the Afghan Wars and the Crimea.
He requested a transfer to the 11th Hussars as they were deploying to the Crimea in 1854 where he would serve as a trumpeter in the Charge of the Light Brigade. Each troop would have had their own trumpeter so he was not unique. There are even doubts that the order to charge was ever given!
He and his wife lived on Stanley Road (in his day called Love Lane) where the house still has a plaque commemorating him.
The plaque outside Smith’s home records that he sounded the charge at Balaklava, but, as with everything concerning that event, controversy has raged.
Various claimants were put forward, by themselves or others, but it is usually accepted that no official charge was sounded, all was chaos, each troop had a trumpeter and Smith was certainly there with his trumpet.
William Smith joined 3rd (King’s Own) Light Dragoons, in January 1839, aged 16. Served in: the Afghan War (1842) present at battles of Kabul, Ghazni and Khandahar, the First Sikh War (1845/6), the Second Sikh War (1848/9), the Crimean War, as well as the battles of Alma, Inkerman, Balaklava and Sebastopol. He was awarded long service and good conduct medals making a total of six medals and eight clasps.
William came to Knutsford after his discharge from the army having served 25 years and 16 days, which earned him a gratuity of £5! He came to serve with The Cheshire Yeomanry as Trumpet Major.
He does not seem to have attended the 25th anniversary Balaklava dinner in October 1879 and a month later he died in sad circumstances. It seems he was addicted to laudanum which he took as a cough mixture, he also had drinking bouts – ‘going on the spree’ in his soldier’s fashion.
This combination led to depression. It is clear from the evidence at the coroner’s inquiry that he deliberately took an overdose having first paid off his small debts about the town.
As a much loved and admired town character he was buried in the graveyard of St John’s The Baptist Church despite the suicide verdict.
No gravestone marked the place.