Stokesby family publishes grandfather’s diary from the First World War

PUBLISHED: 14:00 24 May 2014

Smudge's Story by Wendy Reader of Stokesby

Smudge's Story by Wendy Reader of Stokesby


One man’s struggle against the early German U-boats, Atlantic storms and icy seas during the First World War is finally being shared, thanks to a granddaughter’s determination to tell her family tale.

Smudge's Story by Wendy Reader of Stokesby - Fred Smith in his HMS Kale uniform Smudge's Story by Wendy Reader of Stokesby - Fred Smith in his HMS Kale uniform

Wendy Reader, of Stokesby, found her grandfather’s diary in 2000, filed away with other family belongings.

Frederick W Smith’s writing hadn’t been forgotten, but it was not until Wendy set about transcribing it two years later that she realised what a life he had led.

Born in East London in 1894, Frederick – who was known as Smudge – was a stoker aboard Navy ships during the Great War. In his diaries, he tells of the struggles against German U-boats and the terrified faces of those he helped rescue from icy seas.

He also describes his fears, joys and growing love for his sweetheart back home.

This afternoon, his story will finally be told when Wendy’s book, Smudge’s Story, is launched at Great Yarmouth Library.

Her edited version of Frederick’s diaries present a fascinating account of real Naval life during the war.

“Originally I thought it would just be for the family,” said Wendy, explaining why she began transcribing the diary.

“But the more I read, the more I realised the terrible hardships they went through and that, actually, quite a lot of people might be interested in hearing the story.

“This project to get my grandfather’s writing ‘out there’ has been a long one, but with the centenary of the First World War this year it gave me the impetus to send some extracts to Let’s Talk magazine, and the encouraging feedback I received led to more research and to editing his writing into a book.

“I had to contact the Royal Naval Archives at Kew and the Imperial War Museum to get dates and ships’ logs confirmed – as well as checking various census records and naval facts on the web.

“My cousin – my grandfather’s older sister Ella’s grandson – Graham Rogers, had also been fascinated by Smudge’s story for many years, and he was very keen to become involved and helped tremendously with the research, editing, checking, adding pictures and publishing. We have tried very hard not to change any of Smudge’s words – but occasionally needed to add footnotes to explain different meanings and give further information.”

Smudge’s incredible story, which recounts his early life as well as his recollections of the Sinn Fein riots in Ireland, action in the Baltic, the Mediterranean and of the civil war which followed the Russian revolution, is being launched at the NNAB (Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind) book club’s library meeting from 2pm today.

Retired Wendy, who lives in Stokesby with her husband Den and cat Socks, volunteers with the Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind and helps with various activities including the book club and craft mornings.

“The blind and visually impaired members of the book club meet monthly at Yarmouth Library to discuss books they have listened to,” said Wendy.

“They have been very supportive of my efforts for the past few months and are looking forward to the official launch – and cake!”

All are welcome at today’s launch.

Smudge’s Story is already available to buy through Amazon. For more information visit

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