The real Saving Private Ryan: How the Queen helped save Private Smith in WW1

Decades before the Oscar-winning Saving Private Ryan was made came the real-life tale of Saving Private Smith.

Margaret Smith had six sons that left their home in the northeast of England to fight in the First World War.

Only one - her youngest son Wilfred - came back.

Four of the brothers that died during the war, (l-r) John William Stout, Alfred Smith, Frederick Smith, George Henry Smith. Credit: APTN

But how he survived - and the Queen's role in his rescue - has only recently become known.

In the small town of Barnard Castle, County Durham, there is a memorial to the local men who died during the First World War.

Among the names of the fallen etched into the stone are Mrs Smith's five sons: John William (who took his mother's maiden name), Robert, Alfred, Frederick, and George Henry.

The names of the five brothers are etched into the memorial at Barnard Castle in County Durham. Credit: APTN

All five died in the trenches on the Western Front between 1916 and 1918.

The campaign to save the sole survivor, Wilfred, began in Barnard Castle's church, where the locals saw Mrs Smith's grief intensify each time she had news that one of her sons had died.

At time past, the vicar's wife wrote to Queen Mary, King George V's wife, to ask if the youngest Smith son could be saved.

An article in local newspaper the Teesdale Mercury tells of how Queen Mary intervened. Credit: APTN

What happened next was discovered by historians searching the archives of local newspaper the Teesdale Mercury.

An article from August 28, 1918, reported that the Queen's private secretary wrote back, saying "the Queen has caused Mr and Mrs Smith's request concerning their youngest son to be forwarded for consideration of the War Office authorities".

Her intervention worked - Wilfred was eventually plucked from the fighting and sent home to comfort his mother.

Wilfred's daughter Dianne and granddaughter Amanda said his emotional scars from the war never entirely healed.

Amanda pondered, "If they hadn't have sent my grandad home, my mum - and myself and my children - wouldn't be here today."