Major General Sir Nevill Maskelyne Smyth VC, KCB

Nevill Maskelyne Smyth was born on 14 Aug 1868, the son of Sir Warington Wilkinson Smyth, a noted geologist, his grandfather was Admiral William Henry Smyth. His father's sister Henrietta Grace Powell was Robert Baden-Powell's mother so that Baden-Powell was Smyth's cousin. Nevill Smyth was educated at Westminster School and graduated from the RMC Sandhurst, in 1888. He was posted to the Queen's Bays (2nd Dragoon Guards) in India as a second lieutenant on 22 August 1888. In 1890 he was attached to the Royal Engineers to assist with a railway survey during the Zhob Valley expedition.

When the Bays were posted to Egypt in 1895 they were stationed in Cairo and he was promoted lieutenant on 26 April 1896. For his services in the initial stages of the Mahdist War he was Mentioned in Despatches on 3 November 1896, and awarded the Order of the Medjidie, Fourth Class in 1897. On 8 December 1897 Smyth was promoted to captain. He took part in the Battle of Omdurman on 2 Sep 1898. Near to the end of the battle, a dervish tried to spear two war correspondents; Smyth galloped forward and, though severely speared through the arm, shot the man dead. For action he was awarded the Victoria Cross. The citation was gazetted on 15 November 1898, and stated that an Arab had run amok amongst camp followers.

In November 1899 he was Intelligence officer and ADC to Colonel Lewis, commanding the Infantry Brigade during the operations leading to the defeat of the Khalifa in the Battle of Umm Diwaykarat. He was Mentioned in Despatches, and was awarded the Order of Osmanieh, Fourth Class in 1900. Smyth rejoined the Queens Bays for active service in South Africa in the Anglo-Boer War and was awarded a brevet majority on 31 October 1902. The history of the Bays relates an incident in early April 1902: 'A small party of 8 NCOs and men under Capt Smyth VC had been isolated on the kopje, their horses having been shot. The Boers repeatedly called on them to surrender, but they refused and held out for another 20 minutes, until all but Smyth were shot. He then managed to crawl away through the long grass, catch a riderless horse, and gallop back to the regiment.'

He was promoted to substantive major on 27 October 1903 and transferred to the Carabiniers (6th Dragoon Guards) who were then in India, and returned to South Africa in 1908. He was promoted lieutenant-colonel on 1 May 1909, and became commanding officer of the Carabiniers. The regiment returned to England in 1912 and he was promoted to Colonel and was seconded to the Egyptian Army. In 1913-14 he was commandant of the Khartoum district where he was active in combating the slave-trade.

Smyth was posted to Gallipoli by Lord Kitchener, arriving in May 1915. He commanded the 1st Australian Infantry Brigade as a temporary brigadier-general at the Battle of Lone Pine and was one of the last officers to leave the peninsula. He led the brigade in France in 1916, and on 28 December was given command of the 2nd Australian Division as a temporary major general. He was transferred back to the British Army in May 1918 and briefly commanded the 58th (2/1st London) Division and then the 59th (2nd North Midland) Division, leading the latter during the liberation of Lille in October 1918. He had learned to fly in 1913 and was known for borrowing aircraft to look at the lines for himself. On 30 July 1919 was appointed General Officer Commanding 47th (1/2nd London) Division (Territorial Force). He was appointed Colonel of the 3rd Dragoon Guards on 1 October 1920. He relinquished command of his division on 30 July 1923. Smyth retired from the British Army on 5 July 1924, and relinquished his Colonelcy on 16 October 1925.

After his retirement he emigrated to Australia and farm in Balmoral, Victoria in 1925 with his wife and three children. He took to politics in the National Party of Australia and stood unsuccessfully for a Victorian seat in the Australian Senate. He died at home on 21 July 1941 and was buried in Balmoral Cemetery. One of his sons, Dacre Smyth, followed a military career in the Royal Australian Navy rising to commodore.

Regimental details | Soldiers


Armed Forces | Art and Culture | Articles | Biographies | Colonies | Discussion | Glossary | Home | Library | Links | Map Room | Sources and Media | Science and Technology | Search | Student Zone | Timelines | TV & Film | Wargames | Library | Search | TV & Film | Wargames |

by Stephen Luscombe