Nevill Smyth

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Sir Nevill Maskelyne Smyth
File:Nevill Maskelyne Smyth VC.jpg
Nickname(s) The Sphinx
Born (1868-08-14)14 August 1868
Westminster, London
Died 21 July 1941(1941-07-21) (aged 72)
Balmoral, Victoria
Buried at Balmoral Cemetery
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1888–1924
Rank Major General
Unit 2nd Dragoon Guards (Queen's Bays)
Carabiniers (6th Dragoon Guards)
Commands held 47th (1/2nd London) Division (1919–24)
59th (2nd North Midland) Division (1918)
58th (2/1st London) Division (1918)
2nd Australian Division (1916–18)
1st Australian Brigade (1915–16)
Carabiniers (6th Dragoon Guards) (1909–13)
Battles/wars Mahdist War
Second Boer War
First World War
Awards Victoria Cross
Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath
Mentioned in Despatches (11)
Croix de Guerre (Belgium)
Légion d'honneur (France)
Order of the Medjidie (Egypt)
Order of Osmanieh (Egypt)
Other work National Party of Australia politician

Major General Sir Nevill Maskelyne Smyth VC, KCB (14 August 1868 – 21 July 1941) was a senior officer in the British Army and a recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces.

Early life

Born the son of Sir Warington Wilkinson Smyth, a noted geologist, his grandfather was Admiral William Henry Smyth.[1] His father's sister Henrietta Grace Powell was Robert Baden-Powell's mother making Baden-Powell, the founder of the Scout Movement, Smyth's first cousin.[2]

Smyth was educated at Westminster School and graduated from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, in 1888. He was posted to the Queen's Bays (2nd Dragoon Guards) in India as a second lieutenant on 22 August 1888.[3][4] In 1890 he was attached to the Royal Engineers to assist with a railway survey during the Zhob Valley expedition.[3]


1896 saw him stationed in Cairo with his regiment,[3] and he was promoted lieutenant on 26 April.[5] For his services in the initial stages of the Mahdist War he was Mentioned in Despatches on 3 November 1896,[6] and awarded the Order of the Medjidieh, Fourth Class in 1897.[7]

On 8 December 1897 Smyth was promoted captain.[8] On 2 September came the Battle of Omdurman.[7] 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. This action saw him awarded the Victoria Cross.[2][3] The citation was gazetted on 15 November 1898, and read:

War Office, November 15, 1898.

THE Queen has been graciously pleased to signify Her intention to confer the decoration of the Victoria Cross on the undermentioned Officers and Private Soldier, whose claims have been submitted for Her Majesty's approval, for their conspicuous bravery during the recent operations in the Soudan, [sic] as recorded against their names:—


2nd Dragoon Guards, Captain Nevill Maskelyne Smyth

At the Battle of Khartum on 2 September 1898, Captain Smyth galloped forward and attacked an arab who had run amok among some camp followers. Captain Smyth received the Arab's charge, and killed him, being wounded with a spear in the arm whilst in so doing. He thus saved the life of at least one of the Camp Followers.[9]

Smyth was also Mentioned in Despatches.[10] 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,[11] and was awarded the Order of Osmanieh, Fourth Class in 1900.[12]

Smyth rejoined the Queens Bays for active service in South Africa in the Second Boer War. He was awarded a brevet majority on 31 October 1902 for his South African service.[13]

Smyth was promoted to substantive major on 27 October 1903 when he transferred to the Carabiniers (6th Dragoon Guards),[14] who were then in India and returned to South Africa in 1908.[3] He was promoted lieutenant-colonel on 1 May 1909,[15] and became commanding officer of the Carabiniers.[3] The regiment returned to England in 1912.[3] According to the London Gazette, he completed the standard four-year period as a regimental commander on 1 May 1909, and was placed on half-pay.[16] However the same issue, carried notice of his promotion to colonel backdated to 4 December 1912.[17] He was seconded to the Egyptian Army, and in 1913–14 he was commandant of the Khartoum district where he was active in combating the slave-trade.[3]

The Mahdi's followers at Omdurman

First World War

Smyth was dispatched 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 was appointed Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) on 1 January 1916,[18] and received a further Mention in Despatches on 28 January 1916.[3][19][20] Smyth led the brigade in France in 1916, and on 28 December was given command of the 2nd Australian Division as a temporary major general.[21] He was Mentioned in Despatches twice more, on 15 May 1917[22] and 11 December 1917,[23] and was promoted substantive major general on 1 January 1918 as a "reward for distinguished service in the field."[24] 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.[3][25] He had learned to fly in 1913 and was known for borrowing aircraft to look at the lines for himself.[2] He was yet again Mentioned in Despatches on 20 December 1918.[26]

He was promoted Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in the 1919 King's Birthday Honours.[27] On 30 July 1919 was appointed General Officer Commanding 47th (1/2nd London) Division (Territorial Force).[3][28] During the war he had also been awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre,[29] and the French Légion d'honneur in the grade of Officer.[30] In all, he was Mentioned in Despatches eleven times during his career. He was appointed Honorary Colonel of the 3rd Dragoon Guards on 1 October 1920.[31] He relinquished command of his division on 30 July 1923.[32] Smyth retired from the British Army on 5 July 1924,[33] and relinquished his Honorary Colonelcy on 16 October 1925.[34]


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 in 1941 and was buried in Balmoral Cemetery.[3]

One of his sons, Dacre Smyth, followed a military career in the Royal Australian Navy rising to commodore.[35]


  1. "Smyth, Warington Wilkinson (SMT835WW)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 BP's Cousin: Sir Nevill Maskelyne Smyth, V.C.
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 Chapman, Ivan (1990). "Smyth, Sir Nevill Maskelyne (1868–1941)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 25 February 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. The London Gazette: no. 25848. p. 4512. 21 August 1888. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  5. The London Gazette: no. 26633. p. 3317. 11 June 1895. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  6. The London Gazette: no. 26791. pp. 6001–6005. 3 November 1896. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  7. 7.0 7.1 The London Gazette: no. 26828. p. 1254. 2 March 1897. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  8. The London Gazette: no. 26965. p. 2890. 10 May 1898. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  9. The London Gazette: no. 27023. p. 6688. 15 November 1898. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  10. The London Gazette: no. 27009. pp. 5728–5733. 30 September 1898. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  11. The London Gazette: no. 27159. p. 599. 30 January 1900.
  12. The London Gazette: no. 27217. p. 4782. 3 August 1900. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  13. The London Gazette: no. 27490. p. 6897. 31 October 1902. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  14. The London Gazette: no. 27609. p. 6533. 27 October 1903. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  15. The London Gazette: no. 28247. p. 3388. 4 May 1909. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  16. The London Gazette: no. 28715. p. 3149. 2 May 1913. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  17. The London Gazette: no. 28715. p. 3151. 2 May 1913. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  18. The London Gazette: no. 29438. pp. 563–564. 11 January 1916. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  19. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29429. p. 291. 4 January 1916. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  20. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 29455. pp. 1195–1206. 28 January 1916. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  21. The London Gazette: no. 29958. p. 1881. 23 February 1917. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  22. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30072. pp. 4743–4752. 15 May 1917. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  23. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30421. pp. 12907–12920. 7 December 1917. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  24. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30450. p. 8. 28 December 1917. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  25. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31111. p. 351. 3 January 1919. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  26. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31077. pp. 14921–14933. 17 December 1918. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  27. The London Gazette: no. 31395. p. 7420. 6 June 1919. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  28. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31492. p. 10056. 5 August 1919. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  29. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30568. pp. 3095–3097. 8 March 1918. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  30. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 31150. pp. 1445–1446. 28 January 1919. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  31. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 32091. p. 10158. 19 October 1920. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  32. The London Gazette: no. 32853. p. 554. 14 August 1923. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  33. The London Gazette: no. 32953. p. 5163. 4 July 1924. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  34. The London Gazette: no. 33095. p. 6841. 23 October 1925. Retrieved 25 February 2009.
  35. Commodore Dacre Smyth: Battle of the Coral Sea veteran, The Times, 30 December 2008. Retrieved on 25 February 2009

External links

Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Reginald Talbot
Colonel of the 3rd Dragoon Guards
Succeeded by
Regiments consolidated
Preceded by
Formed from 3rd Dragoon Guards and 6th Dragoon Guards
Colonel of the 3rd/6th Dragoon Guards
Succeeded by
Sir William Robertson