|General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien GCB, GCMG, DSO, ADC was born at Haresfoot, near Berkhamsted in June 1858, the
son Colonel Robert Algernon Smith-Dorrien of the 16th Lancers and 3rd Light Dragoons and Mary-Anne Smith-Dorrien, the 12th
child of 16. He was educated at Harrow, and on 26 February 1876 entered the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, passing out with a
commission as a subaltern to the 95th (Derbyshire) Regiment of Foot. On 1 November 1878, he was posted to South Africa where he
worked as a transport officer. In this role he encountered, and fought against, corruption in the army.
During the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 Smith-Dorrien was present at the Battle of Isandlwana on 22 January 1879, serving with the
British invasion force as a transport officer for the army's Royal Artillery detachment. As Zulu forces overran the British forces,
Smith-Dorrien narrowly escaped on his transport pony. As such, Smith-Dorrien was one of fewer than fifty white survivors of the
battle and one of only five regular officers to escape. His observations on the difficulty of opening ammunition boxes led to changes
in British practice for the rest of the war, though modern commentators argue that this was not as important a factor in the defeat
as was thought at the time.
Smith-Dorrien famously quoted himself in is own memoirs when he was confronted by Quartermater Bloomfield of the 2/24th over
breaking open of that battalion's ammunition boxesat Isandlwana. Bloomfield was remembered as saying; "For heaven's sake, don't
take that man for it belongs to our Battalion.". Lieutenant Smith-Dorrien's reply was rather curt: "Hang it all, you don't want a
requisition now do you?"
Because of his conduct in trying to help other soldiers during his dramatic escape from the battlefield, he was nominated for a
Victoria Cross, but, as the nomination did not go through the proper channels, he never received it. He remained active in the filed
for the remainder of the war.
He later served in Egypt on police duties, being appointed assistant chief of police in Alexandria on 22 August 1882. During this time,
he forged a life-long friendship with the future Lord Kitchener. On 30 December 1885, he witnessed the Battle of Gennis, where the
British Army fought in red coats for the last time. The next day he was given an independent command and, following a bold military
action where he went beyond his orders, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.
From 1887–9, Smith-Dorrien then left active command to go to the Staff College, Camberley.
He returned to his regiment India where he commanded troops during the Tirah Campaign of 1897–98.
In 1898, he transferred back to Egypt and fought at the Battle of Omdurman and commanded the British troops during the Fashoda
incident. During this time, he was promoted to the rank of Colonel.
On 31 October 1899, he shipped to South Africa, arriving on 13 December. On 2 February 1900, Lord Roberts put him in command of
19 Brigade and, on 11 February, he was promoted to Major-General. He played an important role at the Battle of Paardeberg (18
February to 27 February 1900), steering Lord Kitchener and Henry Colville away from tactics of attacking an entrenched enemy over
open ground. At Sanna's Post (31 March 1900), Smith-Dorrien ignored inept orders from Colville to leave wounded largely
unprotected and managed an orderly retreat without further casualties. He took part in the Battle of Leliefontein (7 November
1900). On 6 February 1901, Smith-Dorrien's troops were attacked in the Battle of Chrissiesmeer. Smith-Dorrien's qualities as a
commander meant he was one of a very few British commanders to enhance his reputation during this war.
On 22 April 1901, he received orders to return to India where he was made Adjutant General (6 November 1901) under Kitchener.
He was placed in command of the 4th Division in Baluchistan, a post he held until 1907. In the dispute between Kitchener and Lord
Curzon over the role of the Military Member, Smith-Dorrien stayed neutral, torn between his relations with Kitchener and with the
Military Member himself, Sir Arthur Palmer.
|Carte de Visite
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York Town, England
|Above: The autograph of General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien GCB, GCMG, DSO, ADC
|He returned to England and, in 1907, become GOC of the Aldershot Command. During this time, he instituted a number of reforms
designed to improve the lot of the ordinary soldier. One was to abandon the practice of posting pickets to police the soldiers when they
were outside the base. Another was to improve sports facilities. His reforms earned many plaudits (but were treated as an implied
criticism by his predecessor, Sir John French).
He improved the frequency and methods of training in marksmanship of all soldiers. During this period, the higher ranks of the army
were divided on the best use of cavalry. Smith-Dorrien, along with Lord Roberts, Sir Ian Hamilton and others, doubted that cavalry
could often be used as cavalry, thinking they would be more often deployed as mounted infantry. To this end, he took steps to improve
the marksmanship of the cavalry. This did not endear him to the 'pro-cavalry' faction, which included French and Douglas Haig.
He also tried to get the army to purchase better machine-guns.
Although Smith-Dorrien was perfectly urbane and, by the standards of the day, kind-hearted towards his troops, he was notorious for
furious outbursts of bad temper, which could last for hours before his equilibrium was restored. It has been suggested that the pain
from a knee injury was one cause of his ill temper.
In 1911, he was made Aide-de-Camp to King George V. He was part of the king's hunt in the Chitwan area of Nepal; on 19 December
1911, Smith-Dorrien killed a rhino and on the following day shot a bear.
On 1 March 1912, he was appointed GOC Southern Command and on 10 August 1912 he was promoted to full General.
Unlike French, he was politically astute enough to avoid becoming entangled in the Curragh Incident of 1914.
With the outbreak of the Great War, he was given command of the Home Defence Army; however, following the sudden death of Sir
James Grierson, he was placed in charge of the British Expeditionary Force II Corps, by Lord Kitchener, the new Secretary of State
for War. Field Marshal Sir John French had wanted Sir Herbert Plumer but Kitchener chose Smith-Dorrien as he knew he could stand
up to French.
Smith-Dorrien's II Corps took the brunt of a heavy assault by the German forces at Mons, with the Germans under von Kluck
attempting a flanking manoeuvre. French ordered a general retreat, during which I Corps (under General Douglas Haig) and II Corps
became separated. Haig's I Corps did not reach its intended position to the immediate east of Le Cateau
Smith-Dorrien, now at Le Cateau, saw that his isolated forces were in danger of being overwhelmed in a piecemeal fashion. He
decided instead to concentrate his corps, supplemented by Allenby's cavalry and the 4th Division of Thomas D'Oyly Snow. On 26
August 1914, he mounted a vigorous defensive action, a "stopping blow", which despite heavy casualties, halted the German advance.
With the BEF saved, he resumed an orderly retreat.
His decision to stand and fight enraged French who accused Smith-Dorrien of jeopardising the whole BEF, an accusation which did not
amuse Smith-Dorrien's fellow corps commander, Haig, who already believed French to be incompetent.
Smith-Dorrien's II Corps took part in the First Battle of the Marne and the First Battle of the Aisne before the British were moved
north to be closer to their supply lines.
On 26 December 1914, Smith-Dorrien took command of the Second Army.
During the Second Battle of Ypres, the British were defending an untenable salient. On 22 April 1915, the Germans used poison gas
on the Western Front for the first time and heavy casualties were sustained. On 27 April, Smith-Dorrien recommended withdrawal to
a more defensible front line. On 30 April, Haig wrote in his diary
"Sir John also told me Smith-Dorrien had caused him much trouble. 'He was quite unfit [(he said)] to hold the Command of an Army' so
Sir J. had withdrawn all troops from him control except the II Corps. Yet Smith-D. stayed on! [He would not resign!] French is to ask Lord
Kitchener to find something to do at home. … He also alluded to Smith-Dorrien's conduct on the retreat, and said he ought to have tried
him by Court Martial, because (on the day of Le Cateau) he 'had ordered him to retire at 8 am and he did not attempt to do so [but insisted
on fighting in spite of his orders to retire]'."
French used the 'pessimism' of the withdrawal recommendation as an excuse to sack Smith-Dorrien on 6 May. His replacement,
Herbert Plumer, then recommended a withdrawal almost identical to that proposed by Smith-Dorrien, which French accepted. In
December 1915, French himself was removed by Kitchener; Douglas Haig then replaced French as commander of the BEF.
French later wrote a partial and inaccurate account of the opening of the war in his book 1914, which attacked Smith-Dorrien. Smith-
Dorrien, as a serving officer, was denied permission to reply in public.
After a period in Britain, Smith-Dorrien was assigned a command to fight the Germans in German East Africa (present day Tanzania,
Rwanda, and Burundi) but pneumonia contracted during the voyage to South Africa prevented him from taking command. His former
adversary, Jan Smuts, took on this command. Smith-Dorrien took no significant military part in the rest of the war. On 29 January
1917, Smith-Dorrien was appointed lieutenant of the Tower of London.
His next position was as Governor of Gibraltar from 9 July 1918 – 26 May 1923, where he introduced an element of democracy and
closed some brothels. According to Wyndham Childs in the summer of 1918, Horace tried, and nearly succeeded, in uniting the
Comrades of the Great War, the National Association of Discharged Sailors and Soldiers, and the National Federation of Discharged
and Demobilized Sailors and Soldiers into one body. The merger later took place in 1921 to form the British Legion.
He retired in September 1923, living in Portugal and then England. He devoted much his time to the welfare and remembrance of
Great War soldiers. He worked on his memoirs, which were published in 1925. As French was still alive at the time of writing, he still
felt unable to rebut 1914. Despite his treatment by French, in 1925, he acted as a pallbearer at French's funeral, an act appreciated by
He played himself in the film The Battle of Mons, released in 1926.
On 4 August 1930, he unveiled the Pozieres Memorial.
He died on 12 August 1930 following injuries sustained in a car accident in Chippenham, Wiltshire; he was 72 years old. He is buried
Horace Smith-Dorrien married Olive Crofton Schneider, the eldest daughter of Colonel and Mrs Schneider, of Oak Lea, Furness
Abbey at St Peter's, Eaton Square, London On 3 September 1902.
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