top of page
Smith Dorrian.png

Cabinet Photograph
Messrs Bassano - Photographer
25 Old Bond Street, London W., England
c. 1900

General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien GCB, GCMG, DSO, ADC was born at Haresfoot, near Berkhamsted in June 1858, the son of 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.

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 camp,
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 his memoirs when he was confronted by Quartermaster Bloomfield of the 2/24th over breaking open of that battalion's ammunition boxes at 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 field for the remainder of the war.

Smith-Dorrien would go on to see active service in almost every theater of operations of the late Victorian era. He was present at the Battle of Ginnis (1885) when for the final time British troops went into battle wearing their red jackets.  He to part in the Tirah Campaign (1897-98) on India's north west frontier and returned to Egypt and the Sudan, taking part in the final defeat of Mahdist forces at Omdurman in 1898.

He would be one of the very few senior ranking British officers whose reputation emerged intact if not enhanced from the Anglo-Boer War.

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 jeopardizing the whole BEF, an accusation which did not amuse Smith-Dorrien's fellow corps commander, Haig, who already believed French to be incompetent.

The rancor between French and Smith-Dorrien eventually led to him being sacked. After a brief period at home, he was assigned to take command of British forces in East Africa but illness prevented him from fulfilling the assignment. Smith-Dorrien would have no active service for the rest of the war.

He was appointed Lieutenant of the Tower of London in 1917 and was Governor of Gibraltar from 1918 to 1923. He retired from the army at the end of his term as governor.

Horace Smith-Dorrien died in an automobile accident in August 1930.

Below: A handwritten note from Major General Horace Smith-Dorrien to Miss Holumsby-Carter granting her request for his autograph and positively commenting on Australian troops that served under him during the Anglo-Boer War.

Autograph Note

5 1/4 inches by 8 1/4 inches

(13,5cm x 21cm)

Balquholly, Simla, British India

c. 1900s

Smith Dorrian Note.png
bottom of page