b. 25/10/1893 Teignmouth, Devon. d. 26/04/1983 Marylebone, London.
John “Jackie” George Smyth (1893-1983) was born at “Greenmount”, Ferndale Road, East Teignmouth, Devon on 24th October 1893. His father was William John Smyth, a Double First from Balliol College, Oxford before joining the Indian Civil Service in Burma. Sadly, Jackie hardly knew his father who was abroad for most of his childhood. He was cared for for his mother and a family friend, Mr Hapgood, an auctioneer at Witney, Oxfordshire, who became a second father. His mother was Lilian May nee Clifford. His father died in Burma, and she moved to a flat in Southsea, Hampshire.
Military service went back a long way in the family. His paternal grandfather, Henry Smyth CB commanded the 68th Regiment of Foot in the Crimean War. Three of his uncles also served in the Army or Navy, and also both of his brothers also served, so it was destined that Jackie would end up in the military.
Jackie was educated at Dragon Preparatory School, Oxford 1901-1907, also attended by VCs William Leefe Robinson, Leonard Cheshire and John Niels Randle. Sadly, Jackie fell ill with dropsy and Bright’s Disease resulting in bed rest for over two years, but he recovered and later excelled at sports. Jackie moved to Repton School in Derbyshire from 1907-1911. After Repton, Jackie trained at the Royal Military College, Sandhurst 1911-1912 and played regularly for the Hockey and Soccer XIs and received his “Blue” for revolver shooting. He also won the Military History Prize, and was commissioned on 24th August 1912 and sailed for India on the troopship Plassy in September, where he was attached to 1st Yorkshire at Sialkot. He transferred to 15th Ludhiana Sikhs on 5th November 1913 at Loralai, Baluchistan.
When war broke out, the Battalion marched to Karachi, before sailing for Europe, arriving in Marseilles in September 1914. Jackie was promoted to Lieutenant on 24th November 1914 and the Battalion trained and acclimatised at Orleans before moving into the line at Richebourg, Festubert and Givenchy areas. Jackie was extremely lucky when an exploding minenwerfer buried him alive. He was dug out but was left with a hearing problem which affected him for the rest of his life. He also had a cigarette shot from out of his mouth at Windy Corner and a piece of shrapnel cut his neck on another occasion. Early in 1915 he was appointed Aide de Camp to Brigadier General Strickland, commanding the Jullundur Brigade, but returned to his Battalion when the Adjutant became a casualty. He was appointed Adjutant before the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915.
In actions near Richebourg L'Avoue, Frnace, on May 18th, 1915, Lieutenant Smyth with a bombing party of 10 men, voluntarily undertook the duty, to supply ammunitions to comrades within 20 yards of the enemy's position. After the attempts of two other parties had failed, with eight having been killed or wounded, he succeeded in taking the munitions to the desired position with the aid of his last two men.
Jackie was gazetted for the VC on 29th June 1915, and received the medal on 12th July 1915 at Buckingham Palace from King George V. He was also awarded the Russian Order of St George, 4th Class on 25th August 1915. The Battalion then moved to Egypt, landing at Ismailia in August 1915. In November it moved to Mersah Matruh by armed trawlers to take part in the Senussi Campaign in the Western Desert. The Battalion returned to India in February 1916 for duty on the North West Frontier. He was promoted to Captain and took part in the Mohmand Blockade on the North West Frontier from October to December 1916. He passed out at the top of the Staff School at Saugor in January 1918, and was appointed acting major on 20th June 1918 and Brigade Major of the Bombay-Deolali Brigade. Later he was Brigade Major of 43rd Indian Brigade at Lahore.
On 21st October 1919 a convoy was attacked by a party of Mahsuds. He set off with 300 men of 9th Jats in Ford vans, supported by two armoured cars. They arrived within two hours. While the infantry got behind the Mahsuds, Jackie drove the armoured cars straight at them. The Mahsuds retreated. He was awarded the Military Cross for this action (LG 27th September 1920). It was also this action which saw the award of a posthumous VC to Henry Andrews.
While on leave in England for the first time in 8 years, he was invested with the MC by the Duke of York at Buckingham Palace on 21st July 1920 as the King was unwell. His brother, Herbert, also received the MC on this occasion. On the following day, Jackie married Margaret Dundas at the Brompton Oratory, London. They went on to have four children, though his oldest son, John was killed in action in Kohima on 7th May 1944.
Jackie returned to India as Brigade Major of 74th Brigade and sailed for Basra, Mesopotamia in August 1920 to help put down the Arab Revolt. He spent the next two years in India, during which he was appointed GSO3 from 13th January 1922 and transferred to 3/11th Sikh Regiment on 1st December. He remained in India, and in 1930 was posted to the riots in Peshawar and was appointed City Commandant. On 31st May 1930, he was lucky to escape injury when an accidental gun discharge saw the bullet narrowly miss his head. In October that year, he retuned to England and became an instructor at the Staff College, Camberley. He was promoted to brevet Lieutenant Colonel in 1933 and returned to India as Second in Command of 3/11th Sikhs under Lieutenant Colonel Hyde-Cates at Rawalpindi. He then took part in the Mohmand Operations on the North West Frontier as temporary CO.
He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel in July 1936 to command the 3/11th Sikhs. Towards the end of the year, he joined the Chitral Relief Force. He was posted to Allahabad in October 1938, where he would meet his second wife, Frances. On the anticipation of impending war, he returned to England in July 1939. On 1st February 1940, he took command of 127th Infantry Brigade, 42nd East Lancashire Division, with HQ at Rainscombe House, Marlborough, Wiltshire. Jackie’s first marriage ended that year in divorce, and he married Frances Mary Blair Read nee Chambers on 12th April 1940 at Southsea.
He served in France prior to the Dunkirk evacuation, and sailed for India in 1941 where he became acting brigadier and took command of 36th Indian Brigade at Baleli, near Quetta. He was there when a massive earthquake struck the area. He was then appointed acting major general in October 1941 to command 19th Indian Division. General Wavell then gave him the appointment of command 17th Indian Division in Burma during the Japanese invasion. Jackie was blamed for the retreat over the Sittang River and sacked. At this time, Jackie was also extremely unwell with malaria and was forced to take sick leave. Eventually, the illness caused Jackie to be forced to retire on 7th November 1942.
Jackie then became a military correspondant for several newspapers including the Sunday Times. He stood for Parliament in Wandsworth Central in 1945, losing to Ernest Bevin, but was elected Conservative MP for Norwood, London from 1950-1966. He served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Pensions and National Insurance 1951-53 and was created 1st Baronet Teignmouth on 23rd January 1956. Jackie also became the founder and first Chairman of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association 1956-1971 and Life President from 1971-1983. He attended every reunion from 1958-1981. In Parliament, he championed the VC annuity, resulting in it being raised to £100 for all ranks in September 1961.
Jackie was a profilic author of variety of different subjects, and these included “Great Stories of the Victoria Cross” and “The Story of the George Cross”. He also wrote three children’s books and two plays. Jackie suffered a fall, breaking two ribs, and was admitted to King Edward VII Hospital for Officers, Marylebone, where he died on 26th April 1983. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium and his ashes were scattered in Section 2-L of the Garden of Remembrance.
In addition to his VC, MC and Order of St George, he was awarded the 1914 Star with “Mons” clasp, British War Medal 1914-20, Victory Medal 1914-19 with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf, India General Service Medal 1908 with five clasps, General Service Medal 1918-62 with clasp “Iraq”, 1939-45 Star, Burma Star, Defence Medal 1939-45, War Medal 1939-45 with Mentioned in Despatches oak leaf, George V Silver Jubilee Medal 1935, George VI Coronation Medal 1937, Elizabeth II Coronation Medal 1953 and Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal 1977. While serving in India, his VC and other medals were stolen and he was issued with official replacements. The medals are held by the Imperial War Museum, London.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: GOLDERS GREEN CREMATORIUM, LONDON. ASHES SCATTERED SECTION 2
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
Golders Green Crematorium Memorial
John Smyth's memorial stone in Teignmouth, Devon. Picture courtesy of Peter Norton GC
His medals when displayed in the Imperial War Museum prior to the Lord Ashcroft Gallery.
War Illustrated, 18th September 1915
War Illustrated, 27th January 1917
Freemasons Memorial, London (Brian Drummond)