B-P’s Cousin Nevill Maskelyne Smyth
earns the Victoria Cross at Khartoum

Museum of the 1st the Queen’s Dragoon Guards, Cheshire Castle

Sir Nevill Maskelyne Smyth, V.C.

Captain Nevill M. Smyth, VC
Museum of the 1st Queens
Dragoon Guards

Baden-Powell’s first cousin, Nevill Maskelyne Smyth, was the son of Sir Warington Wilkinson Smyth (brother of Henrietta Grace Smyth) and grandson of Admiral W. H. Smyth. While serving with the 2nd Dragoon Guards (Queen’s Bays) at Khartoum in 1898, he was awarded the Victoria Cross. At the Museum of the Queen’s Dragoon Guards, the incident is described as follows:


At the battle of Khartoum on 2nd September, 1898 a native armed with a spear ran amok among the camp followers. Captain Smyth galloped forward and received the natives charge, and was wounded in the arm by his spear, but he killed the native. By a complete disregard for his own safety he saved the camp followers and prevented further trouble.

Prior to the Egyptian Campaign, the Battle of Khartoum and First World War, Nevill Smyth participated in the Zhob Valley Expedition of 1890-1891. The Zhob Valley and the British expeditions are described briefly in the 11th Edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1910):

ZHOB, a valley and river in the N.E. of Baluchistan. The Zhob is a large valley running from the hills near Ziarat first eastward and then northward parallel to the Indus frontier, till it meets the Gomal river at Khajuri Kach. It thus becomes a strategic line of great importance, as being the shortest route between the North-West Frontier Province and Quetta, and dominates all the Pathan tribes of Baluchistan by cutting between them and Aighanistan. Up to the year 1884 it was practically unknown to Europeans, but the Zhob Valley Expedition of that year opened it up, and in 1889 the Zhob Valley and Gomal Pass were taken under the control of the British Government. The Zhob Valley was the scene of punitive British expeditions in 1884 and 1890. In 1890 Zhob was formed into a district or political agency, with its headquarters at Fort Sandeman: pop. (1901) 3552. As reconstituted in 1903, the district has an area of 9626 sq. m.; pop. (1901) 69,718, mostly Pathans of the Kakar tribe.

See Sir T. H. Holdich’s Indian Borderland (1901); Bruce’s Forward Policy (1900); McFall’s With the Zhob Field Force (1895); and Zhob District Gazetteer (Bombay, 1907).

Captain Smyth rose to the rank of Major-General in World War One. In 1920, he was appointed Colonel of the 3rd Dragoon Guards (Prince of Wales’) and in 1922 was appointed Colonel of the 3rd/6th Dragoon Guards upon amalgamation of the 3rd Dragoon Guards with the 6th Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers). The amalgamated regiments were titled the 3rd Carabiniers (Prince of Wales Dragoon Guards) in 1925. His career is described at FirstWorldWar.com:

Sir Nevill Maskelyne Smyth (1868-1941) served in field command positions, generally in charge of Australian forces, during World War One.

Smyth had led an extraordinary life even before war began in August 1914.  The son of an eminent scientist (and founder of the Royal School of Mines), the first cousin of Robert Baden-Powell (founder of the world scout movement), Smyth’s pre-war career in the British Army was nothing if not incident-packed.

Seeming equally at home in command of infantry as of cavalry, Smyth also had experience of leading machine gun teams; he had the apparent ability to adapt to conditions as necessary.

Among other pre-war experiences Smyth put down the Khalifa Sherif’s rising on the Blue Nile; surveyed the Sudan; charted the Nile cataracts; and was severely injured at Omdurman where he won the Victoria Cross.

Determined to learn the new art of flying, Smyth applied for and gained an aviator’s license in 1913.  He put this to good – if unusual – use while serving in command of 2nd Australian Division on the Western Front, often "borrowing" aircraft to personally survey enemy lines (attracting much comment among fellow officers).

Having led the 1st Australian Brigade in Gallipoli, Smyth returned to the Western Front in December 1915.  Spending the majority of the war in command of Australian forces, Smyth was given command of 2nd Australian Division in December 1916, leading them until May 1918.

Smyth’s courage under fire impressed the Australians he led, as did his concern to carefully plan any offensive in which they were involved.  Although held by some to be responsible for the failure of the attack at Bullecourt in May 1917 he retained the confidence of contemporary officers.

After the war Smyth chose to retire to Australia, having developed an affection for the men he had led during wartime.  He died in 1941.

"Who’s Who: Sir Nevill Maskelyne Smyth" Updated – Tuesday, 17 September, 2002.  Original Material © Michael Duffy 2000-04.

John Bourne of the Centre for First World War Studies at the University of Birmingham described General Smyth as bearing the nickname of "The Sphinx:"

Major-General Nevil Maskelyne Smyth VC (1868-1841) commanded 1st Australian Brigade on Gallipoli, then 2nd Australian Division on the Western Front. After the ‘Australianisation’ of the Australian Corps in the spring of 1918 Smyth commanded the British 58th and 59th Divisions. His courage at Lone Pine in 1915 won him the respect and admiration of the Australians that he never lost. Brudenell White, Chief of Staff of the Australian Imperial Force, described him as ‘sphinx-like, silent and imperturbable’. He was certainly a man of few words and the Australians, perhaps with their training in Egypt in mind, referred to him as ‘The Sphinx’. Major-General Smyth emigrated to Australia in 1925.

A memorial to Major-General Smyth has been placed on the North Wall of St Mary’s Anglican Church, Balmoral, Victoria, Australia. A resident of Balmoral until his passing, he is honored as follows:


V.C., K.C.B.


G.O.C. 2
ND AUST. DIV. 1917-19,   G.O.C. 58TH LONDON
DIV. & 59TH DIV. 1918.                                                  
ZHOB VALLEY EXP. 1890-1,  SOUDAN 1896 – 99


  From the Regimental site of the 1st Queens Dragoon Guards: A brief account of the service of the Kings Dragoon Guards and the Queens Bays in South Africa, 1899-1902, refers to the service of Captain N.M. Smyth, VC during the South African War.
  Commodore Dacre Smyth, A.O. is the son of Sir Nevill Maskelyne Smyth, V.C. and great-grandson of Admiral W. H. Smyth (B-P’s grandfather). Commodore Smyth served in the Royal Australian Navy from 1940 to 1978. He was present at the Battle of the Coral Sea, at Normandy, and in both the Korean and Vietnam Wars. He was an artist, author, and publisher of twelve books of his paintings, including The Bridges of the Yarra, Gallipoli Pilgrimage and Historic Ships of Australia. In 2004, Commodore Smyth was one of ten Australians to receive the French Legion of Honor recognizing his service and that of other Australians on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
  Baden-Powell Family History. A series of links based on the research of Robin Baden Clay, a grandson of Baden-Powell. They are focused on the genealogy of the Powell family. The author is extremely grateful to Mr. Clay for sharing the results of his labors with the Scouting community. Links are provided to pages for three of B-P’s brothers: Baden, Warington and Sir George Baden-Powell as well as to the genealogy of the Smyth and Warington families.
  Baden-Powell Home Page

  Return to the Pine Tree Web Home Page

Your feedback, comments and suggestions are appreciated.
Please write to:
Lewis P. Orans

Copyright © Lewis P. Orans, 2012
Last Modified: 8:52 PM on August 24, 2012