Who's Who - Sir Nevill Maskelyne Smyth

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 after disarming a native who lunged forward with a spear among a group of accredited journalists, receiving a wound to his arm in the process.

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.

A 'Woolly Bear' comprised a German shrapnel shell, which burst with a cloud-like explosion.

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