Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria (26 March 2009)
Date of Auction: 26th March 2009
Sold for £1,700
Estimate: £1,500 - £2,000
FootnoteClement Leslie Smith was born in the Isle of Wight in January 1878, son of the Chaplain in Ordinary at Osborne, ‘where he was practically brought up with Princess Ena (later Queen of Spain) and her young brothers, sharing in all their games and pursuits, and often playing hockey with the young Prince George (later George V)’.
Gazetted to the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry from the Volunteers in May 1900, he served on the staff in South Africa 1901-02 and was advanced to Lieutenant in August of the latter year. In May 1903, he took up appointment as a Special Service Officer in Somaliland, and it was in this capacity that he was awarded the Victoria Cross (London Gazette 7 June 1904, refers):
‘At the commencement of the fight at Jidballi on 10 January 1904, the enemy made a very sudden and determined rush on the 5th Somali Mounted Infantry from under cover of bushes close at hand. They were supported by rifle fire, advanced very rapidly, and got right amongst our men. Lieutenant Smith, Somali Mounted Infantry, and Lieutenant J. R. Welland, M.D., Royal Army Medical Corps, went out to the aid of Hospital Assistant Rahamat Ali, who was wounded, and endeavoured to bring him out of action on a horse, but the rapidity of the enemy’s advance rendered this impossible, and the hospital assistant was killed. Lieutenant Smith then did all that any man can do to bring out Dr. Welland, helping him to mount a horse and, when that was shot, a mule. This also was hit and Dr. Welland was speared by the enemy. Lieutenant Smith stood by Dr. Welland to the end, and when that officer was killed, was within a few paces of him with his revolver. At the time the Dervishes appeared to be all round him, and it was marvellous that he escaped with his life.’
Employed with the Egyptian Army from November 1905, Smith was present in the Sudan operations of 1910, and was awarded the M.C. for his command of the Camel Corps in similar operations of April-June 1915 (London Gazette 25 April 1916 refers), work that no doubt led to his next appointment as Temporary Brigadier-General and C.O. of the Imperial Camel Corps. The following appreciation of Smith’s subsequent contribution to the tide of war in Egypt & Palestine was written by Lord Winterton, and appeared in The Times on 2 January 1928:
‘The Imperial Camel Corps was formed in April 1916. Its personnel were officers and men from various Yeomanry, Australian Light Horse and New Zealand Mounted Rifle regiments, very few of whom had ever ridden a camel or been in the desert in their lives. General Smith was its Commandant, and, afterwards, when it became a brigade, its Brigadier, until the Brigade was disbanded in 1918, on the conclusion of hostilities in that part of Palestine where it could be usefully employed. He led the Brigade in every action in which it was engaged; the long list of engagements can be seen on the plinth of the memorial to the Corps in Victoria Gardens. The whole of the original personnel was trained by him at the depot at Abbasia, and subsequent recruits, under his close supervision, through the agency of Colonel R. V. Buxton, D.S.O., and Lord Winterton.
Leslie Smith was the founder, the leader, the inspiration of the I.C.C. His task was one of great difficulty, not only because never before had there been so large a Camel Corps Force composed, with one small exception, of British and Australasian personnel, but because of the intermingling of men from three countries and a score of regiments. Leslie Smith overcame these difficulties triumphantly by personal popularity, charm, courage and tact, together with a knowledge of the possibilities of desert warfare which was almost uncanny. Indeed, those who have served under both men would agree that he was fit to be compared with Lawrence himself in this respect. Nor does the resemblance end there. Like Lawrence, he combined an apparent indifference to heat, cold, hunger, thirst and fatigue, when he was in the desert, with a kind of undergraduate sense of humour and love of adventure, provided it was both dangerous and unusual.
Many of us felt he should have been given a division when the Brigade was disbanded, because Smith, in addition to the qualities enumerated above, was a very fine soldier in the orthodox sense of the term, with a long experience of staff work. But it was not to be, for the reason, possibly, that the I.C.C. was regarded by authority as a “rough and ready” and rather “Bashi-Bazouk” organization. Though he never gave a hint of this, it is probable that disappointment, added to the mental and physical strain of long, continuous service on frontiers and in deserts, was the main cause of his breakdown in health four or five years ago, from which he never really recovered. His memory will be cherished with deep affection by every one of the members of the old I.C.C. in two continents.’
In June 1918, Lord Allenby likewise acknowledged the part played by Smith and the Imperial Camel Corps in his successful campaign in Palestine:
‘My dear Smith,
Now that the Imperial Camel Brigade is ceasing to exist in its present form, I must convey to you and to those under your command, my warm appreciation of their services.
Many calls have been made on them, and to every call they have given a ready response. The deserts of Sinai, the plains of Philistra, the hills of Judea, the mountains of Moab, the wadis of the Jordan have been their battleground; and on all they have acquitted themselves nobly.
I congratulate and thank them. In the future, under changed conditions, their work will, I know, be equally good.
I wish you, their commander, and the Brigade, the good future which you deserve, and which will not fail you.
Smith, who commanded a Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment in the early 1920s, died at the British Club in Alassio, Italy, in December 1927, where he had settled a year or two earlier in order to try and regain his health, and, according to one obituarist, left among ‘his most prized possessions a personal letter of admiration and congratulation from Lord Allenby, written in 1918’. Indeed so, complete with its original envelope with G.H.O. field stamps and Allenby’s signature (see above).