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LIVES OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE
The E.J. Boys Archive

Last additions 14.3.2013. Minor edits 22.11.15.

Lieutenant Percy Shawe SMITH - 13th Light Dragoons

Birth & early life

Born on the 20th of January 1829, the son of James Royle Smith, a West India Merchant, of Lavender Hill, Battersea, London, and his wife, Mary Ann.

Educated at Eton College.

Service

Cornet in the 13th Light Dragoons: 29th of October 1847.

Lieutenant: 20th of December 1850.

Captain: 26th of October 1854.

Retired, by the sale of his commission, on the 24th of August 1858.

Campaign service

Captain Smith served the Eastern campaign on 1854-55, including the battles of the Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman and the Siege and fall of Sebastopol. (Medal and Clasps, Sardinian War Medal and the Order of the Medjidie, 5th Class.)

Rode as Acting Adjutant at Balaclava, no successor having been appointed for Thomas Irwin.

He had lost part of his right hand from a shooting accident at Belturbet, Ireland, just before the war (but he was allowed to continue in the service) and could not draw his sword. He had an iron guard made to fit over his wrist to enable him to do so, but in the dark of the morning he could not find it in the tent and turned out without it.

During the battle, un-armed as he was, he found himself separated from his men, and brought to a stand-still by three Russian Lancers, one on each side and one in front. The Lancer on his right hesitated for a moment, and left him with only two to look after. The man on his left attacked first, but he tried to turn off his point with the upper part of his bridle-arm at the cost of a mere scratch from the lance-blade. At the same moment almost, the man in front gave a point at his chest.

Unable to guard himself without dropping his bridle-reins, and mounted as he was, on a good hunter, he jumped straight on to his assailant. The lance-point luckily hit on a bone and came out as the Russian went down, and before the other two could renew their attack a party of the 11th Hussars came to his rescue. He was the only officer who rode in the Charge who came back on his original horse."

Sir Evelyn Wood, in his book, The Crimea in 1854, and 1894, tells a slightly different story:

"Lieutenant Percy Smith, 13th Light Dragoons, from an accident to his right hand, carried merely a dummy sword in his scabbard. While leading his men on the far side of the Russian battery, a Russian soldier, perceiving that he had no sword, galloped up alongside, and resting his carbine on the left arm, pressed the muzzle close to Smith's body as the two horsemen galloped, locked together.

Smith presently finding the suspense intolerable, struck out with his maimed hand at the Russian's face, and the carbine going off, the bullet passed over Smith's head, his opponent then leaving him alone."

In his Recollections of a Young Soldier, 1228 Harry Powell, 13th Light Dragoons, describes Lieutenant Smith during the failed attempt to locate Russian troops in the area of Silistria and the Danube river, the so-called "Sore-Back Reconnaissance" of June/July 1854:

"During this, Lord Cardigan and a young subaltern, Lieutenant Percy Smith, went out on a separate patrol. On the return journey some of the horses were so knocked up that after examining them Lord Cardigan ordered Lieutenant Smith to remain behind with twelve of the worst of them and come on the next morning to rejoin the main party.

Lieutenant Smith took possession of the deserted Khan (that is a coffee-house or sort of cheap hotel) in the middle of the village, made the horses safe about the yard, and was about to close the gate and bar the same when Lord Burgersh (Lord Lucan's senior aide-de-camp) rode up.

On being asked what was the matter, he answered "My horse is so done up that Lord Cardigan has given me leave to remain with the other horses and rejoin his Lordship the next morning." The gates were then closed, and Lieutenant Smith being the officer in command, he went round the building to see how it could be best defended in case of an attack.

After telling the men out to their various posts in such an event, they were then set to work to obtain wood for, and to light a fire, but before it was well alight, the sentry reported hearing a drum in the distance. By this time it was dark, and the horses so done up it would be useless to try to escape. The lieutenant posted the men at the places already chosen and ordered them to put out the fire and not even to whisper, for the chance of remaining undiscovered.

In a short time however, the village was filled with mounted men of some kind or other, a strong party rode up the Khan and tried to get through the gate, and became very angry when finding it barred. Some went away, but others formed across the entrance.

A fire was lighted in an open space not far off, the men sitting round it. Lord Burgersh looked at them through his glasses and said, "It's all right, they are Turks." Another attempt was made to force the gates of the Khan and two men got up into the minaret of a small mosque. They could see from the latter into the yard, and would have been able to shoot all the horses.

Lord Burgersh then said it would be madness to think of holding the Khan against such a strong force, and he would go and explain to the Turkish officer who they were, and Lieutenant Smith insisted on going with him. They made their way to the fire and at that time not knowing much of the Turkish language were only just able to explain they were English officers.

Lord Burgersh, wearing a cocked hat, was recognised as an English officer, but the other officer was taken to be Russian. They cried out "Russ, Russ," and separated him from Lord Burgersh, forcing him to sit down at some distance off; and placing a giant of a negro guard over him with a drawn sword, who kept pointing to his shako and muttering "Russ."

Lord Burgersh made another attempt to explain; he forgot the Turkish word for Lieutenant, literally in Turkish, as I believe in the Scriptures, "the head of a hundred." "Not a hundred," several called out, "only twelve." This only made matters worse: the big negro becoming very excited, Lord Burgersh then being with the Turkish commanding officer. They brought him bread and salt and a cup of coffee; he partook of a little, jumped up to take the remainder to his brother officer, but was prevented.

Refusing to return to his seat, Lord Burgersh forced his way to the side of his comrade and made another attempt to explain, this time being more successful; bread and salt were then offered to both, Lieutenant Smith's giant negro guard being ordered to return his sword; no doubt, that officer would not be ashamed to acknowledge, to his great relief."

He again refers to him in the following terms:

"I cannot help here in justice to two officers still living; the one for his honourable sense of right to his brother officer, the other not being justly used for his bravery and past services.

An order came to the Commanding Officers of regiments to send in the name of an officer, non-commissioned officer and private, for the Legion of Honour. Captain Jenyns and Captain Tremayne, to their credit, wished Captain Percy Smith to be recommended, instead of either of themselves, they having already received the rank of Brevet-Major.

The Commanding Officer thought that Captain Phillips had already been rewarded by getting a Troop, and would not send in the name of the above-mentioned officer, whereupon Captain Tremayne allowed his name to go in."

Medals

Entitled to the Crimean medal with clasps for Alma, Balaclava, Inkerman, and Sebastopol, the Turkish medal, the Sardinian War Medal and the 5th Class Order of the Medjidie. The citation for the Sardinian War Medal stated: "For distinguished conduct in the Light Brigade Charge at Balaclava on the 25th of October 1854."

Commemorations

Marriage

On the 14th of July 1864, at St. James's, Piccadilly, London, he married Annette, the daughter of W. Wilson Yeates, Esq., of Caversham Grove and Norfolk Crescent, London.

Marriage registered

Percy Shawe Smith to Annette Frederica Yeates, September Quarter 1864, St James

Birth registered

Reynold P Smith [son], December Quarter 1866, Keynsham.

Life after service

1871 Census

11 Norfolk Crescent, Paddington.

Harriet E Yates [sic?], Head, widow, 55, no occupation, born London.

Percy S Smith, 42, son-in-law, Late Captain 13th Light Dragoons, Surrey, Battersea.

Annette F Smith, Wife, 29, Middlesex, London.

Reynold P Smith, Son, 4, Somerset

Six servants are also shown.

1881 Census

26 Walpole Street, Deptford

Annette F Smith, 42, boarder, married, independent means, London

1901 Census

7 Chepstow Village, Kensington

Percy S Smith 72 boarder retired soldier, officer Wandsworth

Annette F Smith, 57, boarder, living on own means, Bloomsbury

1911 Census

10 Lawn Road, Southampton

Percy Shawe Smith, 82, retired Captain (Cavalry), born Battersea.

Annette Frederica Smith, 60, Private means, London

[Note: "Married 46 years, 1 child, still alive."]

One servant is also shown.

Death registered

Annette F Smith [wife], aged 72, December Quarter 1913, Southampton

Death & burial

Died at 75, Tennyson Road, Southampton, on the 8th of February 1917, aged 88 years.

Death registered

Percy S Smith, aged 88, March Quarter 1917, Southampton.

Extract from the Hampshire Advertiser, 17th of February 1917:

"We regret to announce the death of Captain Percy Smith, who, it is believed, was the last surviving officer who took part in the Charge of the Light Brigade at Balaclava...

Captain Smith was 88 years of age, and served in the Crimea with the 13th Light Dragoons, which suffered very heavily in that immortal charge. Captain Smith was then Adjutant of the Regiment.

He served throughout the Crimean War practically one-handed, and was almost un-armed, as he had lost the use of his right hand in a shooting accident before the war.

He was a native of Battersea, London, but had lived in Portswood for several years. He could talk very interestingly about his experiences during the Charge, but it was very difficult to persuade him to do so, and many of his neighbours were unaware that a personality of such interest and distinction lived amongst them...

The Funeral

The funeral took place on Monday at the Southampton Cemetery, no military ceremony attending his obsequies in deference to the late officer's wishes, but his remains were carried from his residence in a Wellington car.

The ceremony, which was conducted by the Rector of St. Denys (the Reverend L.S. Etheridge) was attended only by the deceased's son, Colonel R.P. Smith, his nephew, Mr. F. Wilson Yeates, and his housekeeper.

The body was enclosed in elm and metal shells, with an outer casket of un-polished oak with heavy brass furniture, and bore the inscription: 'Percy Shawe Smith, died February 8th 1917, aged 88 years', and was laid in the same grave as the deceased's wife, who had pre-deceased him in 1914."

In his will he left his personal estate of 787 to his son.

He was buried in Grave No. C176/81 in Southampton (Old) Cemetery on the 13th of February 1917.

No memorial stone was erected. One other person was buried in the same grave space, but due to the very old system of recording burials in the cemetery it is not possible to trace the details of the other burial without some indication of the name and approximate date of death. However, this was in all probability his wife, Annette.

Further information

Death registered

Reynold P Smith [son], aged 64, June Quarter 1931, Birmingham.

Links to pages within the EJBA:

References & acknowledgements

Additional marriage, birth and death registrations, and Census information for 1861-1881, and 1901-1911, kindly provided by Chris Poole.


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