General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien – The Hero of Le Cateau

The Smith-Dorrien family

The Smith-Dorrien family including Horace and his brothers, Rear Admiral Arthur and Lt Commander Henry.
Picture: Dacorum Heritage Trust

Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien was born in 1858 and was the 11th child of Col. Robert Smith-Dorrien of Haresfoot House, Berkhamsted.

After education at Harrow and then military training at Sandhurst, he spent his entire career with the Sherwood Foresters (95th Foot) and commanded the 19th Brigade during the Boer War.

At the start of the First World War, he was selected by Kitchener as successor to Lt. Gen. Sir James Grierson as commander of British Second (II) Corps.

Envelope commemorating the Battle of Le Cateau, designed by David Smith-Dorrien.

Envelope commemorating the Battle of Le Cateau,Envelope commemorating the Battle of Le Cateau, designed by David Smith-Dorrien. designed by David Smith-Dorrien.
Picture: Dacorum Heritage Trust

His finest hour came during the first few weeks of war when the British forces were retreating from Mons (25-26 August). Smith-Dorrien ignored Field Marshal French’s orders and made a stand at Le Cateau with the brief comment “Very, well, gentleman, we will fight”.

This rear-guard action checked the German advance and saved the British Army. After the second battle at Ypres he again clashed with French and retired.

In November 1915 he went to East Africa to direct operations there, but retired a year later through ill health.

He was regarded as a man with a high sense of duty and an affection for those who served under him. As a general, his faults were that he was too kind and his comprehension of tactics did not rise above regimental level.

He was made Governor of Gibraltar in 1918 until 1922 and died in a car crash at Chippenham in August 1930.

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