11 APRIL 1925, Page 19



Memories of Forty-eight Years' Service. General Sir Hum.° Smith-Dorrien, G.C.B., G.C.M.G., D.S.O. (John Murray, 25s.) SIR HORACE SMITII-DORRIEN'S memoirs fall naturally into three parts. The first is one of those vivid stories of endeavour in many lands such as only arise from British soldiers of that adventurous Victorian era in which the British Empire was, like the Roman, almost continuously engaged in small wars. At the age of twenty " an unwarrantable piece of cheek " got Smith-Dorrien to South Africa, where, in 1878, Lord Chelmsford was engaged in an unfortunate campaign against the Zulus, and within a few months of landing at Durban he was involved in the disaster of Isandhlwana. The story he tells of that affair differs materially from the popular accounts, and his own modestly-told part in it was sufficiently filled with thrills to satisfy most men for a lifetime. His escape through the encircling mass of Zulus began with a ride alone through a body of some 4,000 warriors armed with assegais, and he attributes his safety to the fact that the Zulus took him for a civilian, not worth the slaying, because he wore a blue coat, whereas most of our men wore red. Surrounded again on the Buffalo, which was in flood, he escaped once more by swimming the river, and on reaching the further bank was saved a third time by his prowess as a runner, for he outdistanced his pursuers, no mean feat, as anyone who has seen a Zulu move across country can testify.

In 1882 Smith-Dorrien went to Egypt with the second batta- lion of his beloved regiment, the Sherwood Foresters, to take part in the campaign against Arabi, and there he raised what, if Peterborough's expedient in Spain be excepted, was the first body of mounted infantry to take part in a British expedition. This earned him the favour of Sir Evelyn Wood, and in 1884 the first British Sirdar called him to be one of that select band engaged in creating the Egyptian Army. With that army he was engaged for three years in the attempt to relieve Gordon, the operations about Suakin and in the battle of Ginnies in which Lord Grenfell gave the Mandi his first serious check after the fall of Khartum. So in 1887 Smith-Dorrien went to the Staff College with unusual experience for a young man, and there began a period of ten years of keen professional study and equally keen enjoy- ment of sport at home and in India. In the summer of 1897 the rejoicings over Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee were mildly disturbed by the news of a serious rising on the North- West frontier of India, and there followed the Tirah campaign, the most serious military enterprise India had undertaken since the Mutiny. Smith-Dorrien went into Tirah as a major in the second battalion of the Sherwood Foresters and there quickly made himself known for the skill and enterprise with which he tackled the difficulties of mountain warfare against those natural warriors, the Afridis, of whom he has many a story to tell.

In 1898, at the age of forty, he was still a major, though he had taken part in five campaigns, so that till then Fortune had not been particularly kind. But at last she began to smile cn one who had certainly left nothing undone to deserve her favours. The Tirah campaign brought him the brevet of lieutenant-colonel in 1898, and in the same year Kitchener gave him command of a Sudanese battalion which he led at gr= the battle of Omdurman, so earning another step in rank. The following autumn- he took the first battalion of his regiment to South Africa', and was almost at once given command of a brigade by Lord Roberts. That brigade he led against Cranje's hanger at Paardeburg, and it was his attack which precipitated the Boer surrender, so that it fell happily on the anniversary of Majuba. The Boer War, which destroyed many reputations, made Smith-Dorrien's name as a gallant, enterprising and determined leader and a skilled tactician, and in February, 1900, he was made major-general, having in less than two years jumped to that rank from the :position of major in a line regiment.

Such then in brief is the story, full of incident, told with the modesty of an English gentleman, which fills the first two hundred and ninety pages of this book. The second is the tale of a man who had won his spurs and been called to positions of responsibility. As Adjutant-General in India he was defending the honour and reputation of the soldiers in that country, and his task was no light one, for Lord Curzon had, by persistently taking the side of the natives, who were by no means always in the right, deeply affronted the Army. Want of tact on the one side and a tendency sometimes to exaggerate grievances on the other produced a very. strained situation, and the strain was not lightened when the Viceroy did not conceal his opinion of the military mind and intervened in matters which were not strictly within his province. But these were, in effect, but preliminary skirmishes to the pitched battle fought between Kitchener and Curzon over the reorganization of the military command in India, and Sir Horace makes it abundantly clear how impossible the old system had become and why Kitchener worsted the great proconsul.

Deeply interesting as all this is, it is to the third part of this book that the public will turn with the greatest eagerness, for there Sir Horace enters the arena of history, and to its pages he makes an important contribution. It may be safely assumed that as time goes by the great drama of the opening months of the War will be studied with ever- growing interest. Lord French's very inaccurate " 1914 " has been freely used in France to the disparagement of the part played by our Expeditionary Force in the early days of the War, and it is therefore of real importance to have an authoritative description from its commander of the corps which bore the brunt of the fighting from Mons to Ypres. The accuracy of Sir Horace's story is supported in all the main particulars by the official history, and he has succeeded in the difficult feat of telling it without a word of disparage- ment of a chief whose criticisms of himself were, to put it mildly, adverse. It is now accepted by all students of the War that Sir Horace's decision to fight at Le Cateau was not only right but that it saved the left flank of the Allied line and enabled our little Army to escape without further molestation from a position which the Commander-in-Chief himself regarded as desperate.

Reading between the lines of the story here given, it is evident that G.H.Q. on the evening of the first day of the Battle of Mons were stunned by the simultaneous discovery of the unexpected strength of Von Kluck's Army and of the fact that they had been left in the lurch by the French Fifth Army on our right. From that double blow it took them some time to recover, and until they did the two corps com- manders, Smith-Dorrien and Haig, were left to get them- selves out of the mess as best they could. Sir henry Wilson's words on the telephone to Smith-Dorrien on the morning of the Battle of Le Cateau—" Yours is the first cheerful voice I have heard for three days "—is evidence of the gloom at headquarters. Fortunately for us, Smith-Dorrien kept his head, and his " Very well, gentlemen, we will fight " will go down as one of the fine decisions in our military history. The difficulties between Smith-Dorrien and his chief are traceable to the way in which the former was appointed. When General Grierson died on the way to our place of concentration behind Maubcuge, Kitchener chose Smith- Dorrien, whom he had known and valued in Egypt, South Africa and India, to succeed him. Sir John French had meanwhile wired for Tinnier. That Kitchener was within his rights is certain, for it has long been the custom for the Government of the day to reserve to itself both appoint- ment and withdrawal from the high military commands in peace and war. Mr. Lloyd George in 1918 recalled General Gough without consulting Haig. But the result was, as Sir Horace says, that " the Second Corps could do nothing right." To relieve a situation which had become impossible he was brought home, but those who served under him in the Second Corps will not forget their chief, and history will support