Smith, Geoffrey Watkins

Captain / Rifle Brigade

1881 - 1916

Geoffrey Watkins Smith was born 9 December 1881, the son of Horace Smith, a Metropolitan Police Magistrate of Beckenham, Kent and of Susan Smith, daughter of the Reverend C Watkins. He was born at Ivy Bank, Beckenham. His younger brother was Mr. Nowell C Smith (College 1883-1890), Housemaster E 1905-1909 and Headmaster of Sherborne School.

Geoffrey came to Winchester College as a Scholar in September 1894. He showed promise as a cricketer, but his deepest interest always lay in science and biology. He played in College VI in 1898.

He obtained a Scholarship at New College, Oxford, in 1899 and in 1903 was placed First Class in the Natural Science School. He then spent two years studying biology in Naples, and returned to take up a tutorial fellowship at New College, which he held until the outbreak of war. He spent many years travelling in Italy, Ceylon and then to Tasmania and Australia. He returned to England via Egypt in 1908.

Shortly after the outbreak of war Geoffrey obtained a commission in the 13th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade and proceeded to the front in July 1915. He had been promoted to Captain in April 1915 and by early 1916 he had been given command of D Company where he became a much loved and inspiring leader. On 10 July 1916 13RB relieved the North Staffordshire Regiment in the front line trenches in the Ovillers-Contalmaison area. That evening, at twenty minutes notice, they were suddenly ordered to attack. Under intense machine gun fire they over-ran three lines of enemy trenches and captured 200 prisoners. Smith was killed at the furthest point in the advance by a shell which burst in a German trench just occupied by the battalion, killing two other company commanders besides himself. Tragically, only ten minutes after the attack had been launched, orders were received to abandon it - too late however, for the 20 officers and 300 men who had already been killed or injured.

A memorial service was held in New College Chapel at which the address was given by Warden Spooner. Captain Smith was one of the three OW junior tutors of exceptional ability whom New College lost. The others were Lieutenant G.L. Cheesman (College 1897-1903) and Lieutenant L.W. Hunter (College 1898-1905).

Geoffrey's interests were not confined to biology: he published in 1900 a small volume of poems called Village Carols and while an undergraduate represented Oxford at lawn-tennis. A memoir, compiled by his sister Dorothy and printed for private circulation, contains letters written from the Front and also gives a picture of his life in Italy.

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