Open main menu

Major General Merton Beckwith-Smith, DSO, MC (11 July 1890 – 11 November 1942) was a senior British Army officer during both the First and Second World Wars.

Merton Beckwith-Smith
Maj-Gen Beckwith-Smith.jpg
Major General Merton Beckwith-Smith, c. 1940
Born(1890-07-11)11 July 1890
Chelsea, London, England
Died11 November 1942(1942-11-11) (aged 52)
Karenko Concentration Camp, Taiwan
AllegianceUnited Kingdom
Service/branchBritish Army
Years of service1910–1942
RankMajor General
UnitColdstream Guards
Welsh Guards
Commands held18th Infantry Division (1940–42)
1st Guards Brigade (1939–40)
1st Battalion, Welsh Guards (1932–34)
Battles/warsFirst World War
Second World War
AwardsDistinguished Service Order
Military Cross
Mentioned in Despatches (2)
Croix de guerre (France)


Early life and military careerEdit

Beckwith-Smith was born on 11 July 1890, and educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford[1]. In 1910 he was commissioned into the Coldstream Guards. He served with the Guards throughout the First World War, eventually becoming a staff officer in the Guards Division. On 4 October 1914, whilst 1st Guards' Brigade was holding trenches opposite the German line at the River Aisne, Beckwith-Smith was ordered by Brigadier General Charles FitzClarence to carry out a nighttime raid against a German position known as 'Fish Hook Trench'. This was the first British trench raid of the First World War. Beckwith-Smith was still just a lieutenant at the time and the raid was considered to be a striking success. On the front of the 1/Coldstream, just east of the Troyon factory road, the Germans had run out a sap, and it was decided to fill it in. At 8 P.M. a platoon of the battalion, led by Beckwith-Smith (who was wounded and subsequently received the Distinguished Service Order), crossing the hundred yards of No Man's Land, rushed the trench with the bayonet.

Between the warsEdit

After attending the Staff College, Camberley, from 1921 to 1922, in 1930 Beckwith-Smith transferred to the Welsh Guards; he commanded the 1st Battalion from 1932 to 1937. After this he held various district commands in India before the outbreak of the Second World War.

Second World WarEdit

In 1940, during the Second World War, he was given command of the 1st Guards Brigade, part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) sent to France in 1939/1940. After the Battle of France and the subsequent retreat to Dunkirk, from where he was evacuated to England, Beckwith-Smith was given command of the Territorial 18th Infantry Division, which he trained in preparation for duty overseas.

In early 1942, after many weeks at sea, Beckwith-Smith's division was landed at Singapore. Japanese forces invaded Singapore Island on 8 February. Because of the defensive strategy implemented by the Allied commander, Lieutenant General Arthur Percival, most of the British 18th Division saw little or no action. Percival surrendered the 80,000 British and Commonwealth troops at Singapore on 15 February, including Beckwith-Smith and his division. In August 1942 he was moved to Formosa (now Taiwan) along with Percival and all the senior officers from Singapore.

On 11 November 1942 Merton Beckwith-Smith died at Karenko Camp of diphtheria as a prisoner of war.[2] In 1946 the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) exhumed all the Taiwan prisoner of war remains and reburied them in the Sai Wan War Cemetery in Hong Kong. Many years later his grave was identified by Jack Edwards on the request of Diana, Princess of Wales.[3][4]

Personal lifeEdit

Beckwith-Smith married Honor Dorothy Leigh on 14 March 1918. He lived at The Manor House, Stratton Audley and Aberarder, Inverness. He had four children: Peter, Rosemary, Sarah and John. His grandchildren include the British racehorse trainer Nicky Henderson, [5] and Anne Beckwith-Smith, Princess Diana's Lady-in-Waiting.[6]


  • Colin Smith (2005). Singapore Burning. Penguin. ISBN 978-0-670-91341-1.
  • Smart, Nick (2005). Biographical Dictionary of British Generals of the Second World War. Barnesley: Pen & Sword. ISBN 1844150496.


External linksEdit