George Smith (chaplain)

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Padre George Smith of Rorke's Drift
Padre George Smith (right of centre) in Alphonse de Neuville's The Defence of Rorke's Drift (1880)

Reverend 'Padre' George Smith (8 January 1845 – 26/27 November 1918), Army Chaplain, was a defender of Rorke's Drift during the Zulu War of 1879, an action which saw the winning of eleven Victoria Crosses.

Born in Docking in Norfolk in 1845, 'Padre' George Smith served as a missionary in South Africa from 1870. However, he is best remembered for his part in the famous defence of Rorke's Drift during the Zulu War of 1877–79 which won him the praise of several officers involved in that action in their reports. As an assistant army chaplain, and therefore a non-combatant, Smith played a supportive role in the defence, where he distributed ammunition to the soldiers of the 24th Regiment of Foot (2nd Warwickshires) who were manning the barricades. Smith was not portrayed in the 1964 film Zulu by which most people know of the battle.

After the Zulu War he was often referred to as "Ammunition Smith". As an assistant army chaplain, and therefore technically a civilian, Smith was not entitled to receive a campaign medal or other award for his part in the defence. Instead he was offered, and accepted, a position as a regular army chaplain.

After South Africa he served as Chaplain in several other wars including the Battle of Tel el-Kebir in Egypt, the war against the Dervishes in the Sudan and during the Nile expedition in Egypt.

Padre Smith also served in many posts in the UK, and on his retirement he resided in the Sumner's Hotel in Preston, where he died on 26/27 November 1918 from bronchial trouble which had afflicted him for six months. After a small military ceremony, he was buried in the Church of England plot in New Hall Lane cemetery in Preston, Lancashire.

Canon William Lummis's 1978 book Padre George Smith of Rorke's Drift is a detailed account into the life of Smith and his part in the action at Rorke's Drift on 22–23 January 1879.

In Alphonse de Neuville's famous 1880 painting The Defence of Rorke's Drift Padre Smith is depicted to the right of centre (recognisable in his blue tunic and red beard) distributing ammunition to the defenders.

George Smith is also honoured at The Museum of Army Chaplaincy.

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