Merton Beckwith-Smith

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Merton Beckwith-Smith
Maj-Gen Beckwith-Smith.jpg
Nickname(s) Becky
Born 11 July 1890
Died 11 November 1942 (aged 52)
Karenko Concentration Camp, Formosa / Taiwan
Buried at Sai Wan War Cemetery, Hong Kong
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Service/branch Flag of the British Army.svg British Army
Years of service 1910–1942
Rank Major-General
Unit Coldstream Guards
Welsh Guards
Commands held 1st Battalion, Welsh Guards
1st Guards Brigade
18th Infantry Division
Battles/wars World War I
World War II
Awards Distinguished Service Order
Military Cross
Croix de Guerre

Major-General Merton Beckwith-Smith DSO MC MA (11 July 1890 – 11 November 1942) was a senior British Army officer during both World War I and World War II.


Early career[edit]

Beckwith-Smith was born on 11 July 1890, and educated at Eton and Oxford. 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 Charles FitzClarence to carry out a night time 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 a Second Lieutenant at the time and the raid was considered to be a striking success

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 War[edit]

In 1940, during World War II, 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 a training exercise against the 2nd Infantry Division the 18th Division won, the reward being the first posting overseas for the division.

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 Ernest 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.[1] In the spring of 1946 the Imperial War Graves Commission (now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) exhumed all the Taiwan POW remains and re-buried them in the Sai Wan Bay War Cemetery in Hong Kong. Many years later his grave was identified by Jack Edwards on the request of Diana, Princess of Wales.[2] He is buried in Sai Wan War Cemetery in Hong Kong.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Beckwith Smith married Honor Dorothy Leigh on 14 March 1918. He lived at The Manor House, Stratton Audley and Aberarder, Inverness. He had 4 Children: Peter, Rosemary, Sarah and John.



  1. ^ Goodman, Eric W. "War Diary of Brigadier Goodman". Britain at Retrieved 11 September 2009. 
  2. ^ Staff Jack Edwards 1918 - 2006, The Times obituary 15 August 2006
  3. ^ CWGC entry

External links[edit]