Patricia Rosemary SmythePat Smythe in a private equestrian moment - adapted from family photo - copyright David Drew-SmythePatricia Rosemary Smythe
© David Drew-Smythe 2002

Patricia Rosemary Smythe was the third of three children born to Eric Hamilton Smythe and Frances Monica Curtoys.

Her eldest brother, Dicky, died at the age of four from pneumonia whilst Ronald Smythe, her elder brother, became a close companion and best friend during an eventful family childhood. However, "hardship" was a constant visitor to her family life - beginning when she was almost five years old at which age she contracted diphtheria and had to spend ten weeks in hospital. She recovered but needed to learn to walk again. Despite this - and other family worries, she and her brother, Ronald, grew up surrounded by pets and enjoyed a busy mix of family fun, holidays, music and work. The full story of Pat Smythe's childhood and her remarkable journey to fame as a show jumper of international repute may be found in her book, "Jump For Joy", originally published in 1954 by Cassell & Co. London.

Her mother was born in 1904, the daughter of William Francis Denny Curtoys, a clergyman from Gloucestershire and his wife, Charlotte Elizabeth Smythe. They were married circa 1898.

Charlotte was the daughter of Colonel Ingoldsby Thomas William Somerset Smythe and Charlotte Elizabeth Ann Plowden who was the daughter of George Augustus Chichele Plowden of the Bengal Civil Service, India.   Her father, Colonel Ingoldsby Smythe married again after the death of his first wife.  He married his daughter's mother-in-law, Emily J.F. Curtoys (née Shearin), widow of William Joseph Curtoys.

Monica had three brothers - Oswald, Hugo and Nicholas. They grew up in a farming community where she learned to work with animals and the land - as well as break horses; usually sent over from Ireland. Monica Curtoys - Mrs. Eric SmytheShe met Eric at her brother, Oswald's, wedding where she was a bridesmaid and he, Eric, was the best man. After their own marriage in 1923, Pat's parents lived in Shotfield Avenue, East Sheen, near London and then, later, next to Barnes Common at 'Beaufort' in Gipsy Lane. Eric Smythe worked for the engineering firm, Babcock & Wilcox in London.

Pat began riding at the age of three. Her mother occupied herself in breaking and training ponies for the celebrated polo player Johnny Traill, (see Note 1 below) a family friend who ran a large ranch in Argentina. He would send over ponies to England and they would later be seen in Richmond Park being ridden and schooled by Monica. Pat's uncle, Colonel Gordon Smythe, who lived at Swindon Manor, near Cheltenham, also kept polo ponies and encouraged her riding - (he had no children himself) - giving her, later, a polo pony (Fireworks) with which she achieved much success. Thus, Richmond Park, Ham Common and Barnes Common were the early training grounds for Pat who gradually developed her 'dream' of becoming an equestrian success. She shared many of these early dreams with her cousin, Sheila, who was the daughter of Hugo, one of her mother's elder brothers.

Pat's paternal grandfather was Arthur Smythe. He was one of twelve children born to Henry Meade Smythe and his wife, Frances Barbara Cooke. Pat's paternal grandmother was Alice Louisa Walker (née Kemmis b. 1851). Alice Kemmis was the widow of the Reverend Willam H. Walker of Nacton Rectory in Norfolk. Eric Hamilton Smythe

Arthur Smythe contracted tuberculosis and the family went to live in Switzerland for the sake of his health. It was here that Pat's father, Eric and his brother Gordon grew up and were educated. Eric went to school in Lausanne and later studied at the University of Heidelberg. He was a strong youth and distinguished himself as a mountain climber, being one of the first solo climbers of the Matterhorn. He was also a golfer and a strong tennis player.

During World War 1 he served first with the Honourable Artillery Company and then as a dispatch rider, attached to the 4th Division. One of his duties as a liaison officer was to keep King George Vth informed of the progress and activities of the young Prince of Wales - later, King and subsequent Duke of Windsor - also serving in France at that time.

Captain Eric Smythe ended the war with the Military Cross and Bar and Légion d'honneur. He was recommended for a D.S.O. and mentioned in dispatches several times. One of the experiences he remembered quite vividly was his duty at the point of Armistice. He was the first British Officer across the line, having been sent to meet the German emissaries in order to escort them to the British sector for the signing of the Armistice of 11th November 1918. He is quoted as saying, "It was a strange moment when I walked off to meet the Germans; and stranger still to shake them by the hand and then lead their defeated officers across the line to finish the war, formally and on paper."

An interesting family parallel is the fact that Henry James D. Smythe, serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps, was one of the first British Officers to enter Germany just two months later, in January 1919, as a member of the British Commission for the repatriation of prisoners of war. TOP

The Second World War brought times of awkward separation for the family. Evacuation, illness and the business of early wartime life saw the family moving around the countryside and - at new year, 1940, - her father was sent to Biskra in Algeria in search of a respite from his arthritis. Monica remained in London working for the Red Cross. Eric's eventual return from North Africa via France - where he was visiting the spa of Aix-les-Bains - is described in some detail in Pat's book, "Jump For Joy", for there, accompanied by Monica - who had set out to find him and bring him home - he managed to get out of France, under enemy fire, on the very last boat to leave Bordeaux just before the Germans accupied the city and the majority of the rest of France.

Meanwhile, Pat had been sent to the Cotswolds - to Ferne - where the Duchess of Hamilton had launched a small school for, amongst others, her grandchildren, Sheena, Vora, Douglas and the baby Sharloch, the children of her daughter, Lady Jean Mackintosh. Her husband, Chris, was the celebrated skiing champion. The Duchess is described by Pat as 'a white-haired and bright-eyed enthusiast for animal welfare and Christian Science'.

Whilst at Ferne, the freedom of which Pat much enjoyed, she became great friends with the Drummond-Hay family who lived nearby. Lady Margaret Drummond-Hay used to teach riding at Fonthill School and her eldest daughter, Jane, was about a year younger than Pat. Her siblings were Malcolm and Annalie - who went on to become a well-known equestrian competitor in her own right.

It was at about this time that Pat was unwittingly very rude to the King of England - telling him in the loudest and most irate manner, "Shut up! Can't you see I'm trying to get these horses out of the road!" The amusing circumstances may be found in her 1954 book - an event she later recalled, no doubt, whilst dining with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor in a Montmartre restaurant after her success at the Paris International Show at Val d'Hiver during the autumn of 1950.Bath Riding Club Link

In later life, Eric Smythe suffered from severe arthritis but throughout his bouts of pain he remained a staunch supporter of his daughter's dreams - which included becoming a successful farmer at one stage - as did her mother; but it was to her mother that Pat Smythe, by her own admission, owed so very much. Monica Smythe was a remarkable woman, possessed of drive, fortitude and optimism. She saw to it that the family remained a unit despite 'hard times' and she encouraged Pat and her brother, Ronald, to become independent and resourceful. During her life, she ran guest houses, broke horses for others, became a market gardener and established a riding school at Lansdowne, above the city of Bath - a riding school which later gave rise to the 1946 formation of 'The Bath Riding Club', now celebrated as one of the older riding clubs in Britain.Sudgrove House - photograph courtesy of Jon Drew-Smythe

After a long period of (often cheerful) suffering, Eric Hamilton Smythe - once the youngest Intelligence Officer in the British Army - died in Gloucestershire in 1945. Several years of ups and downs followed. Pat lost her beloved mother in a freak motoring accident in 1952. By that time, Monica was running a guest house at Miserden, (Sudgrove House) property rented from Wing Commander and Mrs. Sinclair. All manner of British and overseas guests were received there and the work was never done; but - as Ronald now recalls - 'the company was fascinating'. Photograph courtesy of Jon Drew-Smythe

Monica set out early one icy January morning to drive two Chinese boys to Stroud station; the two were considered almost as members of the family since they always spent their school holidays at Miserden. Monica skidded on a sheet of ice near the War Memorial on the Stroud road. With no rail to stop it, the jeep she was driving rolled over the steep bank into the hollow below. The students survived but Monica was killed instantly. With typical fortitude, Pat carried on and, as history has shown, she never looked back - though she often wished her mother could have been there to share in her success.

Despite the many years of hardship and endeavour - lack of money, loneliness, lost love and disappointment - all of which punctuated her life at regular intervals - she 'came through'. She went on to become one of the most celebrated equestrian personalities in the world, was awarded an O.B.E. and - through her books as much as through her sport - became a household name.

Eventually, she also got married. After a particularly painful break-up with a man she almost married - he seemed to want her to choose between being his wife or continuing to build her international career - she became engaged and was married to a man, known to her mother and who had been another regular at the guest house at Miserden. His name was Sam Koechlin. He and his sister, Mimi (who first married the Swiss equestrian, Mario Mylius and then, later, Verduno Lafranchi) were from Basle in Switzerland but when he first met Pat, he was studying for a law degree in London.

Some ten years after her mother's death, and after her well-documented triumphs in America and Canada - and at the 1956 Stockholm and 1960 Rome Olympics - Pat Smythe was secure enough to buy Sudgrove House outright and to marry Sam Koechlin. They settled back in Switzerland where she brought up their two daughters and where she wrote so many of her books - for adults as well as for children.

Sam Koechlin went on to become President of the Swiss chemical company, Ciba-Geigy. He died in 1986. Subsequently Pat returned to Sudgrove House where she died, in 1996, as a result of heart disease. She was only 67 - as was her "cousin" Richard David Somerset (Drew-Smythe) in 1987.

First Christmas after moving to Sudgrove - image courtesy of Jon Drew-Smythe

These messages appear on Christmas cards received by Johnny Drew-Smythe and are reproduced here by permission of his elder son, Jon Drew-Smythe.

Christmas message from Pat and Sam Koechlin - image courtesy of Jon Drew-Smythe

 

The message on the left reads: "John, your address got lost in the move and turned up today (Jan 6th) & now we have no post anyway as we're snowed up & a little x marks the spot where the serious drinking is done in the gazebo; you'll have to walk here to get it! Anyway, there'll be lots of vino when you do get here!"

TOPPrince HalBoth Johnny Drew-Smythe and his brother Dicky (separately) maintained that Pat Smythe was a cousin. There is no reason to disbelieve this; however the vital link is still sought in order to demonstrate the family connection between the two cousin branches.

Note 1 -- Source - Johnny Traill (1882-1958) - Traill was later to settle in Roehampton, where his Traillers polo squad became well-known.

He coached at the club for many years and, appropriately, became a player at Ham Polo Club, when it was refounded nearby by Billy Walsh in 1946.

The Roehampton Cup was really the club's answer to the Opens played at Hurlingham and Ranelagh. The winners of the earliest tournaments were all the equivalent of modern high-goal players, although the handicapping system was not adopted in England and the Empire until 1910.

For example Capt Hardress Lloyd, pivot for Magpies, winners of the 1903 final, went on to become a 10-goal player and an Olympic polo silver medallist. Capt 'Bunny' Mathew-Lannowe, who won with Woodpeckers in 1906, in which Lloyd also played, was soon to be rated at 9-goals in India.

Other polo immortals whose names have appeared among winning teams in the early days include Capt Frederick 'Rattle' Barrett, England's prototype10-goaler, who won with Scouts in 1919; and Johnny Traill, the first Argentinian 10-goaler, who won with Eastcote in 1921 and La Pampa in 1925.

One of his Eastcote team-mates was Major Philip Magor, a stalwart of the west country polo scene, who is soon to be recalled in the revival of the Kit-Kat Cup from Ranelagh Polo Club.

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