George Quentin Murray Smythe - Internet photo source - Brian ReidCaptain Quentin Smythe, V.C.

Smythe of Methven

South African born, Quentin Smythe was the son of Edric Smythe and grandson of the 1st. Administrator of Natal, the Hon. Charles Smythe who arrived in South Africa in 1872. Charles Smythe was a descendant of the Smythe family of Scotland. The Hon. Charles Smythe was Speaker 1897-1899, Colonial Secretary 1899-1903, Prime Minister 1905-1906 and Administrator of Natal from 1910 until 1918, the year of his death.

Quentin Smythe was born in Natal on August 6th., 1916, educated at Estcourt High School and began farming near Richmond. Described as "a quiet, modest man, of medium height, who was always gentle and considerate to others" he "could be determined when the need arose". His recreations were shooting, fishing and bowls; he was, apparently, particularly good at the last.

He married firstly, in 1945 (dissolved 1970), Dale Griffiths; they had three sons and one daughter. He married secondly, in 1970, Margaret Joan Shatwell, who died in 1980. He married thirdly, in 1984, Patricia Stamper, who survived him. He was awarded the Victoria Cross in 1942, the first South African VC of the war. He was also awarded the Freedom of the City of Durban.

During the Second World War, he served with the 1st Batalion Royal Natal Carbineers in the East Africa Campaign against the Italians before moving to the Western Desert. There, on May 26 1942, Rommel's Afrika Korps attacked the British Army (which had just been weakened by losing two divisions, an Armoured Brigade and some squadrons of the Desert Air Force to the Far East) in order to pre-empt a new British offensive. The Germans hoped to capture Tobruk and, ultimately, to drive the British back to Alexandria, although this attempt was finally checked at El Alamein the next month.

The initial attack caught the British off-balance, but they recovered and fought back, forcing the Germans to take up a defensive position, which became known as 'The Cauldron'. Unfortunately, the British were at this stage equipped with tanks and guns which were inferior to the Germans', and after a number of desperate battles they had to fall back. On June 5th., the South African forces were holding a position in the north of the line (which consisted of defensive "boxes" separated by minefields), and when Rommel launched a heavy attack in the northern sector he encountered strong and determined resistance. The cost in casualties on both sides was high.

Quentin Smythe, who was then a sergeant, realised that there was no officer to command his platoon and took charge himself, leading his men in an attack on the enemy's strong point at Alem Hamza, 20 miles south of Gazala. Although handicapped by a wound in his forehead, causing much loss of blood, he managed single-handedly to obliterate a machine gun post, taking all the surviving crew prisoner. Then, again single-handedly and armed only with rifle and bayonet, he promptly did the same with an enemy anti-tank gun crew, after which he consolidated the position. However, because of the deterioration of the situation elsewhere, he found himself ordered to withdraw. In spite of a vigorous attempt by the enemy to cut him off, he managed to lead his men back to their lines. His action saw him join the ranks of the fewer than 1500 heroes who were awarded the coveted bronze medal, traditionally cast from the metal of Russian cannons captured in the Crimean War.

After the war he was an Officer Instructor with the Department of Defence, South Africa, a post he held from 1970 to 1981. In retirement he held the rank of Captain and returned to farming at Amanzimtoti, moving from his house in anger when, aged about 75, he broke a knee-cap while trying to apprehend a burglar. According to his son, Pat, he farmed "not because he was good at it, but because he was a crack marksman, passionate conservationist and animal lover." He instilled a love of hunting, shooting and fishing in his children even before they started school. He spent the last days of his life in Durban's Parklands Hospital, where he died from cancer at the age of 81. He left three sons, a daughter and 11 grandchildren.

Text adapted courtesy of a variety of Internet sources