Captain and Brevet-Major Geoffry Lee Compton Smith, D.S.O.

Captain and Brevet-Major Geoffry Lee Compton Smith, D.S.O., (aged about 32) of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers (Rylane in Aghabulloge parish)

Date of incident: 16 April 1921 (abducted, held as hostage, executed, and disappeared as suspected intelligence officer by IRA)

Sources: II, 30 May 1921; CE, 2, 4 June 1921, 5, 26 March 1926; IT, 22 Aug. 1921; FJ, 30 May, 17 Oct. 1921; CCE, 4 June, 22 Oct. 1921; Military Inquests, WO 135/151B (TNA); British Forces Missing (Military Archives, A/0909); Pre-Truce Absentees from British Troops in Ireland (Military Archives, A/07304); Interview with Frank Busteed, Ernie O’Malley Notebooks, P17b/112 (UCDA); Felix O’Doherty’s WS 739, 50-52 (BMH); Maurice Brew’s WS 1695, 23-24 (BMH); Tim Sheehan (2003); Sheehan (2011), 75; irishmedals.org (accessed 28 July 2014); Commonwealth War Graves Commission; http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/list-1921.htmlhttp://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/compton-smith/compton-smith.html (accessed 8 Aug. 2014). 


Note: Described by the IRA as ‘a key intelligence officer in Munster’, Compton Smith was abducted near Blarney on 16 April 1921. He was commandant of the Ballyvonare Military Camp near Buttevant. After he was kidnapped, the IRA sent word to British military officials that ‘it was intended to murder him if certain executions took place in Cork on April 28th. These executions were carried out. Five undated and unposted letters written by Major Compton Smith, together with his silver cigarette case, were recently captured on Sinn Fein premises in Dublin, used as an office by Michael Collins, head of the Republican Army. From these letters, he feared [statement made by Sir Hamar Greenwood in the House of Commons], there was no doubt that this gallant officer was foully murdered.’ See CE, 2 June 1921.

Just before his execution, Compton Smith wrote the following letter to his regiment: ‘Dear Royal Welch Fusiliers,—I am to be shot in an hour’s time. I should like you fellows to know that the sentence has been passed on me (two lines erased here), and that I intend to die like a Welsh Fusilier, with a laugh and forgiveness for those who are carrying out the deed. I should like my death to lessen rather than increase the bitterness which exits between England and Ireland. I have been treated with great kindness and during my captivity have learned to regard Sinn Fein rather as mistaken idealists than as a murder gang. My cigarette case I leave to the mess. I carried it with the regiment throughout the war and shall die with it in my pocket. God bless you all, comrades.’ See CCE, 22 Oct. 1921.

It remains far from clear that Compton Smith was engaged in any intelligence-gathering activities in spite of claims to this effect. See Pre-Truce Absentees from British Troops in Ireland (Military Archives, A/07304). At any rate he allegedly disappeared on a sketching expedition on 16 April 1921, and a few days later he sent the following letter to his wife: ‘My Own Darling Wife,—I am to be shot in an hour’s time. Dearest, your hubby will die with your name on his lips, your face before his eyes, and he will die like an Englishman and a soldier. I cannot tell you, sweetheart, how much it is to me to leave you alone—nor how little to me personally to die—I have no fear, only the utmost, greatest, and tenderest love to you and my sweet little Anne.’ See http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/compton-smith/compton-smith.html (accessed 8 Aug. 2014). 

Though the Recorder of Cork granted £10,000 to Gladys Compton Smith and her daughter Anne in October 1921, it appears that the British government was slow to pay out this sum and did not do so until shortly before 19 May 1924, when a government minister reported in answer to an embarrassing question in the House of Commons that the payment (along with £385 in interest and £68 in costs and expenses) had finally been discharged. See http://www.cairogang.com/soldiers-killed/list-1921.html (accessed 8 Aug. 2014).

Earlier, the newspapers recorded an interview with his wife and quoted from several letters that he had written her. She remarked: ‘Anyway, Sinn Feiners did not post this letter to me. I think it a noble one and feel proud of it. Sketching was a favourite amusement of my husband, and he had gone to Blarney, presumably to sketch the Castle, when he fell into the hands of the Sinn Feiners. I received a letter from him written the next day, in which he said, while away sketching yesterday, ‘I had the misfortune to get held up by the I.R.A. I am now a prisoner but being very well treated. I have no doubt I shall get out of this scrape as I have got out of others. There is nothing to worry about.”’ 

Then his wife continued: ‘I heard no more from him until we received a letter yesterday from Sir H. Greenwood. When I got it, I also received the following: “I am still going strong and write this lying on a heap of hay in a barn. It has been most interesting to compare notes with the Sinn Feiners. Last night I had a discussion with a lot of them representing different ranks, and [rebels with] various grades of education were sitting round the cottage fire. I was single-handed among many. Some of them were very bitter against us, but they treated me most fairly. The night ended up with a song in which I joined most heartily.”’ See CE, 4 June 1921. 

On or about 30 April 1921 Compton Smith was executed by the IRA. He died with famous gallantry: ‘When removed to the place of execution, he placed his cigarette case in his breast pocket of his tunic and asked that after his death it should be sent to his regiment. He then lighted a cigarette and said that when he dropped the cigarette, it could be taken as a signal by the execution squad to open fire.’ See Maurice Brew’s WS 1695, 23-24 (BMH). 

The IRA secretly buried his body in a bog between Donaghmore parish and Blarney, but in contrast to Mary Lindsay, the IRA battalion leaders were sympathetic to the efforts of Compton Smith’s father to recover his son’s remains. Late in 1924 the Civic Guards began an investigation that eventually enabled them to locate his grave and recover his body. His remains were taken to Collins Barracks in Cork city in a lead-covered coffin. By this time Compton Smith’s widow had remarried and lived in Italy as Gladys Mary Peterson. For reasons that remain unclear, the family declined the chance to take the remains back to England and instead consented to have them interred in Cork; he was reburied with full military honours in the military cemetery adjacent to Fort Carlisle (now Fort Davis) near Whitegate on the east side of Cork Harbour. See CE, 5, 26 March 1926.

Frank Busteed, former captain of the Blarney Company of the Cork No. 2 Brigade, later revealed to Ernie O’Malley with greater precision the places where Compton Smith had been kept a prisoner and where he had been buried: ‘We moved him back to the death chamber where we had trained the column. It was away from everywhere in a wilderness. In Rylane parish in [Kilcullen] townland; it is known as “the cottage”. “He’s for the cottage”, we’d say among ourselves, and that meant that he was for execution. . . . We moved him at night. All over [i.e., everywhere], as a result of the capture [of] Smith and Mrs Lindsay, was honeycombed with lorries looking for them.’ See Interview with Frank Busteed, Ernie O’Malley Notebooks, P17b/112 (UCDA). Rylane is a townland (not a parish) in Aghabulloge parish in the Macroom district; Kilcullen North and South are townlands in Donaghmore parish in the vicinity of Macroom.

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