The Man Behind the Medals
In this blog series, SOFO Museum’s Research volunteers look at the stories behind some of the medal sets in the museum’s collection, from those that can be seen on a visit in our dedicated Medals display, to some of those that are still tucked away in the archive.
While medals will tell you a little bit about a soldier’s service, it’s only with further research that their full story can be revealed. SOFO’s Research volunteers respond to enquiries we receive through our Research Service, helping people find out more about their relatives who served in the county regiments, and raising funds to support the museum in the process. Using a combination of the museum’s records and those available elsewhere, they piece together stories like this one.
Captain Frederick Augustus Smith VC
In two of our previous Men Behind the Medals posts, looking at Cpl Neill and Col/Sgt McManus, you’ll have spotted a magic lantern slide – also one of our favourite 50 Objects – depicting a scene from the New Zealand Wars. But who is the officer depicted in these slides?
Frederick Augustus Smith was born in Dublin in 1826, the son of Henry Jeremiah & Elizabeth Smith. He was part of a large family, with 6 brothers, 5 sisters and 2 half-brothers.
Frederick Smith was first commissioned into the 1st Foot Regiment (The Royal Scots) as an Ensign in June 1849, and promoted to Lieutenant in April 1852. He served with the Royal Scots in the Crimean War, was wounded several times and saw action at the Alma, Inkerman and Sevastopol.
Promoted to Captain in March 1855, he served with the Berar Field Force during the Indian Rebellion, preventing Tatya Topee’s force from penetrating into the Deccan. Subsequently he transferred to the 43rd in 1859.
In October 1863 the 43rd were ordered to New Zealand, where unrest amongst some Maori tribes had grown and regular troops were rushed to assist the Government forces. The 43rd operated mostly in detached companies during the Campaign, fighting a series of small engagements against a fierce & intelligent enemy. During the Campaign, Capt Smith saw action at Maketu on the 28th April 1864 when a detachment was ambushed and then besieged by rebels until seaborne forces arrived to lend support.
Smith was fortunate to miss the battle at Gate Pa on 29th April, when the 43rd took heavy casualties in a failed attack, but he commended the detachment of the 43rd which was part of the force that sought and achieved revenge for their comrades on 21st June 1864 at Te Ranga. This proved the decisive combat of the campaign, and Capt Smith played a leading role in leading the attack, awarded the VC for his gallantry.
The citation states how, despite being wounded by a bullet lodged in his leg, he continued to lead his men and was first into the enemy rifle pits, commencing fierce hand to hand fighting and killing a Maori chief in the process. He was subsequently promoted to Brevet Major.
Frederick Smith continued to serve with the 43rd after they left New Zealand in March 1866. Promoted to Major after Te Ranga, he finally became Lt Colonel of the 43rd in 1875, before retiring in February 1878 as full Colonel. He died in Duleek, Neath on 22nd July 1887 and was buried in the Smith family vault at Duleek.