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Richard Josiah Smyly in 1918 © IWM (HU 126677)

Richard Josiah Smyly was born in 1879 being descendant of a well known Ulster family and eldest son of Matthew John Smyly M.A. and Kathleen Georgina Smyly of Boden Park, County Dublin.

He first commissioned into the 5th Battalion Royal Fusiliers in 1899 and was augmented into the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment in February 1900.

Richard first saw active service during the South African war as a Lieutenant with the 1st Battalion L.N.L. and its Mounted Infantry where he was wounded in July 1901 and subsequently Mentioned in Despatches. He left the Cape on 30th July 1901 onboard the Orcana which docked at Southampton on 21st August.

In 1904 he was selected as one of five officers, under an international scheme, to undertake the reorganisation of the Macedonian Gendarmerie on behalf of the Turkish Government. He was engaged on this work for two years and was reported to be seriously wounded during this time when capturing a brigand.

British Officers serving with the Gendarmerie. (Back L-R) Capt A.E. Stanley Clarke | Capt. G. C. Hamilton | Major G. L. Bonham | Capt. R. J. Smyly
(Front L-R) Capt. W. E. Fairholm | Mr Groves, British Consul-Gen at Salonika | Lt-Col. F. Gore Anley.

Back in the UK he is known to have attended a course at the School of Musketry, Hythe, commencing 27 September 1907.

Subsequently, from June 1908 and upon promotion to Captain, he was seconded to spend two years in the Egyptian Army resulting in him becoming the Governor of Khartoum.

Richard married Miss Sybil Douglas Pilkington in March 1910 and by 31st August 1914 they are known to be living at 21 Porchester Square, Hyde Park, London. Since 1st April 1913 Richard had been seconded for service as Adjutant of the 7th (Territorial) Battalion of the Essex Regiment .

During the Great War he was appointed Brigade Major at the training camp at Larkhill Camp on Salisbury Plain and remained in this post until 21st November 1918 when he retired on half-pay in consequence of ill-health contracted on active service.

Turkish gold Liyakat Medal

For his military service he wore the Queen’s South Africa medal with 3 clasps, the King’s South Africa medal with two clasps and a gold Liakat/Liyakat Medal that he had been presented by Sultan Abdul Hamid for his services to Turkey. He was appointed to the Military Division as Officer of the Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.) in the 1919 New Years Honours List.

From 1920 to 1925 he held the position of Marshal of the City of London which carried a salary of £300 per annum. His duties required him to ride before the Lord Mayor and attend all State occasions, to attend the Mansion House when the Lord Mayor receives (guests) and to supervise the arrangements for the Lord Mayor’s Show. With the passing of the Police Acts of 1829 and 1839, many of the policing duties had been removed from the marshals. Nevertheless, the City Marshal was (and still is) the Lord Mayor’s peacekeeper. As such he ‘clears the way’ by the marshaling of civic processions ‘and calls the names of the members thereof in their proper order.’ He also represents the Lord Mayor at all Entry of Troops. He challenges, then escorts those regiments honoured to be allowed to exercise their privilege to march through the City with drums beating, bayonets fixed and colours flying.

Upon his retirement from this position in April 1925 the Dundee Courier carried this rather amusing article about the choosing of his successor;


There appears to be a much larger number of truly handsome men in London than had been supposed. The office of City Marshal is now vacant by the retirement of Major R. J. Smyly, and it is the difficult task of the Officers’ and Clerks’ Committee of the City of London Corporation to select his successor. The City Marshal is a very imposing person, though the salary attached to his post is only £300 a year. The office has existed since 1570, and the City Marshal has always been on the most impressive persons in the van of the Lord Mayor’s procession whenever that great functionary goes out on important ceremonies. The two absolutely necessary qualifications for the post are that the applicant must be an expert horseman and that he should be physically well set-up and handsome. The striking thing is that when the committee meet tomorrow they will have no fewer than three hundred applications from men – mostly Londoners – who feel that they are good-looking enough for the job. The final choice will rest with the Court of Common Council, and I hear of a movement to abolish the post altogether on the ground of economy. But that is doomed to failure. The handsome one will get his chance.

Richard Josiah Smyly died on 14th July 1930, aged 54, and was buried at All Saints Church in Trull near Taunton in Somerset. He had been suffering from spinal trouble owing to an old war injury for the preceding five years.

Paul McCormick
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