London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1961. First edition. Hardcover. This is the first edition of Sir John Smyth’s history of the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst, inscribed and dated by the author in the House of Commons in the year of publication. The author’s inscription, in blue ball-point in four lines on the front free endpaper, reads “With kind regards | Jackie Smyth | House of Commons | 3-11-61”.
The volume is in very good condition in a very good minus dust jacket. The vivid orange-red cloth binding is clean, bright, and tight with bright spine gilt. We note a very slight forward lean, minor shelf wear to extremities, and bumped upper corners. The contents, which include 12 pages of photographs, remain bright with no previous ownership marks other than the author’s inscription. Light spotting appears confined to the first and final few leaves and page edges. The red topstain is sunned. The dust jacket, illustrated on the front cover and spine and printed on heavy, textured paper, is complete, with no losses and retaining the publisher’s original lower front flap price. An illustration of the Academy wraps the spine and front panel and print is in red and black. Though the jacket shows overall soiling and light wear to extremities, it is unfaded, with no discernible color shift between the covers and spine. The dust jacket is protected beneath a removable, archival quality clear cover.
Sir John “Jackie” Smyth (1893-1983) was a highly decorated army officer, prolific writer, and politician. The eldest of three sons born to an Indian Civil Service officer and the daughter of a naval captain, Smyth was set upon a military career from a young age. In 1912 he was ninth of those passing out of Sandhurst and was commissioned into the Indian army “thin as a rail, perhaps rather too serious, but enormously keen”. (Smyth, The Only Enemy). At the outbreak of WWI his regiment was sent to the Western Front where at Richebourg L’Avoue in 1915 he was one of ten soldiers to participate in transferring a supply of bombs to a small party at the front line. Smyth was one of only three to make it across the 250 yards of no man’s land, and he “had bullets through my tunic and cap”. (Smyth, The Only Enemy) For this bravery he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
He had no rest in “peacetime” as he served in the Anglo-Afghan War in 1919-1920 for which he won the Military Cross. On 23 April 1940, only two weeks after his second marriage, Smyth left for France. Only ten weeks later he was back in England, having been rescued in the Dunkirk evacuations, and in 1941 he returned to India. His military service ended in controversy when he ordered a bridge on the Sittang River to be blown up, leaving 3,300 men stranded with the advancing Japanese on the far side. In his history of WWII Churchill called this episode “a major disaster.” (Vol. 4, 136) Later that year he was compulsorily retired with a colonel’s pension.
He quickly found a second career as a writer and politician. Following his first book, Defense is Our Business, in 1945, Smyth published more than thirty titles on subjects ranging from military histories and The Story of the Victoria Cross to tennis, children’s stories, and cats (a lifelong love of his). In 1950 Smyth was elected to Parliament as a Conservative. He would remain an MP until 1966. Sandhurst was, as Field-Marshal Montgomery terms it in his introduction to this volume, “the cradle of the British Army”. In 1947 two institutions, the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, merged to form the present Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. Smyth’s history tells the story of both venerable schools “from their foundation in the eighteenth century, when the life of the gentleman cadet was wild and his studies spasmodic, through the reforms of the Victorian period and their vital contribution during two World Wars”. Woven into Smyth’s story are the notables who have passed through the academy, among them Winston S. Churchill. Item #004817