Captain and Brevet Major Bernard Cecil Smyth-Pigott

This is part of a series of essays about the First World War casualties commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Connecticut.

The grave of Bernard Cecil Smyth-Pigott
The grave of Bernard Cecil Smyth-Pigott

Major Smyth-Pigott played an important role in the engagement between the War Office and the arms manufacturers in the United States that were contracted to supply rifles for the British Army in 1915 and 1916.

Bernard Cecil Smyth-Pigott was born on 5 November 1884 at Brockley Hall[1] in Somerset into a wealthy, landed family; he was the second son and second of the seven children of Cecil and Mary Smyth-Piggott.[2] On a sea journey in February 1893 to Colombo, his father fell overboard and drowned.

In 1899, Smyth-Pigott passed the examination for entry as a Midshipman into Britannia Royal Naval College, where he began his studies the following year. At the completion of his studies he did not join the Royal Navy but was commissioned into the 4th (Militia) Battalion, Prince Albert’s (Somersetshire Light Infantry) on 7 January 1903. He was commissioned into the regular Army as a Second Lieutenant in The Durham Light Infantry on 26 September 1903. Smyth-Pigott served with the 2nd Battalion as a platoon commander in ‘E’ Company at Aldershot and then in County Cork; he was promoted to Lieutenant on 23 July 1906. In 1910 he and the Battalion returned to England.

Smyth-Pigott had married Molly Fraser on 28 December 1909 at St Joseph’s Roman Catholic Church, Weston-super-Mare.[3] Their only child, Peter, was born in 1912.

In March 1912, Lieutenant Smyth-Pigott was appointed as an Assistant Inspector on the Inspection Staff of the Army Ordnance Department. It was in this capacity the he spent his career until the outbreak of war. The Inspection Staff comprised eight departments and Smyth-Pigott was assigned to the department that dealt with small-arms, machine guns and (bizarrely) bicycles. Smyth-Pigott worked at the Royal Small Arms Factory at Enfield Lock and it was the work here that led to his dispatch to the United States just after the outbreak of war.

When it was recognized that the manufacturing base in the United Kingdom had insufficient capacity to produce the small-arms required by the huge expansion of the Army, contracts were let in the United States. The contracts were for the production of the ‘Rifle, .303 Pattern 1914’, known as the P14. This was a new rifle, based on the design of the Pattern 1913 Enfield (the P13), an experimental rifle designed to fire a new .276 Enfield rimless cartridge, which had been developed as a result of experience during the Boer War. The outbreak of the First World War made the adoption of this new cartridge impracticable and, in essence, the P14 was the P13, built to accept the standard British .303 cartridge.

The P14 Rifle
The P14 Rifle

In 1914, contracts were let for the production of the P14 with the Winchester Repeating Arms Company in New Haven, Connecticut, and the Remington Arms Company at Ilion, New York. A Remington subsidiary, Eddystone Arsenal at Eddystone, Pennsylvania, also manufactured the rifle. The three variants of the rifle were designated by their source of manufacture: Patterns ‘Mk 1 W’, ‘Mk 1 R’ or ‘Mk 1 E’ respectively. Production was not without its problems: early production rifles were not up to standard and were not accepted, minor variations in the rifles produced by each of the manufacturers led to issues with the interchangeability of parts, and a modification to the Mark 1 (known as Mark 1*) was opposed by Winchester, which stopped production for a number of months. Nonetheless, 1,235,293 rifles would be manufactured by the three companies.[4] Initially issued in some numbers, the P14 was replaced in front-line service in 1916 by the ubiquitous Short Magazine Lee Enfield No.1 Mk3*, which was by then being produced in sufficient quantity in the United Kingdom. The P14 was then used primarily as a sniper rifle and was highly regarded for its accuracy.[5]

Short Magazine Lee Enfield No.1 Mk3
Short Magazine Lee Enfield No.1 Mk3

Smyth-Pigott was promoted to Captain in October 1914 and dispatched to the United States to oversee the new contracts. He sailed from Liverpool on 24 October aboard the SS Lusitania, arriving in the United States a week later, and established his base in New Haven alongside the Remington factory. He returned to the United Kingdom briefly in early 1915 to discuss the contracts, returning to New Haven at the end of February. He was upgraded to ‘Inspector’ on 27 February 1915 and, notwithstanding the difficulties encountered with the manufacture of the P14, the success of this enterprise earned him promotion to Brevet Major.[6]

In April 1916, Smyth-Pigott fell ill with appendicitis; the appendix ruptured and, although he had surgery, he died on 15 April. He was buried in Saint Lawrence Cemetery, West Haven. His grave is in Section L, Lot 70, alongside, and at the western end, of Avenue 19. It is marked by a large private memorial.

His brother Ruscombe served during the First World War with the Royal Naval Air Service and the Royal Air Force, primarily in the Eastern Mediterranean. For his wartime service he was twice awarded the Distinguished Service Order, four times mentioned in despatches and awarded the French Croix de Guerre. He retired in 1934 as Group Captain J R W Smyth-Pigott DSO. He returned to duty during the Second World War and was again mentioned in despatches and made CBE.[7]

Smyth-Pigott’s son Peter served as an officer in 2nd Battalion, The East Yorkshire Regiment (The Duke of York’s Own) in Palestine prior to the war, in France with the British Expeditionary Force (including the evacuation from Dunkirk), and in North-West Europe from D-Day. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in 1956.

1. (Back) Brockley Hall was one of two homes in the area belonging to the family, the other being Grove Park in Weston-super-Mare. The former has been converted into private residential housing. The house at Grove Park was badly damaged during the Second World War and later demolished. The park is now a municipal facility and the site of the Weston-super-Mare war memorial.
2. (Back) Cecil Hugh Piggott-Smyth-Piggott (27 November 1860-22 February 1893) married Mary Agnes Ruscombe Poole (1855-23 March 1947) on 26 January 1882: John Hugh (21 November 1882-3 November 1941); Gladys Mary Genevieve (later Risley) (9 February 1886-13 July 1964); Cecily Mary Agnes (later Tredcroft) (28 April 1888-27 September 1986); and Dorothy Mary (later Fleming) (2 July 1889-1989); Joseph Ruscombe Wadham (Group Captain J R W Smyth-Pigott CBE, DSO*) (8 August 1890-8 October 1971); and Margaret Mary Blanche (9 October 1891-27 April 1931).
3. (Back) Athalie Mary Gordon (Molly) Fraser (1884-3 February 1923): Bernard Peter (11 April 1912-1993).
4. (Back) For more on this subject see: ‘Part 1 Munitions Supply’. (1922). History of the Ministry of Munitions. Volume 1—Industrial Mobilisation 1914-1915. London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office. See also: Burk, K. (2014). Britain, America and the Sinews of War 1914-1918. London: Routledge.
5. (Back) When the United States entered the war, the rifle was manufactured to accept the standard US .30-06 Springfield cartridge and the rifle was produced in greater numbers and used more widely than the Springfield 1903, the standard issue rifle. It was known officially as ‘United States Rifle, cal .30, Model of 1917’ and colloquially as the ‘M1917 Enfield’.
6. (Back) Brevet rank conferred Army but not regimental seniority; it was an award for meritorious service or gallantry. London Gazette 29 November 1915. Issue 29384, p 11892.
7. (Back) Conveyed the approbation of the Lords of the Admiralty. Flight Commander, Royal Naval Air Service. For delivering a very determined attack on a Zeppelin off Ostend on 10 August 1915 under very difficult conditions.
Distinguished Service Order. Flight Commander, Royal Naval Air Service. On the night of 13th-14th November 1915 Flight Commander Smyth-Pigott volunteered to attack the railway bridge at Kuleli Burgas. He was able to locate the bridge by the moonlight shining on the river, and descended to within 300 feet of it before releasing his bombs. He was heavily fired on from several places, and, in spite of trouble with his engine, which commenced before he reached the bridge, he returned safely to his base after a night flight which had lasted over four hours. London Gazette 24 November 1915. Issue 29381, p 11756.
Croix de Guerre (France). Acting Squadron Commander, Royal Naval Air Service. April 1916.
Mention in Despatches. Acting Squadron Commander, Royal Naval Air Service. He carried out a flight to Constantinople on the night of 14th-15th April 1916 and dropped bombs on the railway station; on the return journey he passed through some fearful weather and was driven well to the eastward of his course but landed safely after a strenuous flight of just over five hours. London Gazette 22 June 1916. Issue 29635, p 6213.
Mention in Despatches. Squadron Commander, Royal Naval Air Service. On the 23rd March, 1917, a spirited encounter took place between an enemy Halberstadt machine and a Sopwith bomber and a Sopwith fighter. The enemy first attacked the bomber and the machine and pilot’s clothes were riddled with bullets. When he was himself attacked by the fighter he broke off the action. Our machines returned to Thebes, where a most skillful landing was made by the damaged bomber. Pilot, Sqn. Cdr, J R W Smyth-Pigott. London Gazette 22 June 1917. Issue 30147, p 6257.
Mention in Despatches. Squadron Commander, Royal Naval Air Service. Despatch of the Commander-in-Chief British Salonika Forces dated 29 March 1917. For distinguished service during the past six months. London Gazette 21 July 1917. Issue 30196, p 7447.
Bar to Distinguished Service Order. Wing Commander, Royal Naval Air Service. A daring and skillful pilot, who commanded the bombing squadron on the Salonika front with marked ability and success, leading all raids. London Gazette 1 October 1917. Issue 30316, p 10156.
Mention in Despatches. Wing Commander, Royal Naval Air Service. Despatch of the Commander-in-Chief British Salonika Forces dated 25 October 1917. For gallant and distinguished services rendered during the past six months. London Gazette 28 November 1917. Issue 30404, p 12477.
Mention in Despatches. Group Captain, Royal Air Force. Second World War. London Gazette 24 September 1941. Issue 35284, p 5569.
Commander of The Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Group Captain, Royal Air Force. New Year Honours; no citation. London Gazette 1 January 1942. Issue 35399, p 13.

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