Remembering the Fallen: on this day in 1921, Major Geoffrey Lee Compton-Smith, 2nd Battalion, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, was executed by the IRA during the Irish War of Independence.
On finishing school he intended to be an artist, but his father insisted he join the army, so he attended the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst. He obtained a commission in the Alexandra, Princess of Wales’ Own (Yorkshire Regiment), and in 1911 was based in Khartoum. At the outbreak of the Great War he transferred to the Royal Welch Fusiiers.
In 1917 Major Compton-Smith was wounded during the Battle of Arras, but insisted on continuing to fight, and for his actions was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. He was also six times Mentioned in Despatches and received the Legion d’Honneur. In 1919 he was given command of the army base at Ballyvonane, near Buttevant in County Cork, where he was the chief British intelligence officer for Munster, and also presided over courts martial.
On the 16th of April, 1921, Major Compton-Smith travelled to Blarney - under the guise of a sketching holiday he was actually meeting a nurse from Victoria Barracks, where the IRA had a spy who passed on the details of his assignation. He was abducted by Frank Busteed, Vice-Commandant of the 6th Battalion, 1st Cork Brigade of the IRA - four IRA members were due to be executed and the major was to be held until the death sentences were commuted.
Major Compton-Smith was taken to a farm in the Boggeragh Mountains. His captors reported that he and they had conversations about history and politics and drank and sang rebel songs together. On the 28th of April the four IRA prisoners were executed, and two days later the major was taken to a location where his grave was already dug – he smoked a last cigarette and was shot. He had given his watch to the man in charge of his killing, and had written to his wife and his regiment – in the latter he stated: “‘I should like my death to lessen rather than increase the bitterness which exists between England and Ireland”. He was known to be sympathetic to the Irish cause.
After his letters were discovered unposted in a raid on a Sinn Fein office in Dublin a month later, Major Compton-Smith’s family were informed of his death. His father campaigned to find his son’s body, offering a reward of £500 for information, but to no avail, despite the help of Michael Collins. Five years later, in March of 1926, his killer divulged the location and he was buried at Carlisle Fort, County Cork, with full military honours. As his remains were taken by boat on the River Lee, members of the National Army of Ireland formed an honour guard and played the Last Post.
Geoffrey, from Kensington, was 31 years old and married with a two-year-old daughter.