Sunday, 2 April 2017

6477 Rfm Samuel Morter Smith, Rifle Brigade

Here's a great photograph of a boxing and wrestling champion who served with the Rifle Brigade between February 1899 and November 1911. The write-up that accompanies this photograph in the Rifle Brigade Chronicle for 1908 notes that Samuel was born on the 13th March 1881 and served with the 4th Battalion Mounted Infantry during the Boer War. He was later posted to the 2nd Battalion in India and won several boxing and wrestling tournaments. The final paragraph of the shirt editorial reads:

"He frequently displays feats of strength, both in the barrack room and on the stage of entertainments, one of which is to make a bridge of himself, and in this position supporting seven men (equivalent to 1,087 lbs). He is entirely self trained and is popularly known as "Sandow Smith".

As well as notching up various wins in the ring, Samuel also amassed quite a good collection of tattoos. His original attestation papers survive in WO 97 and the distinctive marks' section on page two simply mentions "scar on left eye-brow" and a "patch of hard skin, back of left hand". 

We can be certain therefore, that all of the tattoos on display here were acquired after he joined the army. The tiger and palm trees on his chest was presumably inked some time after his arrival in India in February 1906.  There is what appears to be rifle on his upper right arm, above the crossed swords motif commonly rendered as a badge for army gymnastics instructors. On his left arm there are two flags, possibly Rifle Brigade standards, and other motifs which are unclear. Who knows what was rendered on his back.

Samuel Smith remained in India until 1911 but returned home in November and was discharged "free after 12 years' service" this, despite having re-engaged at Fort William, Calcutta in February 1911 to complete 21 years.

If he served in the First World War, I have yet to find evidence of this. He certainly worked as a policeman, however, and on the 1939 Register is listed as a retired police constable, married to Rosie L Smith (born 20th July 1894). There are also four probable children noted, as well as three closed records:

When the 1939 Register was taken, Samuel and his family were living at Broad Street, Depwade Rural District, Norfolk. I have not yet identified when and where he died.


  1. This is a photograph of my grandfather.My father was Terence.I have a copy of it.if you would like to msg me I can give you information that could assist us both.My father died when I was a small child.My grandfather died 2 yrs later.1962 or 3.he had at least 10 children maybe 12.i can add much more.thank you for posting his image.his strength is with us

    1. Many thanks for your comment on this post. Please drop me a line to and we can correspond further.

    2. Thank you for your response.I was so shocked to see the photo that I had wondered over for years.I will speak to my mother who is 87 tomorrow.I can be more specific with dates.thank you