James Desmond Blaise Smith CBE DSO CDwas born at Ottawa, Ontario (ON) and was educated at the University of Ottawa. He was a graduate of the Royal Military College, Kingston, ON and in 1933 he joined the Royal Canadian Dragoons with the rank of lieutenant and went overseas with the 1st Division, Canadian Army in 1939.
In 1943 at the age of 32 he was appointed commander of the 4th Canadian Infantry Brigade. During the heavy fighting in Italy, General Smith commanded the 5th Canadian Armoured Brigade.
On May 23, at the same time as Canadian Forces broke through the Hitler Line, in central Italy, the Americans broke out of the Anzio bridgehead to the northwest, threatening to cut off the German 10th Army. Its salvation depended on how long it could hold out along the shallow Melfa River, six miles to the north of the collapsed Hitler Line.
On May 24, 1944, tanks of the Fifth Canadian Armoured Division began their assault against the enemy’s new defensive position. Desperate fighting took place as the Allies tried to advance across the narrow 50-yard wide river. But once the Canadians were over in force, the operation quickly developed into a pursuit as the Germans hastily pulled back to avoid being trapped.
For gallantry and leadership in the action involving the crossing of the Melfa River, Major General Smith was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). Later in 1944 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE).
He also served in northwest Europe after the Normandy invasion and received honours from the governments of the United States, France, Greece, Italy and Poland.
After WW2, Major General Smith returned to Canada and was appointed commandant of the Royal Military College, Kingston, from which he graduated in 1933.
Two years later he returned to Europe on the staff of the Canadian Army attached to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. He returned to Canada for four years before returning to Europe as chairman of the Canadian Joint Staff in London.
For four years before he retired in 1962, Major General Smith was Adjutant-General of the Canadian Army at headquarters in Ottawa.
He then moved to London, England and in 1964 entered the business world, as executive in charge of non-aluminum operations for Pillar Holdings. In 1993 he was appointed chairman of Pillar Engineering Limited building it from four small companies to more than 60 operating units. In 1979, the company won the Queen’s Award for Export Achievement.
He also served as personal assistant to the Thomson organization’s director responsible for provincial newspapers and helped launch a colour section when the chain owned The Sunday Times.
He also served with the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Canada Memorial Foundation.
When he passed away in the autumn of 1991, he was survived by his second wife, Belle Shenkman and two sons; James and Stephen who were children from his first marriage to Miriam Blackburn, who died in 1969.