Lieutenant Colonel Neil Smith
186th (Kent) Battalion
The man at the head of that battalion is Lt. Colonel Neil Smith, a Liberal. The Minister of Militia appointed him because he knew that he was the best man that could be found for the position, not only in the county of Kent, but possibly in the whole Ontario.
(McCoig, Debates, 28 Jan 1916, 390)
Born on 2 November 1880 in Tilbury, Ontario, Neil Smith was a dentist and prize marksman. He graduated from the Royal College of Dental Surgeons of Ontario in 1905 and served in the 21st Essex Fusiliers and the 24th (Kent) Regiment. An expert target shooter, Smith represented Canada on the national Bisley Team in England. At the 1909 event, Smith scored the first perfect score of 50 at 900 yards. He helped the Canadian team to win the tournament and tied for the highest individual score to date, 140.
Despite their different political affiliations, Minister Hughes selected the Liberal Smith to raise the 186th from his home county. In January 1916, Liberal MP Archibald McCoig, representing Smith’s riding of Kent West, declared:
I doubt whether a finer fighting force will be found than the 186th Kent Battalion. When the occasion presents itself at the front I know that the 186th will do themselves proud, and do the Empire proud.
Despite the enthusiasm of local politicians, the 186th—depleted by reinforcement drafts and a difficult recruiting environment—ended up with less than five hundred volunteers. The battalion did not leave Canada until March 1917. Once in England, the small unit was absorbed into the 4th Reserve Battalion.
Shortly after retiring from his dental practice in Chatham, Smith died on 29 April 1961.