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Issy Smith VC

Issy Smith VCThe sixteen year old Issy Smith enlisted in the Manchester Regiment on 2 September 1904 and as a boy soldier joined the regiment at the regimental depot in Ashton-under-Lyne, Lancashire. Following service with the 2nd Manchesters in Aldershot and 3rd Manchesters in South Africa he joined the 1st Battalion Manchester Regiment at Secunderabad in India in October 1906. During his time there he became the battalion middleweight boxing champion and played soccer for the battalion.

In October1911 the battalion moved its headquarters to Jullundur where it became the British battalion of the four battalion Jullundur Brigade in the Lahore Division. In December 1911 the battalion moved to Delhi to take part in the Delhi Durbar, held on the occasion of the visit of King George V and Queen Mary.

At the conclusion of the Durbar the battalion was allocated twenty-six Durbar Issy Smith VCMedals: four to the officers, six to the members of the band and sixteen to the Warrant Officers, non-commissioned officers and men. Issy Smith was one of the fortunate sixteen to receive the medal; an acknowledgment of his ability and probably his popularity.

In 1912, having completed eight years’ service with the colours, he took his discharge and returned to England where he obtained work as a plumber. However he decided that there were better opportunities of work in Australia and sailed there in early 1914. War broke out in August 1914 and Smith immediately attempted to enlist in the Australian Army. However as a regular army reservist in the British Army he was instructed to report to Victoria Barracks in Melbourne on 5 August when he was speedily mobilised. He returned to the UK with the first convoy from Australia and joined the strength of the Regimental Depot on 9 December where he was appointed acting Lance Corporal on 19 December.

He re-joined 1st Manchesters in France on 9 March 1915 where, together with the 15th and 47th Sikhs and the 57th Scinde Rifles of the Punjab Frontier Force of the Jullundur Brigade, they had been constantly under enemy fire since the third week of October and had distinguished themselves in the attack on the village of Givenchy. The battle of Neuve Chapelle took place on the following day and the Jullundur Brigade fought with great dash and bravery.

On 24 April the Brigade was ordered up to the Ypres sector where the situation east of the Ypres Canal had become very critical. Leaving its billets at L’Epinette in the afternoon the battalion marched almost twenty-four miles to Boes Chepe, which was reached just before midnight. They moved off again at 0600 hours the following day. In a later interview with the press Smith said “about eleven in the morning we halted in a field for a rest. A German airplane came overhead and dropped bombs on us. We were ordered to run for cover and leave everything behind us. When we went to look for cover I suddenly remembered that I had left my cigarettes behind. I went back to get them and had gone a short distance when a ‘Jack Johnson’ dropped amongst my platoon and killed or wounded about fourteen of them”.

At 12.30 the battalion moved out of its position and attacked over a distance of about 1,600 yards, coming at once under very heavy artillery, machine-gun and rifle fire; losing many men but succeeding in reaching within seventy yards of the enemy trenches.

Smith was in the leading platoon in the charge with No. 1 Company. Lieutenant Robinson his platoon commander was wounded and Smith bandaged him up with a field dressing. Sergeant Rooke took over command of the platoon but was shot through the liver and was quite helpless. Smith at once ran to his rescue, put him on his back and carried him through a terrific hail of shrapnel, rifle and machine-gun fire to the Ypres road. Sergeant Rooke later said “I was then only 200 yards from the enemy trenches and the fact that Smith wasn’t hit was a sheer miracle”.

At that moment Lieutenant W M Shipster, who had been bringing up reserve ammunition for a machine-gun, came upon Rooke and Smith and said that he would bring assistance. He had only gone a few yards when he himself was shot through the leg. Smith rolled down a slight hillside, reached the lieutenant and after bandaging his wounds carried him to where Rooke lay. All this under heavy enemy fire. Smith then moved Rooke a few yards forward, then Shipster a few yards and so on until he reached the forward positions of the 4th Suffolk Regiment.

Lieutenant Priestley of the Suffolks came out of the trenches and helped Shipster in the final few yards. Smith then helped Rooke on a stretcher to the Suffolk’s first aid post where, in his own words “dead exhausted, I fell down not able to move. An officer gave me a flask and said there is brandy in this, take a drop and it will revive you. I said that I would not. I was a teetotaller and intended to remain one no matter what happened… but I was dreadfully weak. I rested for an hour then went back to my company to learn that Lieutenant Robinson was missing; afterwards I went out to look for him but couldn’t find him. There were a lot of our wounded lying about”.

At the end of the day the Manchesters had lost their commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Hitchings and fifteen men killed, eleven officers and 206 men wounded and 56 men missing. In the early hours of the 27th the battalion was relieved by the Issy Smith VCHighland Light Infantry. They returned to the rear where they received a good meal – the first for two days. During this time Smith was slightly gassed and was carried to the first aid post where he lay sick for 24 hours. Sergeant Rooke was invalided back to the Depot at Ashton-under-Lyne. Smith was evacuated to the Dublin University VAD Auxiliary Hospital in Mountjoy Square where he recovered from the effects of the gas poisoning.

The award of the Victoria Cross to Acting Corporal Issy Smith for his conspicuous bravery on 16 April 1915 and his subsequent gallantry was published in the London Gazette of 23 August 1915. Issy Smith re-joined 1st Manchesters and the Jullundur Brigade in Mesopotamia during September 1916. He remained with the battalion until joining a Middle East Force Inland Waterways Transport Company and transferring to the Royal Engineers in April 1917.

By Captain Robert Bonner

Page last updated: 29 July 2010