Acting Corporal Issy Smith VC

The 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 Ist Battalion 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 October 1911 the battalion moved its headquarters to Jullundur where it became the British battalion of the four battalion Jullundur Brigade of the Jahore 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 26 Durbar Medals: 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 acknowledgement 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 oppotunities 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 where he was speedily mobilised. He returned to England in 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 the 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 on the attack on the village of Givenchy. The battle of Neuve Chapelle took place 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 critical. Leaving its billets at L'Epinette in the afternoon the battalion marched almost 24 miles to Boes Chepe, which was reached just before midnight. They moved off again at 0600 hrs 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 1230 hrs 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 70 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 the 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 Shipster, who had been bringing up reserve ammunition for the 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 in the leg. Smith rolled down a slight hillside, reached the officer and, having bandaged 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 Priestly of the Suffolks came out of the trenches and helped Shipster in the final yards. Smith then helped Rooke on to 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 and 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 was a lot of wounded lying about.".

At the end of the day the Manchesters had lost their commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Hitchings, and 15 men killed, 11 officers and 206 men wounded and 56 men missing. In the early hours of the 27th the battalion was relieved by the Highland 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 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 Coss 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:

"No 168 Acting Corporal Issy Smith, Ist Battalion, The Manchester Regiment. For most conspicuous bravery on 26th April, 1915, near Ypres, when he left his Company on his own initiative and went well forward towards the enemy's position to assist a severely wounded man, whom he carried a distance of 250 yards into safety, whilst exposed the whole time to heavy machine-gun fire and rifle fire.

Subsequently Corporal Smith displayed great gallantry, when the casualties were very heavy, in voluntarily assisting to bring in many more wounded men throughout the day, and attending to them with the greatest devotion to duty regardless of personal risk."

Issy Smith rejoined the 1st Manchesters and the Jullundur Brigade in Mespotamia 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.

Postscript: Issy Smith was promoted Sergeant and was discharged from the Army on 20th April 1919.He returned to Australia where he eventually became an Air Traffic Controller with the Australian Civil Aviation Department. He died on 11th December 1940.His medals, including his Victoria Cross, were sold by his family in 1992 and are currently held by a private collector.

This article was provided by Captain RA Bonner of the Museum of the Manchesters (see the list of related links).