Sergeant 'Smoky' Smith, VC

August 6th, 2005  

Topic: Sergeant 'Smoky' Smith, VC

Sergeant 'Smoky' Smith, VC
(Filed: 05/08/2005)

Sergeant "Smoky" Smith, who died in Vancouver on Wednesday aged 91, was the last surviving Canadian holder of the VC.

On the night of October 21 1944, two companies of the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada crossed the Savio River in Italy, and seized a shallow bridgehead in drenching rain. In less than five hours, the river rose six feet to become a raging torrent, impassable to supporting tanks and anti-tank guns.

Early next morning, the thinly held right flank of the Seaforths was attacked by three Panther tanks, supported by two self-propelled guns and 30 grenadiers of the formidable 26th Panzer Division.

As the tanks ground forward, sweeping the Canadian positions with fire, Private Smith led his team, with their PIAT anti-tank weapon, across an open field to a roadside ditch which offered him the close range needed to be certain of a kill.

Almost at once, a tank lumbered down the road firing its machine guns along the line of the ditch and wounding Smith's companion. At a range of only 30ft, Smith rose into the enemy's view and fired his PIAT.

The bomb stopped the Panther, putting it out of action. Immediately, 10 German infantrymen jumped from it and charged, firing their Schmeissers and hurling grenades.

Reacting instantly, Smith sprang on to the road, shot down four of them with his tommy gun and drove the others back.

A second tank, safely beyond PIAT range, now opened fire, covering the advance of another 10 enemy grenadiers who began to close in on the two Canadians. With no thought of abandoning his wounded comrade in the ditch, Smith continued to protect him, fighting off the enemy with his sub-machine gun until they gave up and withdrew.

By this time, the Seaforth company, with only light weapons, had knocked out a second tank, the two self-propelled guns, a halftrack and a scout car. But the third tank, standing well back, continued a constant hail of fire on Smith's position.

Despite this, he helped his wounded friend to cover behind a nearby building, obtained medical help, then returned to his position to await a possible further enemy attack. (Later the Seaforths captured the third Panther, bogged down in a ditch, and gave it to the unit known as Popski's Private Army).

For the moment, the enemy had had enough. ("Even Germans do not like to be shot," commented Smith). Before the enemy were ready to attack again, Canadian tanks and anti-tank guns had crossed the Savio, and the bridgehead was secure. Smith had played a vital part in a battle which was crucial to the Eighth Army's advance into the Lombard Plain.

But when the military police came to pick him up "in Naples or somewhere", he would recall with a grin, they put him in jail so that he would be sober to receive his decoration from King George VI at Buckingham Palace on December 18.

The son of a teamster, Ernest Alvia Smith was born at New Westminster, British Columbia, on May 3 1914. He earned the nickname "Smoky" as a sprinter at Herbert Spencer Elementary School and at the T J Trapp Technical High School, where he played basketball, football and lacrosse.

He was employed by a building contractor when he enlisted as an infantryman in March 1940. Five months later he sailed for England, where he spent the next three years training with the Seaforths.

In July 1943 he took part with his regiment in the assault on Sicily. Throughout that campaign and the battles which followed in Italy, he fought as a private soldier, being twice wounded. In March 1945, he moved to Holland for the final weeks of the war in Europe, but was sent to Canada on leave the day before the Seaforths fought their first action there.

After demobilisation, Smith worked for a photographic studio in New Westminster, then re-enlisted in the regular army as a sergeant. But he was exasperated to find himself given a job selling bar supplies instead of being sent to Korea. "Why didn't they tell me before I rejoined?" he demanded.

Smith and his wife Esther later ran a travel agency. The wisecracking Smith became a firm favourite with an ever larger circle of admirers. When, aged 84, he attended the service at the Menin Gate in Flanders to commemorate the end of the First World War, the remaining veterans from that conflict insisted that he parade with them - as "the young 'un".

Retaining a liking for a cigar, a well-aged Scotch and the attention from ladies all around the world, he was level-headed in his reollections of the Savio River after 60 years.

"I don't take prisoners. Period. I'm not prepared to take prisoners. I'm paid to kill them. That's the way it is."

Smoky Smith, who was appointed a member of the Order of Canada in 1995, was one of 94 Canadians awarded the VC since the first at Balaclava in 1856.
August 6th, 2005  
thanks for that KC,

just goes to prove that VC winners are not extra ordinary people, just people put in extra ordinary positions...
August 6th, 2005  
Another bit of WW2 moves into the history books, RIP
August 7th, 2005  
We lose another of the best of the best. Go with God Sarge.