Issy Smith V.C. – not forgotten

September 28, 2010 by Henry Benjamin
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Issy Smith was the first Jew to receive the Commonwealth’s highest military order, the Victoria Cross…and his bravery and life were remembered at a ceremony in Melbourne to mark his 70th Yahrzeit.

Issy SMith V.C.

Issy (Shmeilovitz) Smith was born in 1890 in Alexandria, Egypt. Serving in the British Army in the First World War, Smith took part in the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915. On his own initiative, and under enemy fire, Smith recovered wounded soldiers from the battlefield, dragging them 250 yards to safety.  The citation to his medal reading “with the greatest devotion to duty regardless of personal risk”.

Smith’s medal was presented to him by King George V. He was also awarded the prestigious French Croix de Guerre and the Russian Cross of St George. Following his investiture, Smith went on a tour of the UK with other V.C. holders. A restaurant in the Yorkshire city of Leeds which has a large Jewish population refused to serve him because he was a jew.

During his military service, Smith won the British Army middleweight boxing championship.

Following World War I, Smith moved to Melbourne where he played a significant role in the running of the Jewish community.

Smith was remembered at his graveside at Melbourne’s Fawkner Jewish Cemetery.

Major-General Jeffrey V Rosenfeld lays a wreath

A VAJEX spokesperson told J-Wire: “We held the graveside  service to honour the memory of Sgt Issy Smith, VC. It was a moving  and well deserved tribute to a very brave man. At only 11 years old Issy stowed away on a ship from Egypt to Britain where at 14 he joined the British Army and saw active service in Africa and India. After this period, he emigrated to Melbourne, Australia. At the outbreak of WW1 he returned to fight with the British Army. In 1915 at Ypres he won the Victoria Cross for outstanding bravery in rescuing many injured soldiers whilst under constant enemy fire. It was said ‘no man deserved the VC more than him’.  In all, Issy was gassed and wounded 5 times. On discharge as an acclaimed war hero Issy again emigrated  to Melbourne, Australia where he was held in high esteem within the Jewish community.”

Issy Smith, VC died on 10 September 1940 and was buried with full military honours in the Fawkner Cemetery

The Memorial Service was held on his 70th Yahrtzeit and many of his family members attended including his son Maurice who lives in NSW. Presidents of organisations, both Jewish and non-Jewish, joined together in friendship and warmth on a cold and blustery day.

Maurice Smith and VAJEX President Ben Hirsh share a quiet moment

VAJEX President, Mr Ben Hirsh, extended the Official Welcome, followed by VAJEX Patron MAJGEN Jeffrey Rosenfeld CStJ’s poignant address. SQ/LDR Harold Karpin, read Psalm 24 and Chaplain Rabbi Dovid Gutnick did his usual splendid job performing his duties. Maurice Smith in telling anecdotes of his late father, had us smiling at some of the antics of the boy-soldier….apart from being a real mensch he was also a bit of a lobus.

Mr Joe Krycer, JNF President surprised many, as he was not long out of hospital, by leading the Tree Planting. We were delighted to see him up and about.

A spokesperson for the Victorian Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women Inc [VAJEX] told J-Wire that one of Smith’s grandsons said: “Even for all the good things that he did and as famous as he was, I’d give it all up just to have had a chance to meet my grandfather.”


3 Responses to “Issy Smith V.C. – not forgotten”
  1. Lian Knight says:

    Issy Smith VC
    I am the granddaughter of Issy Smith, the first Jewish NCO of WW1. You published an article about a service for him in 2010. I am an author and am currently writing his life story which I aim to have published this year. I wondered if you had any further information about him or anyone I could speak to regarding him? Perhaps there is a personal story or small detail that could be added.
    I look forward to hearing from you.
    Lian Knight
    0437 952 746

  2. Era Heitkamp says:

    Terrific web-site, where exactly did you came up that information in this article? I am pleased I found it however, ill be checking back again quickly to view what other content you’ve.

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