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Victoria Cross

Heroes Remember

We were across the Savio River; we'd taken up our position, which is, our objective was to cross the river and that's what we did and we got in there and we weren't there too long before we were attacked by tanks and... the first tank we knocked out. We knocked out, I think, one tank and two S.P. guns (Self-Propelled Guns), a German staff car and we were attacked by Germans, but we drove them off. Interviewer: When you say we... Well, at this time I had my, I had a section of men. You know... I had a P.I.A.T. man; I had a 2IC for the P.I.A.T. we had a couple of guys you know around, see when you're firing a P.I.A.T. gun you have no way of protecting yourself so you have to have somebody along side of you, at that time we had Tommy Guns to protect the guy that was firing that weapon. And so we had them, but these things... so I say, Kenny Vallar lost an eye so that was the end of him and I don't know what happened to the others. I know they got wounded, or you know mostly wounded, and then in the end there was just Jimmy and I, and then he got wounded so that left only me. So, I had to stay out there by myself while everybody else was in the church. So I stayed there, where else do you, you got no place to go, anyway. By this time, we'd wiped out all the tanks. I don't think really, I could see tanks the next day you know in daylight, but they didn't really know what was really going on, they must have figured there was a whole army there because they could have wiped me out in no time if they'd known I was practically all by myself. Because I had nothing from C Company up the road and no, that was A company and on the other side was C Company and they were all in the church. Cause when I went in the church and I took Jimmy over and I knew Major Lynch, Stu Lynch I knew; he was a hell of a guy, he said, "I think we're surrounded, what should we do?" And I said "I suggest you all take a window if you're surrounded and keep your head down." So I think that's what they did. They'd take advice from a Private so they could live through, but they stayed there and in time the Germans pulled out, but I say I don't think they actually knew who was there. Interviewer: When they first counter attacked, there were three Panther V tanks, and as I understand it there was just the one P.I.A.T.? I only had, that's all I had left, yeah. Interviewer: And you knocked out...? I knocked out one. Interviewer: And the section of men, the German infantry that were on the back of the tank swarmed around to the front and came towards you. That's right. Interviewer: How far away would they have been Smoky? Oh, thirty feet, twenty-five feet, something like that. Interviewer: So who was firing with you? Just me. Because Jimmy was still in the ditch, he was wounded. Interviewer: So these ten or so German infantry men were coming down on you and you fired at them? Yeah, I opened up. Interviewer: What happened then? Well, I got four of them and the rest of them took off. Thank the Lord. Interviewer: And for that...? For that I got the V.C. Interviewer: Victoria Cross. Yeah, I didn't know I was going to get it, I didn't know I was going to get anything. But later on after that was all over and after the (inaudible), about a week later after everything was investigated by the top brass, they never could talk to me at all. The colonel sent for me and asked me how long I been there and I said "Two years" he said "You must be getting tired" and I said "I was tired when I got here." So he said, "I've got a job for you." They took me out of the front line. So I figured they're being nice to me, there was something going on. But you don't know, nobody tells you. So I sat there until then. I think I left Italy, well I left around the first part of December. The 12th of December I was taken from the regiment and taken down to Naples. Then they flew me to England on the 18th and then I was presented with the VC and then they flew me back to Vancouver. Interviewer: Now, you were presented with the VC. By King George the Sixth. Interviewer: Where? Buckingham Palace in his private apartments. Interviewer: And what was that like? Oh, well (laughs) I'd never met a King before. He was great to get along with. But it was only the second time in history that a VC had been presented in his private apartments at night. Then after I got it, they told me to put it in my pocket and say nothing. I had it for three days and nobody knew it until they told me that I could wear it. And they said the reason for this was so that Canadian papers would have it the same time as the British. So I walked around for three days in London, in and out of pubs with a VC inside my pocket and nobody knew about it. And then I was sitting there one day and the sergeant major came in, he says, "Smoky Smith, you can wear that medal if you want." And I put it on and I never bought another drink that day. Interviewer: So that was the real reward? That was the reward. Interviewer: Now you say that you were then flown to Vancouver? I was taken up to Scotland first to Prestwick and... I flew in a Liberator Bomber from there down to Azores and then across and they dropped me off in Laval, Quebec. And then I was taken there by TCA (Trans-Canada Airlines). Well, actually, from Laval I went in a fighter pilot into that time it was Kapuskasing, is it? Yeah, because I'd missed the flight and they flew Major Severts and I in this fighter plane into Kapuskasing and the guy flew in there and I said, "Gee you just missed that Semi? And he said, "Well I'm a fighter pilot, I'm not used to these things." "Thank God I'm in this thing" So I flew from Scotland to Vancouver in 40 hours, broke a record. Interviewer: What kind of a welcome did you get in Vancouver? Well, I was from New Westminister so they came to see me at the airport and then I went home and they had a ticker parade in New Westminister, I don't know how long after, a few days, anyway Because don't forget, there was two VC's from New Westminister. Jack Manning and myself, and he was ahead of me... but they had a big parade for me and then in Vancouver, they were all treating me pretty good. I figured it's all gotta end sometime.

Mr. Smith describes the encounter with German troops across the Savio River in Italy for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. He goes on to tell of receiving his medal from King George VI in his private apartment at Buckingham Palace. The video concludes as he speaks about his return to Vancouver and the hero's reception he received.

Ernest “Smokey” Smith

Ernest “Smokey” Smith VC, CD, was born in New Westminster, British Columbia, on May 3, 1914, and was educated in elementary and technical schools there. He was the second of five children having an older sister, two younger brothers and a younger sister. Both brothers served in and survived the Second World War. Smokey left his work with a contracting firm to enlist with the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada in March of 1940 and began basic training with the Royal Canadian Regiment in Toronto. He went on to complete his training at Camp Borden before sailing out of Halifax in June of that same year on the Monarcher of Bermuda, heading for Europe and joining the regiment overseas a few months later. Smokey was injured while fighting in Sicily, but returned to battle a few months later in Italy. He was a private when he won the Victoria Cross, Canada's highest award for valour, at the Savio River in Italy on October 21-22, 1944. After the war, Smokey left the Army for a short time, but rejoined and served until August 1964, when he retired and was released with the rank of sergeant. After leaving the military Smokey and his wife established the Smith Travel Agency in Vancouver. In 1995, Smokey was appointed to the Order of Canada. At the time of his death on Aug. 5, 2005 Smokey Smith was the last surviving Canadian recipient of the Victoria Cross.

Meta Data
Veterans Affairs Canada
Person Interviewed:
Ernest “Smokey” Smith
War, Conflict or Mission:
Second World War
Seaforth Highlanders

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