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How Ernest “Smokey” Smith won the Victoria Cross

The Story

Oct. 21, 1944: Pte. Ernest Alvia "Smokey" Smith crosses the swelling Savio River to secure the far bank. But the river rises and his small company is cut off. They are soon attacked by 30 German soldiers and three tanks. Switching between a Thompson submachine gun and PIAT anti-tank gun, Smokey repels the attackers, carries a wounded comrade to safety, and holds the position until reinforcements arrive. His actions, here told in his own words some years later, earn him the Victoria Cross.

Medium: Radio
Program: Canadian Scene
Broadcast Date: Jan. 29, 1956
Guest: Ernest Smith
Duration: 4:14

Did You know?

• The Victoria Cross is the highest decoration that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces "for gallantry in the face of the enemy." It was created in 1856 after the Crimean War.

• The Victoria Cross is a bronze medallion on a dark red ribbon. The medallions are made from the bronze of Russian cannons captured at Sebastopol during the last great battle of the Crimean war in 1854-55.

• Ernest Alvia "Smokey" Smith, from New Westminster, B.C., was a private in the Seaforth Highlanders.

• In 2003 Smith travelled to London for the unveiling by Queen Elizabeth of a plaque in their honour. "I don't consider myself a hero," Smith said at the time. "That's what they asked me to do. The people I consider heroes are all dead. They got killed. They're buried. It's not me."

• In 2004 Smith returned to Italy to visit the site of his bravery 60 years later. He was Canada's last living Victoria Cross recipient, and one of only ten still alive in the Commonwealth. Smith was greeted by Canadian Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson, Canadian Veterans Affairs Minister Albina Guarnieiri and the mayor of Cesena.

• Sitting in a wheelchair he called "my staff car," Smith's trademark wit was clearly still with him at age 90. Asked for his thoughts on his return, he simply said, "I'm older."

• Pte. Jimmy Tennant, who Smokey rescued during his fight on the Savio River, survived the ordeal and the two remained friends back in Canada until Tennant's death a few years shy of their 60th reunion.

• Smokey Smith died at his home in Vancouver on Aug. 3, 2005 at age 91. He lay in state at Parliament Hill in Ottawa and was given a military funeral in Vancouver. His ashes were then committed to the sea.


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