3 August 2005

The death has been announced in Vancouver, British Columbia, of Sergeant Ernest Alvia 'Smoky' Smith VC, Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, Canada's last surviving Victoria Cross holder. Ernest Smith passed peacefully away at his home on Wednesday, 3rd August 2005. He was 91 years of age.

On Saturday, 13th August 2005, after lying in state, the body of Ernest Smith VC was cremated in Vancouver, and the following day, Sunday, 14th August, his ashes were scattered at sea from HMCS "Ottawa".

The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, a militia regiment, was mobilised for service in 1939 serving in the 1st Canadian Corps in the Eighth Army in Italy in 1944. The Eighth Army was preparing an offensive on the Adriatic coastal plain to breach the German Gothic Line before the onset of winter. The advance went well in the initial stages but the sequence of rivers slowed it down. Even so the Canadians reached Rimini on 21st September 1944. The official citation in the "London Gazette" for Ernest Smith's award of the Victoria Cross sums up perfectly the situation on the River Savio at the time and part that Smith took.

For the award of the Victoria Cross

[ London Gazette, 20 December 1944 ], Savio River, Italy, 21 - 22 October 1944, K52880 Private Ernest Alvia Smith, The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada, Canadian Infantry Corps.

In Italy on the night of 21st-22nd October 1944, a Canadian Infantry Brigade was ordered to establish a bridgehead across the Savio River. The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada were selected as the spearhead of the attack and in weather most unfavourable to the operation they crossed the river and captured their objectives in spite of strong opposition from the enemy. Torrential rain had caused the Savio River to rise six feet in five hours and as the soft vertical banks made it impossible to bridge the river no tanks or anti-tank guns could be taken across the raging stream to the support of the rifle companies.

As the right forward company was consolidating its objective it was suddenly counter-attacked by a troop of three Mark V Panther tanks supported by two self-propelled guns and about thirty infantry and the situation appeared almost hopeless. Under heavy fire from the approaching enemy tanks, Private Smith, showing great initiative and inspiring leadership, led his PIAT Group of two men across an open field to a position from which the PIAT could be employed. Leaving one man on the weapon, Private Smith crossed the road with a companion, and obtained another PIAT.

Almost immediately an enemy tank came down the road firing its machine guns along the line of the ditches. Private Smith's comrade was wounded. At a range of thirty feet and having to expose himself to the full view of the enemy, Private Smith fired the PIAT and hit the tank, puting it out of action. Ten German infantry immediately jumped off the back of the tank and charged him with Schmeissers and grenades. Without hesitation Private Smith moved out into the road and with his Tommy gun at point blank range, killed four Germans and drove the remainder back. Almost immediately another tank opened fire and more enemy infantry closed in on Smith's position. Obtaining some abandoned Tommy gun magazines from a ditch, he steadfastly held his position, protecting his comrade and fighting the enemy with his Tommy gun until they finally gave up and withdrew in disorder.

One tank and both self-propelled guns had been destroyed by this time, but yet another tank swept the area with fire from a longer range. Private Smith, still showing utter contempt for enemy fire, helped his wounded friend to cover and obtained medical aid for him behind a nearby building. He then returned to his position beside the road to await the possibility of a further enemy attack. No further immediate attack developed, and as a result the battalion was able to consolidate the bridgehead position so vital to the success of the whole operation, which led to the eventual capture of San Giorgio Di Cesena and a further advance to the Ronco River.

Thus, by the dogged determination, outstanding devotion to duty and superb gallantry of this private soldier, his comrades were so inspired that the bridgehead was held firm against all enemy attacks, pending the arrival of tanks and anti-tank guns some hours later.

Ernest Smith was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on the 18th December 1944.

As Ernest Smith was not a regular soldier, he was demobilised in 1945, but he re-enlisted at the outbreak of the Korean War in 1951. He served in the Permanent Force retiring in 1964 with the rank of sergeant as a member of the Tri-Service Recruiting Unit in Vancouver. After retirement from the Army, Smith and his wife ran a successful travel business in Vancouver. In recognition of his long and devoted service to the Royal Canadian Legion of veterans, he was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada in 1995.

( select to enlarge )

Medal entitlement of Sergeant Ernest Smith,
Seaforth Highlanders of Canada

  • Victoria Cross
  • Member, Order of Canada
  • Order of British Columbia
  • 1939-45 Star
  • Italy Star
  • Defence Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • Canada Volunteer Service Medal ( 1939-45 ) + Maple Leaf
  • War Medal ( 1939-45 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal ( 1953 )
  • Canada Centenial Medal ( 1967 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Silver Jubilee Medal ( 1977 )
  • Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal ( 2002 ) - British Issue
  • Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee Medal ( 2002 ) - Canada Issue
  • 125th Anniversary of the Confederation of Canada Medal ( 1992 )

VC Deaths

Go to VC UK flag Home Page

Iain Stewart, 4 August 2005