"Pukka Sapper" Sgt Ernest Alvia (Smoky) Smith, VC, CM, OBC, CD (Ret'd)
We regret to advise that "Pukka Sapper" Sergeant Ernest Alvia (Smoky) Smith, VC, CM, OBC, CD (Retired), Canada's last surviving winner of the Victoria Cross, died at home in Vancouver on 3 August 2005 at the age of 91.
Smoky Smith was inducted as a Pukka Sapper in Vancouver by the Retired Sappers Reunion (Chilliwack) on behalf of the Canadian Military Engineers on 21 May 2005. This distinction is the highest honour the CME can bestow upon an "outsider" who we recognize as demonstrating our sterling qualities. In The Year of the Veteran, Smoky was particularly acknowledged for his tireless efforts in speaking on behalf of the Veterans as well as being an inspiration to Canadian youth and representing Canadian values such as service to ones country and the meaning of citizenship.
Ernest Alvia Smith was born in New Westminster, BC in 1914. He earned the nickname "Smoky" because of his prowess as a runner in High School. Smoky was engaged in contracting work before enlisting in The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada in March 1940 at 25 years of age. Initially stationed in Scotland and England during the Battle of Britain, he first experienced combat in the Autumn of 1943 after he and his fellow Seaforth Highlanders landed with the Canadian First Infantry Division in Sicily. He fought through the Sicily and Italian campaign (1943/1944) - one of the longest and cruelest campaigns of the Second World War. Smokey had already been wounded twice by the time of the action in northern Italy that earned him the Victoria Cross.
Smoky Smith was a private when he won the Victoria Cross at the Savio River in Italy on 21-22 October 1944. The Seaforth Highlanders of Canada were the spearhead of the attack across the Savio River. Torrential rain had made it impossible to get tanks and anti-tank guns across to support the rifle companies.
Across the river, Smoky's company was suddenly counter-attacked by three Panzer tanks, supported by self-propelled guns and some 30 infantrymen. Private Smith led his anti-tank group of two men across an open field and, leaving one man on the weapon, he crossed the road with a companion and obtained another antitank weapon. At a range of thirty feet and having to expose himself to the full view of the enemy, Private Smith fired his anti-tank weapon and put the first tank out of action. Ten German infantrymen immediately jumped off the back of the tank and charged him with submachine guns and grenades. Without hesitation, Private Smith moved out on the road and, with his submachine 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 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, when 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, but, as a result of his actions his battalion was able to consolidate the bridgehead position that was vital to the success of the whole operation. 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. The success of the Savio River crossing led to the capture of San Giorgio Di Cesena and a further advance to the Ronco River.
Smoky served with the Seaforth Highlanders until April 1945. For some time following demobilization he became a journalist photographer in New Westminster. In 1951 he re-enlisted in the Permanent Force and served as a member of the Tri-Service Recruiting Unit in Vancouver and at Headquarters of the British Columbia Army Command in Vancouver. Smoky retired in 1964 with the rank of sergeant. After retirement, he established a travel agency in Vancouver.
Smoky was a lifetime member and Patron of The Royal Canadian Legion. In 1991 he was declared BC/Yukon Command of The Royal Canadian Legion Honorary President for Life. He was also the Honorary Patron of the Legion Foundation in BC/Yukon Command. Smokey Smith was an inspiration to Canadian youth and represented Canadian values such as service to ones country and the meaning of citizenship. He placed a high priority on and enjoyed talking with young people. His legacy will live on through the many lives he has touched.
Smoky Smith will lie at the House of Commons, Ottawa on Tuesday 9 August for viewing from 10:00 a.m. until 8:30 p.m. Later he may be viewed on 12 August at the Seaforth Armouries, 1650 Burrard, Vancouver BC (timings TBA). A full military funeral will be held in Vancouver on the 13 August. Books of Condolences will be made available for signing at The House of Commons, foyer, Ottawa, the Canadian War Museum and at the Seaforth Armouries in Vancouver, from 9:00 - 6:00 p.m. local timings on 6-8 August.
Smoky committed a great deal of his time and energy representing the Canadian Forces, Veterans, and Canadians in general at countless historic and commemorative and other events. He was a life-long goodwill ambassador, representing the country with distinction. A participant in commemorative events and ceremonies around the world, he was greatly respected by people from all walks of life as a champion of the rights and memories of veterans. His efforts were recognized by his being inducted into the Order of British Columbia and the Order of Canada as well as receiving the Centennial Medal and the Queen's Jubilee Medal.