Ishroulch Shmeilowitz was born in Alexandria, Egypt in 1890. At the age of 11, for reasons unknown, Ishroulch stowed away on a ship bound for London. Just 3 years later, he joined the British army at the age of 14, and became a private in the Manchester Regiment. It was at this time that he adopted the pseudonym ‘Issy Smith’ at the request of the recruiting sergeant. After he completed his army training, Smith served in South Africa and India with the 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment.
Having served eight years with the Regiment, Smith was discharged in 1912 and resided in London briefly before immigrating to Australia. Smith lived in Ascot Vale in Melbourne and took employment at the city gas company. Not having completed 12 years’ service, on his discharge, Smith was listed as a reservist, and at the outbreak of the war in 1914 was mobilised by the British army, sailing from Melbourne on the ‘Miltiades’ on the 21st of October 2014.
The first Manchester Regiment sailed from India to France on 29 August 1914, arriving at the end of September and deployed to the front on the 26th of October. On re-joining his Regiment, Smith served at the battles of Givenchy, Neuve Chapelle and the ‘Second Battle of Ypres’.
During a counter attack on the 26th of April 2015, Smith voluntarily moved towards the German lines in order to care for a severely wounded soldier, carrying him to safety while being exposed to gunfire. This act of bravery, and citation for bringing in a number of other wounded men on the day, resulted in Smith being awarded the Victoria Cross, the first Jewish soldier to receive the medal. Smith’s award for bravery at the expense of his own personal safety later granted Issy the unofficial title of ‘Our First VC’ at the Australian War Memorial.
Issy was demobilised in 1919 and returned to London, where he married. Some 6 years later he returned to Australia with his wife and daughter and settled in the suburb of Moonee Ponds. Smith suffered consistent illnesses after his service, with medical records showing many visits to the hospital for respiratory complaints linked with the gassing sustained during battle. Smith died suddenly of coronary thrombosis in 1940 at the age of 50, leaving behind his wife Elsie, daughter Olive and son Maurice (pictured above wearing Issy’s medals). Issy Smith was buried in the Hebrew section of the Faulkner cemetery in Melbourne, with full military honours.
Extract taken from HMAT Militiades Research Project Report – prepared for the Veterans Branch, Department of Premier and Cabinet by Archaeological & Heritage Management Solutions (AHMS). With thanks to the United Kingdom Government for their support of this project. Learn more about the project.
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