b. 22/07/1891 Guildford, Surrey. d. 23/12/1915 Helles, Gallipoli, Turkey.
Alfred Victor Smith (1891-1915) was born in Guildford, Surrey on 22nd July 1891, the only son of William Henry Smith and Louisa nee Green. His father had served seven years in the 11th Hussars, taking part in the Gordon Relief Expedition of 1884-1885, before joining the Police Force, in which he rose to the rank of Chief Constable of St Albans, in Hertfordshire. Alfred was educated at Hatfield Road School, St Albans. He was also a chorister and tenor soloist at St Albans Cathedral before the family moved to Burnley, Lancashire in 1905, on his father’s appointment as Chief Constable. Alfred continued his education at Burnley Grammar School, and also became a Sunday School worker. He left school at 18 and spent 18 months working at the town’s new Labour Bureau before deciding to follow his father into the police.
He became a member of the Blackpool Police Force, whose Chief Constable was a friend of his father. Promotion quickly followed. From acting inspector, he became inspector, working in the weights and measures department. He was also a popular performer in local operatic societies and concerts. He was also a keen swimmer and gymnast, and a member of Blackpool’s fire brigade and life-saving squad.
He was one of the first men in Blackpool to enlist on the outbreak of the Great War. On 10th October 1914 he was gazetted as second lieutenant to the 2/5th East Lancashire Regiment. He served at the Burnley Depot and at Southport before volunteering, with four more officers, to join a reinforcements draft for the 1/5th East Lancashires, then in Egypt. He arrived at Port Said on 11th April 1915, and after a course in Cairo, he joined the Battalion on 4th May. Four days later, the unit sailed as part of the 42nd East Lancashire Division for Gallipoli, arriving at Cape Helles on 13th May.
At the end of July, he was evacuated to Alexandria, suffering from a bout of dysentery. A spell of convalescence followed in Cyprus before he sailed for Mudros, where he underwent a course in bombing, a form of warfare still new to many of the troops on the peninsula. He was appointed Brigade bombing officer.
On 23rd December 1915 at Cape Helles, he was in the act of throwing a grenade when it slipped from his hand and fell to the bottom of the trench close to several officers and men. He immediately shouted a warning and jumped clear to safety. He then saw that the officers and men were unable to find cover and knowing that the grenade was due to explode at any moment, he returned and flung himself upon it. He was instantly killed by the explosion. His magnificent act of self-sacrifice undoubtedly saved many lives.
Alfred was buried in Twelve Trees Copse Cemetery, Gallipoli, and the telegram announcing his death arrived at his parents’ home in Burnley less than two hours after his postcard wishing them Happy Christmas. Almost a year to the day after their son’s death, his parents went to Buckingham Palace to receive his VC from King George V. His medals including his VC and a posthumous Croix de Guerre, are held and displayed at the Towneley Hall Museum, Burnley, alongside a painting of him by John Cooke.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: TOWNELEY HALL MUSEUM, BURNLEY, LANCASHIRE.
BURIAL PLACE: TWELVE TREES COPSE CEMETERY, GALLIPOLI, TURKEY.
Cemetery Plan courtesy of Kevin Brazier
SPECIAL MEMORIAL C358
St Matthews Church, Burnley
St John's Church, Blackpool
St Albans War Memorial
War Illustrated, 1st September 1917
War Illustrated, 25th March 1916
Guildford (Thomas Stewart)
The four images featured here are courtesy of Mike Townend of the Towneley Hall Museum, Burnley.