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Remembering a hero.

A Vancouver Sun article in the autumn of 1944 described him as "a one-man army" responsible for "almost single-handedly holding a vital Italian bridgehead against a fierce attack by German tanks, self-propelled guns and infantry."

Ernest "Smokey" Smith was Canada's last surviving recipient of the Victoria Cross, the Commonwealth's most prestigious award for military service. He passed away at his home in Vancouver on August 3. He was 91.

Smokey Smith, who earned his nickname in high school for his running abilities, was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on the rainy night of October 21-22, 1944. He held off a German counterattack in a bridgehead at the Savio River in Italy while serving with the Seaforth Highlanders of Canada.

Cut off and facing three Mk V Panther tanks, two self-propelled guns, and more than 30 German infantrymen, Smith took out one Panther firing a PIAT (Projector, Infantry Anti-Tank) at point-blank range, then mowed down the advancing infantry with a Tommy gun, all the while shielding a badly wounded comrade. He fired every weapon he could lay his hands on. "I was firing PIATs from the hip," he later recalled. The surviving Germans retreated.

Known as "a soldier's soldier," Smith was also something of a free spirit and his relationship with the army was stormy. Irreverent, sharp-witted, and independently minded, he was promoted to corporal, only to be busted back to private nine times. As such, he was the only private to be awarded the Victoria Cross during the Second World War.

Impish and irreverent as ever, he became Canada's most famous veteran. He met kings, queens, and prime ministers. "When you met one, you met them all," he said. He was honoured by men, kissed by strange women, and smothered with affection by children. And he loved every moment of it. Smokey Smith was a Canadian original.
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Title Annotation:INCOMING: Hits & misses
Publication:Esprit de Corps
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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