This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988
Issy Smith (1890-1940), soldier, was born Ishroulch Shmeilowitz, of Polish orthodox Jewish parents, at Alexandria, Egypt, probably on 18 September 1890, son of Moses Shmeilowitz, a clerk serving in Egypt with the French Consular Service, and his wife Eva, both French citizens. At 11 he stowed away on a ship bound for London where, while attending London County Council School, Whitechapel, he earned money delivering fish.
On 4 September 1904, when nearly 14, this thickset, handsome Jewish boy enlisted in the British Army. The recruiting sergeant (who probably guessed his age) anglicized his name to Issy Smith. Smith joined the 1st Battalion, Manchester Regiment, in South Africa. Later, while serving in India, he won the army middleweight boxing championship and played soccer for his regiment. In 1911 he was awarded the Delhi Durbar medal. Taking his discharge on 15 November 1912, he migrated to Australia and while living in the Melbourne suburb of Ascot Vale worked for the Metropolitan Gas Co.
On 8 August 1914 Smith was recalled for war service with the Manchester Regiment. For gallantry on 26 April 1915, during the 2nd battle of Ypres, Belgium, he won the Victoria Cross. While the Manchesters were 'under a perfect inferno of shot and shell' Smith ran towards the enemy lines to assist a severely wounded man whom he carried 250 yards (230 m) to safety. Later that day, under heavy machine-gun and rifle-fire, he brought in many more wounded men, 'attending to them with the greatest devotion to duty, regardless of personal risk'. He was severely gassed later that year and was wounded five times during his war service. When serving in Mesopotamia as a sergeant he received the Tsarist medal of St George (4th class) for rescuing Russian soldiers. He was present at the fall of Baghdad and Jerusalem. He was also awarded the Croix de Guerre.
On 8 February 1919 Issy Smith, giving his name as Israel Shlmovitz, otherwise Smith, married Elsie Porteous Collingwood McKechnie, a tailoress of London and Melbourne, at Camberwell Registry Office, London. Although the marriage was later solemnized by Jewish rites his parents, who had remained in Egypt, disowned him for marrying a Gentile. In 1925 the Smith family, including daughter Olive, returned to Australia and in 1928 Smith became Melbourne manager for British International Pictures. In 1930 he was appointed a justice of the peace and regularly sat on the City Court bench. At the 1931 Federal election he unsuccessfully contested the seat of Melbourne as a United Australia Party candidate. During the Depression years, he was generous to a fault to those in dire circumstances—often to the detriment of his family to whom he was devoted. In 1934, when his son Maurice was born, he was working as a commercial traveller for the Dunlop Rubber Co. and three years later he joined the head-office staff of the Civil Aviation Board; in 1938 he moved to Essendon aerodrome where he became a well-known identity.
Survived by his wife, son and daughter, Issy Smith died of coronary thrombosis at his Moonee Ponds home on 11 September 1940 and was buried with full military honours in the Hebrew section of Fawkner cemetery.
John E. Price, 'Smith, Issy (1890–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/smith-issy-8473/text14901, published in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 22 September 2014.
This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (MUP), 1988