Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Issy Smith (1890–1940)

by John E. Price

This article was published:

Issy Smith, c. 1927 [detail]

Issy Smith, c. 1927 [detail]

Australian War Memorial, P02349.003

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.

Select Bibliography

  • J. W. B. Merewether and F. E. Smith, The Indian Corps in France (Lond, 1917)
  • London Gazette, 23 Aug 1915
  • Age (Melbourne), 12 Sept 1940
  • Argus (Melbourne), 12, 13 Sept 1940
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 Sept 1940
  • biography card index (Australian War Memorial)
  • private information.

Additional Resources

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

John E. Price, 'Smith, Issy (1890–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1988, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 11, (Melbourne University Press), 1988

View the front pages for Volume 11

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Issy Smith, c. 1927 [detail]

Issy Smith, c. 1927 [detail]

Australian War Memorial, P02349.003

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Shmeilowitz, Ishroulch
  • Shlmovitz, Israel

18 September, 1890
Alexandria, Egypt


11 September, 1940 (aged 49)
Moonee Ponds, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.

Military Service