SIGNALMAN KENNETH SMITH GC.
The George Cross of Signalman Kenneth Smith GC has recently been acquired by the Royal Signals Museum, Blandford. The medal was auctioned by Spink who described it as, "A superb clandestine operations posthumous."
The London Gazette of 19 October 1945 describes the background to this posthumous award which became the subject of one of the official Royal Corps of Signals paintings.
HOW THE MEDAL WAS WON
On the night of 10 January 1945, on the Island of Ist in the Adriatic (off the coast of Yugoslavia), Signalman Smith was a member of a patrol of the Long Range Desert Group, which was attacked by saboteurs, who laid time-bombs in the vital houses of the Island.
After hearing some shots, Signalman Smith entered the Wireless Room and found one such bomb on the table. Realising that there were a number of partisans in the room and young children elsewhere in the house, Signalman Smith immediately picked up the bomb, which was ticking.
He intended to move it to a place of safety behind a nearby wall, but he had only gone a few yards outside the house when the bomb exploded and he was blown to pieces.
There is no doubt that Signalman Smith's action certainly saved the lives of many of his comrades, partisans and civilians, and that he showed superb courage and complete disregard for personal safety in lifting a time-bomb which was already ticking when he knew that it might explode at any minute.
HIS FAMILY VISIT THE ISLAND OF IST
Originally, the posthumously awarded GC of Signalman Smith became the property of his mother along with his 5 campaign medals. She in turn eventually gave her 2nd son the GC and her 3rd son Michael the campaign medals to safeguard.
Michael was only 3 years old when Kenneth won the GC so he did not know him, but, "I had always wanted to know more about the circumstances in which my brother had given his life. Then, in 1985 my sister saw an article by the local British Legion in the Lincoln press. They were seeking information about my brother on behalf of the Council of Ist (pronounced EAST) who wished to erect a memorial to him. As a result we sent them a copy of the citation and a photograph of him."
This incident further increased Michael's interest in his brother's award and it was closely followed by a programme on ITV programme Pebble Mill, to whom they wrote. Following a number of other contacts it was eventually arranged with the Ist council that Michael, his wife and his son should visit the small Island in July 1988. They flew to Split, drove to Zedar and sailed to the Island.
On the Island they were treated extremely kindly by the few hundred Islanders. They attended a reception, met locals who knew Kenneth and most important met Vjeko Smoljan and a friend Maria. Vjeko had befriended Kenneth and Maria had been in the house at the time of the original fatal incident.
The visitors saw the original house, the original radio room and Kenneth's initial burial place. After visiting the Island, Michael and his family went on to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Military Cemetery in Belgrade where Signalman Kenneth Smith GC had been finally laid to rest after the War. The whole visit was an extremely rewarding and moving family occasion.
ABOUT THE GEORGE CROSS
The George Cross is very rarely awarded and is, for instance, much rarer than the VC. It was originally instituted on 24th September 1940 by King George VI for "acts of the greatest heroism or of the most conspicuous courage in circumstances of extreme danger".
The Cross was intended primarily for civilians and was only awarded to members of the Armed Forces for actions for which purely military honours are not normally granted. Only 154 have been directly awarded although 244 have been exchanged for Empire Gallantry, Albert and Edward Medals as these awards no longer exist.
T HE MEDAL IS LOST ............. AND FOUND
But the story does not end there because when Michael and Kenneth's brother died the GC could not be found; it was assumed to have been lost or sold. It was not until about two years after his death that his wife declared that the medal had been sold only 6 months after being put into his care. Armed with this knowledge Michael and his son Jamie set out to determine the medal's whereabouts.
They had made no headway until Jamie, a computer specialist, tried the Internet. Within a short period he received an e-mail from a South African "surfer" advising that the medal was in the hands of SPINK and would soon appear for auction. He made contact with them who advised him that the Museum had also sought information about the medal.
Michael made contact with the Royal Signals Museum Trustees and was present when the medal was acquired.
The medal will now reside in the home of the Royal Signals and as Michael stated,
"I am delighted that the medal has finally found a safe home where it will be respected and treasured. I think it would have been a great pity for such a national treasure to have gone overseas or to a private collector. I am a very happy man. It will now be on show as a permanent reminder to the nation of those who gave their lives so freely that we may live on in freedom."