War hero’s Victoria Cross on display

Chris Preston (right) with Towneley Hall exhibition supervisor Robert Drake
Chris Preston (right) with Towneley Hall exhibition supervisor Robert Drake

A Victoria Cross awarded to a First World War hero who grew up in Burnley has gone on display at Towneley Hall.

Lieutenant Victor Smith was awarded the highest British military honour for throwing himself onto a grenade to save the lives of fellow soldiers.

The medal, together with other memorabilia and information on Lt Smith, is now on display at the historic hall.

Lt Smith’s father donated the medal, together with the French Croix de Guerre also awarded to his son, to Towneley Hall as a reminder of the sacrifice his and other people’s sons made during the First World War.

A portrait of Lt Smith, also on display at the hall, was paid for by public subscription.

A civic service and ceremony of commemoration was held in November in the Guildhall in Guildford to mark Lt Smith’s bravery and sacrifice, exactly 100 years after his death.

Lt Smith was born in Guildford, but moved to Burnley when he was 14, his father having been appointed Chief Constable of Police.

Victor completed his education at Burnley Grammar School and, after leaving, joined the Blackpool Borough Police Force.

At the age of 24, Smith was a second lieutenant in the East Lancashire Regiment.

A couple of days before Christmas in 1915 he was involved in fighting at Helles, Gallipoli, where he was killed.

Chris Preston, the community engagement officer with local veterans’ charity Salute, said “I am very pleased that people can see the Victoria Cross and other items associated with Lieutenant Smith at Towneley, and learn more about a man who bravely gave up his life to save others.”

Burnley has two other VC recipients from the First World War.

The bravery of Hugh Colvin and Thomas Whitham will be commemorated in 2017 on the 100th anniversary of them receiving their awards.

The citation for Lt Smith’s VC stated “For most conspicuous bravery.

“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.”

He is buried in Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery although the precise location of his grave is not known.