This Day In History

1918 Battle of the Selle. In a carefully-planned attack, rehearsed over 5 days, 5th East Lancashires mount a remarkably successful night assault near Briastre. They move off at 2 a.m., in a heavy downpour which lasted throughout the engagement, to the sound of the Regimental March being played by the battalion band. Met by heavy machine-gun fire and an artillery barrage which causes 50 casualties, they charge through with a yell and are on their final objective well before the 7 a.m. deadline set, taking 300 prisoners in the process. Casualties are 2 officers and 13 men dead, and 6 officers and 109 men wounded. Some 22 German dead were counted on the battalion front. Study of the ground the next day shows that the battalion had gone through no fewer than 6 defensive belts, including a very strongly-held railway embankment, before reaching its final objective. The 300 prisoners were ‘of far better physique and appearance’ than any of the enemy previously encountered, and turn out to be picked troops. They said that they were members of Kaiser Wilhelm’ bodyguard; that they had never before known defeat; and that they had been sent to hold the line at all costs.
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2nd Lieutenant Alfred Victor Smith VC

Alfred Victor Smith VC. This portrait, showing him at Gallipoli and holding a grenade, was commissioned by Burnley Corporation in 1916 and paid for by public subscription. It is on display in Towneley Hall Museum, Burnley.

Alfred Smith was born in Guildford, Surrey, in 1891. The son of a police officer, he moved with his family several times in his youth, and was at one time a boy chorister at St Albans Cathedral.

When he was 14 his father was appointed Chief Constable of Burnley, Lancashire, and the family moved to the town, where Alfred completed his education at Burnley Grammar School. He left school at 18 and joined the Blackpool Police Force.

When World War I broke out he immediately enlisted and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st/5th Battalion, The East Lancashire Regiment, on 10 October 1914

He landed on the Gallipoli peninsula with his battalion on 13 May 1915.

On 23 December 1915 he was instructing men in grenade-throwing. What happened next is best described in the words of the citation to his posthumous VC, gazetted on 3 March 1916:

“For most conspicuous bravery. He was in the act of throwing a grenade when it slipped from his hand and fell into the bottom of the trench, close to several of our officers and men. He immediately shouted out a warning, and himself jumped clear and into safety; but seeing  that the officers and men were unable to get into cover, and knowing well that the grenade was due to explode, he returned without any hesitation and flung himself down on it. He was killed instantly by the explosion. His magnificent act of self sacrifice undoubtedly saved many lives.”

He is buried in 12 Tree Copse Cemetery on Gallipoli, although the precise location of his grave is not known.

Alfred Smith's grave marker in Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery, Gallipoli

Alfred Smith’s grave marker in Twelve Tree Copse Cemetery, Gallipoli

He was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre for his action.

His Victoria Cross, and other medals and memorabilia, are on display in Towneley Hall Museum, Burnley.