Two Ypres VC heroes in First World War honoured with paving stones in East End
- Credit: TH Council
Two heroes awarded the Victoria Cross for valour in the same battle at Ypres in 1915 have been honoured with specially-commissioned paving stones in London’s East End where they lived—one a vicar’s son, the other a Jewish immigrant.
The remembrance stones for Lieutenant Geoffrey Woolley and Corporal Issy Smith have been unveiled by Tower Hamlets Council, as part of the Government’s First World War centenary remembrance.
Lt Woolley was commemorated with a stone in Bethnal Green Gardens, with his son Nick Woolley paying tribute to his bravery.
Geoffrey Woolley, born 1892 at St Peter’s Vicarage in Bethnal Green, the vicar’s son, went to Parmiter’s School nearby, now occupied by Raine’s Foundation School.
He obtained an Army commission in 1914, at the age of 22, in the London Regiment of the Queen Victoria Rifles, and became the first Territorial Army officer awarded the VC.
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Lt Woolley was posted to Ypres when British forces captured Hill 60 overlooking the town.
He was the only officer on the hill at one time, with very few men, but managed to resist German counter attacks, despite his trench constantly shelled and peppered with machinegun fire, while he continued hurling bombs at the enemy and encouraging his men, until the unit was relieved.
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Woolley was promoted Captain and saw further action before being injured, but survived the war to resume theology studies at Oxford before his ordination as a vicar himself, retiring in 1958. He died in 1968 in Surrey.
Cpl Issy Smith was commemorated with a stone in Ropewalk Gardens in Stepney where he lived.
Issy was born Ishroulch Shmeilowitz in 1890 and arrived in the London Docks in 1901 from Eastern Europe as an 11-year-old stowaway aboard a ship.
He was soon enrolled at Berner Street Elementary school in Shadwell, then worked as a deliverer when he left, followed by service in the Army before the 1914-18 war broke out.
Cpl Issy was awarded the VC “for most conspicuous bravery” making his way towards an enemy trench, facing constant machinegun fire, to help a badly-wounded soldier who he carried 250 yards back to safety.
He later volunteered to bring in many more wounded throughout the day, despite the risk.
Issy died aged 50 in Australia in 1940 and was buried in Melbourne with full military honours.