Manchester people of courage, self-sacrifice and valour
Henry Kelly VC MC
(1887-1960) Henry Kelly was born on July 10th 1887 in Collyhurst, into an Irish Catholic family. Much decorated and ever the perennial soldier, Henry was to take part in many of the wars of the 20th century and to earn distinction in all of them. By the age of sixteen, Henry was working at the Post office as sole support to his widowed mother and her ten children. At the outbreak of war in 1914, Henry was quick to volunteer and initially joined the Cameron Highlanders before later moving to the Manchester Regiment, where he quickly rose to the rank of Sergeant Major. He later gained a commission as a Second Lieutenant in the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. By 1915 he was on active service on the Somme where, showing outstanding bravery, he saved the lives of a number of his comrades for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Later he was also awarded the Belgian Croix de Guerre and the French Medaille Militaire. In Italy he was awarded the Military Cross and a Bar to Military Cross at Piave. In 1918 he rose to the rank of Major. During his army career he’d been wounded on two occasions. After the war, he and his brothers opened grocery shops on Rochdale Road and Upper Chorlton Road. Later Henry was landlord in a number of local Manchester pubs. Henry went on to join the ‘International Brigade’ as a foreign volunteer fighting against Fascists in the Spanish Civil War and was ranked Commandente Generale. Here he was awarded the Grand Laurelled Cross of San Fernando. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 he rejoined the British army. Henry Kelly died in Prestwich Hospital 18th January 1960 and is buried in Southern Cemetery, Wythenshawe. His medals can be seen at the Duke of Wellington’s Museum in Halifax.
Issy Smith VC JP
(1890-1940) Much decorated Issy Smith was actually born in Egypt at Ishroulch Shmeilowitz on 16th September 1890, where his father served in the French Consulate. At the age of 11 Issy stowed away on a ship for London and in 1904 he enlisted in the 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment where he took on the anglicised version of his name – to be known henceforth as Issy Smith. In 1912 he was discharged and emigrated to live in Melbourne in Australia. However, in August 1914 he was recalled to the Manchester Regiment and in April 1915, during the Second Battle of Ypres, Corporal Smith was to gain several major awards for bravery and heroism.
With little regard for his own security, he carried a severely wounded comrade some 250 yards to a place of safety and later returned, despite heavy German gunfire, to bring back many more of his wounded comrades. For this action he was awarded the Victoria Cross. Later, as Sergeant Smith, he served in Mesopotamia where he was awarded the Russian Cross of St George for the heroic rescue of a Russian soldier. He was also awarded the French Croix de Guerre. During the First World War he was severely gassed and wounded five times. After the war he was married in London and in 1925, with his wife and young daughter, he returned to Melbourne where in 1930 he was appointed a Justice of the Peace. Issy Smith died on the 10th September 1940 and was buried with full military honours in the Hebrew section of the Fawkner Cemetery in Melbourne.
UPDATE Since writing the original account on Issy Smith, I subsequently received an email from broadcaster James H Reeve, which throws much of my information concerning Issy Smith into question. His email read:
“I’ve been looking into the fascinating Issy Smith, and I have to report that he didn’t get the Order of St. George for rescuing a Russian soldier in Mesopotamia. He did serve there, but contact between Russian and British troops was minimal. He actually received the decoration before he left for Mesopotamia in recognition of the VC he won for his deeds in Flanders. This is stated in the London Gazette supplement of 24 August of 1915, three months before he was posted to the Middle East. Lots of references to Issy make the claim about the Russian, but I’m afraid it’s a myth. In fact, a great deal of Issy’s story seems to be questionable, but the VC is genuine. All the best, James H. Reeve.” (7 December 2007).
Edward Colquhoun Charlton VC
(1920-1945) The very last Victoria Cross awarded to a soldier in the European theatre of World War II was to Edward Colquhoun Charlton of the Irish Guards for actions on the 21st April 1945. Charlton was born on 15th June 1920 and had lived at 12 Basford Road, Old Trafford in Manchester since the age of 15, though he was actually born in County Durham. He was conscripted in September 1940 into the Guards Depot in Caterham and later went on to join the 2nd Armoured Battalion Irish Guards. He died as a result of wounds received as a tank driver in action at the village of Wistedt in Northern Germany on the 21st April 1945 and was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross by King George VI. During the action, he was reported to have grabbed the Browning machine gun from his damaged tank and advanced single-handed against a division of German Panzers, continuously firing, despite numerous wounds, and inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy until his left arm was completely shattered. He continued fighting with his one good arm but eventually fell as a result of his wounds and loss of blood. Later, even captured German prisoners of the action praised his valour. He is buried at the British Military Cemetery near Becklingen in Germany.
John Henry Code DCM
John Henry Code was born on 16th February 1869 in Audenshaw. As a young man he had been employed by Manchester Corporation as a carpenter at the Clayton Gas Works. Like many others at the time, he was released to serve in annual Territorial Army camps. In 1886 he enlisted in the 5th Ardwick Volunteer Battalion of the Manchester Regiment and was promoted to the rank of sergeant in 1890. Code soon demonstrated that he was a highly skilled rifleman and actually won the Singleton Trophy for sharp shooting. Code also served during the Boer War in the Imperial Yeomanry where he was promoted Colour Sergeant in December 1902 – here he attracted increasing recognition for his excellent marksmanship.
In 1914 the Ardwick Battalion was posted to Egypt and later on to Gallipoli where Code was appointed Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant. His service at Gallipoli gained him the Distinguished Conduct Medal for “…conspicuous gallantry, devotion to duty and continuing good services, courage and skill”. He spent the remainder of the War serving in France. After the First World War, John Henry Code left the army and found work with his former employer at Clayton Gas Works. In 1920, he founded St. Andrews Ladies Hockey Team based at Edge Lane, Droylsden, where both of his daughters played for several years. Code retired from the Council’s employment in 1934 and he died of natural causes on the 27th February of the same year.
James Kirk VC
(1897-1918) James Kirk was one of many young local men to have been awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously for their gallantry. Kirk was born on 21st January 1897 and grew up in Cheadle Hulme, though later his family moved to live in Droylsden, where James distinguished himself as a keen and successful sportsman. At the outbreak of the Great War he enlisted in the Manchester Regiment and was posted to the Dardanelles in 1915 as a Private in the 10th Battalion. He served later in France and in June 1918 he was made Second Lieutenant. On 8th October 1918 he carried out an act of the most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty north of the village of Ors whilst his Company were attempting to lay a bridge across the Olse Canal. Lieutenant Kirk, armed with a Lewis Gun, and under intense enemy fire, paddled across the canal on a hastily constructed crude wooden plank raft to give covering fire to his comrades. Ammunition was paddled across to him so that he was able to continuously maintain covering fire for the bridging party from his very exposed position. Ultimately, he was wounded in the face and arm and died as a result of a head wound on 4th November 1918. This act of supreme heroism and self-sacrifice prevented many casualties and enabled two platoons to cross the bridge before it was destroyed. Lieutenant James Kirk is featured in the Museum of the Manchesters in Ashton-under-Lyne. Kirk’s remains are buried at the English Communal Cemetery at Ors. Seven days later the Armistice was signed, marking the end of the war.
Harry Norton Schofield VC
(1865-1931) Harry Norton Schofield was born on 29 January 1865 in Audenshaw, the son of a chemist who had a shop on Ashton New Road, Clayton. Later, after a time living in Ardwick, his father’s prospering business enabled them to move home to live in the (then) more desirable area of Whalley Range. Schofield went to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich and passed out as a Lieutenant in the Artillery in 1884. By 1893 he had attained the rank of Captain. In 1899, during the Boer War campaigns in South Africa, Schofield was Aide-de-camp to General Buller, who commanded British forces during the siege of Ladysmith. It was during this action that Schofield would be awarded the Victoria Cross. On 15th December of that year British forces at Colenso railway station came under heavy fire from entrenched Boer positions across the Tugela River. Butler ordered various field artillery units to move up in support of the British advance. However, heavy enemy gunfire quickly downed gun battery drivers and horse teams. Survivors took cover in a nearby water course about five hundred yards to the rear. Seeing their plight, Captain Schofield gathered a number of men and gave the order to make a dash toward the stranded gun batteries. Under heavy fire they succeeded in limbering up two of the guns and saved them from capture. Captain Schofield sustained six bullet wounds in the action. Later he was promoted to Major and was also awarded the South African Medal with six clasps. In 1911 became a member of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms. He died on the 10th October 1931 in London and his funeral was held at the Chapel Royal at St James’s Palace.
Albert Hill VC
(1895-1971) Albert Hill was born in Hulme on 24th May 1895, one of ten children. In 1907 his family moved to live in Peacock Street in Denton. After leaving school he began work at the Alpha Mill and then became an apprentice planker at Wilson Hat Manufacturers on Wilton Street. At the outbreak of the First World War, Hill enlisted in the 10th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, with whom he served in France and Flanders. He was awarded the Victoria Cross for his gallantry and “…most conspicuous bravery”.
On 20 July 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, Private Hill’s battalion advanced under heavy gunfire to assault an enemy position in Delville Wood. When the order to charge was given Hill confronted two German soldiers and bayoneted them both. However, finding himself cut off from the rest of his battalion in the confusion, and, being surrounded by the enemy, he fought them off with hand grenades, killing and wounding about eighteen and scattering the remainder. He then rejoined his company and fought his way back to the lines. Later, on discovering that his Company Officer and a scout were lying wounded in no man’s land, he went out, without any thought of his own safety and helped bring in the mortally wounded Officer, two other men bringing in the scout. Finally, Hill single-handedly captured two enemy soldiers and took them prisoner. Hill returned to Denton as a public hero in October 1916. In November he was awarded the Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace. He was also awarded the Croix de Guerre and the Russian Cross of St George of the First Class and three campaign medals. In February 1919, Hill returned to work at Wilson’s Factory. He and his wife lived in Denton until 1923, when they emigrated to the United States. In 1956 Hill made a brief return to England for the VC Centenary Celebrations. He died 17th February 1971 and was buried with full military honours at Highland Memorial Cemetery in Johnston, Rhode Island. His medal is in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers Regimental Museum.
Joel Halliwell VC
(1881-1958) Born in Middleton on 29th December 1881, Lance Corporal Joel Halliwell was to be awarded the Victoria Cross for “Conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty”. On 27 May 1918, Halliwell was captured by the Germans and remained a prisoner with them for a short time before he managed to escape. On his way back to the British lines, seeing many wounded comrades lying on the ground, he mounted a stray German horse which he rode back to pick up a wounded man and brought him back to safety, in spite of heavy shellfire. He went on to repeat this process, back and forth, through heavy enemy gunfire, with no thought for his own safety, some ten times, until his horse received a severe wound and he could no longer continue. Lance Corporal Halliwell was a modest man, maintaining that he had simply done as he was told and that any other man in his battalion would have done what he had done if they had the chance, as they never thought of anything but their duty. He returned to Middleton amid public jubilation and a civic welcome by the Mayor and Mayoress of the borough. Joel Halliwell died on the 14th June 1958.
James Edgar Leach VC
Second Lieutenant James Leach of the 2nd Battalion. Manchester Regiment was born on 27th July 1892 at North Shields in Northumberland. He lived in Manchester as a boy and later joined the 1st Northamptonshire Regiment, to serve in France from the outbreak of the First World War. On the 1st October 1914 he was promoted to Second Lieutenant in the Manchester Regiment. Leach distinguished himself while serving near Festubert in France on 29th October 1914, when, after two abortive attempts to retake an Allied trench that had been captured by the enemy, Second Lieutenant Leach, together with Sergeant John Hogan and a party of ten volunteers went to recapture it themselves. They completely overwhelmed German troops by their sudden bayonet attack. Fighting hand-to-hand at extremely close quarters and with great bravery, they retook the trench, killing eight of the enemy, wounding two others and making 16 prisoners. For their contribution to the defence of the Manchesters’ trenches, Second-Lieutenant Leach and Sergeant John Hogan were awarded the Victoria Cross.
Graham Thomson Lyall VC
(1892-1941) Graham Thomson Lyall was born in Chorlton, Manchester on 8th March 1892, though after qualifying as a mechanical engineer he went to live in Canada, enlisting in the 19th “Lincoln” Regiment (a Canadian militia regiment) in August 1914 and served with it doing duty with the Welland Canal Force. He transferred to the 81st Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force in September 1915, and went overseas with the Battalion in April 1916. When that unit broke up in June 1916, he was transferred to the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles, which was later designated a battalion of the Central Ontario Regiment. Lyall gained rapid promotion through the ranks until, for conspicuous bravery in action, he was commissioned as a Lieutenant in April 1917. In 1918 Lieutenant Lyall was awarded the VC for “Conspicuous bravery and skilful leadership” north of Cambrai while serving with the 102 North British Columbia Battalion. On the 27th of September he had captured an enemy fortified position as well as attacking a German machine gun position single-handed, killing the commanding officer, and succeeded in capturing many prisoners. Just four days later he virtually repeated the whole episode, capturing yet another strong point and taking some 47 prisoners as well as machine guns. During two days of operations Lyall captured in all, three officers, 182 other ranks, twenty-six machine guns and one field gun, exclusive of heavy casualties inflicted. He was decorated with the Victoria Cross on 15th March 1919 at Buckingham Palace. In the 1930s Major Lyall continued to serve in various military functions, including as an Ordnance Mechanical Engineer, commanding a Territorial Company of the Royal Army Ordnance Corps. Lyall was also a member of the Loyal Orange Lodge No 720, St Catharines, Ontario. In early 1940 Major Lyall was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel and volunteered for overseas service. He was promoted further to the rank of Colonel later in the same year. Lyall eventually took his discharge in the UK and was married here. Colonel Graham Thomson Lyall died whilst on active service in the Western Desert on 28th November 1941, aged 49, and is buried in the Halfaya Sollum War Cemetery.
We are indebted to Sir William Smy of Ontario, Canada, for supplying updated information to this entry.