MARINES HONOUR GEORGE CROSS WINNER BURIED IN PAUPER'S GRAVE
After 55 years, hero is given a fitting farewell
by Bill Mouland, Daily Mail, Monday, May 24, 1999
|A HERO of both world wars who was laid to rest in a pauper's grave has finally been given a fitting send- off.
During World War I, Tony Smith fought on the Somme with the Royal Marines Light Infantry. He lost three fingers and was invalided out.
But it was as a member of the Air Raid Precautions Service during World War II that Mr. Smith would win the George Cross for gallantry.
On the night of February 23, 1944, as London recoiled to a heavy bombardment, only four flats out of 160 in World's End, Chelsea, had survived a direct hit.
Only the dividing walls remained standing and, more dangerously, gas and water mains had ruptured and flames enveloped the site.
Scrabbling at the rubble with his bare hands, Mr. Smith plunged into the ruins of the basement to try to save a man who was trapped.
Eyewitness Charles Yeasley said at the time: "When he turned to go back, all the front was on fire - a whole wall of fire. So he burrowed the other way and got the man out. All his hair and eyebrows were burned
||off and just is he got out the walls collapsed." A contemporary account added: "No sooner had he recovered his breath from his first ordeal than he raced to the next block to help a colleague trying to free a woman trapped in a basement."
A few months later, as well as the George Cross, Mr. Smith was awarded the freedom of the Borough of Chelsea. Much to his amusement, the chimney sweep also found himself in Debrett.'s, and in 1948 he performed the opening ceremony when the flats were rebuilt.
When he died, lonely and penniless in 1964 at the age of 70, Mr. Smith was buried in a pauper's grave at a cemetery in West London and there was no money for a headstone.
But now, thanks to amateur military historians Douglas and Doris Miller who researched his history, The Royal Marines have changed all that.
On Saturday, at a ceremony marked by standard bearers, troops and a bugler playing The Last Post, he was at last given an appropriate send-off - and a headstone.
"The service was an exceptional occasion, but Mr. Smith was an exceptional man," said Colonel Ian Moore, president of the Royal
||Marines Association, which helped organise the ceremony. "Not many people won the George Cross. We're talking just a handful."
Mr. Smith's 64-year-old nephew, former Marine Jim Stringer, wiped away tears as he unveiled the headstone.
He said: "I was in Australia when he died and other relatives were spread across the country and had lost contact which is a shame or we would have made sure he had a proper headstone. But we all remember what he was like. He was always a great character."