A NORTH Oxford school has commemorated the 100th anniversary of an extraordinary act of bravery by one of its pupils.

On May 18, 1915, 22-yearold Sir John (or “Jackie”) Smyth, an officer in the 15th Ludhiana Sikh Regiment, took on a mission to provide ammunition to a captured German trench.

Ten Sikh soldiers volunteered to accompany their officer but only Sir John made it back unharmed – the others killed or wounded in no man’s land – and received the Victoria Cross aged just 22.

Oxford Mail:

Tom Klenerman, 13, with Raminder Uberoi

The Dragon School, where Sir John attended from eight years old, retold the mission to 12 and 13-year-olds with the help of the UK Punjab Heritage Association and a re-enactment of the 15th Ludhiana Sikh Regiment by the National Army Museum.

The school’s head of religious studies Robert Startin said: “It’s wonderful that the pupils can remember one of our VCs in this way.”

Positioned near Richebourg-l’Avoué on the Western Front, Sir John was tasked with carrying ammunition 200m across no man’s land to keep hold of a German trench.

In June 1915 Sir John was awarded the VC and the citation, published in the London Gazette read: “For most conspicuous bravery near Richebourg-l’Avoue on May 18, 1915. With a bombing party of 10 men, who voluntarily undertook this duty, he conveyed a supply of 96 bombs to within 20 yards of the enemy’s position over exceptionally dangerous ground, after the attempts of two other parties had failed.”

In an interview years later, Sir John said: “The commanding officer came on the phone and said: ‘Do you think you can do it?’ “I said: ‘No. I’ve just seen two regiments try and they have all been slaughtered, but if I’m ordered to I will.’”

He added: “It was the proudest moment of my life when every man volunteered and said they wanted to go.”

Sir John recalled how his team ran across no man’s land under heavy fire, losing several men, before he and one remaining Sikh man made it to the trench with 96 bombs.

His final comrade died in the trench but Sir John said he would never have made it without his fallen soldiers.

The Year 8 pupils joined in the re-enactment dressing up in the uniform of the Indian Expeditionary Force and learnt how to do a rifle drill.

Tom Klenerman, 13, said: “It was amazing, it was really fun getting hands on with all the equipment. It was interesting to see the contribution of the Sikhs who were unsung heroes really in the First World War.

“It was someone from our school, not that much older than us.”


SIR John Smyth as he was known at school, was born in Teignmouth in Devon in October 1893.

He was educated at the Dragon School in Oxford from 1901 to 1907 before going to Repton school and then Sandhurst Royal Military College.

Not from a particularly well-off family, Sir John took a role as a British officer in the Indian army in 1912.

The Oxford schoolboy survived two world wars in his service career which lasted 30 years – receiving the Military Cross as well as the Victoria Cross.

Sir John became a Conservative MP for the South London constituency of Norwood in 1950. He retired from Parliament in 1966 the last VC recipient to sit in the House of Commons.

Also an author, playwright, journalist and broadcaster, the father-of-four died in 1983 aged 89.