19 April 2011

Burial of Australian Spitfire Pilot

Later today an Australian Spitfire pilot who fought with the Royal Australian Air Force’s No. 453  Squadron in the Battle of Normandy will be buried at a Commonwealth war graves cemetry in France, with full military honours. The body of Flight Lieutenant Henry ‘Lacy’ Smith, who had been missing presumed dead since his aircraft was shot down on 11 June 1944, just five days after D-Day, was discovered in the wreckage when his plane was discovered last November by a French couple, buried in the mud of the Orne estuary.

Flight Lieutenant Smith will have been a colleague of Flight Lieutenant Russell Leith, about whom I wrote in Duty Done: Flight Lieutenant Colin Russell Leith AM DFC.

No 453 Squadron was in operation over the Normandy battlefield from D-Day on, and very shortly after the invasion it was deployed to airfields in the Normandy beachhead, from which it operated for the next three months.  As I have related in the above-referenced article about Russell Leith, this unit under Australian command forms the basis for Australia to be regarded as one of the nations which participated directly in the Battle of Normandy.

Below is the text of a Department of Defence media release about today’s ceremony. Images of the recovery of the aircraft wreckage may be seen here.

WWII Flight Lieutenant Henry ‘Lacy’ Smith Laid to Rest in France

Today Australian World War II Flight Lieutenant (FLTLT) Henry ‘Lacy’ Smith will be buried with full military honours in France.

The Minister for Defence Science and Personnel and Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, the Hon Warren Snowdon MP and Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Mark Binskin AO, will join FLTLT Smith’s surviving niece and nephew and their extended families at the ceremony.

The service will be held at the War Graves Cemetery, at Rue des Airbornes, Ranville in Normandy and include a traditional wreath laying, the Ode, and the Last Post bugle call. This symbolises that his duty is over and he can rest in peace.

Ceremonial elements will be performed by members of No. 453 Squadron from RAAF Base Williamtown, NSW, the unit with which Smith flew, and Australia’s Federation Guard.

FLTLT Smith from Sans Souci, south of Sydney, NSW, was shot down by anti-aircraft fire on 11 June 1944 during World War II and crashed into the River Orne, near Caen, in northern France. The Spitfire aircraft and Smith’s remains were found in November 2010.

“At age 27, FLTLT Smith made the ultimate sacrifice for our country during World War II. He was from No 453 Squadron, the first Australian squadron to go into action on 6 June 1944, where it provided tactical support for the troops landing on the Normandy beachhead,” Mr Snowdon said.

“No 453 Squadron carried out operations that included harassing the retreating enemy, attacking enemy convoys, bombing missions, armed reconnaissance and bomber escort duties.

“I am thankful for the brave contributions of FLTLT Smith. He will now have a marked grave that can be visited so that both Australians and French can remember his sacrifice, and I am pleased he has now been afforded the military burial and honour he deserves.’’

“I hope this reinterment will support a greater understanding of the important contribution FLTLT Smith made during World War II.”

During the ceremony, the Chief of Air Force, Air Marshal Mark Binskin AO, posthumously awarded and presented FLTLT Smith’s service medals: the 1939-45 Star; Air Crew Europe Star with France and Germany Clasp; Defence Medal; War Medal 1939-45; and Australian Service Medal 1939-45.

Mr Snowdon said the Australian Defence Force was in the process of shipping the wreckage of FLTLT Smith’s Spitfire aircraft to Australia to display at the RAAF Museum, Point Cook, Victoria. Plans are for the aircraft to arrive in Australia mid year, where it will undergo conservation work.

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