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Flight Lieutenant Albert Smith D.F.C.

Flight Lieutenant Albert Smith D.F.C.
Born: May 30th at Richill Co. Armagh. Died: March 23rd 2012 Age 94.

Flight Lieutenant Albert Smith, was a navigator awarded an immediate D.F.C. for flying his damaged aircraft back to England after his pilot had been killed by anti-aircraft fire.

On September 17 1944, British airborne forces landed in Holland to capture the bridge at Arnhem. In the first wave, Smith and his crew took off in their Dakota towing a Horsa glider carrying men of the Border Regiment. 

Flying in a loose formation, 47 Dakota/Horsa combinations had left Broadwell near Burford and 41 successively released their gliders over Arnhem.

The following day Smith returned with another Horsa, in which the CO of the Border Regiment was among the troops.

The CO’s glider had suffered a failure over England the previous day, and he was anxious to join his men, who were already at Arnhem.
As the combination crossed into enemy-held territory it was hit by anti-aircraft fire which killed the pilot and wounded two of the crew – including Smith, who was occupying the second pilot’s seat and acting as the map reader. He immediately took over the controls of the Dakota and kept the aircraft on its course towards the target.

The glider had also been damaged, and the pilot, recognising the Dakota’s problems, prepared to cast off.

Using the radio intercommunication embedded in the tow rope, Smith told them to wait as he turned towards friendly territory.

As they crossed Allied lines, the glider pilot released and landed safely as Smith set course for home.

He arrived over the Suffolk coast and made a successful emergency landing at the USAAF airfield at Martlesham Heath.

After recovering from his wounds, Smith, who was a warrant officer at the time, was invited by the BBC to make a radio broadcast about his experience. 

The citation for his DFC concluded: ‘He set a fine example of courage and resource in the face of great difficulties.’

The son of a Battle of Mons veteran, Albert Edward Smith was born on May 30 1917 at Richill, Co Armagh. After leaving Portadown Technical College, he worked as a development engineer for Pye Radio.

In September 1939 he volunteered for aircrew service in the RAF and trained as an observer.

During the early years of the war he flew bomber operations over Germany before becoming a bombing instructor in Coastal Command.

Anxious to see more action, he joined the newly-formed No 575 Squadron at Broadwell in early 1944.

On the night of June 5 1944, Smith dropped men of the 5th Parachute Brigade over Normandy and the following night towed a glider to the same area.

By mid-June rough airstrips had been created in Normandy, and the Dakotas flew in supplies and evacuated the wounded.

After the Arnhem operation Smith was commissioned and spent the rest of the war ferrying supplies to Allied forces as they advanced into Germany.

When hostilities ended he studied to be a teacher, a profession for which he was admirably suited.

He retired in 1963 as Senior Master at Ashfield Boys School in East Belfast and then helped his son to rebuild and restore 1920s vintage cars.

He enjoyed golf and fly fishing, and was an enthusiastic member of the Northern Ireland branch of the Aircrew Association.

A modest man, he rarely spoke of his own deeds but often reminded people of the gallantry of others.

He had a dry sense of humour, and when asked what he would like to celebrate his Golden Wedding Anniversary, he replied: ‘A minute’s silence.’

Albert Smith married his wife, Helen, in October 1941. She survives him with their two sons.

Reprinted with the kind permission of the Daily Telegraph obituaries column.
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Article prepared by Barry Howard.

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 • Last Modified: 01 January 2014, 00:00