Australia — World War Two RAAF Pilot Formally Identified

The Min­is­ter for Defence Sci­ence and Per­son­nel, War­ren Snow­don, today announced the for­mal iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of a Roy­al Aus­tralian Air Force Spit­fire pilot who dis­ap­peared in France dur­ing World War Two.

“Sergeant William James Smith and his spit­fire air­craft were dis­cov­ered buried under­ground last month by a film crew pro­duc­ing a World War Two doc­u­men­tary in Hardi­fort, North­ern France. 

“The film crew were search­ing for a Czech air­craft when they unex­pect­ed­ly dis­cov­ered human remains and stopped film­ing,” Mr Snowdon. 

The find fol­lows the dis­cov­ery of anoth­er Spit­fire in the Orne Riv­er in north­ern France in 2010 with the remains of Flight Lieu­tenant Hen­ry ‘Lacy’ Smith, who was buried with full mil­i­tary hon­ours in Nor­mandy, France in 2011. 

Sergeant William James Smith was orig­i­nal­ly from Whit­tle­sea in Vic­to­ria and was post­ed to RAAF Num­ber 457 Squadron, which was attached to the Roy­al Air Force dur­ing World War 2. 

“Twen­ty four year old Sergeant Smith was lost on oper­a­tions on 9 May 1942. 457 Squadron had been escort­ing a bomb­ing mis­sion over ene­my occu­pied ter­ri­to­ry to Bruges, Bel­gium. The squadron had engaged with approx­i­mate­ly 20–25 FW190 air­craft on its home­ward journey. 

“Sergeant Smith was last seen by his Squadron near the coast of France engaged in a dog­fight with an ene­my air­craft at 20,000 feet over the Eng­lish Chan­nel,” Mr Snowdon. 

In the post oper­a­tion report, the Com­mand­ing Offi­cer not­ed that Sergeant Smith was a good and pop­u­lar pilot, “whose qui­et calm way of going about his duties gave con­fi­dence to his fel­low pilots. He had been rec­om­mend­ed for his commission”. 

“I am thank­ful for the ser­vice and sac­ri­fice of Sergeant Smith. His iden­ti­fi­ca­tion means that he will receive a bur­ial with the dig­ni­ty and respect he deserves. 

“Sergeant Smith will be rein­terred at the near­est Com­mon­wealth War Grave ceme­tery in France next year,” Mr Snow­don said. 

The Roy­al Aus­tralian Air Force has informed Sergeant Smith’s next of kin, who request their pri­va­cy at this time. 

Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion was based on offi­cial war records, includ­ing last known sight­ings of Sergeant Smith’s loca­tion, iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of the air­craft type and a num­ber of per­son­al arte­facts, includ­ing Roy­al Aus­tralian Air Force uni­form items and an Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Disc inscribed with Sergeant Smith’s name and Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Number. 

Press release
Min­is­te­r­i­al Sup­port and Pub­lic Affairs,
Depart­ment of Defence,
Can­ber­ra, Australia 

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