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.
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