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The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. R Smithson


Richard Smithson, of South Hetton, was born on 6th June 1916.

His father, Johnson Smithson (1881-1933), is shown in the 1911 census as a blacksmith. He joined the Army Service Corps in October 1914, giving his occupation as 'shoeing smith', but was discharged in May 1915 as 'Not being likely to become an efficient soldier'. However, in January 1916, a police officer based at Hetton-le-Hole recorded that he had issued Johnson Smithson with a 'khaki armlet' on behalf of the Army Service Corps. Smithson had recently changed address and there may have been some difficulty in finding him. It appears that this was one of the armlets, connected to the 'Derby Scheme', showing that the wearer had volunteered for military duty but had returned to his civilian occupation until he was required to report for duty.

Richard Smithson was educated at Easington Council School then South Hetton School. He left aged 14 and worked in South Hetton Colliery until joining the RAF in August 1935 as an Aircrafthand.

He later applied for pilot training and was selected. He remustered to Airman u/t Pilot on 27th July 1939.

He did his elementary training at 8 E&RFTS Woodley and went on to 10 FTS Ternhill on 9th October 1939 for No. 15 Course. He fell sick and was transferred to No. 16 Course, which ended on 11th May 1940.


Smithson joined 249 Squadron at Church Fenton on 16th May, direct from 10 FTS. On 5th September he probably destroyed a Do17 and damaged another.

He crashed at Eastchurch after combat with Me109s over Maidstone on 7th September in Hurricane V6574. He was wounded and did not return to the squadron until 13th October.

Smithson was posted from 249 to 96 Squadron on 18th December 1940 when it was reformed at Cranage with 422 Flight as a nucleus.

Commissioned in July 1941, Smithson was killed on the 22nd July as a Pilot Officer with 96 Squadron aged 25. Defiant T4071 was on a night air test from Squires Gate when it flew into high ground at Eddisbury Hill, Delamere, Cheshire.

Sgt. IN Robinson RNZAF was also killed.

Smithson is buried in the Holy Trinity churchyard, South Hetton, Durham.

In his book 'Gun Button to Fire' W/Cdr. TF Neil, who served with Smithson on 249 Squadron, described him as 'A small, smiling boy ......, quiet, disciplined and always willing to help. An able and agreeable colleague'.

Later he wrote of Smithson as '.... a brave and splendid companion who met all his responsibilities courageously and in the most competent way possible'.



Above image courtesy of findagrave.




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