The Airmen's Stories - Sgt. L H Smith
Leslie Henry Smith was born in Gravesend on 13th February 1917, during a Zeppelin raid, and educated at Kent County Grammar School. He worked for a meat distributor before the war.
He joined the RAFVR in August 1938 as an Aircrafthand and went to Biggin Hill each weekend and flew as an air gunner in the Hawker Demons of 601 Squadron Auxiliary Air Force.
Called up on 1st September 1939, Smith's service was deferred as he was in a reserved occupation. In February 1940 he began a WOp/AG course at Blackpool. He failed the Morse test and remustered as an Airman u/t Air Gunner. He completed his training and joined 219 Squadron at Catterick in July 1940.
He crewed up with Sgt. VD Gee as his pilot. On 18th August 219 was engaged alongside two other squadrons in engaging a Ju88 raid from Denmark.
In September 1940 219 Squadron began to receive Beaufighters and Smith and the other air gunners were posted away. He went to 141 Squadron at Gatwick, operating Defiants on night-fighting operations. He flew with Sgt. JH Hogg.
In August 1941 the squadron's Defiants were replaced by Beaufighters and Smith and the other air gunners were again no longer needed. Some chose to retrain as Radar Operators but Smith applied to remuster for training as a Navigator.
He was accepted and in October 1941 he went to Rhodesa and later South Africa for training. He passed out in December 1942 at Youngs Field near Cape Town and was posted to the Aircrew Pool at Heliopolis near Cairo.
In August 1942 he joined 37 Squadron, operating Wellingtons, as a replacement navigator at Shallufa on the Suez Canal. From Shallufa and Abu Sueir the squadron supported the 8th Army, flying sorties along the North African coast to Tobruk.
After El Alamein the squadron moved in stages to Djdeida in Tunisia in October 1943.
Tour-expired, Smith returned to the UK and was commissioned from Warrant Officer in January 1943. He joined 297 Squadron, operating Albermarles and Halifaxes in the parachute dropping and glider-towing role. They also undertook arms-dropping sorties to resistance groups on the continent.
Smith took part in the D-Day, Arnhem and Rhine Crossing operations and served with 297 Squadron until the end of the war.
Smith was released from the RAF in February 1946 as a Flying Officer and he emigrated to Australia in June 1946.