Obituary – Sergeant George Smith

Sergeant George Smith. Ex- Royal Air Force.

                                                     Ground Engineer.

                      Maison La Corderie Residential Home, St. Helier, Jersey Island.


When invited by Matron Liz Booth to compile this obituary on my good friend George Smith, I felt both humbled and honoured. Liz assured me that I was quite competent to carry out the task. I was asked to answer two questions:- a. Who was George Smith?

b. Why should an obituary be written about him?


George Smith was born in Leicester on 15th November 1919. Both his parents were named Smith; here in Ireland there is an old tradition that the children of parents with the same surname inherit a cure for the Mumps. I do not think that George was aware of the powers he had. On his 20th birthday 1939 George joined the Royal Air Force where he trained as a mechanic air frame fitter. He was appointed to 25 Squadron and on 15th July 1941 was promoted to Corporal. In January 1942 with 25 Squadron he was posted to Ballyhalbert in Northern Ireland. On the 18th June 1942 George was posted to Gibraltar and transferred to 202 Squadron, a unit that operated Catalina and Sunderland Flying Boats. While in Gibraltar George played an important part in operation “Torch” the code name given to the preparations for the landing of United States of America troops in North Africa. For his service here he was promoted to Sergeant and Mentioned in Dispatches.


The next move for George came in August 1944 when 202 Squadron was transferred to Castle Archdale Flying Boat base on Lough Erne, Co. Fermanagh, N. Ireland. The Squadron was to play a most important part in the Battle of the Atlantic, which was the longest battle of World War 11, starting in 1939 and finishing in May 1945. There he kept the flying boats in full working order for their fight against the dreaded U-Boats and protection duties for shipping convoys bringing vital supplies to Britain from Canada and the U.S. George was to soon learn the ropes at Castle Archdale and the advantages of being near the border with the neutral Irish Free State where some goods were more readily available that in N. Ireland where strict rationing was in order. It the nearby Fermanagh town of Irvinestown there was a first class café operated by Ma Shutte. In it George and his comrades could get as he called it a first class fry-up, which included a large steak, fresh eggs and other scarce food stuffs. Being near the border Ma Shutte had her private supply line from the Irish Free State. On one occasion when a food inspector approached the café to check of food and records one of the staff quickly put all the smuggled food into a large pot and hid it in a nearby hedge until the inspection was over,


George after the war was over was posted to Aldergrove, still in N. Ireland and on 6th January 1946 was returned to England where he was demobbed.


Early in 2000 my son-in-law, Phil Weir who lives in Cheshire was operating his computer when the subject of Catalina flying boats came up, this led Phil to George Smith’s website and soon I was in touch with George. This was in my pre – computer days. Later I acquired and learned how to use a computer, so George and I were then in regular contact. As a young boy growing up in the village of Belleek, which is in the shores of the River Erne I had seen the Catalina and Sunderland flying boats in the sky’s over head every day either going out to the Atlantic on sorties or returning home to base. I was not then to know that many of them failed to return home. Many of them were friends and comrades of George Smith. There was a so called secret flight path from Belleek, which passed over the neutral Free State of Ireland, all allied air craft were permitted to use this flight path known as “The Donegal Corridor”.


In the summer of 2001 my wife Ina and I went on holiday to Jersey Island where we then met George on several occasions and had a wonderful time with him. The following year 2002, we had George as a guest in our home from 11th to the 18th June. I was able to bring George to Castle Archdale, the towns of Irvinestown, Enniskillen and other places that held so many happy memories for him. He was interviewed on local radio and in the newspapers. For his short visit back to Ireland he was quite a popular person. This visit and the latter return of George to Gibraltar on 22nd April 2004 were so important to George, who was now in the twilight of a long and eventful life.


George moved to Jersey Island in 1957 and from what he told me over the years he really loved Jersey and its people. Liz Booth very kindly sent me a copy of the excellent ‘Tribute to George’ which was read at his funeral service. I was rather surprised and felt honoured that I received such favourable mention in this tribute. He was obviously very well known and respected in the island of his adoption so it is not necessary for me to repeat those tributes here. He was so modest about the work he had done for families who had lost loved ones in war time air craft crashes. I am sure very few of the inhabitants of Jersey where aware of this. From George’s base at Castle Archdale and Killadeas on Lough Erne in Ireland 18 of his beloved Catalina’s were lost, some failed to return from sorties over the Atlantic, others crashed on land in the general area. 23 Sunderland’s were lost in similar circumstances. 360 young airmen based here died while serving their countries. They were from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. 80 of them are buried here in well tended war graves; some were retuned to their families and buried at home. Many more were lost at sea and have no known graves. While here in Ireland George visited the graves and paid his own silent tribute to former comrades.


As mentioned in the tribute to George all the information families had was the inadequate telegram stating that a father son or brother was missing in action and presumed dead offering sympathy. As a result of the records researched and held by George a very large number of families learned the history of the final hours of the aircraft in which their loved ones lost their lives. His work brought closure and comfort to hundreds of people. When they discovered his website and put questions to him he had answers to all their questions. There is no case that I know of where George had to say, “I am sorry I cannot help you”. Knowing that I lived in the area George would refer the families to me, being the gentleman that he was he first asked my permission to let the people talk to me.


 One rewarding experience that George did not have that I had was to actually meet anything up to 30 families, stand along side them at the graves of their loved ones and where possible visit the actual crash sites. Each and every one of them said, “Without George Smith we would not be here, now we know how our loved ones died, we also know that in many parts of Ireland local people have erected memorials to our young men. They will never be forgotten.”  At least 30 crash sites have memorials on them and unveiling ceremonies have been held which in many cases were attended by family members. To give some idea of the difficulties George would be faced with, when Lough Erne based Sunderland W3977 crashed off the west coast of Ireland on 5th February 1942 the pilot was F/L Smith; on the crew were F/O Smith and a Serg. Smith.


As it was not possible to place memorials to the crews who were lost at sea a Roll of Honour has been compiled and framed lists of the names are on display in the RAF museum at Castle Archdale and at the Lough Erne Yacht Club, Killadeas. As it would take a full book to give details of the work carried out by George I have selected one World War 2 crash as an example.


On 7th November 1943 Halifax Bomber EB 134 departed from Rufford air field in Yorkshire on a training exercise. The names of the crew were F/L. C.H. Sansome – RAAF, F/Sgt, A.S. Johnston – RAAF, W/O. Norman W. Gardner – RCAF. F/Sgt. A.J. Gallagher – RAAF. Sgt. Robert Mair Clarke, (Scotland) RAF. Sgt. Edward William Camp – RAF, Sgt. Leslie Harold Wildman – RAF.

Sgt. Gallagher was a native of Co. Donegal, Ireland.


Sadly the plane got completely lost and eventually crashed at midnight near the town of Tuam, Co. Galway, Ireland. All seven crew perished in the crash. Local historian and researcher Mrs Anne Tierney had listened to the people talk of this crash and about 2004/5 decided to investigate the event. Her search led her to George Smith and George referred Anne to me, his reason for this being that he knew several members of the crew were buried in the war graves in Irvinestown, Co. Fermanagh.


From here on the matter developed in the traditional Irish manner. A committee set up by Anne Tierney decided that the young men who died should be remembered by some form of permanent memorial. So many problems had to be over come, a site had to be found, approval got from local and national government bodies. A lesser person than Anne Tierney would have been discouraged by all the obstacles that had to be over come but she persevered and the end result was a beautiful Garden of Remembrance being constructed on the roadside near the crash site.


On Sunday 5th August 2007 moving ceremony was held, it was attended by a large number of distinguished guests. The Australian Government was represented by Her Excellency Anne Plunkett, Australian Ambassador to Ireland. She was accompanied by a Squadron Leader from the Royal Australian Air Force. The Canadian Government was represented by Mr. John Banin, Embassy official, the Irish Government by senior Ministers, the RAF by the Group Captain from Aldergrove air base in N. Ireland. Warrant Officer Brian Mahoney from the British Embassy in Dublin was also there. High ranking Irish army officials and senior Irish police officers were in attendance. The Irish Air Force did a fly past with 8 aircraft. Several relations of the dead airmen came to Ireland for the event which was attended by over 400 people.


Her Majesty the Queen sent a special message to Mrs.Tierney through her Senior Correspondence Officer – Mrs. Sonia Bonici.


Without the help of George Smith none of this would have been possible. During the Battle of the Flowers Festival in 2008 George took great pride in the fact one of the bands taking part in the parade was The Churchill Silver Band which came from a small village on the shores of Lough Erne. Each year including 2008 George went to London to lay the 202 Squadron wreath at the Cenotaph and on 9th of May 2009 he was brought by the staff of staff of Maison La Corderie to take part in the Liberation Day Ceremony. How proud he was with his service medals displayed on his coat. George was cared for by Matron Liz Booth and the other staff members; they cared for him as if he had been their own father. I still have the e-mails he sent to me singing the praises of these wonderful ladies, on behalf of the friends of George in so many countries all over the world I wish to thank you for your kindness to George Smith. He had no boundaries when asked for help. A few years ago he helped Dr. Claus Dieter from Dresden to trace a German sailor who had been God Father to his sister.


  Joe O’Loughlin, Belleek, Fermanagh, Ireland. July 2009.


His website