Flight Lieutenant Henry Lacy Smith was born in the Sydney suburb of Sans Souci in 1917 and worked in the textiles industry. He wanted to fly, and privately undertook flight training at the Kingsford Smith Flying School. Following Germany’s invasion of France in 1940, Smith enlisted in the army. He soldiered for nearly a year before transferring to the RAAF in May 1941.
Smith completed his initial training in Australia, and in October was sent to Canada where he qualified as a pilot. Promoted to sergeant in February 1942, he was posted to Britain the following month; there he was commissioned as a pilot officer, and he joined No. 66 Squadron, RAF, in September.
Flying Supermarine Spitfires, the squadron conducted fighter sweeps over occupied France and provided daytime escorts for bombers. By late January 1943 Smith had over 300 flying hours and was described by his commanding officer as being “always keen to take part in operations against the enemy”. He married English girl Edna Dorothy Smith on 19 January and in February was posted to Gibraltar for a month before returning to Britain to join No. 132 Squadron in April.
Smith remained with the squadron for eight months until February 1944. He joined the RAAF’s No. 435 Squadron in early May and, now a flight lieutenant, became a flight leader. This squadron, like most of the Allied forces in Britain, was preparing for D-Day and the imminent invasion of Normandy. Writing to his wife in May, Smith said:
“As you can imagine we’re working pretty steadily in preparation for things to come. It shouldn’t be long now. I’m quite settled in with the Aussies … See you soon. Love. Lacy.”
The squadron’s workload only increased once the invasion began flying sweeps over the invasion beaches. Smith’s logbook entry for 6 June notes simply: “‘D’ DAY. ALLIES INVADE FRANCE.”
Late in the evening of 11 June, the squadron was patrolling over Ouistreham, a port town near Caen, when Smith’s Spitfire was hit by anti-aircraft fire. He continued to lose height until his aircraft struck water in a canal, skidding along the surface before nosing into the water and flipping over. There were no signs indicating Smith exited the cockpit, and no-one on the ground was seen to approach the wreck.
There was little hope for Smith’s survival. The squadron’s operation book noted: “We feel his chances of being safe are very slight and all are saddened by the loss of a good pilot and a good leader.” He was 27 years old.
Initially posted as “missing”, Smith remained so for 66 years. His Spitfire was finally discovered in November 2010, and five months later his remains were buried with full military honours in Ranville Cemetery, France. In September 2011 his Spitfire was brought to Australia and is under restoration with the RAAF Museum at Point Cook.
Sources and credits: Australian War Memorial, Commonwealth of Australia (Defence Imagery) and Australian Embassy in France.