The logbooks and wartime medals of a distinguished pilot who flew in the Battle of Britain have been donated to the Kent charity that preserves the memory of ‘the Few’. After serving in the battle, the late Flt Lt Ron Smyth, who died on 26 October 2017 at the age of 96, went on to earn the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for his work as a photo-reconnaissance pilot towards the end of the war.
Flying Spitfires in inhospitable conditions at between 27,000 and 30,000 feet in intense cold, Smyth went on to command the Photo Reconnaissance Unit (PRU) in Gibraltar for most of 1944 and earned the DFC for his work in this area.
Smyth’s daughters, Daphne Lewis and Hilary Joy, have now donated his medals and three logbooks to the Battle of Britain Memorial Trust CIO, the charity that cares for the National Memorial to the Few at Capel-le-Ferne on the Kent coast. They were joined by Smyth’s granddaughter Jemma Parton when they met Trust chairman Richard Hunting CBE, secretary Patrick Tootal, trustee Andy Simpson and site manager Jules Gomez.
Daphne said the family wanted to give the medals and logbooks to the Trust because: “We feel they were dad’s medals rather than ours. We are certain that the logbooks, in particular, could help future research into the Battle of Britain and shed more light on this remarkable period of our history and so we felt the Trust was best placed to look after them.”
She added: “Later in life dad was committed to peace, and when he looked back on the war he found it all very shocking. He felt people should be able to learn from the mistakes of the past, and hopefully this will go some way towards that.”
Flt Lt Smyth and his wife Pauline were regular visitors to Capel-le-Ferne for the Trust’s annual Memorial Day until Mrs Smyth became ill in around 2005. She sadly died a few years later.
“Dad never really talked about his wartime experiences and we have only recently understood the part he and others played in keeping this country safe,” added Daphne. “It was not until around the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Britain (in 1990) that we started to realise what he had achieved. We are clearly very proud of what he and his fellow airmen did.”
Flt Lt Smyth was just 19 when he volunteered to switch from Blenheims, which had a crew of three, to single-engined fighters and joined 111 Squadron, which had suffered heavy losses in the battle and badly needed new pilots.
When Smyth arrived at Debden, the CO was shocked to find that he had never flown a Hurricane and sent him on a three-week course at No.5 Operational Training Unit to learn how to fly the fighter.
He then joined 249 Squadron, defending London with Hurricanes from North Weald, joining the squadron as the battle was coming to an end and achieving some success, in his own words “mainly pursuing bombers” and helping to shoot down “two or three”.
It was as a reconnaissance pilot that Smyth really came into his own, flying using oxygen at uncomfortably high altitudes and in the intense cold, covering France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands to obtain vital information for the Allies from the end of 1943 onwards. He said later: “Quite a lot of it was looking at the bombing and looking out for flying bomb sites and rocket sites”.
Trust chairman Richard Hunting commented: “The Trust was delighted to be offered the medals and logbooks of such a great airman and is grateful to the family for entrusting these valuable artefacts to our care.”