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John Smart Carmichael, RAF Pilot
Hornchurch Wing, Nos 129 Squadron

Lost WW2 flying hero buried with honour.

John Smart CarmichaelThe memorial service and burial of World War Two Spitfire hero, Sergeant John Smart Carmichael, took place at 1100hrs on Friday 5th September, sixty years to the day that he was shot down in action over Flanders at the age of 21.

The funeral, with full military honours, was at Coxyde (Koksijde) Military Cemetery, near Veurne. Two of his cousins, Mary (known as ‘Bunty’) and Winifred McQuade, who are both in their eighties, were present and laid a wreath.

Members of the Queen’s Colour Squadron of the Royal Air Force provided a bearers’ party, and an RAF padre, Fr John Walsh, led the service. A firing party comprised RAF personnel currently serving at the Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe, (SHAPE) Mons.

Sergeant Chris Mears from the Queens Colour Squadron, Royal Air Force Regiment presents the flag from Sgt Carmichaels coffin to his Next of Kin, Bunty McQuadeWarrant Officer 2, Laurent Brakmeyn, a piper from the Belgian Air Force Band, played a lament, and a bugler sounded the last post. Both the Belgian and the UK National Anthems were played. There was a flypast by two Hawk jets from RAF Valley, Anglesey.

The First Reading was given by Mr Gavin Hewitt, Her Britannic Majesty’s Ambassador to Belgium. Air Marshal Rob Wright, the UK Military Representative to Nato and the EU, gave the Second Reading. He read “High Flight”, written by Pilot Officer J G Magee, Jnr, of No 412 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force. Group Captain Jeff Bullen, Defence Attaché, read the Exhortation.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Squire, the recentley retired Chief of the Air Staff, reads messages on the wreaths laid for Sgt CarmichaelAir Marshal Wright laid a wreath on behalf of the Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup. Former Chief of the Asir Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Peter Squire – as its Air Commissioner – laid a wreath on behalf of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Among the others laid were, on behalf of the Belgian Air Force, Major General Michel Audrit; the Mayor of Koksijde and Diksmuide; The Crash Site Recovery Team, aviation historian Dirk Decuypere and Wim Hueghe; 129 Sqn, Mervyn Young; RAFA (Belgian branch); and the Aircrew Association.

Sgt Carmichaels coffin on route to his final resting place, borne by personnel from the Royal Air Force Regiments Queens Colour SquadronBunty and Winifred were accompanied by Sue Raftree and Linda Blackwell, members of the RAF Personnel and Management Agency Casework Team, based at HQPTC, RAF Innsworth, Gloucester. They are responsible for tracing relatives of WW11 aircrew where human remains are found, and making arrangements for the funeral in accordance with the family’s wishes.

The programme in Belgium included a lunch, where Air Marshal Wright presented Sgt Carmichael’s effects to the family. These included a Post Office paying in book where he kept a four leaf clover, his rosary beads and religious medals, a watch, a Mess bill, a receipt for a diamond and gold ring, his comb and nail file, and a dagger in its sheath.

An unforgettable moment for Winifred and Bunty when they visit the crash site where Sgt Carmichael went down.  They are pictured with Mervyn Young, a fellow Spitfire pilot from 129 Squadron, Wim Hueghe, from the Crash Site Recovery Team, Aviation Historian Dirk Decuypre and Maria Van Eecke, who as a 7 year old witnessed the crashThe day after the funeral, Bunty and Winifred visited the crash site, a field at Ghent. Local people and members of the Crash Recovery Team had erected a union flag and provided a red, white and blue wreath. This was laid at the base by Dirk Decuypere, Wim Hueghe, and Mervyn Young. Two other unforgettable events arranged for the cousins, were a visit to an exhibition of part of St Carmichael’s Spitfire in a local church, and a return visit to Sgt Carmichael’s grave for them to be alone with their thoughts.

Sgt John Smart Carmichael - His story.

Sgt Carmichael's lucky four-leaf clover, preserved in his Post Office paying-in bookJohn Smart Carmichael, aged 21, known as Ian, was the second son of Carrie (Caroline) and Sandy (Alexander), of St Ninian’s, Stirlingshire, and was born in Dundee, Angus. His elder brother, Alexander, died of leukaemia when he was five years old.

He attended secondary school at Lawside Academy, Dundee, and worked for a time at Glaxo Chemicals, before enlisting in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve with the rank of Aircraftman 2nd Class (AC2) on 20 August 1941. The following day he was recommended for pilot or observer (navigator) training by No 12 Aviation Candidates Selection Board.

Sgt Carmichael's mess bill from RAF Hornchurch....However, the rapidly-expanding RAF was unable at this time to absorb immediately the influx of civilians joining the Service, and Ian was placed on the Reserve and sent home.

On his recall, he was posted on 16 February 1942 to No 1 AirCrew Reception Centre, then located at Lords Cricket Ground. On 7 March 1942 he went to No 17 Initial Training Wing, Scarborough for preliminary ground training.

....and receipt for same.He was promoted to Leading Aircraftman (LAC) on 15 May 1942, and selected for pilot training. After a period at the Air Crew Despatch Centre, Hooton Park, he joined No 28 Elementary Flying Training School at Wolverhampton on 29 July 1942.

On completing a basic flying course on 28 October 1942, LAC Carmichael was posted to RAF Cranwell Flying Training School for advanced flying training. He was awarded his ‘wings’ and promoted to Sergeant on 14 April 1943.

Sgt Carmichael's receipt for a gold and diamond ringSergeant Carmichael was posted to No 53 Operational Training Unit, RAF Fighter Command – then based at RAF Llandow in Wales – on 27 April 1943. Here, he received specialist training, encompassing both the techniques necessary to master the Supermarine Spitfires he would fly on joining a squadron, and the tactics he would need to employ in order to survive and prevail in combat.

From there, on 20 July 1943 he joined his first operational squadron, No 129 Squadron, then based at RAF Hornchurch in Essex and equipped with the Spitfire IX fighter. On 16 August 1943 he flew his first operational sortie - a bomber escort operation, which involved the Hornchurch Wing’s two squadrons, Nos 129 and 222 Squadrons.

Sgt Carmichael's watchBy 5 September, Sgt Carmichael had completed five escort sorties. Just before 8am on that day, he took off from Hornchurch on his second mission, having already flown a weather reconnasissance sortie, as one of 15 pilots fron No 129 Squadron taking part in a bomber escort operation – Ramrod 533. The weather on that morning was fine with 6/10ths clouds over the Channel and good visibility.

The role of the Hornchurch Wing in this operation was to escort 72 Martin B-26 Marauders of the 322nd and 323rd Bombardment Groups, 3rd Bombardment Wing, US 8th
Air Force, despatched to attack the marshalling yard at Ghent in Belgium. Sgt Carmichael was not tasked to form part of the escort, his role was to act as a flying reserve.

Sgt Carmichael's crucifix, rosary and catholic identity medalHowever, when one of the squadron’s pilots was forced to return to Hornchurch because he was unable to jettison his external fuel tank (drop tank), his place as ‘Red 4’ was taken by Sgt Carmichael.

The Hornchurch Wing made contact with the bomber force at North Foreland at 8:00am at a height of 12,000 feet and together they continued together, climbing to an altitude of 23,000 feet, crossing the Belgian coast at Blankenburg at 8:17am.

Sgt Carmichael's dagger and sheathThe events that ensued were summarised in the squadron’s diary of operations (known as the Operations Record Book) as:

“Sweeping around E of Ghent they observed the bombing which appeared to be scattered mostly over the south side of the town, producing a considerable amount of smoke. The Wing was bounced by 12-plus FW 190s (Luftwaffe Focke-Wuf Fw 190 fighters) – several combats took place but no claims were made. Sgt Carmichael is missing from this operation – when last seen he was diving to attack a FW 190 but seemed to be unaware that their (sic) was another on his tail. The Wing crossed over the Ostende – Nieuport area and made for base.”

The loose change Sgt Carmichael was carryingIn September 2002. Sgt Carmichael’s Spitfire was unearthed when building development started on the site at Nieukapelle. A Belgian aviation historian, Dirk Decuypere, and his recovery team carried out the excavation. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is responsible for the maintenance of Coxyde (Koksijde) Military Cemetery and provided the headstone for Sgt Carmiochael’s grave.

According to Sgt Carmichael’s Next of Kin, his cousin, Mary McQuade, known as ‘Bunty’, from Kilmarnock, his hobbies were golf, cricket and tennis.

Sgt Carmichael's comb and nailfileShe recollects that he had a girlfriend, who was a nurse at a London Hospital and that they became engaged shortly before he went missing. His fiancée kept in touch with his parents until she emigrated to Australia, but ‘Bunty’ cannot remember her name

At the time of his death Sgt Carmichael had served with No 129 Squadron for less than two months. In recording his death the compiler of the squadron diary noted that he was ‘a steady, reliable and popular pilot.’

Recollections of a WW2 pilot.

Sgt Carmichael's RAF identity cardWhile Sergeant John Smart Carmichael was known to his family as ‘Ian’, he found himself with another nickname when he became a Spitfire pilot with the Royal Air Force. However, it was his Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) colleagues who re-named him ‘Blue’.

Flight Sergeant John Byrne, now 81years and living in Port Macquarie, which is halfway between Sydney and Brisbane, spent two years on attachment from the RAAF to the RAF, and lived for a time in the same Mess at RAF Hornchurch, in Essex, as Sgt Carmichael.

John, who went on to be a flying officer, said: “In Australia, anyone who has red hair is nicknamed ‘Blue’ and that was what we called him because of his colouring. I don’t know why that is a tradition, but I believe it goes back to the colonial days.”

He recalled: “ We served together for three to four months and he was a good pilot. He was a very quiet, gentle type of Scottish lad – a nice ordinary, everyday Scottish boy. My mother was Scottish and I married a girl from Falkirk, so I was quite used to his accent.

“Because of the attrition rate, you tended not to get too close to your flying colleagues. We were all little more than boys and it was difficult enough worrying about yourself, let alone other people,”he added.

Among the mourners at the funeral was Mr Mervyn Young, who flew on the final sortie with Sgt Carmichael. In his personal diary of that fateful day, he recorded: “It was a very shakey do, being bounced by a squadron, or more, of FW190s. 222 Sqn destroyed two, WingCo got one and I got a squirt (a burst of machine fire) at 300 yards for five seconds, then I was attacked. At the same time Ian (Sght Carmichael) who was diving was also attacked. He was seen by one of our Squadron, Sgt Byrne,who confirmed he had seen him going down.

The Royal Air Force Firing Party

The Firing Party at Sgt Carmichael’s funeral was unusual in that it is a task normally undertaken by the RAF Regiment, but on this occaasion it comprised Royal Air Force Servicemen and Servicewomen, based at SHAPE, in Mons. They included representatives of the supply, personnel administration and telecommunication trades.

They were Corporals Lyn Dawson, Nikki Sharp, Craig Donnelly, Greg Cameron, Grant Bannister, Andy Stanney and Andy Perry. They underwent intensive training by Sergeant Adam Sargeant, a personnel administrator and former drill instructor at RAF Halton.

Cpl Dawson said that timing was of the essence. “It’s also vital that you remember all the drill movements and the order they come in. I feel priviledged and honoured to take part.” Cpl Donnelly said: “I am only too pleased to represent the RAF and acknowledge Sgt Carmichael’s ultimate sacrifice.”

Their faultless performance atttracted numerous compliments from mourners. Sgt Sargeant said: “They were outstanding, especially considering the relatively short time they had to train. The drills are quite specialised and something they would not normally be called on to do. I am very pleased and proud of them.”

The Queen's Colour Squadron of the Royal Air Force

Personnel from the Queens Colour Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment participate in the daily Sounding of the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate Memorial in IeperMembers of the Royal Air Force Queen’s Colour Squadron, who provided a bearers’ party for the funeral of Sgt Carmichael, appeared at another prestigious military event while they were in Ieper (Ypres).

They were invited to take part in the Sounding of the Last Post Ceremony, which takes place every evening at the Menin Gate Memorial, perhaps the most visited Great War Memorial on the Western Front. Along with local police officers they stood at the salute while buglers from the Ieper Fire Brigade played “The Last Post”.

Originally, the Menin Gate marked the start of one of the main roads out of Ypres towards the front line and tens of thousands of men must have passed through it, many never to return. In fact there was no actual gate, simply a gap in the ramparts which enclosed the town.

Personnel from the Queens Colour Squadron Royal Air Force Regiment participate in the daily Sounding of the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate Memorial in Ieper After the war the British Government completed the memorial at the Menin Gate in 1927 to commemorate the Missing – the members of the British and Empire armies who died in the fighting around Ypres, but who had no known graves. It contains, inside and out, huge panels into which are carved the names of the 54,896 officers and men who died in the Ypres Salient area between the outbreak of war in 19134 and 15 August, 1917. The names of a further 34,984 of the missing who died between 16 August, 1917 and the end of the war are carved on panels at Tyne Cot Cemetery, near Passchendaele.

The gate is a busy thoroughfare and every evening at 8pm police officers close the road to traffic to enable this poighnant ceremony to take place. For more information about the Squadron please visit www.queenscolour.org.uk

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission

The Commission supervised the excavation of the crash site of Sergeant John Smart Carmichael's Spitfire and are providing the headstone for his grave. For Additional information go to www.cwgc.org

Runnymede Memorial

During the Second World War more than 116,000 men and women of the Air Forces of the British Commonwealth gave their lives in service. Approximately one-third of all who died have no known grave. Of these, 20,450 are commemorated by name, including Sergeant John Smart Carmichael, on the Runnymede Memorial, which is situated at Englefield Green, near Egham, 32 kilometres west of London.

Source: http://www.raf.mod.uk

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