Smart Carmichael, RAF Pilot
Hornchurch Wing, Nos 129 Squadron
Lost WW2 flying hero buried with honour.
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 Queens 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.
Warrant 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
Majestys 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 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.
Bunty 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 familys wishes.
The programme in Belgium included a lunch, where Air Marshal Wright
presented Sgt Carmichaels 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.
The 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 Carmichaels Spitfire in a local church, and a return visit to Sgt
Carmichaels grave for them to be alone with their thoughts.
Sgt John Smart Carmichael - His story.
Carmichael, aged 21, known as Ian, was the second son of Carrie (Caroline) and Sandy
(Alexander), of St Ninians, 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
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.
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.
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 Wings two squadrons, Nos 129 and 222
By 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.
However, when one
of the squadrons 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
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.
The events that
ensued were summarised in the squadrons 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.
In September 2002.
Sgt Carmichaels 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
According to Sgt Carmichaels Next of Kin, his cousin, Mary McQuade,
known as Bunty, from Kilmarnock, his hobbies were golf, cricket and tennis.
She 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.
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
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 dont 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 Carmichaels 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
Cpl Dawson said that timing was of the essence. Its 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 Carmichaels 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
Members of the
Royal Air Force Queens 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.
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
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.