Dave Smith's dad flew the same skies as Bud Perkins; both men received medals on the same day
In the Small World Department, it doesn’t get much smaller than this.
Dave Smith, of Welland Road in Pelham, read with interest the recent Remembrance Day article in the Voice about Coleman “Bud” Perkins. A Fonthill farm boy, Perkins had enlisted in the Royal Air Force, was shipped overseas in 1941, and was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross at Buckingham Palace by King George VI, for dedication to duty and bravery over enemy territory.
It turns out that Smith’s father, Don, was also at Buckingham Palace that day, and also received a Distinguished Flying Cross from the hands of the King—at the same ceremony as Perkins. Smith and Perkins were photographed together, along with other award recipients that day.
The Perkins story prompted memories for Smith of his father, who, like Perkins, served in Bomber Command and flew missions over Europe. In fact, it further turns out that Smith and Perkins flew three missions together in 1942—Oct. 8 to Aachen, Oct. 13 to Kiel, and Nov. 28 to Turin.
Smith’s job was to fly ahead of the bombers, marking the targets.
An account of his father’s exploits was submitted to Danske Militaerhistorie, a Danish military history website. Smith commented that he remembered many visits from his father’s air force friends, but that they never talked about experiences during the war. This led Dave to the mistaken impression that his father had spent the entire war without seeing any action, which he learned couldn’t have been farther from the truth.
Don Smith had a harrowing experience on April 21, 1943, when his bomber was shot down off the coast of Denmark. He was the sole survivor of the crash, and successfully evaded the German military after connecting with the Danish Resistance. Smith escaped to Sweden, and then managed to fly back to England, where he rejoined the war effort by training pilots back in Canada.
“My father is documented as being the first Allied airman to escape from occupied Denmark,” said Smith.
Born in Beeton, a small town about 40 miles northwest of Toronto, in Simcoe Count, Don Smith moved to St. Catharines, and worked in Welland. When WWII commenced, he enlisted and was sent to England. He started off as an airframe technician working on Spitfire and Hurricane fighter aircraft, and was later reassigned to flight crew training and operations at his request.
With his pilot qualifications, Smith served as a flight engineer on a Short Stirling, a four-engine heavy bomber with a crew of seven. His plane was attached to the Seventh Squadron Pathfinders, whose duty was to precede the other bombers and drop incendiary bombs, which marked the targets below in enemy territory.
They had an eighth crew member the night they were shot down, a Canadian pilot from Toronto named Blake, who was on an operational training mission. Dave Smith said that Blake was sitting in his father’s seat beside the pilot in the aircraft when it was raked by cannon fire from a Messerschmitt 110 night fighter. The bomber was set ablaze and crashed on the west side of the island of Zeeland, the main island of occupied Denmark.
“The Germans counted seven bodies in the wreckage and thought all the crew were accounted for, so they probably didn't even look for my dad,” said Smith.
After burying his parachute, Smith commenced a trek of several days across Denmark to Copenhagen, carefully avoiding German soldiers. He had minor injuries from the plane crash, but persevered on his journey. Smith received help along the way from local farmers, who supplied him with food, shelter, and directions. They communicated via hand gestures, since neither spoke the other’s language. The Danes were anti-Nazi, but had to be cautious, since it was a capital offense to be discovered collaborating with the Allies.
Smith stole a kayak one night and paddled in the darkness across open water to Sweden, where he was thrown in jail for a short period of time for illegal entry. Smith was supplied with books in English while in lockup. Shortly after he was released, he was invited to coffee with the Crown Prince of Sweden. A week later, the Swedes arranged for him to fly back to the UK, where he landed in Scotland and hooked up with a squadron again. Ultimately, Smith was sent back to Canada to train other pilots at Boundary Bay, just south of Vancouver.
Smith lost about 25 pounds during the ordeal.
After the war, Don Smith went on to a career in the aircraft industry, working on the AVRO Arrow project, and later at Union Carbide Canada in Welland. In his spare time he was involved with the Royal Canadian Air Cadets, serving as commanding officer of the 23rd Squadron in St. Catharines. Later, he was active with the Air Cadet League of Canada, where he helped to co-ordinate the glider flying program and international air cadet exchange.
“Dad was taken for lunch at an upscale restaurant by a couple of his Danish Resistance friends once he arrived in Copenhagen,” said Dave. “They soon realized that seated at tables around them were German officers, also enjoying their meal. So here he was an Allied airman on the run, dressed in civilian clothes, having a conversation in muffled tones in English.” If caught, Smith would likely have been executed as a spy.
Dave Smith said his father told him that RAF fliers survived on a steady diet of mutton and Brussels sprouts during the war, which resulted in a lifetime dislike for those foods. So the Copenhagen meal would have been a great treat.
Donald Smith died in 1998. He had requested that his ashes be interred alongside the graves of his crew mates, who had been buried 56 years earlier at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery at Svino in Denmark.
When Dave and his brothers arrived in Denmark with their father’s cremated ashes in May of 1999, they were taken aback by what followed. They had expected a modest service with a few embassy officials and perhaps a representative of the RAF squadron association. But the Canadian Embassy had arranged for the interment to coincide with National Liberation Day ceremonies, and there were some 70 people attending the service, with television and newspaper coverage. A reception and dinner followed, organized by a church.
A plaque at Don Smith’s gravesite reads, “Together at last.”