Thursday, 22 May 2014


                            World © Geoff Wilkinson - All rights reserved

One of the things I like most about out Gallery is you never know who will be coming through the door next. Sometimes someone wants a picture framed, sometimes an archival print of a precious family photograph. Then there's the restoration side of our business, old and battered pictures need restoring, we do a lot of this, it helps to bring old memories to life. There seems to be a big upsurge in looking up family history, it doesn't matter what you find out about a relative or ancestor and how interesting they were there is no substitute for having a photograph of them, it brings them 'alive' and makes them real.

When long time Wanstead resident, 90 year old Russell Smith came in he produced a mounted photograph of his brother RAF Squadron Leader William Smith DFC with a newspaper inscription beneath it. Russell was born in a house overlooking George Green, Wanstead and has lived here all his life except for a short period when he lived in Canada after the war. Like his brother William he too was in the RAF during the war although not flying.

William was a bomber pilot during World War 2 and was killed in action on the 23rd February 1943, a precious photograph indeed. The interesting thing is that Russell has been researching his brothers death for thirty years and has done a very thorough job.

William was at first in Bomber Command where he completed his tour of 30 trips unscathed. This in itself is remarkable when you consider the average life expectancy of the aeroplane itself was only 22  trips. For the pilot there was only a 25% chance of surviving the first tour and on the second tour only a 2% chance of survival. Having completed his first tour William then volunteered to join the PFF or Pathfinders, he was assigned to 7 Squadron at RAF Oakington in Cambridgeshire who were flying Stirling bombers before changing to Lancasters. The Pathfinders job was to fly ahead of the main force on raids and mark the target with coloured flares to enable more accurate bombing of the target, probably the most hazardous job in Bomber Command.

On the night of February 2nd 1943 William's aeroplane was attacked by a German night fighter flown by Rhinehardt Knacke while on a mission to Cologne. The Stirling bomber and it's crew was to become Knacke's 47th victim in the air war, Knacke himself was later shot down that night by a Halifax bomber on the same raid.

Russell has painstakingly put this together over the years and the photograph that we restored and all the information that he has gathered will be presented to Brentwood School which they both attended.

As I said ' you never know who's coming through the door next'

Many thank's to Russell for taking the time to talk to me and allowing me to use his and his brother's story here on Wanstead Daily Photo.