Tuesday 27 November 2007 by Amanda Rebbeck. 2 comments
Aircraft 1914 - 1918, Personal Stories, Aerial Operations, Private Records

cas.awm.gov.au/photograph/B02078 Lieutenant A R Brown (left) and Lieutenant G Finlay (right) in a Bristol Fighter.

On 27 June 1918 two Bristol F2B Fighters from No. 1 Squadron AFC, A7236 and B1149, took off on a reconnaissance mission over Kitrine. The two aircraft were piloted by Temporary Captain A. R. Brown/ Lieutenant G Finlay and Lieutenants G. V. Oxenham/L. H. Smith respectively. By the end of the mission Lieutenant Smith had been made a Prisoner of War.

The following is an extract from Smith’s memoirs, written in 1937 describing what happened on that ill-fated mission. The text remains as written.

One morning, at daylight, two Bristol fighters took off to reconnoitre over Kitrine, a small town and Railway Junction also containing an advance enemy aerodrome. Each plane had Pilot and Observer. I happened to be the observer in the escort plane. My pilot was Gordon Oxenham, a well-known Sydney boy. Our friends had completed their reconnoitre and turned for home. We also started for home, but had not gone far when I saw some hundreds of goats being shepherded by Arabs and I suggested we go down and scatter them. This I thought extremely funny. I have a marvellous sense of humour. When we again headed for home I noticed that our other plane was some distance away. In the meantime I was still looking for the enemy. Two appeared over the spot we had just left. I advised Gordon and we immediately signalled our friends, and then turned. We eventually caught them and attacked them from below. Our effort was rewarded. One chap dived to earth approximately 10,000 feet. In the meantime the second German had seen us and dived out. We attacked him also, but could not hit him, neither could he hit us. We had quite a duel on the way down, I say down because he had led us down and over a well fortified position. When about 1000 feet from the ground they fired everything they had about the place. Gordon was hit through the head. One bullet passed me hurriedly but in passing hit me a severe blow on the cheek bone, rendering me unconscious. This proved a blessing in disguise. One is strapped into a cock-pit by a belt and straps, with sufficient length to allow one to move about. As we dived to earth our plane turned on its back, I fell out, then as it straightened out again for the final plunge I was suspended to the side of the plane. The terrific force of the crash plunged the engine right through my cock-pit. You will now realise had I been in the cockpit my chances were not so good. The details of the crash were given to me by several German officers who had witnessed the scene. This crash was also witnessed by our other plane who returned home and reported us both killed.

I regained my senses in the early hours of the following morning. I found myself in a bell tent, and on looking out soon realised where I was. Without giving the position much thought I bolted from the tent towards the Dead Sea, approximately 40 miles away. I did not realise that the Arabs in this locality are particularly dangerous, and wouldn’t hesitate to cut one’s throat. Unbeknown to me a sentry had been placed to guard me, and after running only about twenty yards I found myself face to face with a deadly looking bayonet. He screamed for help and spoke to me in Turkish.

Not understanding the language I thought he meant me to return to the tent. I looked again as the bayonet and walked back. I did not sleep the balance of the night, and noticed the guard had been reinforced. I could not understand why I was there and felt very sick and sorry.

Later the next day I was escorted to see all the damage done. There was our plane and the German plane both smashed to pieces, also both German pilots and my good friend of many flights. I can never forget this dreadful sight and for the first time I realised what must have happened. All three officers were buried with full military honours at Kitrine.

Lieutenant Smith remained a POW until the end of the war. He was repatriated to Alexandria on 6 November 1918 before returning to Australia aboard HT Port Darwin on 26 December 1918.

Lieutenant Smith's complete memoirs and other personal papers can be found in the Australian War Memorial's Research Centre using the Private Records number PR83/100.

B01589 A Bristol F2B Fighter serial A-7200 of the No. 1 Squadron, Australian Flying Corps, of the type flown by Oxenham and Smith on 27 June 1918. A7200 is from the same production lot as A7236.

Comments

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Wow - very intense. I can't even imagine the strength it would take to survive each day as a prisoner of war.These guys are true heroes.

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we love reading about the heroes that truly persevered and fought it out despite the circumstance. That was truly intense as the previous poster said!