Kazimierz Szmid was one of the last surviving Polish paratroopers who had fought during the Battle of Arnhem. His regiment, part of the 1st Polish Independent Parachute Brigade, were dropped near Driel on the south side of the River Rhine after two days of frustrating delay due to bad weather. In the event, the British troops defending the bridge had to withdraw and the Poles, without adequate river crossing equipment, could only hold defensive positions to assist the survivors to escape across the river from the north.
Szmid and his family had been forced from their homes by Soviet troops in February 1940, herded into cattle trucks and deported to Siberia under extreme weather conditions where they were forced to work in the forests. The family became split and in due course managed to leave Russia into Persia where Szmid joined General Anders Army before training in England as a parachutist. His father had died in Russia but the rest of his family were reunited after the war and settled in England.
Sydney Grimes had completed over 25 operations on Lancasters when he was posted to 617 Squadron. His first operation was against the battleship Tirpitz, but cloud cover thwarted a successful attack. On 12 November 1944 a further attempt was made. Flying from airfields in north Scotland, 37 Lancaster of IX and 617 Squadrons sank ‘The Beast” with Tallboy bombs. Grimes eventual completed 41 operations ands was mentioned-in despatches.
Earlier in the war, Grimes flew with 106 Squadron and attacked targets in Germany, Poland and Italy.. He flew twice during the Battle of Hamburg. His was one of only two crews to complete a tour operations during his time on the squadron. He died aged 100 and current members of 617 Squadron visited him on his birthday.
‘Stocky’ Edwards was the last surviving Canadian fighter ‘ace’ of the Second World War and the third most successful Canadian fighter pilot. He was credited with destroying at least nineteen aircraft in the air and nine on the ground. Initially, he served in the Middle East flying the P-40 Kittyhawk, an aircraft with an inferior performance to its main adversary, the Messerschmitt Bf 109, yet all Edwards victims were fighters. He was awarded the DFC and the DFM. After a rest tour, he returned to operations in Italy flying the Spitfire and shot down three more enemy fighters during the operations over the Anzio beachhead. After returning to England, he commanded a Spitfire XIV Wing and made three more claims before the end of the war. He was awarded a Bar to his DFC. At war’s end, he was just 24 years old.
He remained in the RCAF and commanded the first Sabre jet fighter squadron, a Sabre Wing in France and served in air defence appointments in North America. He died aged 100.
Coxell was serving as a policeman in a reserved occupation when he volunteered to join the RAF as a pilot. After training in the USA, he joined 297 Squadron and flew the Albermarle in the airborne support role. He dropped men of the Airborne Division on the night of D-Day and later that evening towed a Horse glider with reinforcements. During the Arnhem battle, he towed another Horse and dropped supplies. He also dropped supplies and agents to the Resistance in France and Norway before taking part in the third great airborne operation, the the crossing of the River Rhine, Operation Varsity when he towed a Horse, this time flying a Halifax. He served post-war as a flying instructor and on exchange to the Royal Malayan Air Force. After leaving the RAF, he had a long career with the Channel Island based Aurigny Air Services.
Trinidadian Esmond Farfan joined the RAF in September 1941 and, after training as a pilot in Canada, he joined 12 Squadron to fly the Lancaster. On his 4th operation, he flew on the ill-fated raid to attack Nuremburg when Bomber Command suffered its heaviest losses with 96 bombers failing to return. Farfan was attacked by a night-fighter but managed to escape.
From April 1944, he attacked railways and marshalling yards in the lead up to D-Day. He also attacked the large ammunition dump at Mailly-le Comp when, due to poor radio communications, the orbiting bombers suffered heavy casualties. On the evening of D-Day he bombed the gun battery overlooking Utah beach. He later attacked the V-1 launch and storage sites in the Pas de Calais. After 30 operations, he was awarded the DFC.
He returned to Trinidad and was a senior captain with British West Indian Airlines, retiring after 33 years service. He died aged 99.
Given the codename ‘Monique’, she was one of a number of young Belgians who risked their lives to assist Allied airmen shot down behind enemy lines. Working for the Belgian-run ‘Comet’ Line, she escorted evaders across the Franco-Belgian border, took others to Paris by train and assisted over 100 before the ‘Comet’ Line was betrayed. She avoided capture by the Gestapo by travelling down the Comet route to the Spanish border and across the Pyrenees into Spain. In England, she trained as a parachutist but before she could land in Belgium, her country was liberated. She was appointed MBE and received the US Medal of Freedom .
AVM Sir Erik Bennett was an experienced fighter pilot, having served in the Middle East and the UK, before he served on a loan posting to the Royal Jordanian Air Force where he helped establish the fledgling air force and became a special advisor to King Hussein. After two years in Singapore and commanding an RAF early warning radar station, in 1974 he became the Commander of the Sultan of Oman’s Air Force (later Royal Air Force of Oman), a post he held for 16 years. He masterminded the development of the small force he inherited into one of the most effective air forces in the region. He became a close confidant and adviser to Sultan Qaboos and after relinquishing his post as commander, he remained in the Oman and ran the Sultan’s office in London, which provided a special link with politics, government and Buckingham Palace. One correspondent described him as “one of Oman’s (and Britain’s) best-kept secrets: a key figure in a group of elderly former military and intelligence officers who help the Sultan to run his rich, strategically vital country at the mouth of the Gulf.”
New Zealander Tom Horton flew 111 bombing operations, including 84 as a Pathfinder pilot flying the Mosquito. After an initial tour flying low-level daylight attacks in the Blenheim, and later the Boston, he was awarded a DFC. After transferring to 105 Squadron, he marked targets using the electronic bombing aid “Oboe”, a radio beam that helped identify the target. He attacked targets during the Battle of the Ruhr, marked rail and communication facilities in the lead up to D-Day and then the V-1 “doodlebug” sites in the Pas de Calais region. He was awarded a Bar to his DFC and then the DSO. He remained in the RAF and commanded Neptune maritime patrol squadron.
Peter Spindler was a navigator who flew over 50 bomber missions, some with the Pathfinder Force, and he was twice awarded the DFC. He attacked the secret rocket site at Peenemunde when he was on the Halifax with 51 Squadron. He later flew with 550 Squadron on Lancasters and attacked Berlin and the synthetic oil plants. He flew on the major raids to attack cities in east German as the Russians closed. These included Chemnitz and Dresden.
Former aircraft apprentice John Clements became an expert on airborne radar systems. During the Second World War, he made over 300 flights in 19 different types of aircraft and tested 10 different radars. Initially he worked on air-to-surface radars for Coastal Command, then Airborne Interception Radars for night fighters and then the latest radar bombing aids. Despite his many flying hours, he was not awarded the radio observers brevet. His early post-war career took him to India and to Germany before he began work at the Radar Research Establishment at Malvern. In his more senior posts, he commanded the Radio Engineering Unit and became the Assistant Controller of the Defence Communication Network. He was the Air Officer Signals at HQ Support Command before retiring. He later worked for Marconi Defence Systems and was later closely involved in there acquisition of Hellfire missile. later known as Brimstone.