When Remembrance Day ceremonies are held in Navan on November 11, they will be significant for the absence of the community’s last surviving veteran of the Second World War.
Squadron Leader Eric Smith (Ret'd) passed away on March 30. He was pre-deceased by fellow Navan resident and World War II veteran Herb Deavy on
July 9, 2007; double Distinguished Flying Cross recipient Irving Farmer Kennedy on Jan. 2011; and Angus Wilson on
Aug. 27, 2013. The last two men both resided in Cumberland Village.
|Eric Smith photographed in front of the Navan Cenotaph, November 2011. FILE PHOTO
I was blessed to have known all four men.
I first met Eric in 2004. He agreed to be interviewed for a story I was doing on Remembrance Day. He was gracious, witty and sharp as a tack. He was also among a small group of men who had flown 50 or more missions in both the Second World War and the Korean War.
That's right, Eric was a bona fide member of our country's greatest generation, although he would strongly disagree with that distinction. To Eric, his father’s generation, who served during the First Great War, was the greatest generation this country has ever produced. He and his comrades were just following in their fathers’ footsteps.
Eric enlisted on July 13, 1941, at the age of 20. Having heard his father's stories about serving in the infantry during the First World War, Eric had no desire to join the army. He wanted to be an airman.
After helping his family out on the farm near Navan during the rest of the summer, Eric reported to basic training in Toronto on August 27. A year later, he received his wings and was commissioned to be a flight instructor.
After 18 months teaching other recruits how to fly, Eric asked to be assigned to an operational unit. His request was granted on Dec. 1, 1943.
A year later, he was assigned to Squadron 107 based in Lasham, England. The mosquito squadron flew daylight solo missions over Europe, attacking targets such as trains, motor convoys, fuel depots etc.
The squadron lost one or two pilots every week, usually due to enemy fire, or the occasional flying accident. Eric recalled his own brush with potential disaster during one of his 58 missions.
"One time we were flying along in the clouds and it started to get a little brighter so I asked my navigator where we were. The next thing I know we drop out of the clouds and we were right in the middle of a balloon field. Well those things are designed to make it impossible to fly in. All I could do was fly straight, hope for the best and make myself feel as small as possible. The old drops were dripping off the armpits during that one," Eric recalled during an interview with the OrléansOnline.ca.
When the war ended, Eric remained in the air force as a flight instructor, eventually teaching young pilots how to fly the new Sabre jet fighter. He would fly 50 missions over Korea as an exchange pilot with the U.S. Air Force.
Eric eventually traded in his wings for a career in real estate. He and his wife Dinah were married for more than 65 years. Their daughter Erin and son-in-law Bob live down the street in Navan and they have two granddaughters Sarah and Kristen.
Eric was among the last of his generation along with Herb Deavy, I.F. “Bus” Kennedy and Angus Wilson.
There are still a handful of surviving World War II veterans samong us, but their ranks are growing thinner and thinner.
My buddy Sid Davey, who served in His Majesty’s Special Forces during the Second World War is still kicking at 95, but he is the last of his regiment.
When we gather for Remembrance Day ceremonies this year we should take an extra moment’s silence to remember these brave, heroic men who served in the Second World War along with those who followed in their footsteps in Korea and Afghanistan.
story was made possible thanks to the generous support of
our local business partners.)