While putting together my book on the RAF in the Second World War, I uncovered many incredible photographs – too many to put between the covers of a single book. One of those rare photos, which I was able to use in the book, depicts Hurricane fighters at Duxford Airfield in England and was taken in 1941.
The unique coding painted on the side of the aircraft in the immediate foreground provided the opportunity for research. The research revealed an interesting history of both service and loss.
Hurricane number Z2588 was one of the first improved MkIIC models of the aircraft to be produced in February 1941. Because the Hurricane proved so effective in the Battle of Britain, improvements were constantly being made. This particular plane was one of four of the new versions to roll off the assembly line. It was equipped with 4 Oerlikon cannon that could fire more than 340 rounds of high caliber ammunition.
The plane was assigned to No. 242 Squadron at Duxford (now the site of the Imperial War Museum’s tribute to the Battle of Britain). The plane was flown by RCAF pilot, Arthur William Smith.
Arthur William Smith was born in Florida in 1916, the son of Mr. and Mrs. A.E. Smith. His family nickname was “Skook.” The family moved to British Columbia, Canada when Smith was a child and he was brought up as a Canadian citizen.
He joined the Royal Air Force in June 1938. After training he was posted on 4th October 1939 to 141 Squadron at Turnhouse. The squadron was still equipped with Gladiators and by the end of the month they had moved to Grangemouth.
Arthur Smith, during pilot training
On 27th November 1939 five aircraft set off for firing practice camp at Acklington. In very poor weather all five had to make forced landings though all pilots survived. Smith, landed at Auldhouse, south of the Clyde in Glasgow. His aircraft turned over and was written off.
On 20th December 1939 Smith married Disa Elizabeth Beveridge of South Africa, the wedding took place at St. Andrews University where she was a student.
141 Squadron was re-equipped with Blenheims at the end of 1939 but by May 1940 these planes had been replaced with Defiants. Smith flew these throughout the Battle of Britain.
On 4th November 1940 Smith was posted to 242 Squadron at Duxford. On 28th March 1941 he was flying in Hurricane II Z2588 when the supercharger failed. This would normally be recoverable but he lost control and spun in at Bradfield St. George in Suffolk. He was killed in the crash. He was just 25 years old.
It is possible that the aircraft was subject to icing. He is buried in Ipswich Cemetery.
The gravesite of Flying Officer Arthur Smith
Photographs offer an amazing glimpse into the past that can uncover many hidden stories. A simple code, painted on the side of an aircraft seventy-three years ago, helped to tell the tale of one RAF pilot, born in America, raised in Canada, who gave his life in the skies above England.
When I first examined the photo of Hurricane Z2588 I assumed that it depicted the young Flying Officer Smith perched in to cockpit of his plane. Research conducted during the course of my book proved differently, however. An enhanced copy of the photo produced from the original proved that the man sitting in the cockpit of this plane is a member of RAF ground crew (the shoulder eagles worn by such crew are visible in a high resolution enlargement). I must admit that I was pleased to discover that. Unlike the young Flying Officer Smith, it is likely that this unknown member of RAF ground crew survived the war and enjoyed long life. Perhaps in quiet times he remembered Flying Officer Smith, or that day, in 1941, when he sat in the cockpit of a Hurricane at Duxford, the roar of fighters passing over, a dangerous world poised in the balance – the great challenge of his life, still before him.