Vincent Smith who was born in
England around 1891, the youngest son of Thomas Smith has a unique place in
Australia’s military history. Enlisting in the Great War on 1 February 1916
as No. 684, he served as an air mechanic with ‘B’ Flight, 3rd Squadron of
the infant Australian Flying Corps (A.F.C) which left for England on 25
October 1916 onboard the SS Ulysses as an “army co-operation” unit
given the task of assisting the troops on the ground (“the work lacked the
glamour and excitement of the fighter and bomber squadrons”). Finally
arriving in France in September 1917, the Squadron was involved in the last
phase of the Passchendaele campaign in Flanders assisting in spotting for
the artillery only for bad weather to limit their opportunities. While
controversy rages as to who actually shot down the legendary famed German
flying ace - Captain Baron Manfred von Richthofen on 21 April 1918, it was
the 3rd Squadron that salvaged his body and the remains of his machine. The
next day, at the Red Baron’s funeral, Smith was the non-commissioned officer
in charge of the party that fired the honorary shots over his gallant of the
enemy who inflicted so much damage to the Allied forces. Rising to the rank
of sergeant, in 1917 Smith was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal, a
decoration bestowed “for gallant conduct in the performance of military duty
otherwise than in action with the enemy, or in saving or attempting to save
the life of an officer or soldiers, or for devotion to duty in a theatre of
war”, The action involved rescuing an aviator from a blazing machine after
three attempts, an incident that Smith himself was severely wounded.
Possibly in a later incident he suffered injuries through a blow from a
propeller blade, which were to prove fatal after his return to Australia in
September 1919. On 18 March the next year, this popular and promising young
soldier and aviator, as The Age described him, died at the Caulfield
Military Hospital and was accorded a funeral with full military honours
officiated by Rev. Father Quinn two days later.
Monumental Headstone (enlarge
The Argus 19 March 1920.
The Age 19 March 1920.
Wrigley, H., “The Battle Below…Being the
History of No 3 Squadron A.F.C” (1935).
Barton, L., “For Distinguished Conduct and
Meritorious Service” (1984).
AWM “Biographical Cards for the Official
History 1914-18”, AWM140.
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