Initial Interest Stephen Fraser Smith was my mother's twin brother and thus my uncle. In his memory I was named Stephen and in turn, my elder son's middle name is Fraser. It is my earnest intention that Stephen will be remembered. From an early age I was aware of his medals in my grandmother's bedroom. When she died, my mother decided that they should be given to me. I did become aware of my mother's disappointment that she never saw her brother's grave. Towards the end of her life, my mother gave me many of the documents that I now have and which inspired me to undertake more research. One such document is Stephen's diary in which he recorded his experiences on a troopship whilst en route to South Africa. Also included were letters from Eraldo Manfroni, Stephen's medals and a copy of the Commonwealth War Graves register for Italy.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission Together with my wife I visited the CWGC in Maidenhead. The staff proved to be most welcoming and helpful. They were able to confirm the details I already had regarding Stephen's grave, and suggested some lines of enquiry. Over the years I have had the very great honour to visit a number of the cemeteries that have been created by, and are now maintained by the CWGC. In addition to Staglieno in Genoa, I have also been to Anzio, Monte Casino, and Kanchanaburi (Thailand). Each cemetery is beautifully designed, immaculately maintained and represents a small piece of Britain. They are truly the most apt resting places for our fallen. The Commission's website at www.cwgc.org offers extensive information which can be easily searched. Our country owes the CWGC a continuing debt of gratitude.
RAF Service Record In 1989 I began to seek Stephen's war-time service record. With the authority of one of my uncles (as next of kin), I was able to request the record from the RAF Personnel Management Centre situated at Innsworth in Gloucester. (Note that RAF PMC has since moved from Innsworth). The Ministry of Defence now requires a different method of application for Statements of Service. Details can be found at:
The single sheet I obtained lists all major events in Stephen's service from date of enlistment on 4th April 1940 until his death on 24th November 1943. Significantly it provided details of his initial service and then his training in South Africa. The existence of Stephen's diary about his experiences on a troop ship was now explained.
The National Archives After several abortive enquiries around London, I eventually went to the National Archives (then called the Public Records Office) at Kew. I had phoned them in advance and thus was prepared for the short registration process. If you decide to visit, do first read their online guidance at:
Information was available from original documents but more accessible were the stocks of microfilm and microfiche. Try to imagine how I felt when I identified the correct Operational Record Book which had once been classified SECRET. Imagine my emotions when I found the page which listed his final mission and the words "No News".
I returned to the National Archives in May 2012 to undertake more research. Many documents that were once on microfilm are now freely available to view on computer screens. I returned to The National Archives in March 2015 to find that the index of documenmts had been improved. Having once believed that Stephen and his crew had only undertaken four operations, it was now evident that they had participated in seven. I also discovered the date on which they arrived in Tunisia. Notworthy is the fact that the Operations Record Book (ORB) comprises two sections: One which provides details of each aircraft's task, the second which provides a Summary of Events.
When actual documents need to be inspected, it is necessary to first register. This is a straightforward process but do check the guidance in advance of your visit as certain documents will be required to prove identity. It is now perfectly acceptable to use a camera (with certain limitations) thus allowing detailed inspection after your visit. Note that there are strict copyright rules governing the documents. I am full of admiration for the staff of the National Archives and so glad that I live at a time when such information is readily available.
Wellington Aviation Museum During 2012 and together with my wife, I visited the Wellington Aviation Museum situated in the village of Moreton-in-Marsh (near to the former RAF Station of the same name). This private museum was created and run by Mr Gerry Tyack MBE. Not only did he create the museum but also the monument to RAF Moreton-in-Marsh which stands on the A44. A quick search of the internet returns many tributes to this dedicated man. For me Gerry proved to be a wonderful source of information and only too willing to help search his extensive collection of pilot logbooks. Sadly, Gerry died in January 2014 at the age of 90. Information currently available indicates that his family open the museum one day each week. Do check the museum's website first though:
Marco Soggetto When I first researched Stephen's war, I had made contact with Marco who was also researching this mission. Whilst walking in the foot hills of the Alps he had come across the wreckage of an aircraft. His research enabled him to identify it as the remains of LN466 of 142 Squadron. I lost contact with Marco but regained it in March 2013 and discovered that he had published the results of his endeavours as a book "Operation Pointblank Bombardamenti Alleati Del Nord-Ovest". Regretably he was unable to find a publisher willing to publish in English. Marco kindly provided me with further information including the fact that he had been in contact with a survivor of the mission, Bill Turner. Bill is the subject of the book "Grandpa's War", a copy of which I hurriedly obtained from the USA. Not only does the book clarify some technical details but is a sympathetic account of Bill's thoughts and experiences.
Book – Wellington Wings by F.R.Chappell. ISBN 0718301773 If only I had been aware of this book when I was undertaking research! Roy Chappell was an RAF intelligence officer in the Western Dessert. The book is a first-hand account of the conditions in this theatre of operations. It draws much from the author’s personal diaries and I’m surprised he was allowed to write them. His first entry is dated 30th January 1942 at RAF Kabrit (Egyptian Canal Zone). The final entry on 25thy July 1944 in Foggia (Italy). He briefed and debriefed aircrew throught this period and had an almost unique knowledge.
Of the operation that resulted in Stephen’s death, he entitles his entry “A Disastrous Operation”. He explains that he took part in the aircrew briefing. He identifies the route as being “very long” and “over Sardinia and Corsica to the Ligurian Sea then over the mountain rang to the plains of Piedmont and the Turin complex of industries”. He confirms that the operation had been in the offing for some time. Interestingly, he identifies Elmas in Sardinia to be used for refuelling and emergency. By 0100hrs it became apparent that the operation had not gone well. He considers that the night of 24th/25th was the worst for 205 Group when 17 aircraft were lost out of the 70 that took part (24%). He confirms that the losses were entirely due to the weather and not enemy activity.
Throughout his account, the author refers to the conditions in North Africa, Malta and Southern Italy; of dust storms, of mud, high winds, makeshift landing grounds, insects, poor food, and bad hygiene. As such, for anyone researching this part of the war, this book has much to recommend it. Published in 1980, I was able to get a copy through a library inter-loan.
Internet Recent (2012/13) experience shows that increasing amounts of archive and analysis material is now available on the internet. Below there is a list of source material and credits, some of which are from the internet.
Sources of Information
A true bibliography has not been developed but this table provides the identity of documents and websites which enabled research. Readers will encounter text marked thus  which refers to the relevant entry in this table.