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Mark Smith

Dad's stories were the beginnings of a life as a military historian



RAF Family

Throughout November, we are collecting and sharing stories of loved ones lost as part of our Month to Remember. In this guest blog, Mark Smith, The Antiques Roadshow's arms and militaria expert, explains how his father's stories of his time with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve inspired him to pursue a career as a military historian.

My dad, Les, joined the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve on 6 February 1941 at the age of 18 years three months. After basic training at Blackpool, he trained as an air gunner at Evanton and as a wireless operator at RAF Yatesbury.

He joined 240 Squadron Coastal Command in 1943 flying from Loch Earne in Northern Ireland as Convoy Escort on anti-submarine patrols. He moved to the Far East in June 1944 joining 240 Squadron at Madras and then moved to Trincomalee, Ceylon (Sri Lanka) his crew, under Flight Lieutenant Johhny Ayshford DFC, volunteered for "B" flight in late 1944. "B" Flight was part of the delivery system for Special Operations Executive Force 136 taking SOE and American OSS agents into Japanese occupied territory.

On several occasions his aircraft was hit by Japanese anti-aircraft fire and on one occasion his best friend, Flight Sergeant Henry Shirt, was killed over the target. When hostilities ceased dad had completed 65 operations against the enemy.

The Second World War has always held a fascination for me. Dad's stories, my family's stories of those days were the beginnings of a life as a military historian. I am immensely proud to be able to say: 'he was my dad'.

This November, we are calling on members of the public to share their loved ones' stories as part of our Month to Remember. To pay tribute to your family members, friends, or colleagues, please go