Leighterton in the Cotswolds in Gloucestershire bears the graves of many Australians who died in the service of the Australian Flying Corps during the Great War. In a previous blog, I wrote about Leighterton and its significance in the war, as well as its local impact - click here. I promised to write about the men who lie in war graves there. This piece examines the role of Air Mechanic 1st Class Sydney Harold Banks-Smith, Australian Flying Corps.
Sydney was the eldest son of Mrs H. Lodge of Pambula, New South Wales and her late husband Mr H. Banks-Smith, a solicitor. Working as an mechanical engineer, he enlisted in March 1915 and embarked from Australia on May 31st 1915, joining the 5th Field Ambulance as a driver and then the 15th Field Ambulance before joining the A.F.C. as an air mechanic in 1917. He saw service at Egypt, Gallipoli and in France. He was also the grandson of Canon Banks Smith of Hobart, Tasmania.
He was 26 years of age when he was killed on the 3rd July 1918. He died from injuries received in a flying accident at Leighterton with Lieutenant George Robert Thompson. They had been testing machine guns in the air when the plane lost its wing tips plummeting to the ground. The engine then caught fire when it crashed. Death was instantaneous.
Air Mechanic Barker, one of his comrades described what happened in the enquiry into the air crash but added:
It was hard he should have been through Gallipoli and France - and in some of the tightest corners - and then to be killed here.
He was given a full military funeral and was buried here at Leighterton. The enquiry confirmed that no one was at fault; it was an accident.
He is remembered upon the Pambula District Soldiers Memorial in Pambula, New South Wales, Australia near the coast. His mother and step-father once owned 'The Grange' in Pambula. He had seen so much of the war, seen his fair share of the ups and downs of serving (including being discharged from the Royal Flying Corp after District Court Martial for getting drunk) and unfortunately it ended in the ultimate unfairness of war.
In 1920, his mother Florence made the long, long journey to find her son's grave at Leighterton; accompanied by Sydney's sister and his two young half-brothers. Back then the journey took up to three months each way. It would have been expensive. How many families made the long trek to pay their respects and bid farewell to their boys so far from home? A journey laden with grief, emotion and so much time to think to ponder.
There is possibly one more thing to add - at some point after her son's death, his mother Florence discovered that his son had died in a crash with another servicemen. Florence went on to contact Lieutenant George Robert Thompson's wife - we will never know what she said, what possible words she chose. We can only wonder and guess.