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Nairobi, Kenya
I an ex member of both 7 and 8 Squadron's of the Rhodesian war spending most of my operational time on Seven Squadron as a K Car gunner. I was credited for shooting down a fixed wing aircraft from a K Car on the 9 August 1979. This blog is from articles for research on a book which I HAVE HANDED THIS MANUSCRIPT OVER TO MIMI CAWOOD WHO WILL BE HANDLING THE PUBLICATION OF THE BOOK OF WHICH THERE WILL BE VERY LIMITED COPIES AVAILABLE Contact her on yebomimi@gmail.com The latest news is that the Editing is now done and we can expect to start sales and deliveries by the end of April 2011

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bertram Owen Smith Obituray

Photo Daily Telegraph
Quoted from an obituray in the Daily Telegraph

Berthram assisted members of the Rhodesian Air Force when they were terribly burned in a Frantan hang up at Thornhill; Bob Breakwell was so badly burned that he was casevacked by helicopter to Salisbury (Shumba Taylor was the technician and says the sight and smell was terrible)

Also injured in this accident were Flame Fleming and Steve Stead.

Bertram Owen-Smith, who has died aged 86, was a member of the Guinea Pig Club, the band of Second World War airmen treated by the plastic surgeon Sir Archibald McIndoe, and was the only one of their number to become a plastic surgeon himself.

He first appeared at McIndoe's hospital at East Grinstead, Sussex, in late 1941. On the night of October 16, while piloting a Whitley V on a training sortie, he had been flying in the circuit at Croft airfield, near Darlington, when one of the bomber's two engines failed at about 300ft, shortly after take-off. Smith (as he was then known) managed to land in a field, but the undercarriage sheared off and the aircraft – with a full load of fuel and incendiary bombs – burst into flames.

The rear gunner got out unscathed. Smith, his co-pilot, Freddie Whitehorn, and his French-Canadian navigator, Gerry Dufort, escaped after smashing a window in the cockpit. All three suffered serious burns, and all three became Guinea Pigs. Smith's face was particularly badly burned.

For nearly two years he was a patient of McIndoe, who had a gift not only for reconstructing the features of his injured airmen but also for restoring their shattered morale. As the months passed, Smith became fascinated by the complexities of the surgery that he was undergoing, and decided that he wished to become a doctor.

He began to get down to the necessary preliminary studies (of which he had been somewhat neglectful at school), eventually matriculating from his hospital bed. At the same time he was determined to fly again, and in March 1943 he returned to duty. He completed a refresher flying course, but the effects of his injuries prevented his returning to operational flying, and in November 1944 he resigned from the RAF in the rank of flight lieutenant.

Bertram Owen Smith (he was always known as Owen, and hyphenated his name later in life) was born in Liverpool on April 12 1922, one of the four children of an officer in Customs and Excise.

When he was still a child the family returned to their home city, Swansea, where Owen attended Swansea Grammar. He was a bright boy but preferred sport to lessons, swimming and rugby especially. He left school at 17 and found a job with an insurance company. War broke out soon afterwards, and when Swansea was bombed he volunteered for the ambulance service. As soon as he was 18 he joined the RAF.

He was sent to Canada for pilot training, and was commissioned in April 1941. He returned to England to convert to the Whitley bomber before joining No 78 Squadron in September that year.

In 1943 Smith married Rickie Pritchard, a Wren whom he had met when he was on leave in Swansea after his crash; and having left the RAF he pursued his career in Medicine, studying at King's College, London, and at Westminster Hospital (which he represented at rugby).

Subsequently, he worked in hospitals in Bristol, Newcastle and at the Royal Marsden, the leading centre for the treatment of cancer.

Treatment for cancer in the early 1950s often entailed radical surgery, with scant regard to mitigating the resultant scarring. From his own experiences, Smith realised that more could be done in this respect and that this would be beneficial to the morale, and thus the recovery, of the patient. He therefore asked to return to East Grinstead for three months to learn the rudiments of plastic surgery. In the event he stayed for three years as McIndoe's pupil. Finally, with McIndoe's help, he obtained a practice in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, in 1957.

In Salisbury he found that some of his patients settled their accounts with cheques made out to "Mr Smith", others to "Mr Owen-Smith". The bank manager complained so often that Smith counted the numbers of cheques with each name in a given month; the hyphenated version was the more frequent, so he changed his name by deed poll.

During the years of unrest in Rhodesia, Owen-Smith treated many victims of the guerrilla war. "The injuries caused by the missiles are devastating," he remarked at the time. "And there are the usual refinements of war, such as land mines and bullets and shrapnel and rocket fragments, all of which keep us busy."

Owen-Smith's principal interest as a plastic surgeon was in burns, skin cancers and children with hare lips and cleft palates. Perhaps the most difficult operation he was asked to perform was that on the cleft palate of his theatre sister's pet chihuahua. But despite the fact that he had to carry out the procedure almost entirely by touch, owing to the smallness of the dog's mouth, the operation was a complete success.

In 1964, when a new teaching hospital was being built in Salisbury, Owen-Smith was among a number of senior medical staff who were unhappy about the project's development; and at the election in 1964 several doctors decided to stand for parliament.

Owen-Smith was elected Rhodesian Front MP for Salisbury North, soundly beating his opponent, and he was one of Ian Smith's backbenchers when UDI was declared on November 11 1965. "I felt Harold Wilson had sold us down the river," he later recalled, "and I wanted to do what I could to help my country through what I knew was going to be a difficult period."

In 1967 Owen-Smith and his first wife were divorced, and later that year he married Bobbie Mitchell, the chief nurse in his practice and a widow with a son and a daughter.

In 1982 he returned to Britain from Africa and settled at Pentregat, Dyfed. For some years he and his wife enjoyed travelling – not only in Europe, but also in Australia and Canada. Bobbie Owen-Smith died in 2005.

Owen-Smith took an interest in local affairs in Wales, but always missed his medical work. Latterly, he occupied himself with watching television episodes of Morse and Taggart, and reading the poems of Emily Dickinson and the crime novels of Reginald Hill.

Every September he attended the annual reunion of the Guinea Pig Club. He died on June 6.


  1. R.I.P. to a wonderful soul. God Bless.

  2. Roland John MausethJune 29, 2010 at 5:38 PM

    In March 1958, when I was 4 Months old, Bertram Owen-Smith operated on me, it was the 1st of many, and it is thanks to him, that, unless I tell someone, no one can tell I was born with a Cleft Palet.

  3. I would like to extend my sincere gratitude for these comments. I have been searching for a while now for any information on my grandpa, and it warms my heart to know there are still those who remember him well. I only met him twice, one of these occasions when I was only two years old. Thank you so much for allowing me to see yet another chapter of his meaningful life.
    -Rosemary Owen-Smith


I welcome comments from everyone on my book Choppertech.
I am interested especially on hearing from former ZANLA and ZIPRA combatants who also have thier story to tell.