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Thomas Smithson

Servicenumber : 4744677
Rank : Corporal
Regiment : Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry
Unit : 2nd (Airborne) Battalion
Date of Death : 20-03-2011
Age : 87
Thomas Smithson was born on 21 february 1924 in Birmingham. In 1940 or 1941 he joined the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry when he was still 17 years old. He falsified his birth certificate so he could join.
On 17 september 1944 he took off in a glider from Down Ampney airfield for Arnhem and landed near Wolfheze. He served with the Defence Platoon of Headquarters 1st Airborne Division and stayed close to the Hartenstein Hotel during the battle.
In the night of 25/26 september Smithson was able to cross the river Rhine to safety and returned to England.
The author of the book "D-Day to Berlin", Andrew Williams, wrote about Thomas Smithson. He quotes Smithson when he was talking about the Germans: "Corporal Smithson was dug in close to the divisional HQ in the Hartenstein hotel: "Towards the end of the battle their plan was to systematically destroy every house by putting a shell into it. They were moving forward wiping them out one at the time up the road. You can't fight tanks with rifle and bayonet. So you just moved back until there was nowhere to go back. Towards the end there was hardly anything that wasn't burning or smoking of collapsing or falling down. There were so many casualties they were wheeling them in all the time. They'd got nowhere to put them, so they were lying outside and getting wounded again by shellfire. It was always a quastion of: 'Any news of XXX Corps? No News.' During the night you'd hear the clanking and movement of armour and you'd think, oh, it's XXX Corps, but when it got light- no XXX Corps. It was German armour.
He also quotes Smithson when he talked about the resupply: "There was no way of saying "not there, we're down here. We did everything we could, like waving, but it didn't make any difference. I watched one afternoon - seven Dakotas came in slow and low. And the Germans had God knows how many 88mm guns and they shot the first five down - bang, bang, bang. Down they came. Missed the sixth one and shot the seventh one down. They were all dropping their stuff towards what is now the cemetery but you just couldn't get it. So we had no supplies whatsoever.
On 8 may 1945 he was about to board a plane but was called back when he was walking up the steps to be sent on a mission to rescue a VIP from a Norwegian airfield. He thought the mission would be suicide and that he wouldn't survive. But the mission was a success. The plane he was about to board went on to crash in bad weather, killing all aboard.
Apart from Arnhem, Smithson also saw action in Egypt, Palestine and Norway.
After the war Smithson spent his life in Birmingham as an electrical engineer. He ended up owning his own electro-plating company, a major client of which was Jaguar Cars, who used his company for the electro-plating of grilles, door handles etc.
Throughout the 1990's Tom Smithson solo-parachuted for charity at Ginkel Heath and Teuge during the commemoration at Arnhem/Oosterbeek. He attended parachute training at Netheravon before the dropping of 2004.
On 18 september 1994 Tom landed in a cornfield, he missed the dropzone at Teuge because of the wind. In 2004 Tom Smithson was mentioned on the BBC website in an article about that year's commemoration; "Solo jumper Tom Smithson, 80, from Sutton Coldfield said he landed in a tree, but just had scratches and grazes. "It was very windy and I couldn't get back onto the the dropping zone but it is wonderful down here," he said." The website www.scotsman.com also mentions Tom: "Smithson, of Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, was a corporal with the 1st Division HQ Defence Platoon. "You never get rid of the memories. You think of nothing else," he said."
According to Giles, the son of Thomas, his father was haunted all his life by what he went through during the war and suffered recurring nightmares. He never liked to talk about his wartime experiences.
Thomas Smithson passed away in the early hours of 20 march 2011 in Sutton Coldfield, surrounded by his wife, son and his in-laws. 
 
Thomas Smithson in the 1990's
 
Sources: G. Smithson (son of Thomas Smithson),'D-Day to Berlin' and website www.lightbobs.com 

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