A personal tribute by Oswestry resident, Chris Bryan-Smith to his two uncles, one of whom was killed on D-Day.

“6th June 2024 marks the 80th anniversary of D-Day, when allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy and started the long, hard and bloody road to Berlin. It is seared into the British consciousness as one of the most important days of the last century because of its magnitude and repercussions”.

“At 4.50am that morning, just before dawn, 97 Squadron, RAF, flying Lancasters started their bombing run over the gun emplacements on the cliffs of Pont du Hoc, situated on the Normandy coast between the American landing grounds of Omaha, to the east and Utah to the west”.

“As the squadron turned for home, lead Lancaster, Z Zebra was shot down and the rest of the squadron assumed that it had crashed into the sea but, in fact, it crashed a little inland at a place called Carentan with the loss of all the crew. The Operations Record Book (ORB) stated “As we turned, we could see that we’d give the target a ‘right prang’ but saw Z Zebra go down”. It continued, “Beautiful morning, us going in, the Americans going out”. Squadron Leader Martin Bryan-Smith DFC and Bar, MiD (Mentioned in Despatches) was 97 Squadron gunnery officer and tail gunner on Z Zebra. He had served with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve since the outbreak of war in 1939, survived many missions – sixteen in the last few months, which included targets in Hanover, Mannheim, Leipzig, Kassel, Stuttgart, Frankfurt and Berlin and had volunteered for this operation along with the rest of the crew. He is commemorated at the RAF Memorial for lost Airmen at Runnymede although the remains of his aircraft were later found in 2012″.

“Some four years earlier on 15th April 1940 on a miserable evening at Scampton, Lincolnshire, Martin’s twin brother, Pilot Officer Anthony Bryan-Smith was taking off as rear gunner in a Handley Page Hampden L4043 aircraft of 49 Squadron RAF, on a mine laying operation off the coast of the Frisian Islands, Lower Saxony, Germany. The ORB states, “We did not lay our mines due to bad weather which rapidly deteriorated on the way home” it continues, “One engine then packed up, but we managed to maintain height on one. When the remaining engine started to spit and cough the crew were offered the option to bail out… none wished to jump. The aircraft was rapidly becoming uncontrollable, and we decided to force land on the coastline” (Ryhope beach, near Sunderland, County Durham). The crew were instructed to collect in the compartment behind the pilot’s seat. “We held off as long as possible, but the aircraft swung violently towards the cliffs and rocks below. We managed to correct this slightly, but not enough to clear a line of rocks running out into the sea. When we were holding off and practically stalling, the nose came up and we landed on a tail slide with very little speed. P/O Anthony Bryan-Smith was attempting to join the other members of the crew amidships when the aircraft landed. He was only half-way through the rear door and was killed instantaneously”. The rest of the crew survived with minor injuries”.

“The telegrams, received by their families back in England would have caused equal grief and were not dependant on the nature or importance of the missions involved. My father, who served in the Royal Artillery during the war, would not talk about the losses unless questioned and even then, said little apart from, “That’s what happens in war, those that remain must carry on – but I will never forget the twins”.

“I visited Pont du Hoc with my brother and we saw the scars which remain there from the bombing and held fragments of Lancaster Z-Zebra in a shed, ‘somewhere in Normandy’, and counted our lucky stars we haven’t experienced the heartbreak and raw grief that so many experienced throughout WW2. You’d think that humanity would have learnt from that carnage – but apparently not”.

A tribute to two brave airmen from their nephew, Chris Bryan-Smith

Martin Bryan-Smith DFC and Bar, MiD.

Anthony Bryan-Smith.

A Lancaster crew with Martin Bryan-Smith far right. (Courtesy Anne Kendall & Aircrewremembered.com)

Handley Page Hampden in flight (Courtesy RAF Museum Cosford)

L-R Chris Bryan-Smith (Nephew of Martin and Anthony) with Darren Priday, Conservation Manager at the RAF Museum who has painstakingly restored this Handley Page Hampden at RAF Cosford. The aircraft pictured crash landed on the way to Russia in 1944.