Airborne Engineers Association

Roll of Honour



John Smith BEM


John Smith BEM, a stalwart of the Airborne Engineers fraternity passed away on Thursday 17th September after a long fight against cancer.

John, a Scot by birth, was born at Edinburgh in 1932 into a farming family and started a military career that was to last almost thirty years when he entered the Army as a boy entrant at the age of fourteen. He first trained as a bricklayer at the Army Apprentice collage at Chepstow. After eighteen months he then went to Taunton to complete his three years in Boy Service. After three months sapper training he was seen as a potential NCO and sent to the NCO Training cadre at Elgin in Scotland. Promoted to Lance Corporal and following parachute training he was posted to 9 Independent Airborne Squadron RE which was based in Aldershot. He immediately reverted to Sapper as the Squadron did not accept JNCOs. However it was not long before he was again promoted. 9 Squadron moved to Cyprus in 1951 and then onto the Canal Zone.

Promoted to corporal he became a formidable member of the rugby team and was a member of a small group that carried out a reconnaissance across the uninhabited Sinai Desert down to St Catherine's Monastery. The Squadron returned to the UK in 1954 but in 1956 it moved back to Cyprus at the time of the Suez Canal Crisis. John was by then 3 Troop Sergeant and was one of those who parachuted on to El Gamil airfield at Port Said at the start of the operation.

After the Suez campaign John did a tour as PSI with 131 Parachute Engineer Regiment (TA). And at that time he trained as a Parachute Jump Instructor. Returning to 9 Squadron John soon became the Squadron Quartermaster Sergeant and in January 1964 HQ and Plant Troops returned to Cyprus. Here John was responsible for: the accommodation, supplies, rations, canteen, unit mail, and vehicles. In February the Squadron Sergeant Major became ill and had to return to Aldershot. John then took over the role of SSM in addition to all his other responsibilities. For his outstanding performance at this time John was awarded the British Empire Medal.

The following year in 1966 John met Glenda and they married in 1967 with Fiona and Nicola being born in the years following the wedding. In the next few years 9 Squadron served in many areas at home and abroad. These included Aden, Bahrain, Kenya, Libya Norway and Germany. John often went overseas with the Squadron doing the job of obtaining stores, equipment, transport and supplies. He carried out these duties under difficult circumstances but always managed to improve the comfort of the men and ensure they had the tools and equipment to carry out any task given. Following a final tour with 131 Parachute Engineer Regiment John left the Army in February 1976 after 3 Years as a boy soldier and over twenty-six in Airborne Forces, probably longer than any other Royal Engineer.

After leaving the Army John began a second career as a procurement manager for a company in Dhabi. After one year John and Glenda returned to England and formed their own export company, and for the next twenty years traded with Africa and in particular Uganda.
After retirement they settled in Ash close to Aldershot. John became a leading light in the Aldershot Branch of the AEA and organised many functions and trips abroad during his tenure as entertainments member.

John will be sadly missed by his many friends and comrades. To Glenda, Fiona and Nicole our condolences on the loss of a husband, father, and a grandfather to three grandsons, and a friend too many.

Mrs Glenda Smith would like to thank all those members of the AEA who attended the funeral of John and to those who sent their condolence but were unable to attend in person. Over one-hundred friends and members of the association attended the funeral. Piper Frank Menzies-Hearn played "Highland Cathedral" for the entry of the cortege and the Corps March "Wings" for the departure. Over fifty members of the AEA and three standards, carried by John Ferry (Aldershot), Bernard (Bunny) Brown (Birmingham) and the standard bearer of the Aldershot Branch of the Parachute Regiment formed a Guard of Honour on the road from the church to the main gate. A final farewell to John was made as the coffin slowly passed between the saluting ranks.

Donations of £755 from the congregation was made to the charity "Walking with the Wounded". The acceptance reply from the charity will be published as and when it is received.



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