Flight Lieutenant John Henry ("Johnny") Smythe, QC, OBE was a Sierra Leonean airman of the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve who served in the Second World War.

Smythe was born on 30 June 1915, in Freetown, where he attended C.M.S. Grammar School. Before the war, he joined Freetown City Council and became a Sub-Inspector of Plant and Produce for the Agricultural Department.[1] In 1939, Smythe enlisted in the colony's Local Defence Corps, in which he ultimately attained the rank of sergeant. He volunteered for the RAF in 1941, having been sponsored by the Sierra Leone Government.

As a navigator, Smythe undertook 27 bombing missions, against various targets in Germany and Italy.[1] It was during his last mission, on 18 November 1943, that Smythe's Short Stirling Mk. III, operated by 623 Squadron, was shot down over Berlin. He baled out and was captured by German soldiers after briefly hiding in a barn.[2]

Smythe remained in captivity for the remainder of the war, being incarcerated at Stalag Luft I until the Soviet Red Army liberated the camp in May 1945. After the war, Smythe studied at the Inns of Court School of Law and was called to the Bar, at Middle Temple, in 1951. That year he married Violet Wells Bain, with whom he would have five children, and was transferred to the RAF reserve.

Smythe afterwards returned to Sierra Leone, where he continued his law career and was commissioned into the Sierra Leone Naval Volunteer Force. He represented the service at the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.[1] Smythe further rose to prominence in his homeland when, having become a Queen's Counsel, he was appointed the country's Attorney-General.[3]He later emigrated to Britain, settling in Thame, Oxfordshire,[2] where he died in 1996.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Who's who in Sierra Leone, 1981, p. 86
  2. 2.0 2.1 "`Being a black man saved me from death' - Johnny Smythe". The Times, 6 May 1995.
  3. "Lancaster rekindles wartime memories - Johnny Smythe". The Times, 10 July 1995.
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