1914 Star, with original clasp, British War and Victory Medal, Army Meritorious Service Medal, GV, Pilot Officer, former Technical Sergeant Major William Joseph Smyrk, 60 Squadron, Royal Flying Corps.
Pictured is the second example of the Cody V Biplane, now on display in the Flight Hall of the Science Museum, London.
An extremely rare combination to one of the most impressive Mechanics the RAF has had. Having worked with some of the greatest Flying Aces of WW1 in 60 Squadron, who had 320 Victories to their name, he returned to a Commission in WW2 and received a mention in despatches during 1943.
In 1912, Smyrk was invited to work on the Cody V Biplane with Flight Pioneer Samuel Franklin Cody, they cobbled together the Cody V Biplane in only 4 weeks to prepare it for the Royal Flying Corps Military Trials, where Smyrk would fly as his observer, they won the 1st Place prize and Cody shot to fame, the RFC bought his plane and commissioned him to built another, but after his fatal crash in 1913, the plane was retired, and you can still today the second example of this biplane in person at the Science Museum in London since its Donation over 100 years ago.
“The Technical Sergeant-Major, Smyrk by name, was a Wizard with an internal combustion engine…. had a gift for teaching fitters their business…. Smyrk was always equal to every call upon him, and a long line of pilots should, and no doubt do, remember him with gratitude, for, after all, the degree of efficiency with which the engine was looked after often meant the difference between a landing in Hunland and getting home.” – Sixty Squadron R.A.F. By A.J.L. Scott.
1914 Star officially impressed: “253 Cpl. W. J. Smyrk. R.F.C.”, BWM and Victory officially impressed: “253. T.S.M. W.J. Smyrk. R.F.C.”
Army issue Meritorious Service Medal, officially impressed: “253 A.S.Mjr: W.J. Smyrk. R.F.C.”
Ex Chelsea Military Antiques, 2004, £2250.
William Joseph Smyrk was born in 1892 had spent his childhood experiments with Aero Models and Kites, he was just a boy when the Wright Brothers first took to the skies in the very first Aeroplanes.
As a young adult he found work at the Gramophone Company’s Factory and worked as an Apprentice Tool Maker, and first enlisted in the Royal Flying Corps very early on during July 1912.
In a dream come true for a young man obsessed with Aeroplanes, he was invited to fly with none other than the Flamboyant and Eccentric American Wild West Showman and Early Pioneer of Flight, Samuel Franklin Cody during the Celebrated Royal Flying Corps Military Trials of 1912.
The intent of the competition was to test if Aeroplanes could really be viable to be used in War. Smyrk must have been quite brave, as the Cody IV Monoplane which was intended to be used in the trial, had just done a successful Maiden Flight on 21st June 1912, but upon landing, a Cow ran into the path causing a large crash and writing off the plane and killing the poor cow.
Cody managed to salvage at least the Engine and a few other parts to create the Cody V Biplane, which in itself was a death trap, however with the hard work of young mechanic Smyrk the they managed to cobble together a fine aircraft, dubbed the “Cathedral Express”, this from a man like Cody who had most of his aircraft end up wrecked, and only 1 year later he would similarly be killed testing his next plane.
Smyrk meticulously serviced the plane which was built of Bamboo Struts all lashed together with string and painted with Shellac, Smyrk carefully oversaw all the engine and rigging work.
With Cody in the Pilot Seat and Smyrk as his Observer, they took off on 27th July 1912 in the Military Trials, the Biplane was deemed a bit out of date even for 1912, but an impressive performance led to them receiving the 1st Prize, with £4000 going to Cody and another £1000 for the best British built aircraft.
The plane was then purchased by the War Office who commissioned another to be built. By 1913 Cody, now a celebrated Aviator Hero in Britain, had entered even more competitions and was flying his new seagoing plane, the Cody Floatplane, he gave a test flight to Hampshire Cricketer William Evans but after 8 minutes the aircraft broke up in the air, the 2 were not strapped in and were tossed out of the plane and killed.
Smyrk however had returned to the Royal Flying Corps and upon outbreak of the war, he arrived in France as a Corporal Mechanic in No 6 Squadron, which landed on 9th October 1914.
He was swiftly promoted to Sergeant and joined the newly formed No 60 Squadron, being hand picked as their sole Technical Sergeant-Major.
No 60 Squadron was home to none other than Albert Ball VC, Billy Bishop VC CB DSO and Bar, MC, DFC, and housed 26 Flying Aces during WW1, between them they had claimed 320 aerial victories.
There is little doubt that Smyrk likely worked on Albert Ball’s plane and had his hands on almost every other engine in the Squadron.
As well as training the squadrons fitters “He was the specialist who was called in whenever one of the flights had an unusually refractory engine which had baffled both the Flight Commander and his Flight Sergeant.”
He also gave numerous lectures, on 11th December 1917 one titled “Engines: An Elementary Lecture Explaining Their Working Functions” and a week later he lectured on different parts of a Hispano Suiza Engine.
Sixty Squadron refers in a lengthy testimonial:
“An R.F.C. squadron had two sergeant-majors: one disciplinary, the other technical. Waldron, when forming 60, chose these warrant officers with considerable discretion. Sergt.-Maj. Aspinall, an old Guardsman brought into the Flying Corps by Basil Barrington-Kennet in the very early days, was the disciplinary warrant officer……
The technical sergeant-major, Smyrk by name, was a wizard with an internal combustion engine. He had been employed at the Gramophone Co.’s factory at Hayes in civil life before joining the R.F.C. in 1912, and had a gift for teaching fitters their business. During almost all the war, two fitters a month had to be sent home to assist in the manning of new units, while the squadrons in the field had, in consequence, always to carry a percentage of untrained or partially trained men, who had to be made into experts on the engines with which they were equipped. The technical sergeant-major had to train these men, and was also the specialist who was called in whenever one of the flights had an unusually refractory engine which had baffled both the flight commander and his flight sergeant. Smyrk was always equal to every call upon him, and a long line of pilots should, and no doubt do, remember him with gratitude, for, after all, the degree of efficiency with which the engine was looked after often meant the difference between a landing in Hunland and getting home.”
Smyrks Entry in “A Contemptible Little Flying Corps”:
“In his school days he had experimented with gliding aero models and with kites. Having served his time as an apprentice press tool-maker, he enlisted as a Mechanic in the RFC in July 1912. During the celebrated August, 1912 Military Trials of Aircraft Suitability for war, he took the opportunity of a flight with S.F. Cody in his Cathedral which surprisingly won the trials. It was built of bamboo struts lashed together with string between every knot and painted with shellac. The string was to prevent the bamboo from splitting.
He had an amusing recollection of the Commanding Officer at No 3 Squadron, Major H.R.M. Brooke-Popham, who had a passion for looking after his own motor car. Someone had walked off with one of his small adjustable spanners colloquially known as a “King Dick” but Brooke-Popham search in every shed and enquired of all and sundry for his ‘King Willie’.
Though an engine fitter, he did rigging too and this involved making up spare flying and landing wires. At that time stranded wire was used, considerable skill being needed for splicing and binding and attaching the turn-buckle or connecting joint. (This from the P. H. Liddle archives.)
As Cpl in 6 Sqn served in France from 7th October 1914. He was a Sergeant in No 60 Squadron in 1915 and was responsible for servicing the Aero Engines. When the Major Overhauls (100 Hours) were required, the engines had to be taken to Pont de L’Arche on the Seine.
Promoted to Technical Sergeant Major 1st January 1916.
Awarded the Army Meritorious Service Medal, London Gazette, 1st January 1918 as Acting Sergeant Major, recommended in OCtober 1916 for service with 60 Squadron) ‘For valuable services with the Armies in the Field.’
Chief Master Mechanic