Robert Smith biography



Robert Smith biography


Biography of flight engineer Robert (McKenzie otherwise Mackenzie) Smith. Includes early life and RAF training. Continues with operational history and description of flight engineers role. Concludes with post-war brush with law and subsequent career. Includes b/w photographs of Robert in uniform and in cockpit as well as colour post-war photographs.



Two page printed document with b/w and colour photographs


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[black and white head and shoulder photograph of Robert McKenzie Smith in uniform]
ROBERT (MCKENZIE otherwise MACKENZIE) SMITH – Flight Engineer
The talented Bob Smith was born in Gateshead on 14th July 1925, the elder of the two sons of William Smith (a proof reader) and his wife Margaret. He took his second forename from his paternal grandmother’s maiden name – had he not done so, thereby distinguishing himself from many thousands of “Bob Smiths”, it would have proven quite impossible to trace his family to learn of his life after hostilities ended in 1945.
Bob learned his trade as Flight Engineer at the No 4 School of Technical Training at what was then RAF St Athan in the Vale of Glamorgan in South Wales, subsequently qualifying from No 5 Lancaster Finishing School as a Lancaster Flight Engineer on 27th September 1944, just ten days before the crew took off on their maiden operational raid on Flushing. It was the Flight Engineer’s role, in essence, to do all that was required of him to keep the aircraft functioning. It is hard to imagine the stresses he was under on the night of 14th/15th January 1945, with the battered Lancaster losing height, two engines gone (with consequent hydraulic issues) and fuel being used, or lost, at an alarming rate. He was still only nineteen years of age when the crewmates were tour expired in March the following year.
[black and white photograph of Robert McKenzie Smith inside the cockpit of the aircraft wearing flying uniform and mask]
Passed Halt Signs
Two R.A.F. flight-sergeants stationed at Exeter, Cyril Cheeseman and Robert Mackenzie Smith, were each fined 10s by Exmouth magistrates on Monday for failing to stop at halt signs when riding pedal cycles at Honiton Clyst. For a similar offence when driving a car, Cedric Marsh Bland, of 32, Elm Grove-road, Topsham, was also fined 10s.
[page break]
Bob and a colleague were to fall foul of the law, and on 20th May 1946, before demobilisation it would appear, the pair appeared at Exmouth Magistrates Court, leading to the attached report in the Western Times five days later. There are no indications that he strayed from the straight and true thereafter.
After leaving the RAF later in 1946 Bob enrolled in an Engineering degree course at King’s College, Newcastle, then part of the University of Durham. This involved a two year placement with the Merchant Navy, followed by two years study of Engineering theory.
Thereafter Bob joined Vickers Engineering at their factory on Scotswood Road, Newcastle, in the design draughtsmen’s department. It was whilst on demobilisation leave that Bob had met his wife-to-be (like his mother named Margaret), and they were to be married in 1951. The couple were not to have children.
[black and white head and shoulders photograph of Robert McKenzie Smith in suit]
[coloured photograph of Robert McKenzie Smith and his wife]
Bob rose through Vickers (working for the company for the remainder of his working life) finally becoming Chief Designer with a team of draughtsmen reporting to him. He spent some time in the USA, promoting the Challenger tank to the US Department of Defense. [sic]
Bob died of heart disease on 29th April 1989, shortly before he was due to take retirement. He was only sixty three years of age. He is survived by Margaret, who still lives in the house they shared in Whickham. She says that she and Bob had a very happy life together, socialising with Bob’s brother Dick and his family, and enjoying their holidays together to Spain.
My thanks go to Margaret for sharing her memories of her late husband.


“Robert Smith biography,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed November 30, 2023,

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