Bill Smith

Veteran foreign correspondent Eric "Bill" Sydney-Smith – bylined Sydney Smith in the Daily Express – died, aged 89, in France.

Bill performed an extraordinary feat of airmanship by crashlanding his doomed Blenheim bomber in a Rotterdam main street on 16 July 1941. He and his two crew survived and Bill escaped briefly before being caught and spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war.

He had already won a DFC as a bomber pilot, sinking an enemy freighter in the Mediterranean shortly before the Rotterdam crash. Bill’s was one of the four Blenheims shot down in the 36-bomber raid. He and his navigator and gunner were the only downed aircrew to survive. Bill landed upright in the main Kruiskade avenue, shearing off both wings and engines.

The navigator broke his ankle when he was projected through the Perspex front of the bomber, which was halted by the ticket office of the local zoo.

Cheering Rotterdamers surged forward to rescue the two injured men but Bill was unscathed. As the Dutch tried to bar German troops from reaching the wreckage, a seaman gave him a jacket as a disguise. At first, Bill wanted to board a stalled tram, until the Dutch pointed out it wasn’t going anywhere because he had cut the overhead cable with his bomber.

After being sheltered and fed by more locals, Bill almost made it across the Maas river towards Belgium, but Dutch collaborators denounced him.

Bill went to Brighton College and at 18 started as a reporter on a Wolverhampton newspaper. After three years he heard that Lord Beaverbrook was offering two-week trials at the Daily Express and landed a job.

In the Spanish Civil War he covered both sides and was sentenced to death – by both sides.

Pardoned, he treasured a letter from editor Arthur Christiansen in 1936 saying: "As a mark of appreciation of your wonderful work in Spain, I have recommended you for an increase of £2.2.0 [£2.10] a week…"

Liberated in 1945, he returned to the Daily Express and covered Indian independence, the Korean War, the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and the Algerian breakaway and the de Gaulle years. In 1960 he resigned to become a reporter for the weekly Paris-Match, for which he was the London correspondent from 1969 to 1975, when he retired to Normandy.

Bill wrote two books, Wings Day, about his experiences as a PoW, and the novel Survivor.

In the early Fifties he married Fran?oise White, the former wife of Evening Standard Paris correspondent Sam White. Fran?oise died in 1978. Bill is survived by his son and daughter with Fran?oise. Her two sons by Sam White adopted the name Smith.

Robin Stafford

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