For 66 years, the brave young Spitfire pilot’s final resting place had been a mystery.
Flight Lieutenant Henry Lacy Smith was shot down by the Germans five days after D-Day on a mission supporting the Allied invasion in Normandy.
His last radio message to comrades was: ‘I’m going to put this thing down in a field.’
But the Australian’s plane then nose-dived into the sea and he was designated ‘missing believed killed’.
Now, however, the puzzle has been solved after locals spotted something sticking out of the mud in the Orne estuary near Caen at low tide and decided to investigate.
They could see only small parts of the legendary plane at the site, close to the D-Day landmarks of Sword Beach and Pegasus bridge.
But after staging a remarkable rescue operation they were astonished at how well preserved its fuselage and wooden propellor were. The dials on the instrument panel were still recognisable.
After the wreckage was towed ashore, the remains of Flight Lieutenant Smith were found in the cockpit. They were placed in a coffin and will be handed to the Australian Embassy in France today.
The pilot, known as Lacy to his friends, was one of the first pilots to land in France following the invasion of Europe. He was 27 when he was shot down on June 11, 1944.
The former textile worker had enlisted with the Royal Australian Air Force in May 1941.
He served with the RAAF’s 453 Squadron, motto ‘Ready to Strike’, which was part of RAF Fighter Command from June 1942, and married his English wife Edna the year before his death.
Official letters of condolence from his Squadron Leader, Donald Hamilton Smith, were sent to his widow in Bournemouth and to his father Richard in New South Wales, saying he was ‘lying in an unknown grave’.