A BLACK RAF veteran who said his skin colour saved his life in Nazi-occupied Europe will be remembered at a ceremony in Thame today.

Johnny Smythe is buried in St Mary’s Church cemetery in the town, where his relations will join military veterans and members of the Sierra Leone community to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth.

The RAF navigator was born in the West African country and moved to the United Kingdom to join the air force in 1940.

He flew 27 successful missions with Bomber Command during the Second World War before being shot down in November 1943.

The Flight Officer spent the rest of the war as a prisoner of war.

He was liberated in 1945 and returned to Britain, where he qualified as a barrister.

He later moved back to Sierra Leone before returning to Thame to be closer to family.

At noon today, his sons John and Eddy will be at his graveside to pay tribute to their father along with current and former members of the RAF, including Ronald Lisk-Carew.

Mr Lisk-Carew, who was also born in Sierra Leone, was inspired to join the RAF by Mr Smythe and organised today’s event.

Eddy Smythe, who lives in Chinnor, said: “My father never spoke about the war. He threw out his uniform.

“It was only in his later years that we managed to pin him down.

“We knew the back story but he never really discussed the details.

“He was happier talking about his law practice and his achievements post-war.

“It makes me very proud.

“He was not into celebration or flaunting his achievements and his gravestone is very modest.

“Ronald has done this off his own back and I am very grateful to him.”

Mr Lisk-Carew, who moved to the UK in 1969 and served in the RAF until 1974, said Mr Smythe credited his black skin with saving his life after he was shot down.

The Senior Aircraftman said the war hero parachuted out and landed in a barn.

When German troops found him, they were so shocked by his skin colour and height – he was 6ft 5in tall – that they did not open fire.

The 65-year-old said: “My school friends and I in Sierra Leone found out that Johnny and a few others had flown for the RAF.

“That was very exciting to us as young men. A couple of my friends wanted to serve as well but they did not have the opportunity.

“I was really chuffed.

“Johnny was such an inspiration to me so I thought we had to celebrate his life.

“That is how today’s event came about.”

When Mr Smythe was liberated by Russian troops, he was feted by them and toasted with vodka because he was black.

Mr Lisk-Carew plans to hold a vodka toast at today’s event and a member of the RAF will play The Last Post.

Mr Smythe moved to Thame in 1992 to be near his sons.

He passed away in 1996 aged 81 but his wife Violet, 88, is still alive and living in the United States, where the couple’s daughters Jennifer and Kathryn also live.

Mr Lisk-Carew added: “Today will be a very proud moment.

“He was a war hero.”