MEDALS glinted off uniforms when comrades-in-arms laid poppy wreaths in tribute to a black RAF veteran who said his skin colour saved his life in Nazi-occupied Europe.

About 50 friends, family members, RAF veterans and members of the Sierra Leone community paid tribute to Johnny Smythe at his grave in St Mary’s Church cemetery to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth on Tuesday.

At noon, his sons John and Eddy Smyth were at his graveside to pay tribute to their father along with current and former RAF members, 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 the event. He said: “It was a very moving occasion for me because he inspired me to to join the air force and to get more interested in aviation.

“It went very well; it was excellent.

“We had a vodka toast at the reception, which got into the spirit of the occasion.”

Mr Smythe was born in the West African country and moved to the UK to join the air force in 1940, rising to become a RAF navigator.

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 conflict as a prisoner of war before 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 in 1992 to be closer to his family.

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.

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

Mr Lisk-Carew held a vodka toast at the event in his memory.

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.