WONERSH
© Wonersh History Society - www.wonershhistory.co.uk (WHS)
HISTORY SOCIETY

CONSTANCE BABINGTON SMITH

(1912-2000) Constance was one of the nine children of Sir Henry and Lady Elizabeth Babington Smith. The Babington Smiths lived at Chinthurst Hill, Wonersh for some years and this is where Constance spent most of her childhood. Undoubtedly privileged, during the 1930s Constance led a busy social life in London where she worked for Vogue magazine and the fashionable milliner Aage Thaarup. She returned home for a while to look after her mother and it was during this time, following visits to Brooklands to watch racing and flying, that she became interested in aviation and she began writing a regular series of articles for The Aeroplane magazine. War in Europe In 1940, Constance joined the WAAF where she was involved in air photo intelligence. By 1943 she was heading the photographic reconnaissance unit (PRU) in Medmenham with a brief to look for 'anything queer'. Doodlebugs Perhaps one of the most important contributions made by Constance related to a photograph taken on 28 November 1943 by an RAF de Havilland Mosquito flying over Peenemunde, the site of a German research centre on the Baltic. She identified something resembling a stunted aircraft on a launch ramp and that something turned out to be a V-1 flying bomb (a doodlebug). Operation Crossbow flattened launch sites in France but less obvious sites were built and in June 1944 the V-1 assault on London and the South East had begun. Nearly 10,000 V-1s were launched over an eighty day period and at its peak, more than 100 were hitting Britain every day resulting in 22,000 casualties and more than 6,000 fatalities. Without the assault on Peenemunde, the factories and launch sites it would have been much worse. Constance was mentioned in dispatches and awarded an MBE. The Invasion of Japan After the war in Europe ended, Constance was posted to Washington D.C. to participate in the preparations for the invasion of Japan. She was awarded the US Legion of Merit in 1945. Constance stayed in America until 1951, working as a researcher on Life magazine. Back in Britain, her writing career began with Evidence In Camera (1957), on wartime photographic intelligence. A book on test flying was followed by five biographies, including works on the flyer Amy Johnson, her own cousin, the novelist Rose Macaulay, and the poet, John Masefield. She became a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
Constance being presented with the US Legion of Merit in 1945 Photo from Life magazine, 28th October 1957