Badly injured Sunderland Army officer needed stitches in an eyeball wound

Captain Frank Smith who survived horrific injuries including eye wounds.
Captain Frank Smith who survived horrific injuries including eye wounds.
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Mike Curtis certainly uncovered a wealth of information when he researched his Sunderland past.

In recent weeks, we have told of his Wearside ancestors who have suffered everything from torturous conditions in a prisoner of war camp to a tragic end in a plane crash.

The front cover of the book by Mike Curtis.

The front cover of the book by Mike Curtis.

It is all detailed in his book Deadlines, and at www.deadlines101.com.

Today, we share the last of Mike’s tales - about a relative who was badly injured in Korea.

Like many other members of Mike Curtis’s ancestry, Frank Smith lived a fascinating life.

We have mentioned him in previous tales - the teenage firefighter as the bombs fell during the Second World War on Sunderland.

Two weeks later, the bandages were removed from his eyes and the stitches taken out. He remembers first seeing the light of a window across the ward and the red cape of a Nursing Sister called Marie McDonald.

Mike Curtis

For the next three years, the teenage Frank worked with the fire service. It was exciting at times, riding on the fire engines, ringing the bells as they rushed through the streets.

In 1949 at the age of 25, he had responsibility for clearing unexploded bombs across all of Northern England and Scotland. To the envy of more senior ranks, he was allocated a staff car because of the huge number of miles that he was clocking up.

But worse and more dramatic action was still to come for Frank.

He was sent to Korea, reporting to the 28th Field Regiment.

Bomb-damaged Binns in Sunderland.

Bomb-damaged Binns in Sunderland.

He found himself drawn back into bomb disposal as that expertise was thin on the ground. He was introduced to the boss of the U.S Army`s 24th Explosive Ordnance Disposal Control Detachment who offered to get him involved in what his unit was doing and invited him to join their missions.

He learnt about Russian and Chinese-made weapons that the North Koreans were using and pulled together some examples to be shipped back to the UK for analysis.

Packing them carefully, Frank flew across to Japan in a transport aircraft of the Royal Australian Air Force. He returned to his contacts at the British Commonwealth Engineer Unit in the rapidly recovering Hiroshima and began work on preparing the shipment. It was at this point that he realized the Americans had left a detonator in one of the devices, despite assuring him that they had all been made safe.

Frank said: “While I was handling this damn thing, the detonator exploded. It blew the ends of my fingers off.

“Peppered my face. That’s how I hurt myself. “

Frank was taken to the British Commonwealth Military Hospital at Kure, south-east of Hiroshima.

Surgeon Colonel Wright sewed his hands up, gave him skin grafts on his fingers; and his eyes were treated by an ophthalmist called Ken Milne.

He took fragments of the detonator out of Frank’s eye and sewed up his eyeball.

Mike’s book said: “Three days after all the surgery, Frank came round from the general anaesthetic but he could not see anything or feel anything. He had to be fed by a nurse who had been brought up on a sheep farm in Australia. They talked a lot but he never actually saw her.

“Two weeks later, the bandages were removed from his eyes and the stitches taken out. He remembers first seeing the light of a window across the ward and the red cape of a Nursing Sister called Marie McDonald.”

One of his last tasks in Korea was serving as a Liaison Officer back with the 28th Field Regiment.

When the war ended, he was assigned to help one of the Armistice Commissions which had the task of drawing up the new border between North and South Korea.

Frank Smith left the Army as a Major and embarked on a second career with the Civil Service.

He and Mavis had three children, two of whom pre-deceased Frank before he died in April 2013 at the age of 88.

His ashes lie in Sunderland cemetery, alongside those of his wife and his mother and the graves of his father and grandparents.

Mike Curtis trained as a journalist at Darlington and went on to work in local newspapers and BBC radio.

He has followed Sunderland Football Club since his dad and granddad took him to Roker Park aged eight.

And despite sharing some fantastically detailed stories with the Sunderland Echo, he is keen to gather more information about the Smiths of Wearside.

You can contact him and find out more about his book Deadlines at: www.deadlines101.com