From humble beginnings helping his mother run a hardware shop, Alan wrote to the RAF in 1939, explaining his education had been curtailed at just 14, after his father had been lost at sea. He made it clear that he would be willing to attend night school to do everything he could to reach the required standard to become a pilot, and joined the RAFVR to attend lectures in the town centre three nights a week on technical subjects.
He was accepted and initially trained on the Tiger Moth in the spring of 1939, aged 22. He then went on to Miles Magisters and North American Harvards in 1940.
Alan joined No 616 Squadron as a Sergeant pilot in January 1941 as the squadron moved south to RAF Tangmere and it was soon in action over northern France on offensive sweeps.
On 18 March, Wing Commander Douglas Bader, previously of 242 Squadron, arrived to take command of three Spitfire squadrons of Tangmere wing including 610, 616 and 145 Squadrons, then based at Westhampnett, Tangmere and Merston. He always led 616 in his personal Spitfire marked ‘DB’.
Bader selected Smith to be his wingman which Alan was very surprised with as he was just a lowly Sergeant pilot. The Wing Commander's only comment on choosing Smith was