Constance Babington Smith

Constance Babington Smith MBE Legion of Merit FRSL (15 October 1912 – 31 July 2000) was a journalist and writer, but is probably best known for her wartime work in imagery intelligence.

Constance Babington Smith
Born15 October 1912
Died31 July 2000

Early life

Babington Smith was the daughter of the senior civil servant Sir Henry Babington Smith, a scion of the Babington family.[1] Her mother, born Lady Elizabeth Bruce, was the daughter of the 9th Earl of Elgin, making Constance a granddaughter of a Viceroy of India and a great-great-granddaughter of the man who bought the Elgin Marbles. Constance came from a large family and was the seventh of nine children. Her father died in 1923, when she was ten. By then, her eldest brothers were already adults, whilst her youngest sister was just two years old.

She was educated at home at the family home 'Chinthurst', in Wonersh in Surrey.

She finished her education in France and moved to London in adult life.

A trained milliner, she worked for the milliner Aage Thaarup before the war[2] and also Vogue magazine in London, before venturing into journalism, with The Aeroplane magazine.[3]

War service

Her knowledge of aircraft took her into the WAAF in the Second World War. She served with the Central Interpretation Unit (CIU) at RAF Medmenham, Buckinghamshire, reaching the rank of Flight Officer. Serving alongside was her brother, Bernard Babington Smith (1905-1993), who was also a photo interpreter (PI) at Medmenham. Another fellow PI present at Medmenham was Winston Churchill's daughter, Sarah Oliver.[4][5]

In 1942 she made an uncredited appearance in the Air Ministry feature film Target for Tonight, along with her fellow Medmenham colleague, Sqn Ldr Peter Riddell.[6]

Working on the interpretation of aerial reconnaissance photographs, Constance was credited with the discovery of the V1 at Peenemunde, Germany.[7]

In 1942, Babington Smith was Mentioned in Dispatches for her work and in 1945 she was awarded the MBE. Her brother, Bernard, was also honoured for his work at the CIU, receiving the OBE.

She was portrayed in the 1965 film Operation Crossbow by Sylvia Syms.

After VE-Day Constance was attached to USAAF Intelligence in Washington, D.C. to continue her work on photographic interpretation, this time for the Pacific theatre.

In 1946, the United States awarded her the Legion of Merit.

Later life

From 1946 to 1950 she was a researcher for Life Magazine. She later moved to Cambridge, Britain, where she converted to Greek Orthodoxy and become a writer and biographer.

Her war memoir Evidence in Camera was in 1957 the first comprehensive narrative of British photographic reconnaissance in the Second World War. Because it was published before the revelation of wartime code-breaking, this book may also have contained a measure of Cold War disinformation.

Her cousin was the writer Rose Macaulay, Babington Smith writing a biography of her published in 1972.

She appeared in several episodes of the 1977 BBC TV series The Secret War, where she discussed her wartime work as a photo interpreter as it related to the subject of the episode.

Babington Smith was a founder and director of the Mosquito Memorial Appeal Fund, now the de Havilland Museum Trust.



  • Evidence In Camera (1957) - published as Air Spy in the US
  • Testing Time (1961)
  • Amy Johnson (1961)
  • Rose Macaulay (1972)
  • John Masefield; a Life (1978)
  • Iulia de Beausobre (1983)
  • Champion of Homeopathy: the Life of Margery Blackie (1986)


  1. Oxford dictionary of national biography. British Academy., Oxford University Press. (Online ed.). Oxford. ISBN 9780198614128. OCLC 56568095.CS1 maint: others (link)
  2. Toomey, Philippa (18 November 1978). "From hats and a secret war to the life and work of a poet laureate" (60462). The Times.
  3. "Constance Babington Smith (Obituary)". The Telegraph. 9 August 2000. Retrieved 13 December 2012.
  4. Babington Smtih, Constance (1957). Evidence in Camera: The Story of Photographic Intelligence in the Second World War. pp. 96–97. ISBN 0750936487.
  5. Downing, Taylor (2011). Spies in the Sky. Little Brown Hardbacks (A & C). pp. 121–122. ISBN 9781408702802.
  6. Babington Smtih, Constance (1957). Evidence in Camera: The Story of Photographic Intelligence in the Second World War. p. 64. ISBN 0750936487.
  7. Downing, Taylor (2011). Spies in the Sky. Little Brown Hardbacks (A & C). pp. 294–297. ISBN 9781408702802.

Further reading

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