In our latest Eye on Millig column, Leslie Maxwell looks back at the life of renowned Australian cricketer Stan Sismey – who served at RAF Helensburgh during the Second World War, and who married a girl from the town.

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THE ASHES series – the dramatic encounters between England’s cricket team and the Australians, which have been thrilling fans since the 1880s, and which return later this summer – has a distant link with Helensburgh.

Only cricket buffs will know of Australian wicket-keeper Stan Sismey, who died ten years ago, but he served as a test pilot at the Marine Aircraft Experimental Establishment (MAEE) at RAF Helensburgh during the Second World War.

It was from the MAEE HQ in Rhu that Sismey left to lead the Australian Services XI during the Victory Test Series in 1945, the year he married WAAF Sergeant Elma Fowlie Maclachlan, of Greenknowe, 8 West Argyle Street.

The best man was fellow cricketer and pilot Keith Carmody, and after attending the ceremony at a Dumbarton church, his team-mates played a Scotland XI in Glasgow.

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Elma’s brother David, who ran the family bakery and restaurant business, later became a founder member and the second president of Helensburgh Rotary Club.

Stanley George Sismey was born on July 15, 1916 in Junee, New South Wales, and attended Goulburn High School, 120 miles from Sydney.

After training as a banker, he joined the Royal Australian Air Force in 1941, and was trained as a pilot in Australia and Canada, reaching the rank of Squadron Leader.

On May 18, 1942, he was shot down while flying as co-pilot on board a Catalina flying boat, which was attacked by fighter aircraft of the Vichy French Air Force over the Mediterranean near Algeria.

The crew made a forced landing on the sea and soon after the Catalina sank.

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Sismey suffered serious multiple shrapnel wounds in his back, and spent eight hours in the water before being rescued, with the rest of the crew, by a British destroyer.

When he recovered he was transferred to RAF Helensburgh.

Robin Bird, author of two books about the MAEE, said: “He joked he had so much shrapnel in his back that it affected the compasses in the aircraft he flew in.”

The injuries affected him long after his recovery, and he once had to leave a cricket ground during a game because a piece of metal had begun to work its way out of his body.

When the war was over, he was transferred to RAAF Overseas HQ to organise the Services XI, and he was discharged from the RAAF on July 24, 1946.

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The Services XI was officially a military unit commanded by Sismey, but the on-field captain for the Victory Series was pre-war test cricketer Lindsay Hassett, with Sismey as wicket keeper.

He travelled back to Australia with the side in 1945-46, via India and Sri Lanka, to resume his first-class career — and also to lead a campaign for the Australian Government to bring war brides over from the UK.

The campaign was successful, and Elma arrived, with other war brides, aboard the aircraft carrier Indefatigable. The couple had two daughters, Pam and Carol.

His performances for the Services XI led a number of expert observers of the game to tip him for a place in the Australian national team after the war, but he never played in an Ashes series, finding his way barred by two in-form wicket keepers, Don Tallon and Ron Saggers.

Although Sismey's cricket career was interrupted by the war, he played 35 first-class matches between 1938 and 1952, mostly for New South Wales. He took 88 catches, made 18 stumpings, and as a right-handed batsman had an average of 17.7.

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According to an obituary in the Sydney Morning Herald, after his death at Taree on June 19, 2009 at the age of 92, he was unusual among wicket-keepers in that he did not break any of his fingers during his career.

A banker by profession, Sismey returned to work in Scotland in 1952, and played for Clydesdale Cricket Club in Pollokshields. He also had one game for Scotland that year, against Yorkshire at Hamilton Crescent in Glasgow.

On his return to Australia he was on the board of selectors for New South Wales from 1958-79, serving ten seasons as chairman. After that he was chairman of the NSW Cricket Association for a decade, and thereafter was made a life member.

By the time he retired he was a senior manager with the Bank of New South Wales.

He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 1990 for services to cricket, and the Australian Sports Medal in 2000 for his 20 years of voluntary service as a selector.