Sydney Ireland

Sergeant Sydney Ireland died on 12th July 1940 in a training accident in Spitfire P9502 before having flown an operational sortie in the Battle of Britain.

Sergeant

Sydney Ireland

745103

Sergeant Sydney Ireland died on 12th July 1940 in a training accident in Spitfire P9502 before having flown an operational sortie in the Battle of Britain.

Sergeant Sydney Ireland (745103) served with the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve during World War Two. He was born in Newtownbreda, Belfast, Co. Antrim.

He enlisted in November 1938 aged 18 years old alongside school friends Noel Corry and George Calwell. All 3 gained their wings at RAF Sydenham, Belfast, Co. Down. They came through No. 24 Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School in January 1939. Flight Lieutenant Charles Lindsay was the course instructor.

Before the outbreak of war, Sydney was keen sportsman, particularly enjoying the game of rugby. Off the sports field, he played guitar. In the evenings, he would play at RAF Sydenham along with Noel Corry, George Calwell, Herbie Megarry, Victor Skillen, and Johnny McAdam.

Spitfires of RAF 610 Squadron

Imperial War Museum Photo: CH 740 (Part of the Air Ministry Official Collection). Supermarine Spitfire Mark IAs (N3289 ‘DW-K and R6595 ‘DW-O’), colleagues of Sergeant Sydney Ireland of 610 Squadron, Royal Air Force based at Biggin Hill, Kent, flying in three 'vic' formations. Copyright Flight Lieutenant Bertrand John Henry Daventry.

Sydney's New Guitar

The Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve mobilised in mid-November 1939. Sydney and his friends joined 30 others at York Street Railway Station, Belfast, Co. Antrim and prepared to go to war. On the train, his friends asked where his guitar was and Sydney informed them he left it at home. The young men refused to leave without a farewell song and Noel Corry asked the train driver to delay by 30 minutes.

He jumped in a taxi and travelled to Matchett’s Music, 44 Wellington Place, Belfast, Co. Antrim. The current Matchett’s Music shop stands only a few doors down from its 1939 location. He bought a guitar, raced back to the train, and the Royal Air Force men enjoyed a singalong as the train departed for Larne, Co. Antrim. On the way, many of the men carved their names into the guitar using Cecil Smylie’s pen-knife.

Sergeant Sydney Ireland in Spitfire

Imperial War Museum Photo: (Part of the Air Ministry Official Collection). Supermarine Spitfire Mark IAs (‘DW-K ‘DW-O’), flank the Spitfire DW-Q of Sergeant Sydney Ireland of 610 Squadron, Royal Air Force based at Biggin Hill, Kent, flying in 'vic' formation. Copyright Flight Lieutenant Bertrand John Henry Daventry.

Death in a Spitfire

On 19th June 1940, Sydney Ireland joined RAF 610 Squadron from Flight Training School at RAF Sealand, Flintshire. He died on 12th July 1940 aged 22 years old. He was pilot of Supermarine Spitfire P9502 DW-Q when it spun out of control on a dogfight training exercise against Sergeant HH Chandler.

Observers noted Ireland carrying out steep turns over RAF Biggin Hill. After performing a half-roll, he descended into a steep dive through the cloud. He struggled to regain control and did not recover from the manoeuvre. The Mark IA plane came down at Pitchfont Farm near Titsey Park 4 miles south of Biggin Hill, Kent. Sergeant Ireland was the first of 18 RAF personnel from Northern Ireland to die in the Battle of Britain.

Airman Noel Corry attended his friend’s funeral and presented the engraved guitar to Sydney’s mother. She returned it Noel and he held on to it until 1998. After this, a chance meeting with Wing Commander Cecil Smylie saw the guitar return to the man whose knife was used in 1939. Both the guitar and knife are in the Somme Museum, Newtownards, Co. Down. There are 21 names on Sydney Ireland’s guitar. Of them, 9 more died before 1943 while 11 others survived the Second World War.

Friends of Sydney Ireland

Last NameFirst Name(s)RankInformation
FenemoreStanley AllenSergeantRAFVR 745110. Died on 15th October 1940.
MegarryHerbert ReginaldSergeantRAFVR 745111. Died on 18th May 1940.
HawthorneNoel Raymond AllenbySergeantRAFVR 745962. Died on 28th June 1940.
SandersonSamuelSergeantRAFVR 746826. Died on 9th August 1940.
McCauslandJames MaxwellPilot OfficerRAFVR 80827. Died on 8th September 1940.
SkillenVictor HallSergeantRAFVR 745460. Died on 11th March 1941.
McCannThomas AndrewPilot OfficerRAFVR 116980. Died on 27th July 1942.
NeillVictor StephensonFlying OfficerRAFVR 127166. Died on 4th May 1943.
WoodAlan GeorgeFlying OfficerRAFVR 136058. Died on 26th November 1943.
CorryNoel HenrySquadron LeaderDistinguished Flying Cross. Air Efficiency Award. Survived the War.
McConnellWilliam WinderWing CommanderDistinguished Flying Cross and Bar. Air Efficiency Award. Survived the War.
JohnstonCharles CrotchleyFlight LieutenantAir Efficiency Award. Survived the War.
WrightRobert RonaldSquadron LeaderDistinguished Flying Cross. Air Efficiency Award. Survived the War.
MacKenzieKenneth WilliamWing CommanderDistinguished Flying Cross. Air Force Cross. Air Efficiency Award. Survived the War.
SimpsonJohn HowardWing CommanderDistinguished Flying Cross. Air Efficiency Award. Survived the War.
CalwellGeorgeFlight LieutenantAir Efficiency Award. Survived the War.
GearyHarry JFlight LieutenantAir Efficiency Award. Survived the War.
LilburnJ LockingtonFlight LieutenantAir Efficiency Award. Survived the War.
SmylieCecilWing CommanderDistinguished Flying Cross. Distinguished Flying Medal. Air Efficiency Award. Survived the War.
ConwayJohn FrederickFlight LieutenantAir Efficiency Award. Survived the War.

Sydney Ireland’s grave is in Section E, Grave 78 of Knockbreda Cemetery, Belfast, Co. Antrim. Despite losing his life after the official start of the Battle of Britain, Sergeant Ireland is not listed as one of “The Few”. He had not yet flown an operational sortie as part of the battle at his time of death. The hub assembly and propeller blades from his Spitfire make up a Battle of Britain Memorial Exhibition at the Shoreham Aircraft Museum. It can be found in the museum tea garden.

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