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.
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.
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 Name||First Name(s)||Rank||Information|
|Fenemore||Stanley Allen||Sergeant||RAFVR 745110. Died on 15th October 1940.|
|Megarry||Herbert Reginald||Sergeant||RAFVR 745111. Died on 18th May 1940.|
|Hawthorne||Noel Raymond Allenby||Sergeant||RAFVR 745962. Died on 28th June 1940.|
|Sanderson||Samuel||Sergeant||RAFVR 746826. Died on 9th August 1940.|
|McCausland||James Maxwell||Pilot Officer||RAFVR 80827. Died on 8th September 1940.|
|Skillen||Victor Hall||Sergeant||RAFVR 745460. Died on 11th March 1941.|
|McCann||Thomas Andrew||Pilot Officer||RAFVR 116980. Died on 27th July 1942.|
|Neill||Victor Stephenson||Flying Officer||RAFVR 127166. Died on 4th May 1943.|
|Wood||Alan George||Flying Officer||RAFVR 136058. Died on 26th November 1943.|
|Corry||Noel Henry||Squadron Leader||Distinguished Flying Cross. Air Efficiency Award. Survived the War.|
|McConnell||William Winder||Wing Commander||Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar. Air Efficiency Award. Survived the War.|
|Johnston||Charles Crotchley||Flight Lieutenant||Air Efficiency Award. Survived the War.|
|Wright||Robert Ronald||Squadron Leader||Distinguished Flying Cross. Air Efficiency Award. Survived the War.|
|MacKenzie||Kenneth William||Wing Commander||Distinguished Flying Cross. Air Force Cross. Air Efficiency Award. Survived the War.|
|Simpson||John Howard||Wing Commander||Distinguished Flying Cross. Air Efficiency Award. Survived the War.|
|Calwell||George||Flight Lieutenant||Air Efficiency Award. Survived the War.|
|Geary||Harry J||Flight Lieutenant||Air Efficiency Award. Survived the War.|
|Lilburn||J Lockington||Flight Lieutenant||Air Efficiency Award. Survived the War.|
|Smylie||Cecil||Wing Commander||Distinguished Flying Cross. Distinguished Flying Medal. Air Efficiency Award. Survived the War.|
|Conway||John Frederick||Flight Lieutenant||Air 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.