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The Airmen's Stories - P/O S Carlin


Sydney Carlin was born in Spring Bank, Hull, Yorkshire on 24th March 1889, the son of a candle manufacturer. He attended secondary school at St. Bedes, Hornsea and in 1907, around the time of his 18th birthday, he enlisted in the army. Unfortunately his duties as a private in the 18th (Queen Mary’s Own) Royal Hussars based in York and the Curragh in Ireland were tedious and he accepted his father’s offer to buy him out of the army. In September 1908, aged 19, Carlin returned to Hull and took up farming, working first at Sunk Island, then Frodingham and, from 1912, Brandesburton.



With the outbreak of war he re-enlisted in his old regiment and sailed for France on 15th August 1914. As part of the 2nd Cavalry Brigade, Carlin's unit took part in the cavalry vs. cavalry skirmishes that predated the later trench warfare.

By October his unit was plugging gaps in the British line by the Belgian border, much of the time on foot. It suffered heavy casualties during the First Battle of Ypres. In May 1915, at the second Battle of Ypres, the 18th Hussars endured days of sustained bombardment with such heavy losses that Carlin (now a L/Cpl.) on occasions assumed command of his troop even though he had been wounded in the head.

He refused to be evacuated till they were taken out of the line, he then passed through the military hospital at Wimereux and on to Charing Cross Hospital back in England. He was recovering at home in Hull when he learned of the award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal (gazetted 5th August 1915). At this time a local TA unit offered him a commission and he became a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st East Riding Field Company, Royal Engineers, finding himself back in the Ypres Salient in September 1915.

In the Spring of 1916 his unit went south to take part in the Battle of the Somme and in ferocious fighting around Longueval (with 78% becoming casualties) on 17th/18th July 1916, he was seriously injured by shrapnel in his left leg. His conduct under fire resulted in a Military Cross (gazetted 20th October 1916). But his leg did not heal and had to be amputated in early 1917. Unwilling to be invalided out of the war Carlin decided to apply to join the RFC and paid for private flying lessons to strengthen his case. This, plus his persistence, paid off and he was passed as ‘Fit’ on 7th August 1917, he joined the RFC at the end of August and was posted to the 1st School of Aeronautics. He went on to the Central Flying School at Upavon, Wiltshire on 9th October 1917.

Carlin was appointed as a Flying Officer on 12th March 1918 and on May 26th he joined 74 ‘Tiger’ Squadron in northern France, based at Clairmarais (on the eastern outskirts of St Omer). The Squadron was equipped with the latest SE5A and Mick Mannock MC was one of Carlin's colleagues, christening him with the nickname 'Timbertoes' that attached to Carlin from then on. Despite a weakness in landing his aircraft, which resulted in some aircraft being written off, Carlin escaped injury and went on to destroy five enemy aircraft and six balloons. After destroying his fourth balloon on 2nd August he was awarded an Immediate DFC. On 21st September 1918 Carlin was shot down and was lucky to bring his aircraft down in No-Mans land, he was captured on the spot and sent in stages to a prison camp at Karlsruhe.

Repatriated on 13th December 1918, Carlin received more medical treatment at the central RAF Hospital and in October 1919 relinquished his commission due to his disability. He settled at a rented farm at Lissett near Hull.

In 1922 Carlin went out to Africa, initially to Uganda, then after two years to Kenya. He was based at Lumbwa in Nyanza Province, western Kenya near Lake Victoria and the border with Uganda. Apart from managing an estate he served as a staff officer in the Kenya Defence Force from 1930 to 1935 and engaged in hunting and polo.

It seems that he became restless once more and, now in his late forties, spent time in the Seychelles, New Guinea, New Britain and New Ireland and the surrounding islands. He records being '....shipwrecked in the Red Sea in an old Chinese junk and being rescued by a Greek ship....'.

In August 1939, with war imminent, Carlin fetched up in Malta and immediately volunteered for military service, disguising his true age of 50. He was appointed as a lieutenant in the 7th Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery. Malta was still a peaceful backwater and Carlin applied to join the RAFVR being accepted, despite his disability, as an Air Gunner. He flew back to England in early July 1940 and reported to the Air Armaments School at Manby, near Louth in Lincolnshire. In August he was posted to 264 Squadron, operating Defiants from Hornchurch.

The turret-armed Defiant was now obsolete and 264 Squadron lost 11 aircraft and 14 aircrew in 8 days of operations at Hornchurch from 21st August to the 28th. Carlin was flying operationally on 28th August, an especially terrible day when five Defiants were lost and only three aircraft returned in an airworthy state.



Above: A Defiant with the gunner about to enter the turret.


264 Squadron was posted the next day to night-fighting duties at Kirton-in-Lindsey and Carlin was fully engaged until 5th January 1941 when he was posted to 151 Squadron, another Defiant unit based at RAF Wittering, where he resumed night interception missions against enemy bombers attacking the Midlands.

Carlin was friendly with a friend from his Kenya days, S/Ldr. Pickard DSO DFC, and unofficially flew in several bombing sorties over Germany as a rear-gunner in a Wellington of Pickard's squadron, 311.

Early in the evening of 8th May 1941 Wittering was attacked again, this time by a lone Ju88 that swept in low. It strafed ‘A’ flight dispersal and dropped a stick of 8 anti-personnel bombs.

Carlin and Sgt. HE Bodien were walking out to their aircraft and flung themselves to the ground, however Carlin was closest to one of the bombs which severed an arm, killing him instantly.

Two aircraft were destroyed and four others damaged.

Carlin was cremated at Hull Crematorium (his memorial wall entry below).





This account is has been condensed from an immensely detailed account of Carlin's life, in particular his service in WW1, by Steve Mosely. For the full version please click here.


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