Remembering Flight Sergeant Charles Sydney


The story of an RAF pilot killed in Walton during the Second World War

Flight Sergeant Charles Sydney in uniform, c.1940.Flight Sergeant Charles Sydney in uniform, c.1940.

Charles Sydney, 1915-1940

Flight Sergeant 564940 Charles Sydney joined the RAF as an aircraft apprentice. He later volunteered for pilot training and was a pre-war airman pilot. He joined 19 Squadron on 18 August 1940, moved to 266 Squadron at Wittering six days later before ending up at 92 Squadron at Biggin Hill on 10th September 1940.

At 9.20am on Friday 27th September 1940 in the Battle of Britain in his Spitfire R6767, at the age of only 25, Charles Sydney was shot down and killed, his plane crashing near the Birds Eye Walls (Unilever building) now known as Walton Court in Station Avenue, Walton-on-Thames.

An eye witness said

“The pilot stood no chance at all, it came screaming down and crashed nose first into the front garden of a large house at the end of Station Avenue”.

The site was roughly where Gainsborough Court is today.

Learn more about Charles Sydney's background here

“The Spitfire was sitting nose first in the ground facing the rail tracks. It was not that badly damaged. We were not allowed to go too close to it as it still had live ammunition on board. The Police and ARP, the air raid wardens, kept us at bay. The pilot had already been removed but we did not realise that he had been killed.”

- An eyewitness to Charles Sydney's plane crash

A first-hand account

The audio here is an account of the events on 27th September 1940 over Station Avenue, Walton-on-Thames, as told by eye witness Jean Margaret Howard MBE (30 September 1918 – 16 January 2023).

Scroll down for the written version of Jean’s account.

Jean Howard MBE and with her son Malcolm Howard, 19 August 2022.Jean Howard MBE and with her son Malcolm Howard, 19 August 2022.

“I was doing War Work & living with my parents at Woodhaven, 58 Station Avenue. That morning I was getting vegetables for lunch from the garden at the end of a very long lawn, when I heard a plane approaching very low and looking up I was about to wave at the Navigator when I noticed there were German and not English signs on the fuselage. I rushed back to the house and told my parents there was a raid on and then we heard the Air Raid Warning going and then we saw a medley of English and German planes in combat above us.

We stood by the backdoor, ready to go down to the cellar nearby and watched the fight going on above us. Then we heard a long drawn out sound of a plane coming down.

The scream got louder and louder and I said to my Father, it’s going to hit us, and held his arm.

Then there was a final scream and loud crash in the garden two doors away at St. Albans, on the corner, and we knew how close it had been! Only a few yards away from the Main S.E Railway Line.

A sentry was posted at the gate, and no one was allowed to go there. The plane was probably full of unspent ammunition.

Our hearts go out to the family of the young Pilot who was defending his Country.”

Jean Howard MBE, 2022


Charles' place of burial

Flight Sergeant Sydney is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery (plot E Div3 Grave 130) at St Mary Cray, Orpington, Kent alongside 53 other war victims.

This was the cemetery used by Biggin Hill RAF Station, as the majority of war casualties buried there are Airmen.  Charles was the Son of Mr and Mrs H Sydney of St Mary Cray, Orpington, and husband of Ellen Jane Mary Sydney.

His headstone reads

“He gave his all for his country’s call. God rest his soul in peace.”

The opening ceremony of the memorial plaque in 2000. Pictured are Jean Margaret Howard MBE, who witnessed the crash; Keith Seyler, Royal British Legion London Branch; Mr Kitchem, Royal Airforce Association Chairman; Councillor Alan Hopkins, Mayor of Elmbridge in 2000; and Canon Tim Sedgley, then Vicar of Walton's St. Mary’s Church.

The opening ceremony of the memorial plaque in 2000. Pictured are Jean Margaret Howard MBE, who witnessed the crash; Keith Seyler, Royal British Legion London Branch; Mr Kitchem, Royal Airforce Association Chairman; Councillor Alan Hopkins, Mayor of Elmbridge in 2000; and Canon Tim Sedgley, then Vicar of Walton’s St. Mary’s Church.

The Memorial at Walton, 2000

In 2000 Elmbridge Borough Council together with Surrey County Council arranged for a plaque to be placed at Walton Court, on Station Avenue, near to the spot where the Spitfire plane was believed to have come down. Unilever had vacated the building which was Grade II Listed in 2008 and it remained unoccupied.

Elmbridge Borough Councillors Gordon Chubb (Walton), Alan Hopkins (Molesey) and Derek Denyer (Hersham) arranged for the site to become a memorial are pictured here in a photograph of the unveiling and commemoration of the memorial.

The Friends of Charles Sydney RAF held services close to the date of the crash to commemorate Flt. Sgt. Charles Sydney RAF and all those lost in service.

Click here to head to the Flight Sergeant Charles Sydney memorial Facebook page.

The Flight Sergeant Charles Sydney Memorial Bench, 30 June 2012.

The Flight Sergeant Charles Sydney Memorial Bench, 30 June 2012.

The commemorative bench, 2012

On 30 June 2012 a bench was installed by Walton South ward Councillors to enable the memorial site to become a place for quiet reflection. An inscription was placed on the bench:

“Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” – Winston Churchill.

Tony Sydney, the great-nephew of Charles Sydney at the 2015 memorial service.

Tony Sydney, the great-nephew of Charles Sydney at the 2015 memorial service.

Memorial services, 2015-2018

In 2015, a Service of Commemoration was held on Sunday 27th September, to mark the 75th anniversary of the day that Flt. Sgt. Charles Sydney RAF was shot down during the Battle of Britain.

In 2018, the land was bought for redevelopment. The final service of memorial was held on Sunday 30th September 2018. Mrs Jean Margaret Howard MBE of Walton-on-Thames attended this service with members of her family, which was also her 100th birthday.

Jean Howard was a witness to the plane carry Flt, Sgt. Charles Sydney RAF crashing nearby. An account of Jean Howard’s personal experience is contained below.

‘Welcome Home’, 2024

In 2019, the site at Walton was demolished and redeveloped for housing. Now, a new memorial stands on the site alongside the new Walton Court housing development. Unveiled in 2024, it is by artist Stuart Melrose and named ‘Welcome Home’. From the front, the sculpture resembles a plane in tribute and recognition of Charles Sydney’s death.

Find out more about the public art installation here.

The new 'Welcome Home' memorial, 2024.

Photograph credit: B.R. Saunders Transport Ltd.

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