Flight Lieutenant Charles Sidney Darwood
Charles Sidney Darwood joined the RAF as an Acting Pilot Officer on a Short Service Commission on 15 March 1935. On completion of his training, he joined No.111 Squadron at RAF Northolt, being noted on strength there in October 1936.
At this point 111 Squadron were flying the Gloster Gauntlet II. In August 1937, the squadron participated in the film “Shadows of the Wing” produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The squadron then went on annual leave until 26 September, and it was during this period that Charles Darwood was promoted to Flying Officer.
1938 opened with Darwood being attached to No.1 Air Firing Instructors Course at RAF Sutton Bridge. On his return, the squadron undertook affiliation exercises with No.605 (County of Warwick) Squadron. The squadron also began to re-equip with the Hawker Hurricane. The following month, the squadron commander, Squadron Leader Gillan recorded a time of 48 minutes flying from RAF Turnhouse to Northolt in a Hurricane, an average of 408mph.
March 1938 saw the squadron host visits from various Officer Training Corps units, but more interestingly, conducted “Hurricane Monoplane Bomber” trials in conjunction with the Air Fighting Development Establishment (AFDE). The next few months saw the squadron involved in more demonstrations, primarily for the Observer Corps, preparations for the Empire Air Day and visits to other RAF Stations showcasing the Hurricane. In July the squadron visited Villacoublay for the Air Display and demonstrated their Air Drill to the crowds.
Charles Darwood was promoted to Acting Flight Lieutenant, effective from 24 November 1938, in January 1939. During April 1939, the squadron undertook more work for the AFDE, this time Night Flying Trials. May saw the squadron heavily involved in the station Empire Air Day and also aircraft demonstrations as far west as Pembroke Dock. Demonstrations and exercises continued over the summer as the international situation deteriorated.
When war was declared, the squadron took its turn at readiness at Northolt alongside No.25 and No.600 squadrons. With their night flying experience, the squadron was called on to test the effectiveness of the black-out. The experience with night-flying led to “Blinkers” being fitted to their Hurricanes to reduce the exhaust glare, the results were deemed “entirely satisfactory”. The only real action the squadron saw in September was being called upon to down stray barrages balloons during the second half of the month, requiring considerable amounts of ammunition to achieve the desired effect. 4 October proved to be a re-letter day for the squadron when they were called upon to down ten stray balloons, expending 12,147 rounds in the process.
During October, Acting Flight Lieutenant Darwood was engaged on most of the squadron’s standard activities, including air-to-ground firing, searchlight co-operation and radar controlled intercepts, before they moved north to RAF Acklington on 26 October. November proved to be quiet a month at Acklington, with the routine mainly being patrols, formation practice, air-to-sea or range firing. The squadron claimed its first victory however, on 29 November, when Squadron Leader Harry Broadhurst downed a He.111. During the month Charles Darwood received the news he had been promoted to Flight Lieutenant effective from 15 September.
7 December, saw the squadron ordered to RAF Drem for a week of detached operations. The detachment proved longer than expected as they remained there until the end of February 1940. The routine at Drem for Flight Lieutenant Darwood consisted of patrols and formation practice with the occasional unsuccessful interception. On 27 February, 111 Squadron were ordered further north, to RAF Wick, to provide cover to the fleet anchorage at Scapa Flow. Initially, the routine at Wick was pretty much as at Drem, but towards the end of March, scrambles became more common becoming the order of the day into April, especially after the Germans invaded Norway. As a senior member of the squadron, Flight Lieutenant Darwood was also called upon to provide training for the newer pilots.
With the German invasion of the West on 10 May, 111 Squadron was soon called back to 11 Group being ordered to Northolt on 13 May. The pilots flew their aircraft, south via Acklington, and were conducting local flights the next day. On 16 May, as the situation on the continent deteriorated, 111 Squadron was split. “B” Flight, under Squadron leader Thompson and including Flight Lieutenant Darwood, moved to RAF Kenley to form a composite squadron with “A” Flight of No.253 Squadron. The pattern of operations for the composite unit would be to leave Kenley early each morning and fly to Vitry, where they would operate during the day, before returning to Kenley at dusk.
This routine was followed, uneventfully, on 17 May. 18 May started in similar fashion, with Flight Lieutenant Darwood arriving at Vitry at 6.10am. The flight then flew an offensive patrol without incident. However, in mid-afternoon, whilst taking off on a bomber escort mission the composite unit was caught by a formation of marauding Me.109s. They were in the worst possible position at low altitude and speed. Flight Lieutenant Darwood was shot down and killed in the ensuing melee.
At about 15.15 hours the squadron were ordered to provide an escort for bombers, whilst taking off the formation was attacked by 14 Me.109. F/Lt Darwood was killed by an e/a. He was seen by F/O Bruce flying Yellow 2 to pull up and only after was he attacked and whilst in the climb to slump forward and stall his machine into the ground.
Charles Sidney Darwood, the youngest of four siblings, was born in January 1914. His father, Arthur John Sutherland Darwood, a barrister with the Burma Judicial Service, was born in Port Blair, Andaman and Nicobar Islands in 1872. Together with his brother and cousin, Arthur Darwood was responsible for installing lighting and public transport in the city of Rangoon. The Darwood family also built and owned the Strand Hotel, which was considered one of the world’s great hotels pre-war. His mother Juanita, nee Sibblad, had been born in Rangoon and died in 1928. At the outbreak of the Second World War, Arthur J Darwood was living in South Croydon.
Charles Darwood left behind his daughter Jane and pregnant wife Elizabeth, nee Simpson. Charles and Elizabeth had married in July 1938.
Charles Sidney Darwood is buried in Longueness (St Omer) Souvenir Cemetery, Plot 8 Row B Grave 31
The inscription on his headstone reads:
Dearest husband of Elizabeth and father of Jane and Ann
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.