The historically important and extraordinary World War II RAF Medal Group to Squadron Leader ‘Syd’ Clayton, DSO, DFC & Bar, DFM including a significant archive of photographs, paperwork and personal items sold for £34,048 (including buyers premium) at Sheffield Auction Gallery specialist Medals & Militaria Auction on 26th January.
“It set a new record price for a medal group at our auction house” commented Auctioneer John Morgan, “and it was both an honour and humbling experience to be asked to handle such an iconic group of medals” he continued.
With a total of 30 RAF operational flights being considered outstanding in WWII and the chance of survival at only 40%, to complete 145 operational sorties as both a pilot and navigator is something exceptional, but that is the story of Squadron Leader Sydney Clayton DSO, DFC and Bar, DFM, one the many forgotten heroes of world war 2 RAF Bomber Command.
In this, the 99th year anniversary of the founding of the RAF, the medals and RAF archive of Sq Leader Clayton are to be offered for auction on 26th January at Sheffield Auction Gallery in the first of this year’s live internet Medals & Militaria Auctions.
Sydney Clayton was born in Dilworth, Near Longridge in Lancashire in March 1916. Educated at the local school, before taking a technical scholarship at Preston College. He held various jobs before the outbreak of war including that of a Commercial Traveller, selling cheese for a local company before signing up for the RAF in May 1939.
Although ambitious to be a pilot, pilot training was oversubscribed therefore he turned his talents to training as a navigator. Qualifying in 1940 his first operational unit was 107 Squadron flying the Blenheim light Bombers, mainly on daylight raids. In total Clayton flew 72 operational sorties in the Blenheim resulting in the awarding of a Distinguished Flying Medal in spring 1941 for completing 60 sorties and promotion to Flying Officer.
Following a period on instructional duties with No17 OTU, the formation of the first De Havilland Mosquito Squadrons in early 1942 saw Clayton return to active duty with 105 Squadron. The Mosquito was one of the outstanding RAF aircraft of the war, acting in many roles including bomber and aerial photography, a very fast and robust aircraft. Clayton’s first operational flight was on July 11th 1942, with a low level bombing raid on the submarine base at Flensburg. Badly damaged by flack, the plane was forced to ‘belly land’ at 160 mph on its return.
On October 21st 1942, while crossing the Dutch coast, Clayton’s Mosquito was attacked by two German Focke Wulfe 109’s. Following a 15 minute encounter the Mosquito escaped, and for his role as navigator in this encounter Clayton was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, with the citation recalling his courage, initiative and devotion. Then on December 9th 1942 Clayton was navigator in another infamous bombing raid when, along with pilot Wing Commander Roy Ralston, they trapped a German train while in a tunnel near Paris.
Clayton continued to fly both high and low level raids until March 1943, often with his constant companion Wing Commander Roy Ralston as his pilot hitting communication and logistical targets including the Renault Aero Works at Le Mans. Then on 1st April 1943, the RAF’s 25th birthday, a low level raid on the Trier Railway engine repair depot was to be Clayton’s 100th operational sortie and last as a navigator. A Distinguished Service Order followed, with many plaudits including a telegram from Air Marshall Sir Arthur Harris and a picture and plaque from De Havilland themselves.
It was now that Clayton’s original ambition was to be fulfilled and pilot training began. By May 1944 he was flying Mosquito’s solo, with his first flight being remembered for having to land on one engine after a technical failure. With Pilot wings gained Clayton was posted to 464 Squadron RAAF and began flying Mosquito’s operationally on 26th August 1944.
It was shortly afterwards that on 31 October 1944 in a daylight raid Clayton was involved in one of his most memorable raids with the attack on the Gestapo Headquarters in Aarhus, Copenhagen in support of the Danish Resistance an act for which he received a pair of ‘royal’ cufflinks from the resistance and formed part of the citation for a Bar to his Distinguished Flying Cross. A letter from the resistance and the cufflinks form part of the collection being sold.
Having completed 145 operational flights, 100 as a navigator and 45 as a pilot, VE day came on the 8th May 1945 and a return to civilian life saw Sydney Clayton back in Lancashire running an hotel and a newsagents, before joining the civil service in 1971.
A humble man, Clayton once said of his flying days, “Apart from the odd bit of flack or an encounter with a night fighter, nothing terribly exciting happened in my ops as a pilot”.
Sydney Clayton died in tragic circumstances at home in Poulton-le-Fylde, Lancashire in 1976, survived by his wife Margie.
Sheffield Auction Gallery Senior Valuer and Auctioneer, John Morgan commented “It is both an honour and humbling experience to be asked to handle the sale of such an important group of medals and archive; and one for which we are very proud”.
The medals were sold to fund a permanent memorial to Sydney and as part of the pre-auction publicity the medals, family and a De Havilland Mosquito were all re-united at RAF Museum Hendon in January.
Such a magnificent collection is expected to attract worldwide attention, for further information please contact the Auctioneers on 0114 281 6161