WORLD WAR I – ROYAL NAVAL AIR SERVICE. Papers and photographs of Sub-Lieutenant and subsequently Wing Commander William George Sitwell, DSC, of the Royal Naval Air Service, covering his career, beginning as a sub-lieutenant at sea with the Royal Navy in 1907 up until his service s Wing Commander on the North Western Frontier in 1925
Lot 275
Sold for £ 2,250 (US$ 3,161) inc. premium

Lot Details
Papers and photographs of Sub-Lieutenant and subsequently Wing Commander William George Sitwell, DSC, of the Royal Naval Air Service, covering his career, beginning as a sub-lieutenant at sea with the Royal Navy in 1907 up until his service s Wing Commander on the North Western Frontier in 1925, especially his career as a pilot with the RNAS during the Great War (appointed Flight Commander of HMS Empress, Malta, on 20 January 1916, and of South Shields Air Station on 2 April 1917), including a remarkable collection of photographs and his flying log, the archive comprising:

(i) Sitwell's 'Pilot's Flying Log Book' kept between beginning training on 13 May 1913 and being sent on leave on 26 March 1919, recording, inter alia, various first flights undertaken in September 1913 (in a seaplane, monoplane etc), with comments on aircraft flown (in April 1913 "First flight on a Sopwith. Sudden side draughts are somewhat disconcerting and the controls not very positive"), a peacetime total of 46 flights; the first flight of the war recorded on 9 August 1914 from Hunstanton ("In search of report of seaplanes"); followed in January 1915 with flights from Hendon in a BE, on 10 February flying from Dover ("Dropped 3, 20lb bombs Zeebrugge... Casualties 21 bullet holes. Landed Dunkerque, engine missing"); in March test-flying various aircraft, including the Sopwith Scout ("unsafe for pupils and condemned... Joyride for Admy official"), a Maurice Farman 146, EAC 189, Sopwith 1062 and 1063, BE 967 and BE 26 (to replace the 47); in May 1915 he is "Over London. Zeppelin hunt. First night flight... Barnes 804 killed"; after being transferred twice, once "as the result of anonymous letter" and "'for punishment'", he joins HMS Empress in the Eastern Mediterranean, in February 1916 being stationed at Ismalia and on "Palestine. Photographic reconnaissance" ("10 miles off to Tul Keram, Samaria... and return to ship. Very interesting. Shot at a little. Observer took several photos but 30 miles inland is not at all amusing"), then transferring for a while to Mudros before continuing to fly on bombing and reconnaissance missions ("Escorted 8381 to Sokia (10m inland) Dropped 4-16lb from 5000! Went up to 7000' to wait and engine stopped. Landed in sea near Scalanuova sand got fired at. Started up in 20" and returned to ship via Samos strait"); that June he flies in a Sopwith Schneider ("Spotting for 'Grafton' supposd to be on guns N of Scalanuova but they suddenly opened up on the town!! They took no notice of my spotting by Vereys lights. Rather an unpleasant trip and a bad sea for the Schneider"); they then returned to Mudros, it being too hot to fly; that August finds him flying over Salamis and Piraeus "To amuse the allied fleets and the Greeks", and then over the Bulgarian lines at Stauros and the Struma front, transferring to the Ark Royal in A Squadron at Thoasos that October ("Bombed Drama aerodrome. Straddled tents but did not hit them"), in November going on anti-submarine patrol ("Submarine patrl. Engine let me down. Made ggod landing on rough sea and then sat 6 hrs being sick and trying to Mend hole in water jacket. Trawler 43 found me near Bulgar Coast & towed me back. Considerable panic ashore as I as away 9 hours, wind and sea decidedly bad"); in April 1917 he is at South Shields, where he serves for the rest of the war, on anti-submarine patrols and test flight, the wing he commanded being disbanded on 25 March 1919 with him being "Dipped to Major presumably as a reward for my services", some 70 pages, cloth, upper cover stamped 'Pilot's Flying Log Book' with 'Name/ Rank/ Regiment of Corps', printed column headings, some wear through use but nevertheless still in good and attractive condition, 8vo, 1913-1919

(ii) File, marked "Personal Copies", of official correspondence relating to RNAS business comprising both incoming correspondence and retained copies of outgoing letters, between 1913 and 1918; plus a field message book kept in 1917 (mainly technical concerning aircraft, prefaced "We don't want people in the Air Service who don't fly"), Sitwell's certificates and commissions (including that of sub-lieutenant, signed by George V, 1911), his "Deck Log" beginning in 1919, a notebook kept when commanding 207 Squadron Calafrana in 1920, and much else

(iii) Album of photographs, including nine large-scale (c.200 x 250mm.) aerial photographs, showing "Port Lakki Aegean Islands 'Empress' 'Newfoundland' 3 TBD & 2 Colliers in our 'secret' harbour/ June 1916" [see catalogue illustration] and "The Greek Theatre & Temple Miletus July 1916" [see catalogue illustration], Milassa on 13 May 1916 ("When shewn this photo the Turk spy said that he knew the town well and the man who drew the picture was wrong! What a standard of intelligence Bombed Girls School 13 May 1916"; his logbook entry for this day records: "Accompanied Arnold on 8381 as escort. Dropped 4-16lb then watched Field bombing Kujeli Bridge"), "3 Sept 1916 After the 'Battle' of Athens/ Taken by Chas V. Arnold since deceased", "Athens September 1916" (showing Parthenon), "Kos, 10.5.16", etc., with numerous small-scale snapshots, some of aircraft but mostly social, wrappers inscribed "Bill 1916", 4to

(iv) Large collection of negatives taken by Sitwell, housed in 'Eastman Negative Albums', and similar, each holding about 100 negatives, later ones with positives inserted, comprising Book 1, inscribed "Commenced in 'Bedford' on passage to China... to HK May '08"; Book 2, kept largely in Hong Kong, 1908-9; Book 3, marked "CFS 1913 to End of Scapa Flow 1914/ My old Kodak was stolen at Calshot on commencement of war. New Kodak at Scapa Flow Nov 1914"; Book 4, kept at Fort George 1914, at Hendon, Chingford and Redcar aerodromes in 1915, on the Empress at Syracuse and Malta, 1916, and at Malta in 1917; Book 7, while stationed with the RAF on the North-West Frontier, 1923-1924

(v) a conventional oblong folio photograph album kept between 1905 and 1910, while serving on the King Alfred stationed at Hong Kong, Wei Hai Wei, Yokohama and elsewhere in Japan (0ne showing him with Beatty on the Queen)

(vi) Sitwell's midshipman's heavily illustrated logbook kept while serving on the Beford and King Alfred, 1907-1908; plus other miscellaneous material, including a the archive housed in two suitcases, many items dust-stained, some incomplete, etc.


  • A FINE RECORD OF AIR SERVICE AT HOME AND IN THE EAST DURING THE GREAT WAR: Wing-Commander William George Sitwell, DSC (1890-1927), belonged to the Sitwell family of Barmoor Castle, a cadet branch of the Renishaw baronets. He is recorded as receiving his Royal Aero Club Flying Certificate No. 505 on 3 June 1913. Starting as a Sub-Lieutenant serving at sea, mostly on the China Station, he joined the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), transferring to the RAF when it was merged in 1918. He was gazetted Captain (temporary Major) and temporary Lieutenant-Colonel whilst employed in the Flying Branch of the RAF on 30 August 1918, and rose to the rank of Wing Commander in the RAF. He was awarded the DSC for zeal and devotion to duty during the period from 1 July to 31 December 1917.
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  1. Luke Batterham
    Specialist - Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Historical Photographs
    Montpelier Street
    London, United Kingdom SW7 1HH
    Work +44 20 7393 3828
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