b. 13/06/1908 Frinton on Sea, Essex. d. 14/05/2002 Shipton under Wychwood, Oxfordshire.
DATE AND PLACE OF GC ACTION: 30/09/1940 RAF Wattisham, Suffolk.
Sir Laurence “Laurie” Frank Sinclair (1908-2002) was born on 13th June 1908 in Frinton-on-Sea, Essex, the second son of Captain Frank and Beatrice Augusta Sinclair (nee Brooke). His father died when he was young and his aunt Helen lived with the family. He was educated at Christ’s Hospital from 1919-1924 then moved to the Imperial Service College which later amalgamated with Haileybury, before going to the RAF College, Cranwell for two years.
His first posting in the RAF was to Farnborough, before in March 1930 as a member of No 28 Army Cooperation Squadron he was posted to Ambala in the Punjab and sailed on the “Somersetshire” to India where his brother Charles was based. Life in India was not all about flying and he learnt to ride. In 1932 he came back to the UK to RAF Wittering as an instructor and was posted to No 5 Training School at Sealand, near Chester, before moving to the Special Reserve Squadron at Filton, near Bristol. In 1935 he was promoted to Flight Lieutenant and another move, this time to Hendon. In 1936, much to his own dismay, he was posted back to India.
In early 1939, Laurie, as he became known, became affected by crippling abdominal pain. He was diagnosed with having been with just one kidney. He was immediately grounded by the Central Medical Board. Laurie was not happy in a desk job, and was posted to No 5 Flying Training School at Sealand as Chief Flying Instructor. It was while he was there that he met his future wife, Valerie (nee Dalton-White) who was working in the FANYS. With a further medical reclassification he was back in the air and on 1st May 1940 he was promoted to Wing Commander and a posting to 110 Squadron at Wattisham, Bomber Command.
On 30th Seotember 1940, at RAF Wattisham, a Blenheim bomber was taking off from RAF Wattisham when one engine cut out and the bomber crashed in flames. Sinclair immediately went to the scene to help, but two 250lb bombs exploded before he reached it. Undeterred, and knowing full well that there were two more 250lb bombs on board, he pressed on and dashed into the burning wreck. Of the three crew he was able to drag out the air gunner, Sergeant Walters, and take him to an ambulance. Unfortunately, he died from his injuries. The pilot, Sergeant J Merrett was killed. The navigator, Sergeant Byron, survived but Sinclair did not discover this for 50 years.
The London Gazette announced the award of the George Cross on 17th January 1941, and Laurie was posted to the Operational Training Unit at Bicester, before promotion to Group Captain and taking command of No 2 Group Station at Watton, in Norfolk. News then came through of his next posting to Malta.
On 21st January 1941, he married Valerie Dalton White, and fortunately the posting to Malta was cancelled, and Laurie was moved to RAF Abingdon. He was then given command of a Wing of four squadrons with a special mission to North Africa. Following the surrender of the German forces in North Africa in May 1943, he was awarded a Bar to his DSO (his original DSO was in September 1940), the Legion of Merit by the USA, and the French Legion d’Honneur.
During 1945 Laurie returned to London and became Director of Postings which enabled him to post his wife to the Air Ministry. They were then able to spend more time together. Laurie was then chosen to attend a course at the Imperial Defence College at the end of which, he was posted to HQ No 84 Group at Celle in Germany. When the tour ended, he and his wife and newborn daughter, Susan, moved to RAF Cranwell, where he was now a Commandant. He was then appointed Air Vice-Marshal before becoming Assistant Chief of Air Staff.
His next appointment was to Aden, in Yemen, where in 1957 he heard about his knighthood. Laurie’s final appointment was in 1969 as Controller of the newly-created National Air Traffic Control System. Following his retirement, he and Val settled in West Oxfordshire. Val passed away in 1990, and Laurie followed twelve years later, on 14th May 2002 and he was buried with her in St Mary the Virgin Churchyard, Broad Oak, Essex. His impressive medal group including his KCB, GC, CBE, DSO and Bar, Legion of Merit, Legion d’Honneur were placed on loan to the Imperial War Museum, where they are displayed in the Ashcroft Gallery.
LOCATION OF MEDAL: LORD ASHCROFT GALLERY, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM, LONDON.
BURIAL PLACE: ST MARY THE VIRGIN, HATFIELD BROAD OAK, ESSEX.
Picture - Kevin Brazier
Laurence Sinclair's medals at the Lord Ashcroft Gallery, Imperial War Museum (December 2014)