top of page

The Death of LAC Sidney Kerslake, No 5 RAF Armoured Car Company

Leading Aircraftsman Sidney Ivor Kerslake was serving with the Royal Air Force in 5 Armoured Car Company at Mosul in Mesopotamia (now part of Northern Iraq) at a time when there was a great argument between the British, Turkey and the Arabs as to whether the city of Mosul should be part of Turkey or remain under the control of the British mandate.

 

By December 1924, British troops had finally suppressed the Kurdish rebellion, though there remained outbreaks of hostility along the border in the north of Iraq. The role of No 5 Armoured Car Company at that time was to assist the Royal Air Force and British Army in holding back invading Kurdish tribesmen by providing on-the-ground support for the Vickers Vernon troop transport aircraft of 70 squadron and the Vernon bombers of 45 Squadron. The photograph immediately below the two images of Sidney Kerslake was taken by Sidney at RAF Mosul in 1923, and shows a 45 Squadron Vernon that had been fitted with bomb racks so that it could carry 36 bombs instead of  the normal load of 11 passengers. The two photographs of Sidney show him wearing his ‘Mess’ uniform and carrying his dog “Billie” and also dressed for duty in his normal tropical working uniform. 

LAC Sidney Ivor Kerslake in 'Mess' uniform, carrying his dog "Billie"
LAC Sidney Ivor Kerslake, 5 Armoured Car Company, Mosul, Iraq
Vickers Vernon converted bomber of 45 Squadron, 1923

The Squadron Guard Room at RAF Mosul, photo taken by Sidney Kerslake in 1923 and also a Lancia 1ZM armoured car (though not one belonging to No: 5 Armoured Car Company).

The Squadron Guard Room, Mosul, Iraq 1923
Lancia 1ZM Armoured Car

On the 5th July 1925, only two weeks after a change of government in Iraq, Sidney Kerslake (aged 22) was killed in an accident near Baiji, 85 miles south of Mosul. The Lancia Armoured Car 1ZM in which he was travelling burst a front tyre, causing the vehicle to roll over. This was not an uncommon type of accident in Iraq as the heavy armour plating on armoured cars made them top-heavy, especially in the event of a puncture on a sandy and unstable surface. Instead of being returned to RAF Mosul for burial, Sidney’s body was taken 170 miles south to the Armoured Car Group HQ at RAF Hinaidi in the southern suburbs of Baghdad and was buried with full military honours at the Hinaidi RAF Peace Cemetery (name later changed to the Ma’asker Al Raschid RAF Cemetery) in Plot 2 Row D Grave 8.

The news of Sidney's death was processed through the normal channels of the Air Ministry, but unfortunately did not reach his parents until late September, six weeks after the fatal accident. The reason for the delay was because Sidney's grandmother had been noted in Sidney's RAF Service Record as his 'next-of-kin' and it was therefore she who was notified of Sidney's death by the Air Ministry's main office in Adastral House, Kingsway, London (a building that would later have its name changed to Television House, home to Associated Rediffusion, ITN and ITV). To complicate matters, a second letter was sent to Sidney's grandmother, this time from the Air Ministry's Accounts Department in Whittington Road, Worcester, asking her to fill out the attached "Air Ministry Form 531"; a document that would prove she was indeed Sidney's next-of-kin and therefore be the beneficiary of Sidney's Service Estate. Copied below is a typical letter sent from the Air Ministry Accounts Department when processing the estate of  deceased  service personnel.

As Sidney's grandmother was not in a position to claim she was next-of-kin, a copy of the request letter was posted to Sidney's father, the Air Ministry's Accounts department assuming in error that Sidney's parents had already been notified of Sidney's death. It was only after Sidney's father contacted the Air Ministry in London, that an official letter was written to the family on the 19th September 1925 confirming Sidney's death (see below).  

Letter to next of kin requesting Air Ministry Form 531
Air Ministry letter of death notification for LAC Sidney Kerslake RAF

The Ma’asker Al Raschid RAF cemetery has officially been maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on behalf of the Ministry of Defence (who own the land on which the cemetery is sited) since control of RAF Hinaidi was handed over to the Iraqi government in February 1938, but for reasons not yet apparent, the cemetery became neglected over the years. Today, only 71 of the original 300 headstones remain in recognisable condition (click HERE for photographs of the 71 headstones). Sadly, Sidney Kerslake’s headstone is not one of those that has survived and the area of the cemetery where his grave is located was until 2021 used as an access road for Iraqi lorries. However, after superficial examination by the contractors who built the new wall in October 2021, it appears likely that Sidney's remains have not been disturbed. It is hoped that in the near future work will re-commence on Stage 2 of the restoration at Ma’asker, so that the body of Sidney Kerslake will again be awarded the honour and respect as it was almost a century ago when he died whilst in the service of his country.

My thanks to Claire Connolly for permitting me to post some of the photographs that belonged to Sidney Kerslake, her grandfather's brother. Claire is the latest person to have contacted me regarding a family member who died in Iraq and now lies buried in the abandoned Ma'Asker Al Raschid RAF Cemetery. I hope that I will soon be able to offer more than empty promises when I receive queries from other descendants of servicemen and servicewomen whose bodies lie in unmarked British war graves in Iraq.

 

For the full history of RAF Hinaidi and the Ma’asker Al Raschid RAF Cemetery, including the completion of Stage 1 of the restoration project (viz. the construction of a new perimeter wall) and future restoration plans, visit the RAF Hinaidi or Ma'Asker Al Raschid RAF Cemetery pages on this website.

bottom of page