1. Wing Commander Sidney Cotton OBE

Sidney Cotton circa 19441894 – 1969

“Aviator Extraordinary”

WW2 founder of No 1 Photo Development Unit, Heston

Born on 17th June, 1894, at Goorganga in Queensland, Sidney Cotton  joined the Royal Naval Air Service in November 1915.  As a Flight Sub-Lieutenant, Cotton was engaged on sea patrols and soon after he was posted to the 5th Wing of the RNAS, where Cotton was involved in several bombing operations against Ostend docks and airfields.

After a period of sick leave he resigned on the 9th September, 1917 and returned home to Australia.  He moved to Newfoundland in 1921 and created an aerial photographic survey company. Cotton then bought rights to the Dufaycolour colour process in 1932. In September 1938, Cotton was approached by Squadron Leader Winterbotham of the RAF Intelligence at Air Ministry to use his business as cover for clandestine photographic reconnaissance missions over Germany.  A Lockheed 12A aircraft was chosen and adapted with secret camera compartments. By September 1939, he had successfully flown many spying missions (often with unsuspecting Nazi hierarchy on board), narrowly escaping the Gestapo as last plane out of Berlin before war was declared. He was appointed CO of the Heston Flight in 1939 and on January 17, 1940, the Unit became No 1 Photographic Development Unit. Cotton achieved remarkable results with limited resources, persuading Air Chief Marshal Sir Hugh Dowding, to relinquish two Spitfires stripped of armaments which became the backbone of photo reconnaissance units during WW2.  His principles and innovative ideas gave the RAF a tremendous advantage in photo reconnaissance.

His cavalier attitude however, did not endear him to those in authority and he was controversially removed from command. Nevertheless, he pursued a very adventurous life, both during and after the war until his sudden and unexpected death on February 13, 1969, at Ford Manor, Lingfield, Surrey.

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