Sergeant Mechanic William Sanfrid Appleton, MSM

William Sanfrid Appleton was born in Colchester, 7 September 1891, the youngest child of Arthur Henry and Maria Appleton.  At age 19, William Appleton was working as a carpenter and joiner, likely in his father's building and contractor business (1911 Census).  Just before enlisting in the War, he worked as an instrument repairer (listed in service record).

William Appleton joined the Royal Flying Corps 8 Dec 1915.  He was with 56 Squadron from its beginnings in London Colney in 1916, deploying to France on 5 April 1917.  On 6 June 1917, he was promoted to Corporal.  It was at this time that Appleton was tasked to solve the problem of a less-than-ideal Constantinesco Interrupter Gear, which was responsible for timing the firing of the Vickers gun such that it missed the SE5a rotating blades.  Given only a small instruction book, he overhauled the gear in his workshop and figured out how to better make adjustments.  His success was exemplified by the fact that for the week ending 16 October 1918, 13 Wing, of which 56 Squadron was a part, achieved twice as many firings per propeller lost as 12 Wing.   In the words of the RAF's 3rd Brigade Headquarters, "This reflects great credit on the N.C.O's and gearsmen responsible for timing machines."

56 Squadron Air Mechanic, WW1
56 Squadron Air Mechanics, WW1 - Sgt Appleton highlighted (Crown copyright).

William Appleton was promoted to Sergeant 1 August 1917, which became Sergeant Mechanic when the RFC became the RAF.  On 1 January 1919, his rank was changed to Sergeant Fitter (General).  He worked extremely hard throughout the War, and was eventually awarded the Meritorious Service Medal on 1 January 1919.  He was also recipient of the British War Medal and Victory Medal, and was recommended for the Medaille Militaire.

Just before 56 Squadron left France, Sergeant Fitter (Gen) Appleton was posted to 20 Squadron on 6 February 1919.  On 1 January 1920 he was transferred to Reserve Status; was recalled 9 April 1921 to work at RAF Manston and then discharged 4 December 1923.  He married Annie Winifred Potter in April 1920 and they settled down in Colchester.  He passed away 7 September 1985, and is buried with Annie in the Colchester Cemetery and Crematorium.

Whilst Captain James McCudden, VC, was part of the Squadron, Appleton created two special walking sticks: one for himself and one for McCudden.  The top halves were constructed from the propeller of a German aircraft shot down by McCudden which had crashed behind British lines, whilst the bottom halves were from one of McCudden's damaged propellers.  The one that Sergeant Appleton kept for himself was kindly presented to 56 Squadron in 1992 by his sons.

London Gazette Entry

Air Ministry.1st January, 1919.
His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the undermentioned rewards to Officers and other ranks of the Royal Air Force, in recognition of distinguished service:
16156 Serjt. Mech. W. S. Appleton (Colchester).

Information taken from National Archives,,, London Gazette and the 56(R) Squadron archives.