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Group Captain Sylvester Lindsay Quine

Title: Group Captain

Epithet: Airman and radio pioneer (1894-1978)

Record type: Biographies

Biography: From ‘New Manx Worthies’ (2006):

Sylvester Quine was born at 52 Derby Square whilst his father was head of Douglas Grammar School, but the family moved to Lonan Vicarage in 1895. He was the seventh child and the third and favoured son, known jokingly by his siblings as 'the Prince of Wales'. Whilst attending King William's College as a day boy, he lived at Silverdale with his grandfather, William Quine MHK.

He corresponded with his eldest brother John Lindsay Quine, who was at sea, about the principles of flight and model planes, and when his brother came ashore about 1912 they built a radio station at the vicarage, transmitting and receiving Morse signals. It is believed to have been the first and only transmitting station on the Island at that time. Sylvester's keen interest in these activities was to play a large part in his choice of career.

On leaving school in 1911 he was articled to the law firm of Dickinson, Cruickshank and Co., but on the outbreak of war in 1914 he joined the Manx Volunteers who were attached to the 7th Battalion King's Liverpool Regiment. In March 1915 he was commissioned in the 16th Battalion of the same regiment and posted to France, where he became friendly with a pilot in the Royal Flying Corps. The latter took him as an observer on operational sorties as well as for flying instruction at base.

This unofficial activity resulted in a routine reprimand but also, to Sylvester's satisfaction, a home posting in the early autumn of 1915 for pilot training. He qualified before the end of that year, and after some fifteen months in Greece and Egypt he returned to the Western Front in April 1917. During the campaign he flew a low level sortie in extremely bad weather conditions and poor visibility over several enemy artillery batteries, which he was able to identify and position so that counter-measures could be taken. For his courage and determination he was awarded the Military Cross.

Early in 1918 he was posted back to Netheravon, Wiltshire, as an instructor with the Army Co-operation Squadron, and became a founder member of the RAF which was created by the amalgamation of the RFC and the Royal Naval Air Service. It was little wonder that after the Armistice he accepted an RAF commission in preference to a law career.

After his marriage, and service as an instructor in the RAF Electrical and Wireless School, he spent some time in the Middle East, mainly in Iraq and Palestine, where he learnt Arabic. He returned to the UK as signals officer to the Wessex bombing area at Andover, and in 1932 saw his boyhood interests fulfilled with a three-year appointment as chief signals officer, Middle East, based in Cairo, with the rank of squadron leader.

Not long after coming home he was promoted, in 1937, to the rank of wing commander and appointed commanding officer of RAF Driffield in Yorkshire, serving under Air Commodore A.T. Harris, Air Officer Commanding No.4 Group of Bomber Command - later to court an international reputation as 'Bomber Harris'. He and Sylvester established a good working relationship.

At this time there were those in the air force who recognised the inevitability of war, so that Sylvester was closely engaged in organising simulated long distant strategic 'attacks' in differing weather conditions with the use of parachute bombs and accurate navigation techniques. In parallel was the top secret Chain Home system, which involved the establishment of a defence round the British coastline, and could be described as the world's original radar screen. It was to prove decisive in repulsing the invasion threat in the sixteen critical weeks of the Battle of Britain during the first year of the war.

He was one of a group of senior officers who were alive to the navigational difficulties of pinpointing long-distance targets from fast-moving planes, and indeed he himself began some rudimentary experiments with aircraft instrumentation systems. Fortunately the concerns of the aircrews galvanised the Air Ministry scientists to develop ground mapping and target acquisition radar suitable for the later offensives.

After Driffield, Sylvester moved as CO to other stations. He was posted to France as chief signals officer, returning just before Dunkirk to the UK where he remained for the rest of the war with Signals Command HQ. His involvement, connected with top secret radar navigation, included the air-to-surface radar which helped turn the tide in the Battle of the Atlantic by 1943. He retired in 1945.

He joined the Ministry of Works as Deputy Director of Temporary Housing in Scotland 1946-1948, and then after a short period in Manchester moved to London as co-ordinating engineer for the British Electricity Authority. In 1955 he and his second wife Lois finally retired to the Isle of Man.

With time and energy to spare, he would like to have followed family tradition as an MHK, but his aspirations were frustrated. He withdrew his candidature in 1956, as his brother John, the sitting member for Garff, was standing again, whilst in 1961 both stood, splitting the vote, and neither was elected. Nevertheless, he was never short of activities and interests including fishing, gardening, family history, the Isle of Man Natural History and Antiquarian Society, and the Friends of the Manx Museum. In 1959 he organised and became CO of four posts of the Royal Observer Corps in the Island. He was selected along with the then Lieutenant Governor, Sir Ronald Garvey, for a senior officer course at the Civil Defence staff college at Sunningdale. As one of the Friends, he took a close interest in St Adamnan's, Lonan's old church, so lovingly restored by his father, and he served on the parochial council and the Diocesan Conference. There is a memorial plaque to him below the family memorial window in All Saints (Lonan's new church).

His enormous ability in so many fields, his absorbing interest and enthusiasm for whatever he tackled and his clear articulation of strong views on varied topics, as exemplified in his world-wide correspondence in his retirement, all mark him as a Manxman of outstanding merit.

Biography written by Marjorie Quine (widow of Colin Lindsay Quine, nephew)

(With thanks to Culture Vannin as publishers of the book: Kelly, Dollin (general editor), ‘New Manx Worthies’, Manx Heritage Foundation/Culture Vannin, 2006, pp.392-4.)

Culture Vannin


Gender: Male

Date of birth: 25 January 1894

Date of death: 4 February 1978

Name Variant: Quine, S.L., Group Captain


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