A Collection of Awards to the Royal Flying Corps, Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Air Force

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Date of Auction: 19th June 2013

Sold for £3,700

Estimate: £3,000 - £4,000

The important Great War D.S.O. group of four awarded to Colonel A. D. Carden, Royal Engineers, attached Royal Flying Corps and Royal Air Force, a pioneer of the air who, in his own words, learned to fly by ‘taking his plane into the sky and putting it down again without killing myself’, an achievement all the more admirable in light of the fact ‘he was probably the only one-armed pilot in the world’: from his part in the maiden flight of the army balloon Nulli Secundus II to his three mile flight with S. F. Cody over Laffin’s Plain, not to mention his equally courageous part in developing the Dunne aircraft, his pioneering spirit won the admiration of all - a rightful candidate for election to the ‘Aviation Hall of Fame’, his undue modesty and gentlemanly manner precluded him from proper recognition in his own lifetime

Distinguished Service Order, G.V.R., silver-gilt and enamel; 1914 Star, with clasp (Major A. D. Carden, R.E., Attd. R.F.C.); British War and Victory Medals, M.I.D. oak leaf (Lt. Col. A. D. Carden), obverse centre of the first slightly recessed, otherwise very fine and better (4)


D.S.O. London Gazette 1 January 1918.

Alan Douglas Carden was born in St. Helier, Jersey, in July 1874, the son of Major-General George Carden, late Northumberland Fusiliers. Educated at Charterhouse, young Alan was commissioned in the Royal Engineers in December 1894 and, after completing his junior officer courses at Chatham, spent several years in submarine mining and electric light duties. And it was on his return from service as C.O. of the West India Submarine Mining Company, R.E., in Jamaica, in 1907, that he commenced his remarkable career in military ballooning and aviation.
Pioneer balloonatic and aviator

Carden’s important contribution to military ballooning and the development of powered aircraft is well recorded, much of it undertaken after the loss of the lower half of his left arm in an early accident on Salisbury Plain - indeed Flight Magazine claimed at the time he was likely the only one-armed pilot in the world, a matter of no small significance owing to the fact the Dunne biplane’s steering and elevation was controlled by levers on each side of the pilot. An excellent account of him flying Mr. Dunne’s machine at Eastchurch is to be found in Flight Magazine, 22 June 1912, together with accompanying photographs taken by the designer’s sister - photographs that clearly show the revolutionary swept back wings (copies included).

In fact much might be written about this period in his career, whether his part in the maiden flight of the army balloon Nulli Secundus II in July 1908, or perhaps his part in the early experimental flights of Dunne’ aircraft at Blair Atholl; or, for that matter, his three mile flight around Laffin’s Plain at Aldershot with S. F. Cody in the Cody Biplane No. 1 in September 1909. However, by way of summary. the following extract from his obituary in the Royal Engineers Journal is quoted:

‘On returning from the West Indies in 1907 Carden became associated with military flying. His first appointment was Assistant Superintendent at the Balloon Factory, South Farnborough (now the Royal Aircraft Establishment). He was one of the "crew" on the Nulli Secundus, the first military airship, when it flew in its remodelled form in 1908. He was from 1910-13 also closely connected with the development of powered aircraft becoming one of a private syndicate of three, including Colonel J. E. Capper and the Marquis of Tullibardine, which endeavoured to develop for military purposes a monoplane designed initially by Lieutenant J. W. Dunne of the Wiltshire Regiment who had been invalided from the Army after the South African War. This officer had also developed gliders which showed a remarkable degree of inherent. stability in flights. Lack of funds available to the syndicate prevented their final development of the Dunne aircraft. Carden, however, gained his pilot's certificate by flying this type of machine. The French manufacturing rights of the aircraft were eventually acquired by the Astra Company and the British rights were bought by Armstrong Whitworth and, although neither firm actually pursued the development of the Dunne aircraft at the time, some of the ideas incorporated in its original design have been re-used in the tail-less type of aircraft with swept-back wings being developed today. When the Air Battalion R.E. was formed in 1911 Carden was given the appointment of Experimental Officer. With the formation of the Royal Flying Corps on 13 May 1912 the Air Battalion R.E. was disbanded, many of its personnel being absorbed into the newly-formed Corps. Carden, while still remaining a Sapper officer, stayed on at Farnborough and in August of that year he was made a Squadron-Leader R.F.C. with the temporary Army rank of Major.’

The Great War

A few days after the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, Carden went out to France on attachment to the Staff of the Chief Engineer, Western Command, and served as C.O. of the R.F.C’s first aircraft park, remaining similarly employed until returning to the Home Establishment in January 1915. He was mentioned in despatches (London Gazette 17 February 1915 refers).

Having then served as a Deputy Assistant Director at the War Office, Carden served with the Egyptian Expeditionary Force, gaining “mentions” from Generals Murray and Allenby (London Gazettes 1 December 1916 and 16 January 1918 refer), prior to returning to the U.K. to take up an appointment on the Air Board. He was awarded the D.S.O. and ended the War as a Colonel at the Air Ministry.

The Latter Years

One newspaper obituary states:

‘After soldiering for 40 years, during which he was also one of the pioneers of Army ballooning, Colonel Carden retired. But not for long, for he later secured a job at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Farnborough. It was not until a personnel questionnaire was circulated that it was discovered that he was 80 years old, and he was reluctantly retired for a second time.’

It has been said of Carden that his one fault was undue modesty, which, coupled with his gentlemanly manner, prevented him gaining the scale of recognition to which he was undoubtedly entitled. He died in Chippenham, Wiltshire, in April 1964, aged 90.

Sold with a large file of research, including copied extracts from Carden’s diaries 1908-9, in which he describes early activity in the Dunne aircraft at Blair Atholl.