Tag Archives: RAF

CWG: Second Lieutenant Sidney Pragnell

Second Lieutenant Sidney Pragnell

Sidney Ralph Pragnell was the eldest of two children of Edward and Ellen Pragnell. Edward grew up in Sherborne, before moving to London to work as a chef; he found employment as a cook in an officer’s mess, which took him and his wife first to Ireland – where Sidney was born – and then to the barracks at Aldershot.

By the time of the 1911 census, Edward had brought his family back to Dorset, and was running the Half Moon Hotel, opposite the Abbey in Sherborne. Sidney, aged 12, was still at school.

When war broke out, Sidney was eager to play his part, even though he was underage. An article in the local newspaper highlights his keenness and how he progressed.

When war broke out, he was keen to serve his country and joined every local organisation his age would allow him to. He was an early member of the Sherborne VTC and Red Cross Detachment, and was actually the youngest member of the Volunteers to wear the uniform. Whilst still under age, he enlisted in the Royal Naval Division at the Crystal Palace and after a period of training was drafted as a qualified naval gunner to a merchant steamer carrying His Majesty’s mails and in this capacity went practically round the world. In February [1919] he joined the RNAS and after some air training in England went to France to an air station, where he passed all the tests with honours and gained the ‘wings’ of the qualified pilot. Lieutenant Pragnell then decided to go in for scouting and came back to England for advanced training in the special flying necessary for this qualification and it was whilst engaged in this that he met with the accident which resulted in his death.

Western Chronicle: Friday 16th August 1918.

The esteem in which Second Lieutenant Pragnell was held continues in the article, which quotes the condolence letter sent to his parents by his commander, Major Kelly.

It is with deep regret that I have to write you of the death of your son, Second-Lieutenant SR Pragnell. Your boy was one of the keenest young officers I have ever had under my command and was extremely popular with us all and his place will be extremely hard to fill.

The service can ill afford to lose officers of the type of which Lieutenant Pragnell was an excellent example and it seems such a pity this promising career was cut short when he had practically finished his training. May I convey the heartfelt sympathy of all officers and men in my command to you in this your hour of sorrow.

Western Chronical: Friday 16th August 1918.

What I find most interesting about this article is that the letter from Major Kelly detail how Edward and Ellen’s son died, and this this too is quoted by the newspaper.

Your son had been sent up to practice formation flying and was flying around the aerodrome at about 500 feet with his engine throttled down waiting for his instruction to ‘take off’. Whiles waiting your boy tried to turn when his machine had little forward speed. This caused him to ‘stall’ and spin and from this low altitude he had no chance to recover control and his machine fell to earth just on the edge of the aerodrome and was completely wrecked. A doctor was there within a minute, but your boy had been killed instantaneously.

Western Chronicle: Friday 16th August 1918.

Further research shows that the aerodrome Second Lieutenant Pragnell was training at was RAF Freiston in Lincolnshire, which had been designated Number 4 Fighting School with the specific task of training pilots for fighting scout squadrons. He had been flying a Sopwith Camel when he died.

Second Lieutenant Sidney Ralph Pragnell lies at rest in the cemetery of his Dorset home, Sherborne.


For the stories of more of the fallen from the Great War, take a look at my Commonwealth War Graves page.

CWG: Serjeant Nicholas Leadbetter

Serjeant Nicholas Leadbetter

Born in Lancashire in 1877, Nicholas Leadbetter was the eldest of the four children of fisherman and merchant Isaac and his wife Elizabeth. He was quick to follow in his father’s line of work and set up his own fish shop in St Anne’s-on-the-Sea (nowadays known as Lytham St Anne’s).

Nicholas married Alice Griffiths in 1900, and their first child – Isaac – was born that Christmas.

Living near the station in Lytham, the young couple took on boarders to supplement Nicholas’ work. By the time of the 1901 census they had Dionysius Howarth, a chemist’s assistant, and Edgar Charles Randolph Jones, a grocer’s assistant, staying with them.

The Leadbetters don’t appear on the 1911 census, but from later records it is evident that they moved from Lancashire to the South West, where Nicholas ran a fish, game and poultry store in Yeovil. By this time, they were a family of four, as a daughter – Alice – was born in 1906.

Nicholas moved his family across the border to Sherborne, where he continued to ply his trade as a fishmonger and poultry dealer.

War broke out and, at the age of 39, he enlisted in the fledgling Royal Air Force, serving in France for the remainder of the fighting.

Serjeant Nicholas Leadbetter was demobbed in February 1919 and returned home to his family on Valentine’s Day. A local newspaper picks up his story from there.

He was feeling unwell at the time and immediately went to bed. Double pneumonia set in, and, despite the best medical aid, he passed away on Tuesday, leaving a widow, one son, and one daughter to mourn their loss.

Western Gazette: Friday 21st February 1919.

Serjeant Leadbetter’s funeral was a fitting one:

[It] was of military character, members of the Sherborne detachment of the 1st Volunteer Battalion Dorset Regiment being present. The coffin, which was covered with the Union Jack, was borne by members of the detachment, and at the Cemetery a firing party fired three volleys over the grave, and the buglers of the Church Lads’ Brigade sounded the last post.

There were many floral tributes. Mrs Leadbetter wishes to return thanks for the many letters of sympathy received from kind friends, and which she finds it impossible to answer individually.

Western Gazette: Friday 28th February 1919.

Serjeant Nicholas Leadbetter lies at peace in Sherborne Cemetery.


For the stories of more of the fallen from the Great War, take a look at my Commonwealth War Graves page.

CWG: Air Mechanic Reuben Hadlow

Air Mechanic Reuben Hadlow

Reuben Victor Stanley Hadlow was born in the spring of 1898. He was one of thirteen children to John Charles Tarpe Hadlow and his wife Gertrude, publicans at the Star pub in Whitstable, Kent.

When war broke out, Reuben was working as a blacksmith; he enlisted in the army in the summer of 1914, serving on the home front.

In February 1916 Private Hadlow transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as a Air Mechanic 2nd Class, and was assigned to the 65 Training Squadron in Croydon. He was promoted to Air Mechanic 1st Class six months later.

When the RFC became the Royal Air Force, Air Mechanic Hadlow moved across to the new institution. He moved to support 156 Squadron in November 1918, then the 35 Training Depot Station shortly after.

Air Mechanic Hadlow contracted phthisis (tuberculosis) towards the end of that year, which led to his being discharged from the RAF on 22nd January 1919.

Reuben’s health did not recover after returning home – his parents were running the King’s Arms pub in Boxley near Maidstone by this point. He passed away on 17th September 1919, aged twenty-one.

He lies at rest in the churchyard of St Mary and All Saints, in his parent’s village.

Poignantly, his gravestone is not a traditional war grave. Instead it states that he died “after a painful illness and serving his country 4 1/2 years”.


For the stories of more of the fallen from the Great War, take a look at my Commonwealth War Graves page.