Leeds nostalgia: Pilot from Leeds was one of first RAF tragedies - new appeal 100 years on

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A Leeds trainee pilot was one of the first casualties of the newly formed RAF.

W Cecil Hield was born in Bradford but grew up in Leeds and is buried in St Matthews Cemetery, Chapel Allerton. Now an appeal is being made for information about him.

Bryan Smith, from the Friends of Chapel Allerton War Memorial, said: “Sadly, his time as a pilot was all to brief - he was killed, in what may have been the first air accident of the new service, on April 12, 1918.”

Cecil was born in in April 1893 and baptised at St Luke’s Church, Manningham. By the beginning of the new century, his parents, Harry and Ada, with their two children had moved to Leeds, living at Hyde Park, in Wrangthorn Avenue. Harry Hield was a clerk to a company of Dyers and Finishers. By the time of the 1911 Census, the family was living at 11 Hill View Mount, a spacious new house in the leafy suburb of Chapel Allerton, just at the edge of the park. When he answered the call to serve his country, Cecil was an apprentice signwriter, later a draughtsman, working for Roberts & Co., of Camp Road He worked for the Roberts company from April 1909 to 1914.

Details about the early part of Cecil’s career are scant but by October 1917, passed fit for pilot training, he was with an Officer Training Unit at Oxford and had a temporary commission, as 2nd Lieutenant. By February 1918, in Norfolk, he was training to be a pilot. Two months later, he was one of a pair of victims in a tragic accident.

It was 4.55pm. on April 12, 1918. Second Lt Cecil Hield was flying in a two-seater Avro 504 Monoplane (Reg. No: C581) under the tutelage of Second Lieutenant E J Dillon at Fretwell, near Thetford, in the county of Norfolk, when the aircraft crashed, killing both occupants. He was 24.

The Royal Air Force, newly formed, logged one of its first accidents.

A Court of Inquiry stated:

Flying Accident, 12th April 1918 at 4.55p.m.

Two seater Avro 504 (Reg. No. C581)

“The Court, having considered the evidence, are of the opinion that the accident was caused either by lack of judgement on the part of Lt. Dillon or through the pupil, Lt Hield, losing his head and locking the controls, giving Lt. Dillon no time to regain control, not having sufficient height.”

Mr Smith said: “A group of local people have come together as ‘Friends of Chapel Allerton War Memorial’. Our mission is to see an improvement at a long-neglected heritage site. We will be pleased to hear of any material/photographs etc, related to the community memorial, in Harrogate Road, or the Cemetery itself. Please contact Bryan Smith at b.smith183@btinternet.com.

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