My mum Rene (Alice Irene Flitney née Harding) died in 1999. When my brother, sister and I went through her things we found an envelope full of old newspaper clippings and other bits and pieces. We looked through the papers and put the envelope away, but those yellowing pieces of paper keep whispering of half-forgotten times and places. Places like Butlers Cross, Stoke Mandeville, Aylesbury, West Wycombe, Little Kimble, Wendover, Ellesborough, Southcourt and Princes Risborough.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Albert and Leonard Flitney – A sad tale

This is the second in a series of posts about my paternal great grandparents Eli and Ellen Flitney. If you wish, you can read the first part of their story here.  In this and following posts I will be writing about their sons and grandsons. 

Eli and Ellen's eldest son Albert was born in Ellesborough, Buckinghamshire in 1876. By the age of fifteen, he was working as a farm labourer and by 1901 he was a carter on a farm at Little Hampden. From there he went on to work at Rectory Lodge, Great Hampden as a groom, gardener and domestic.

The Plough Inn, Terrick (now a private residence). 

A story in the Bucks Herald from January 1896 leads me to think Albert might have enjoyed gardening and singing in equal measure. According to the report, he and six of his contemporaries sang at the Allotment Holders Supper. The supper, hailed a success, took place at the Plough Inn, Terrick and ended with the singing of God Save the Queen. 

 Parish Church, Little Hampden via

Albert married Emily Brackley at the Parish Church Little Hampden on the 11th October 1897 and in May of the following year, Emily gave birth to a son also called Albert.  I only became aware of Albert’s birth whilst searching newspaper archives for something totally unrelated. During that search, I stumbled on this death notice in the Bucks Herald from the 27th August, 1898;

Flitney - At Little Hampden, on the 25th inst., Albert, infant son of Albert Flitney.  

At this stage I wasn't at all sure if the infant in question was anything to do with 'my' Albert and Emily, but then I remembered something I had seen and disregarded on a census return from 1911.

I had previously assumed the crossed out line of text was unimportant. However, further scrutiny revealed the following; Albert Flitney, son, followed by his age, which is unclear (probably four months) and one final word – dead.   It makes me sad to think of Emily and Albert including their sons name on the census return several years after his death, but it does provide a poignant reminder of his short life.

Emily gave birth to a second son, Leonard, on the 5th January 1900. Leonard was fourteen when Britain declared war on Germany and sixteen when his father received his call up papers.  Albert reported for duty on the 20th July 1916 and was assigned to the 1st battalion Royal Garrison Artillery. According to his army service records he saw service in India and South Africa with the Royal Army Service Corps and the 1st Reserve Mechanical Transport, 18th battery. He was declared unfit for duties (disabled) on the 8th October 1918 and was demobilized on the 3rd March 1919 returning to his then home of 6 Mobwell Terrace, Great Missenden four months after the end of WW1.  

6 Mobwell Terrace

While his father was away Leonard was working as a blacksmith but the Military Service Act of January 1916 specified that single men between the ages of 18 and 41 were liable to be called-up for military service, unless they were widowed with children or ministers of religion. As neither criterion applied to Leonard, he was compulsorily conscripted on the 22nd January 1918.  He joined the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS), and in April of the same year, was transferred to the fledgling RAF.

I don't have a photograph of Leonard but according to his service record he was 5ft 4" tall with brown hair, brown eyes and a fresh complexion. Leonard began his training at the Royal Navy Air Station in Redcar, Kent. Details are sketchy but it appears he was then attached to the air armament and gunnery school at Eastchurch, which came under the control of Leysdown airfield in Kent. On March 27th 1919, he was sent to No 1 Aircraft Depot at St. Omer in France.  

Re-assembling aeroplanes at No. 1 Aircraft Depot at St. Omer. (Image via the Imperial War Museum)

By the time Leonard arrived at St Omer the war had been over for a few months but there was still a great deal of work involved in unravelling the war machinery of the RAF whilst at the same time maintaining the needs of the Army and RAF who had entered Germany as the British Army of Occupation on the Rhine.

I can only imagine the relief felt by everyone back at home now the war was over. Albert and Emily must surely have assumed their son was safe. Imagine their horror then when on the 8th May 1919 just a few short weeks after his arrival in France Leonard was the victim of an accidental drowning.

I've yet to find out precisely what happened to Leonard his casualty card records his date of death as the 8th May 1919, the place of death France and the nature and cause of death as accidental drowning.   I have a copy of his death certificate on order and if that should provide further clues, I will include them as a footnote to this post.  I've received a great deal of assistance in my search from the following people; 

Thank you both.

It has been suggested to me that Leonard may simply have gone swimming in a local lake and got into trouble. Few people learnt to swim in those days, so it is a distinct possibility, but I would still like to know.  He is buried at Longuenesse (St Omer) Souvenir Cemetery; the inscription on his headstone reads “Rest in Peace”. Somehow it doesn't seem enough.

Of Albert and Emily there is not much more to tell. Records are few and far between although I've found a registration of death for an Albert Flitney, who died in the autumn of 1931 at the age of 55.  I've also found a registration of death for Emily Flitney in the spring of 1951, at the age of 74. Both deaths are recorded in the district of Amersham. I have a hunch I'm on the right track, but I can’t say more than that. The next step is to order copies of their death certificates, but it is becoming an expensive business so it may have to wait for a while.  As always, this is an ongoing search so if you have any information please get in touch.



Leonard is remembered on the war memorial at Butlers Cross (see the Buckinghamshire remembers website). You can read more about the memorial here.

He is also remembered on a separate memorial at Great Missenden Church (and on a wall plaque in the high street.

Leonard is buried at Longuenesse (St Omer) Souvenir Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France. Grave or memorial reference V.F. 60.  In Memory of Aircraftman 2nd class Leonard Flitney 247280.


Forces war records
Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Great War Forum
Air History Org UK
Alan Greveson's World War One Forum
Aerodrome de Saint Omer home to the British Air Services Memorial
HM Passport Office General Register
The National Archives
Find my past
The First World War Aviation Historical Society
Imperial War Museums


I've now received the copy of Leonard’s death certificate. Sadly, it just confirms what I already know.  What actually happened to him still remains a mystery, but I will keep on searching for information and if anything should come to light I will include it in a later post.


  1. This is so sad, but well done you Barbara for finding out so much x

    1. Thanks Sue I so wish there was someone to ask about these relatives of ours. I always feel there are more questions than answers, and I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of their lives.

  2. Barbara,
    My! but you have put some work into this! A fascinating piece, well researched and interesting to read. Looking forward to more of the same......

    1. Thanks for reading it again John and more importantly thank you for taking the time to look it over prior to it going on the blog. I just hope Albert and Leonard would approve.


I really appreciate your comment. Thank you!
Barbara x

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