Flight Engineer Douglas Pritchard’s war grave

Cleaning up a local war grave.
We spend most of our time researching local people who served in wartime but occasionally we carry out other things which are connected to our research work.

After a query last month on our website about an apparently 'missing' local war grave, I visited Keighley's Utley Cemetery and located grave N 90, which was the Sunderland family grave and also the war grave of Flight Engineer Douglas Pritchard of Keighley. Flight Engineer Douglas Pritchard was a crew member of a Halifax Bomber which crashed on a training mission near Acaster Malbis airfield. Here is a link to his Commonwealth War Graves Commission record, for anyone who wishes to know more. Details of the crash are available here on the Aircraft Accidents in Yorkshire webpage.

Keighley News WW2 scrapbook entry. 24th June 1944:
Flight Engineer Douglas Pritchard, only son of Mr. and Mrs. Wilson Pritchard, of Bridge Road, Silsden, has lost his life on active service. He was 24 years of age and had been in the R.A.F. since April, 1940. Before joing the R.A.F. he was employed as a weaving overlooker by Mr. Walter Crane, at Airedale Shed, Silsden. The funeral took place on Thursday afternoon, the Rev. E. E. Peters (Vicar) conducting a service at the Silsden Parish Church. The interment followed at Keighley Cemetery.

Here is the grave site:

Douglas Pritchard's war grave in Utley cemetery near Keighley. (It's the light grey coloured stones on the left)

As you can see it was a bit hard to spot and was in rather poor condition. This is a private memorial rather than a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone and he is adequately commemorated here. It's quite normal to see war graves like this in this country. The stones you see are the original grave kerbs which have been stacked up neatly on a concrete flag bedded on the ground at the head of the grave. This is a common solution to loose kerbs which ensures they stay together in a group and makes it easier for the mowers to cut the grass without damaging the stones or dislodging them. However, a self seeded ash tree had started to grow out of the headstone area and really needed to be removed before it caused any damage. I discussed this with my colleague Ian Walkden and he contacted Bradford Council's Bereavement Services. They gave consent for us to tidy up the grave and remove the sapling carefully provided we weren't intrusive. Since lockdown restrictions were recently relaxed to allow more than one family to meet up outside, Ian and I went down there with tools and started work.
We lifted the stones away carefully and set them aside. Ian washed the stones which were muddy:

Ian washing the mud from the kerb stones.

...whilst I dug out the trees and their roots, which weren't very deep as they'd grown over the top of the flagstone. They lifted out easily:

Removing the small self seeded ash trees.

We then refitted the kerbs into place and packed them up level using some thin stone and slate:

Kerb stones refitted, all levelled up and looking a lot better than before.

The grave tidied up, looking much nicer.

Hopefully this will last a few more years and we'll keep an eye on the grave now we're aware of it. Ian has said he'll go down this week with a poppy cross to place in front of the gravestones.

Source information and acknowledgements:

West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Deaths and Burials, 1813-1985
Bradford Council Bereavement Services
The Commonwealth war Graves Commission
Keighley News WW2 scrapbook, courtesy of Keighley Library
'Aircraft Accidents in Yorkshire' website

No Comments Yet.

Leave a comment

Please verfiy you are not a computer program by answering the following question to submit your comment *