Flying Officer Harold Oliver Prout AFC
On 4th November, 1920, Flying Officer Harold Oliver Prout AFC and his passenger, Flying Officer Horace Edgar Fenwick, were on the return leg of a trip to Winchester when they arrived back at Kenley, just after 4.30pm, to find the airfield shrouded in thick fog.
Sergeant Frank Ashdown of the Metropolitan Police, Kenley, saw their Bristol Fighter (F4852) pass low over his house in Godstone Road heading towards Kenley at 4.30pm. It returned and passed overhead a second time. This time it appeared to Ashdown that the occupants of the aeroplane were standing up in the cockpit. They headed back towards the airfield – he lost sight of them in the fog and almost immediately heard a crash. Sgt. Ashdown discovered the two pilots dead near Hawkhirst Rd. They had hit a tree and come down in a spot known as Fox’s Hold Field. He discovered Fenwick’s body lying between the two near side wings and Prout’s securely strapped in the pilot’s seat amongst the wreckage, so Ashdown realised that he couldn’t have been standing up.
Dr. Walter Eaton Smith was called – he saw the bodies and said that Fenwick had suffered a fractured skull and a broken leg, while Prout’s chest had been crushed by being wedged in the cockpit – he had also suffered a fractured skull.
At the inquest into their deaths, held at the Rose and Crown Hotel, Whyteleafe, Flight Lieutenant Trevor Salt stated that the Prout had come to him that morning for a machine, having obtained his Commanding Officer’s permission to take Fenwick to Winchester on business concerning wireless telegraphy. They had left Kenley in the morning, bound for Winchester, and the weather was fine when they began their return journey in the afternoon. However, a heavy fog had closed in on Kenley at 3.45pm and Salt had phoned Winchester to warn them about the weather conditions, but he was too late to prevent them from leaving. He explained to the Coroner that Kenley “was difficult to land in, the trees rendering it particularly dangerous during foggy weather.”
The Coroner commented that he had held inquests on men killed while trying to land at Kenley in the past, but “experts had decided on the position of the aerodrome and of course he was not sufficiently expert to say it was not a proper position.”
Harold Oliver Prout was the son of Charles Jacob Prout, a Civil Servant and Rose Florence Prout (nee Addenbrooke). He was born 6th July, 1896, in Putney Vale. By 1901, the family were living at ‘Roslyn’ Elgin Rd, Wallington, with two servants – a General Domestic and ‘Mother’s Help.’ By 1911, they had moved to ‘Shrublands,’ 5 Broad Green Avenue, West Croydon, which still seems to have been the family home in 1920.
Harold was one of three brothers who all distinguished themselves in the Air Force. He had been farming in Canada prior to enlisting during the Great War and served with the 121st Battalion, Canadian Infantry, before applying for a commission in April 1917. By January, 1919, he had been awarded the Air Force Cross and was serving in the RAF with 252 Squadron at Cullercoats (Tynemouth). A newspaper report says that Harold was an expert on hydroplanes, having first served in the Royal Naval Air Service. After the Armistice, he had stayed in the RAF and had only recently been attached to Kenley Aerodrome staff. He was “awaiting orders to proceed to Cambridge for instructional work in connection with a new type of machine.”
At the time of Harold’s death, his older brother Reginald was a Brigade Major with an important position under the Air Ministry and his younger brother, Geoffrey, had just lost a leg in a flying accident.
Harold had been married to Nellie Amelia Cora Reynolds for just one year when he died. In 1923, she married his younger brother, Geoffrey, and the couple had a son, David Harold Prout in 1924. Sadly he died, aged 18, while serving as an Ordinary Seaman in the Merchant Navy, aboard the SS Empire Turnstone, when she was torpedoed by U-621, in October, 1942.
Flying Officer Harold Oliver Prout was 24 years old when he died.
Rest in peace Sir and thank you for your service.