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Flight Sub-Lieutenant, Royal Naval Air Service

Killed in a flying accident on Wednesday 4th November 1914, near Upavon, Wiltshire, age 30.

Buried at Monton Unitarian Chapelyard, Eccles, Lancashire, UK, grave 615.

Former student of Textiles.

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Petchell Burtt Murray was born at Didsbury on 27th July 1884 to George Irving and Martha Jane Murray. He was educated at Eccles Grammar School and Sedbergh School (1898-1900), at the latter being part of Mr Tower’s (Hart) House.

His father worked at 12 Lever Street, Manchester as a Commission Agent. In 1900-01 Petchell registered as a Day Student in Textiles at Manchester Techincal College. The 1901 census shows he was living at 7 Broad Oak Park, (South Bank), Worsley, with his parents, both aged 44, his sister Helen J. (8 years old) and that they had 2 servants (a cook and a housemaid). Petchell also had an older brother.

After leaving The Tech he went to Germany for a time and then entered his father’s business. He was a member of the Executive Committee of the Manchester Cavendish Society, which was formed to enlist the help of young men of education in public work. He gave much time and service to the Collyhurst Reception Rooms and was immensely popular with the poor lads of that part of the city.

On 29th July 1914 Petchell had applied for a commission in the Royal Naval Air Service and was gazetted Flight Sub-Lieutenant on 13th September. He was attached to H.M.S. Pembroke. On 21st August 1914 at the Lakes Flying School, Windermere, he obtained The Royal Aero Club Aviators’ Certificate (No. 881) passing the test on the Lakes Hydro-biplane.

On 4th November 1914, whilst training at the Central Flying School, Upavon, Wiltshire, Petchell was killed in a flying accident, at Rushall Down on Sailsbury Plain. In clear weather his instructor had sent him for a flight early in the morning. Whilst in the air a dense fog rose up, making his descent very dangerous. A shepherd on Charlton Down saw him coming down through the fog and soon afterwards heard a crash. Estimates suggested that he had come down at a rate of 100 miles an hour as a result of which his aeroplane was smashed and the nose deeply embedded in the ground. Sub-Lieutenant Murray was found still “strapped in according to regulations… in an almost natural position”. He died as the result of a broken neck. Although he had only been with the flying school a short time he was considered to be unusually proficient for his experience. At an inquest into his death the Coroner paid tribute to the excellent work which British aviators were doing in France and added that Murray had “given his life for his country as truly as though he had died in the trenches”.

The Eccles Journal, reported that “the news of the sad and premature termination to a highly promising career was received in Worsley with keen regret and widespread sympathy felt for Mr. and Mrs. Murray in their great loss found, in some degree, silent expression in the very large gathering which met at the funeral obsequies. Among the very numerous private and official messages of sympathy Mr. Murray has received was one from the Private Secretary of the King and Queen, and others from the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, and the Commandant of the Central Flying School. Sub.-Lieut. Murray was known as an intrepid and exceptionally promising aviator, and it has been added to poignancy of the general regret that death should have denied him the realisation of a cherished ambition to serve his country in the actual conflict in which it is engaged, the training school for which demands to an almost equal degree the qualities of valour and skill. For many years he took the keenest interest in aviation, an interest shared by his brother, which, in co-operation with his own, found concrete expression in an aeroplane of their own construction. He was among the first to see the great revolution the petrol motor would make on land and sea, and used to speak of the possibilities of flight even before the Wright Brothers were known in this country. The subject had an irresistible fascination for him, theoretically and practically, and in 1911 he gave a lecture on the future of the hydro-aeroplane, in which he foreshadowed the lines of development. Under these circumstances it was a natural as well as a patriotic ambition for a high-spirited man to put the best that was in him at the service of his country, and as soon as war broke out he offered himself and was accepted for the Royal Naval Air Service”.

Petchell’s funeral took place on Saturday 6th November at Monton Green Unitarian Church “amidst manifestations of sympathy” his body having been conveyed by rail from Upavon. The Manchester Courier recorded that “the church was full long before the beginning of the service. At the head of the coffin was a massive floral token, representing a biplane in flight, from the members of the family, and his R.N.A. Service cap and belts were placed on the foot”. In a private service Reverand Neander Anderton paid a warm tribute to the deceased officer’s devotion to his country.

Sedbergh’s School magazine Roll of Honour said “He was remembered as a simple, pleasant boy and will be greatly regretted by all who knew him.”

Pethchell left £1,930 19s. 6d to his father.