23-year-old Lieutenant Percy Lilico was killed in a flying accident at the Royal Flying Corps airfield at Northolt on 16th February 1918, as a result of his aeroplane nose-diving off a steep, low turn. He was born in Wooler, Northumberland, on 30th April 1894 and was the younger of the two sons of parents, Charles Gordon Lilico (1855-1912) and Emily (née Atkinson) (1864-1955) who had married in Edinburgh on 13th January 1890.
Charles and Emily Lilico set up home in West Terrace, Wooler, where Charles was a grocer and provision merchant. Their eldest son, Charles Gordon (who seems to have been known by his middle name), was born on 16th November 1892, and became a doctor, graduating from Edinburgh University before serving as a surgeon with the Royal Naval Reserve 1914-1919.
Their younger son, Percy, was a boarder at Solihull School, where he was a member of the Officer Training Corps and is known to have attended the OTC Summer Camp in 1910. He also studied at King’s College, London and then went on to study at the Municipal Technical School, Suffolk Street, Birmingham, where he passed the local examinations of the Institute of Grocers (first year, first class) in June 1914.
Percy’s father died, aged 57, in 1912, and it seems that Percy then became involved with the family business. Following the outbreak of war, he applied for a Commission but the trustee of the family business objected, and his application was rejected in February 1915.
With the introduction of conscription from January 1916, Percy Lilico appeared before the Northumberland Tribunal in July 1916. His appeal was against the decision of the Local Tribunal at Berwick that the business would be able to be carried on during his absence without undue hardship. It was explained to the Tribunal that his mother was in ill-health, and his only brother was serving in the Royal Navy. Two employees of the business had joined the Army and the ten girls remaining had limited experience (no longer than six months). It was argued that if Percy joined the Armed Forces, the trustee had the power to wind up the business, thus jeopardising the financial interests of the family. The tribunal granted conditional exemption.
He joined the Army later in 1916 and, after completing his training, joined the Royal Flying Corps in which he later accepted a Commission. He was gazetted Second Lieutenant on 13th December 1917, just two months before his death. When the accident occurred, he had only been alone in the air on a few occasions.
His body was returned to Wooler by train, accompanied by two fellow Officers from the RFC. The coffin was first taken to Cheviot Street Presbyterian Church before being carried to the hearse and then the grave by non-commissioned officers of the local Volunteer Training Corps (VTC).
The family business, Lilico’s Household Stores, was registered in January 1917 with a capital of £5000 in £1 shres (1,500 preferred). The firm was advertised for sale as a going concern in April 1939, but was then dissolved in January 1945.
Percy Lilico is buried at St Mary’s Church, Wooler, and is commemorated on four memorials in the town, namely: the memorial at Tower Hill; the roll of honour on reredos panels in St Mary’s Church, Wooler; the church school memorial in St Mary’s Church, Wooler; and at Wooler United Reformed Church.
Despite being an Old Silhillian, his name was not included on Solihull School’s war memorial.
If you have any further information, please let us know.
Heritage and Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977