Henry Neville Curtis was born in 1899 and spent five years at Laxton School, leaving at Christmas in 1914, aged 15. He was born and raised in Oundle itself, where his father, William Curtis was a prosperous ‘cake seed’ merchant supplying local farmers. He lived at 22 West Street, near the Ship Inn, where the name Curtis can still be seen above the window. Henry’s grandfather ran a brewery in the town.
Young Henry was gazetted as 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Flying Corps on 25th May 1917, aged 18 and sent to France. Here casualty rates amongst pilots were very high as the RFC’s ‘Sopwith Strutters’ were inferior to the German Albatross model. When Henry Curtis arrived, the new ‘Sopwith Camels’ were just being deployed and were helping to redress the balance of air power in Britain’s favour.
On 25th July 1917, Henry Curtis and his observer W S Wickham set off on a reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines. They did not return and were classified as missing. In September of that year the RFC found a notice posted in a German newspaper of British planes which had fallen into German hands back in July. They reported that Curtis and Wickham had been discovered dead in their plane. Henry Neville Curtis had been on active service for just 53 days and was aged 18 at the time of his death. He was buried, alongside his observer in Mouvaux Communal Cemetery, a few miles north of Lille.
Just a few days before his death, Henry Curtis was mentioned by name by Headmaster Sanderson on Laxton School Speech Day, as one of the many Laxton School boys who had gained commissions. The Laxton School Magazine also recorded that Henry Curtis paid a couple of visits to the school in the summer term 1917 while on leave from France.