Great War 100 Reads

Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books

Monday Monuments and Memorials – Prescott Cenotaph and aviator William FN Sharpe

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Fort Wellington looks out over the St Lawrence River in Prescott, Ontario, a reminder of the lines of defence built during the War of 1812. In the park that now surrounds the fort, at the corner of Vankoughnet St and King Street East (Highway 2), a cenotaph stands to those from Prescott killed in WW1 and WW2. The cenotaph was moved here from its original location on Dibble St in 2001.

Another WW1 marker, at the corner of Water St W and Edward St S, honours William FN Sharpe. Sharpe has the distinction of being one of Canada’s first WW1 pilots and its first air casualty of the war. He died in a flying accident on February 4, 1915.

Lieutenant William Frederick Nelson Sharpe 1892 – 1915: A Canadian Military Aviation Pioneer

One of Canada’s first military airmen during the Great War (1914 – 1918) was Prescott’s native son, William F. N. Sharpe. His pioneering role in our country’s earliest attempt to organize an air force has earned him a place in Canada’s military history.

William Sharpe was born in Prescott on December 6, 1892, to Frederick and Ida Bell (née Mills) Sharpe. When Sharpe was quite young, he moved with his family to Ottawa where he received his education. Powered human flight became a reality during his childhood and, as a young man, Sharpe received his flight instruction from the Curtiss Flying School in San Diego, California.

When Canada, as part of the British Empire, entered the war in Europe on August 4, 1914, Sharpe returned to Canada to offer his services as an airman. As a trained pilot, Sharpe was one of the three personnel appointed to the newly established Canadian Aviation Corps in September 1914, Canada’s early attempt at organizing an air force to serve in Europe.

Given the rank of lieutenant, Sharpe was sent to Europe where he received instruction in military aviation. On February 4, 1915, while on a solo flight training exercise with Britain’s Royal Flying Corps in Shoreham, England, Lieutenant Sharpe’s biplane crashed, killing the young pilot.

With that tragedy, Lieutenant Sharpe became Canada’s first military airman casualty of the First World War.

Lieutenant Sharpe’s remains were repatriated and on March 22, 1915, he was given a funeral in Prescott with full military honours. The funeral cortege, let by a caisson bearing the flag draped coffin, was the largest ever seen in Prescott. Large crowds of mourners, including his parents and his young widow, Alma Keating (née Tompkins) Sharpe, all gathered to pay their respects to this pioneer aviator who died in service to his country.

Lieutenant Sharpe was laid to rest in Prescott’s Sandy Hill Cemetery. Sharpe’s courage and sacrifice were recognized with a Memorial Cross, granted since 1919 to grieving mothers and widows as a memento of personal loss. In 1996, Lieutenant Sharpe’s grave received a new monument from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. In attendance was the 661 Squadron of Prescott’s Air Cadets, which in 1997 was renamed in honour of Lieutenant William F. N. Sharpe.

A post in The Past Around Us tells about some of the men whose names are on the Prescott cenotaph.


Author: greatwar100reads

Canadian crusader for equality and justice. Connoisseur and creator of the written word. Commemorating the centenary of the First World War in books and monuments. Read more at

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