It’s timely that a few weeks before a talk on the Great War in the air, historian and local resident David Carment has researched a Mayor of Mosman who, with his brother, served with the RAF in WWI.
Frank Grenville Pursell was born at Balmain North on 25 November 1897, the son of Archibald B Pursell, an insurance broker, and his wife Ada M Pursell, formerly Oxley. He moved to Mosman when young, attending Mosman Public School and Sydney Grammar School. He was also a Cadet in the Australian Flying Corps.
On 15 May 1918, Pursell joined the newly formed Royal Air Force (RAF), established on 1 April that year through an amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service. His elder brother Archibald served in the Royal Naval Air Service at Gallipoli and in Russia before joining the RAF so it appears that Frank followed his footsteps. He was a clerk before his enlistment, living at ‘Boscobel’, Spit Road, Mosman.
Frank Pursell’s service was mostly in Egypt. He was stationed at the RAF’s Base Depot Middle East from 17 July 1918. As a Flight Cadet he received instruction in aviation between 25 November 1918 and 29 January 1919, was promoted to Temporary Second Lieutenant on 15 February 1919, and embarked for Australia on 15 July 1919.
Pursell’s service record does not indicate whether he was engaged in any of the fighting in the Middle East that ended on 30 October 1918. Not long before his return home, however, he had a frightening experience on the streets of Alexandria in Egypt. In a letter to his father that the Sydney Morning Herald published on 10 June 1919, he described how he narrowly escaped injury or death at the hands of Egyptian rioters protesting against the British. He was jostled and pelted with rubbish before reaching safety. ‘And good-ness knows’, he wrote, ‘what would have happened if I had not had my revolver with me. As it was, I opened the holster and gripped the bulb, seeing which the Gypos [Egyptians] stood off’. He noted that on the next day 16 British soldiers were killed in Alexandria.
Following his return to Sydney in 1919, Pursell worked in his father’s insurance brokerage business and later became the Sydney representative of the Lancashire Insurance Company. An accomplished diver and swimmer, he once led the New South Wales diving troupe. In 1929, he was awarded the Royal Shipwreck and Humane Society’s bronze medal for rescuing a child from drowning at Bilgola Beach. On 28 September 1932, he married Winifred A Edgar at St Clement’s Church in Mosman. He and his wife lived in Pearl Bay Avenue and went aquaplaning at Balmoral.
Pursell was prominent in public life. An Alderman of the Council of the Municipality of Mosman between 1932 and 1941, he was Mayor in 1939 and 1940. From 1941 until 1962 he served as an Alderman on the City of Sydney Council. He chaired the Sydney County Council in 1947, was a trustee of Taronga Park Zoo for many years and held company directorships. On 1 January 1964, he was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE).
He died on 10 December 1984 at his home in Delecta Avenue, Mosman. His First World War service is commemorated in the Mosman Public School and Mosman Methodist Church rolls of honour and at the Mosman War Memorial.
Bernard de Broglio, emails to the author, 18 February 2013.
‘Frank Grenville Pursell 1897 – 1984 Balmain Nth, NSW’, wikitree.com/wiki/Pursell-6, accessed 2013.
‘Frank Pursell – SYDNEY’S ALDERMEN’, sydneyaldermen.com.au/alderman/frank-pursell/, accessed 2013.
‘History of Egypt – Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia’, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Egypt, accessed 2013.
Gareth Morgan, emails to Bernard de Broglio, 18 February 2013.
The National Archives, United Kingdom, Catalogue Reference AIR/76/415, Image Reference 450 (Frank Pursell’s RAF service record), nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/raf-officers-ww1.htm, accessed 2013.
‘Royal Air Force – Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia’, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Air_Force, accessed 2013.
Gavin Souter, Mosman: A History, Melbourne University Press, Carlton, 1994.
Sydney Morning Herald, 10 June 1919, 19 December 1919, 1 October 1929, 1 January 1964.