World War One mystery - the story behind the hero pilot with no resting place

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Francis MondFrancis Mond was shot down and killed in 1918 but no one knew where his body was (Image: NC)

With some four million men killed on the Western Front alone, Francis was assumed to be among the legions lost without a grave. After the armistice, Angela's grief drove her to the battlefields of France in a desperate attempt to find her son's remains and achieve closure. She was not alone. An estimated 400,000 men and women were left with no known resting place. This is their story and the story of how parents, like Angela Mond, battled to find some semblance of peace. Writing from "The Trenches", 16 Squadron, France, on September 10, 1915, Francis Mond sent a letter to his mother chilling in its matter-of-fact detail.

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The young Royal Flying Corps pilot, then just 20, describes watching the shooting down of a German aircraft over the Western Front. "It was one of the most fascinating and nauseating spectacles I've ever seen... I saw the poor wretches literally tumble to destruction - at least one - as the pilot was obviously killed already," he admits.

"About 5,000ft something came away - possibly a wing tip, or one of the passengers - it was simply appalling - it took such ages to fall - like a wounded bird at first - then, well, it was simply too fascinating - and yet utterly repulsive."

The description of an aeroplane crippled in mid-air, the pilot and observer falling to their deaths as the aircraft spiralled to the ground, was traumatic and heartrending.

It was a world away from Francis's life prewar. He had grown up in an affluent and influential family at the epicentre of London's social whirl.

His father was Emile Schweich-Mond, a chemical engineer, and his mother Angela was the sister of fêted Victorian artist Sigismund Goetze. Their London home, where Francis was born in July 1985, was at 22 Hyde Park Square, just a few minutes' walk from Marble Arch.

Having served in Rugby School's Officer Training Corps, Francis joined the Territorial Army at university and, on the outbreak of war, was commissioned into the Royal Artillery, volunteering for overseas service.

But he had driven cars and motorcycles at 17, and the horse-drawn artillery must have seemed antiquated and unromantic. So Francis sought to change to the newly-formed Royal Flying Corps, to join what many saw as the new knights of the air.

Francis Mond aged about 11 sitting on a horseFrancis Mond aged about 11 (far right), sitting on a horse with Angela holding the reins (Image: NC)

His transfer request was agreed in October 1914. Having passed a medical and begun instruction in March 1915, by April 1, with three hours and 26 minutes dual-control flying under his belt, Francis was judged competent enough to fly solo.

His logbook reveals no great drama as he undertook two seven-minute flights, lifting off twice in a straight line and making "one bad landing". Four days later, he flew around the aerodrome for 20 minutes at 1,000ft: "bumpy" was his only logbook comment.

Throughout April, Francis's flight times gradually increased and altitude rose to 5,800ft by mid-May. In early June, he successfully completed all his exams, becoming a qualified pilot and flying officer. He was now entitled to wear the RFC badge and uniform, with the famous Wings sewn on to his tunic. He was officially detached from the Artillery and attached to the RFC. On June 23 he crossed to Calais and was eventually posted to C Flight, 16 Squadron, based at Chocques.

Aircraft then were prone to failure, with more pilots killed in accidents than combat. There were no parachutes, not, as is popularly believed, to stop pilots jumping at the first sign of danger, but because they were unwieldy and too heavy for the lightweight wood, wire and fabric aircraft. Those who took to the skies were pilots but also pioneers, men of extraordinary courage who were willing to place their lives in the flimsy airframes that could literally be blown backwards by strong winds.

On July 26, Francis wrote to his little sister May: "I have been aloft nearly every day so far and the life out here is very exciting, as you can guess."

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German troops moving to the front lineGerman troops moving to the front line (Image: Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

But the pressure on the pilots was unrelenting. Very poor weather, with low, heavy cloud, would ground operations, but otherwise, Francis flew practically every day for a week or more and sometimes multiple sorties in one day. On August 23, he records flying at 6.05am, 11.40am, 3.25pm and again at 5.30pm. By

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