Mike Pragnell was one of the few remaining 4th Hussars who took part in the ill-fated Greek campaign in 1941 and as a result, spent four years as a prisoner of war.

Capt MW Pragnell
Capt MW Pragnell

He did not waste his time there, but studied German and Italian, becoming fluent in both languages.

Although after the war he pursued a most successful career with Shell Petroleum Company and later with a company of shipbrokers, he never lost his interest in or contact with the Regiment. His son, Matthew, has recorded how fond of the 4th Hussars Mike Pragnell was.

One of his greatest friends was Loopy Kennard with whom he served throughout the war both in the field in the Middle East and Greece and then in a prison camp. He was deeply saddened at Loopy’s death.

Born in Ireland in 1918, the son of Tom Pragnell who commanded the 4th Hussars in India with great distinction – Mike was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Oxford, where he read history.

He joined the 4th Hussars in 1939, and in the following year sailed with them to the Middle East. It was Churchill’s decision to come to the aid of Greece in April 1941, which resulted in the 4th Hussars being despatched there. Support for Greece was more of a political gesture than a sound military operation, although its strategic effect greatly benefited the Allies.

In their first campaign of the war, the 4th Hussars – Churchill’s old Regiment of which he was about to become Colonel – had a disagreeable introduction to blitzkrieg at Ptolemais on 13 April 1941.

As part of 1st Armoured Brigade the Regiment conducted a successful delaying action south of the Veve Pass, where they gave the Germans a hot reception. But the collapse of Yugoslav and Greek resistance meant that British action in Greece was simply a withdrawal, and the 4th Hussars found themselves surrounded by Panzer and airborne troops, with the all-powerful Luftwaffe dominating the skies.

Cut off as it was, the Regiment lost over 400 men and most of the officers were taken prisoner, Mike Pragnell among them. There followed four long years in PoW camps, the last one Oflag 14, near Munich.

After the war, Mike Pragnell served for a time as Allied Transport Officer in Rome, and then on leaving the Army in 1946 joined Shell, working in Egypt from 1947 to 1956, Thailand from 1957 to 1959, London and later as Shell’s General Manager, West Indies and Chairman, East Africa Shell.

He returned to England in 1972, when he joined Harris and Dixon Shipbrokers, becoming group chairman, finally retiring in 1989. Added to this notable success in the world of business, Mike had wide sporting interests, including cricket, playing for the Eton Ramblers as a lifelong member of the MCC.

He also enjoyed golf and racing, both as an owner and steward at Nairobi Races. He was also very keen on opera and was an excellent linguist, adding Arabic and French to his command of Italian and German. He was most happily married to Ann, with two daughters and a son, Matthew, and eight grandchildren. It is, of course, as a great 4th Hussar, a loyal comrade-in-arms and a true friend that we in the Regiment will particularly remember him.

He was extraordinarily versatile and despite his success in so many fields always presented an unassuming modesty that endeared him to his many friends. He possessed the great charm of manner and was blessed with an abundance of commonsense. His straightforwardness and integrity were absolute and he could always be relied on to give his best.

His regular attendance at Regimental dinners was much appreciated and his conscientiousness as a trustee of the 4th Hussars Benevolent Fund Committee, whose funds were and are used to assist former members of the Regiment who are in need, was invaluable. All those of us able to count ourselves among his friends were fortunate indeed.

Mike died in March 2002. He will be sadly missed and our most sincere, profound sympathy goes out to Ann and her family.

Related topics

  1. A short history of The 4th Hussars
  2. Timeline: Middle East (Greece and Crete)