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The Airmen's Stories - F/O A P Pease

 

Arthur Peter Pease, the son of Sir Richard and Lady Pease of Richmond, Yorkshire was born on 15th February 1918 in London and educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read History. He was a member of the University Air Squadron and was commissioned in the RAFVR in September 1938.

Called to full-time service in October 1939, Pease completed his flying training and was posted to No.1 School of Army Co-operation at Old Sarum in late May 1940.

He met Richard Hillary there and they became friends. They went to 5 OTU Aston Down on 23rd June and after converting to Spitfires they joined 603 Squadron at Dyce on 6th July.

 

 

Pease shared in destroying a He111 on the 30th. He was hit by return fire but returned to Montrose, unhurt. On 3rd September he claimed a Me109 destroyed and on the 7th he made a belly-landing back at Hornchurch in Spitfire L1057, after being damaged in combat over London.

 

 

On 15th September 1940 Pease was shot down and killed in combat. His Spitfire, X4324, crashed at Kingswood, near Chartway Street, Kent.


He was 22 and is buried in the churchyard of St.Michael and All Saints at Middleton Tyas, Yorkshire.

 

 

 

Above grave images courtesy of www.findagrave.com

 

He is commemorated in Broomfield Parish Church near the crash site (below).

 

 

 

 

 

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A memorial was unveiled on 15th February 2018 close to his crash site in Kingswood, Kent, the event was reported in the newsletter of the Old Etonians Association, they kindly allowed it to be reproduced below:

 

Born into a titled family, son of Sir Richard and Lady Pease, he was educated at Eton where he excelled and was a contemporary of DJC (Colin) Pinckney (1918-42). Both attended Trinity College, Cambridge, where Pease read History, and they joined the University Air Squadron.

He was commissioned in the RAF Volunteer Reserve in September 1938, and called to full-time service in October 1939, after the outbreak of the Second World War. He met Richard Hope Hillary (1919 -1943) – who later immortalised Pease in his book The Last Enemy – during initial training at Old Sarum where the two became close friends. Pease and Hillary were posted to 5OTU Aston Down where they converted to Spitfires, and their kinship with Colin Pinckney resumed when all three airmen joined 603 (City of Edinburgh) Squadron.

Flying Officer Pease was considered one of the top fighter pilots in his squadron. On 7 September 1940 his Spitfire (L1057) was hit by a burst of fire during a fierce engagement with the Luftwaffe over London; he was fortunate to return to RAF Hornchurch and make a forced landing.

 

 

 

 

However, on 15 September 1940 – the day now commemorated annually in the UK as ‘Battle of Britain Day’ – his luck finally ran out. 603 Squadron was scrambled from RAF Hornchurch at 2.45pm to combat a large force of enemy bombers bound for London and encountered numerous Dornier 17 and Heinkel 111 bombers over Maidstone; during the battle, Peter’s Spitfire Mk I (X4324) was hit and barely controllable.

Reports claim that after being hit, the engine of his Spitfire was heard to rev, taking it clear of the houses in the village of Kingswood for which it was headed, and Pease was still in the cockpit when his blazing fighter dived into fields nearby at 3.05pm. It is thought that Pease may have committed this final act of bravery to spare civilian life. Flying Officer Pease was found dead at the site of the crash.

For Leutnant Roderich Cescotti, piloting one of the German bombers that day, it was an experience he would never forget; the courageous Spitfire pilot he describes in the following account was consistent, both in manner and time and place, with the death of Flying Officer A.P. Pease :

“Few Tommies succeeded in penetrating our fighter escort. I saw a Spitfire dive steeply through our escort, level out and close rapidly on our formation. It opened fire, from ahead and to the right, and its tracers streaked towards us. At that moment an Me 109, that we had not seen before, appeared behind the Spitfire and we saw its rounds striking the Spitfire’s tail. But the Tommy continued his attack, coming straight for us, and his rounds slashed into our aircraft. We could not return fire for fear of hitting the Messerschmitt. I put my left arm across my face to protect it from the plexiglass splinters flying around the cockpit, holding the controls with my right hand. With only the thin plexiglass between us, we were eye-to-eye with the enemy’s eight machine guns. At the last moment, the Spitfire pulled up and passed very close over the top of us. Then it rolled on its back, as though out of control, and went down steeply trailing black smoke. Waggling its wings, the Messerschmitt swept past us and curved in for another attack. The action lasted only a few seconds, but it demonstrated the determination and bravery with which the Tommies were fighting over their own country.”

One of Churchill’s ‘Few’, and described by Richard Hillary as “liked and respected by everyone in the squadron.”, Pease was just 22 years old when he was killed. He was later buried in the Churchyard of St. Michael and All Saints at Middleton Tyas, Yorkshire, close to his family home.

 

 

 

John Oakley, a Professor of Law at the University of California, became fascinated by Pease’s story after a visit to his grave, and commissioned the new memorial which stands only a few metres from the place where his Spitfire crashed in 1940. The memorial was created by local Kent stonemason, Gordon Newton, and unveiled by local Kingswood Councillor, Jill Fort, on what would have been Pease’s 100th birthday.

In 2000, local villagers planted a lime tree at the site of the crash, and Pease is commemorated in nearby Broomfield Parish Church.

Both Flight Lieutenant D.J.C. Pinckney and Flight Lieutenant R.H. Hillary were killed later in the War.

Twenty-six Old Etonians are known to have participated in the Battle of Britain – the highest number from any Public School of the time - eight of whom were killed.

The name of Flying Officer A.P. Pease and that of the seven other Etonian casualties of the Battle can be seen on the Eton War Memorial in the Colonnade.

 

Sarah Warren-MacMillan

School Librarian, Eton College

 

 

 

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