The Airmen's Stories - P/O P D Bowen
Peter Duncan Bowen was born at Canterbury on 6th September 1920, the eldest son of Canon Harry Bowen. He was educated at Broadwater Manor School, Worthing and the King's School Canterbury from September 1934 to December 1938.
Bowen joined the RAF in May 1939 on a short service commission. He began his basic flight training at 13 Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School at White Waltham on 1st May 1939.
He was posted to 10 FTS Ternhill on 9th September 1939 on No. 14 Course, which he completed on 27th January 1940. On 8th March 1940 he was posted to 12 Fighter Group Pool at Ashton Down, where he joined No. 9 Course.
On completion of his training he was posted to 264 Squadron Martlesham Heath on 6th April 1940. After conversion to Defiant aircraft he was posted to 504 Squadron, based at Debden, on 13th April 1940 before being posted back to 264 Squadron at Duxford on 22nd May where he was attached to B Flight.
The squadron CO was S/Ldr. P Hunter. In July 1940 he was teamed up with F/Lt. C Ash and flew on night patrols from Duxford and later on patrols protecting east coast convoys from Kirton-Lindsey.
On 5th August 1940 he took off from RAF Sutton Bridge with five other aircraft for an air to air firing exercise. On 20th August 1940 the squadron received orders for a move to Hornchurch and an advance party left the next day with the main party arriving there. Following the death in action of S/Ldr. Hunter on 26th August command passed to S/Ldr. Garvin.
On 28th August the squadron was scrambled and ordered to patrol between Dover and Rochford to intercept an incoming enemy raid. Bowen and his gunner, P/O Sutton, took off at 8.35am in Defiant L6963 and found themselves at the rear of the formation. One aircraft had returned to Southend with engine trouble by the time the squadron arrived over Canterbury at 10,000 feet where they spotted around forty enemy bombers and their escort which was estimated at eighty to one hundred fighters.
Making a climbing turn to intercept we flew parallel with the enemy force at about 500 yards range, but the Hun did not seem to be keen to close the range. Flying with P/O Bowen in L6963 in the tail-end position we could think of many other places we would rather be in, and when the Huns attacked, though we did damage a He111, it did seem as if all the enemy hate was directed at 'L6963'. As the attacks seemed to increase 'Ponky’s' voice penetrated the din with 'You know, old boy, I think we’ll get out. All the others have gone'.
At this point the pilot of a Me109 realised, too late, that our aircraft was not a Hurricane, and as he tried to pull out of his dive I was able to get a good burst. Suddenly, there was a mighty thud and I was pushed up tight against the top of the turret. l heard the pilot say 'Hit-Fire-Jump' but it was impossible to get out. 'Ponky' realised that I had not been able to get out and, in the face of many difficulties, managed to regain control and we were able to return to base L6963 had 3 cannon shell and 120 bullet holes in her.
Following the clash with the enemy fighters Peter Bowen had found himself both on fire in an inverted spin but, realising that Sutton could not escape from the gun turret, he fought to regain control of his aircraft. When he had brought the aircraft under control and levelled out he was gratified to find that the rapid descent had extinguished the flames. They landed at 9.15am where Sutton claimed one Me109 destroyed and two more as damaged.
The following day, with only three serviceable aircraft remaining, 264 Squadron was withdrawn to Kirton-in Lindsey
Bowen was posted to 'B' Flight based at Luton in September 1940 and at the end of that month the squadron moved to RAF Southend.
At 9.50pm on 9th March 1941 he was taking off from Biggin Hill for a night patrol in Defiant N3332 with his gunner P/O Hill, when he struck Defiant N3378, piloted by F/O J Melville with gunner Sgt. Butler, which had just landed and was taxiing down the flare path. Bowen was seriously injured in the collision, while Hill received a head injury which was not serious. All four men were taken to Orpington Hospital.
The incident was blamed on a blackout due to enemy aircraft overhead and a dip in the runway.
He was later posted to 169 Squadron Royal Air Force which from 20th January 1944 was operating Mosquito Mk II night fighter aircraft from Little Snoring, part of 100 Bomb Group. They had a night intruder role targeting German night fighters by homing on their transmissions as well as attacking German airfields in advance of the bomber stream.
At 1.05pm on the 13th of February 1944 Bowen and his navigator, P/O JL Atkinson, took off in Mosquito Mk II DD629 for a training flight. Their aircraft was making a tight turn during gunnery practice when it crashed into the sea two miles off Burnham in Norfolk at 1.25pm killing both men.
Bowen was 23 and is commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial, Panel 201.
Above image courtesy of Dean Sumner