Interview with Philip Peel


Interview with Philip Peel


Mike Peel was a Lancaster pilot and served on two squadrons before becoming a prisoner of war late in 1944. He was an active sportsman and played tennis in his eighties but unfortunately is no longer with us. Using his logbook, letters, and recollecting his father’s anecdotes, Mike’s son Phillip gives a detailed account of his RAF career. He describes Mike’s amusement at being awarded a scholarship from the RAF to study navigation, but when he enlisted, he somehow ended up as a pilot. Phillip describes the path taken from gaining his “wings”, to operational training, before finally joining 44 (Rhodesia) Squadron in September 1944, and then onto 227 Squadron. Various operations are described, including one in which his crew was mistakenly declared lost. As they were returning to the station a thump was felt throughout the aircraft, as a bomb had failed to drop and was rolling around the bomb bay. Air Traffic Control instructed them to return to the North Sea to drop the bomb, however, no one told the squadron, and upon landing they discovered they had been removed from the squadron boards. Eventually, Mike’s aircraft was shot down. He evaded capture for several days and headed for Switzerland. Unable to swim across the Rhine river because of the cold temperature, he was captured when he tried to cross via a bridge. Interrogation was followed by transportation to Stalag Luft 1, where he remained until the arrival of the Russian army. Letters describe first hand the brutal and barbaric behaviour of the Russians, which was far worse than anything the Germans had undertaken.




Temporal Coverage




01:23:27 audio recording


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CB: My name is Chris Brockbank and today is the 31st of August 2017 and I’m in Southampton with Philip Peel. We are doing a proxy interview about his father Jarvis, although during the war he was called Mike. What are the earliest memories do you think your father had of life?
PP: He grew up in West Kirby, I remember him talking about going on holiday to Anglesey, they were quite, his father was a, had been a cotton broker and had been pretty wealthy but lost his money in the Depression, in the crash. He tells the story of getting the very first phone line, private phone line between Manchester and Liverpool, something like that, but I think they’d been quite, the Peels were associated with cotton there, but they lost money in the Depression. From looking at photographs of him he had, seems to have had quite a nice time, a family of, three of them he was the youngest.
CB: And where did he go to school?
PP: He went to prep school [unclear] which is local to the, funnily enough my brother ended up probably through that teaching there, many, many years later [laughs] but he went there I don’t know that much about what he did there.
CB: And how did he come to go to St Edward’s Oxford?
PP: Because it was a tradition, I think he was the eleventh or twelfth Peel that went there and his mother knew, or grandmother knew the original warden or something like that so there’d been quite few generations that had been there so it’s totally automatic, both his brother went there and he went there.
CB: And how did he get on academically and from a sport point of view?
PP: He’s always liked sport, so there’s pictures of him doing steeplechases, photographs rather, I, he was a sportsman right the way through into his nineties, I mean, he was playing squash in his eighties and still continues to play, no, I mean, he might have stopped squash in his late seventies I think, but he continued with tennis, and presumably it was his eyesight wasn’t good enough, so my guess is that he actually enjoyed sports there and recently he went on eventually to do PPE at Oxford so he must have done reasonably well.
CB: Now, before the war, when he was at school, he would’ve been preparing for civilian life, what sort of career did he think he was gonna go into before the war started?
PP: I’ve never asked him that, I know what he did afterwards, which was to become a health and safety inspector, I don’t think, I think his father was quite old when he had him and I think that stopped the stock broking, the cotton broking rather had disappeared cause even the family had gone bust so he, whilst he was at St Edwards everybody had to do the cadets and so there was the army and the navy and the, what was the officer training corps then I think, now called the ATC I think and he told me that he chose the RAF because they appeared to do less squad bashing and he thought the uniform was slightly nicer. And so obviously high ideals there [laughs] and he does tell, told me some wonderful stories about there, being there on air raid duty, they had pupils that, you know, to stay up all night looking for air raids. But the other thing was he remembers that the, after Dunkirk, the BEF or a large number came back and camped on Port Meadow in Oxford and there were many, many thousands of them and he remembers St Edward boys were chosen, the cadets were chosen to guard the BEF but they had, I think each squad had one rifle and one bullet and he thought [laughs] these battle hardened thousands of soldiers were being, were being guarded by seventeen year olds there, youngsters, apparently if you were sixteen you couldn’t have a rifle I think when you were seventeen you could and they also had to guard the armoury and he remembers there that seeing a rat and one of the other cadets got it with a, with a bayonet which he thought was a very good shot.
CB: So, he’s going into extermination.
PP: Well, he wasn’t [unclear] that did it was, somebody else who got it with a bayonet cause so.
CB: So, he’s born in 1923. The war started when he was seventeen effectively, near enough, sixteen.
PP: Yeah, September, he was, his birthday was September.
CB: And what did he do then?
PP: Uhm, he told me that he, this squadron leader or somebody came round and uhm, and talked about that the, they were offering a subsidised, not subsidised, free pre-university course at Aberdeen University, where you studied navigation and I think a couple of other subjects, I don’t think it was solely navigation and this was a sort of offer. And he thought that was a pretty good idea that they would pay for him to go to university so that’s what he chose to do. He went straight from there into to do this so it wasn’t a conscious decision, it’s a series of little things that happened so this wasn’t a great conscious decision to, you know, to go off and be a hero or something like that, it’s a gradual sort of, things like this and initially the uniform and lack of squad bashing and then this, they offered this and so then ended up, you know, getting into the RAF. So, he did his course in navigation, cause I think there were a couple of other subjects and he finished that and he was then interviewed for what he was going to do next because obviously the war on you need to join so interviewed by the RAF and they said, what are you gonna do? And he said, well, navigation, I enjoy navigation and you know, you just spend this money training me. So they decided to make him a pilot which he thought was [laughs], it amused him that they should waste all that but he did however because he had a friend I think who was a navigator, who’d had been on the course, who became a navigator and I think within a few months, within six months or was on ops whereas he went, it took a couple of years I think from then on for him before he was on ops, which is probably a good thing because I’m not sure I would be around if, if he spent longer flying [laughs] with the casualty rate. So, then
CB: So, he would’ve done his initial training
PP: Yes
CB: [unclear]
PP: So, Tiger Moths, certainly the early stuff was Tiger Moths.
CB: But he was in Britain to begin with.
PP: Yes, he was in Britain.
CB: Then what did he do?
PP: He was in Britain, we got the logbook actually but, so he did the, in Britain he started off
CB: Yes. Well, it looks as though what he did was ACRC in other words his initial Aircrew Reception Centre and that was in Brighton.
PP: Alright.
CB: Although the ACRC was actually in London but the logbook says that. And then he went to Desford, so that’s what it says in here.
PP: Yep.
CB: So, then he did some initial stuff there, then what did he do?
PP: Well, I know he ended up going to Canada, the various bits and pieces, I think he went from one centre to another, going through the bureaucracy but he ended up going over to the Canada, to the Rockies. He, I’m not that sure about the order but I think it was that he went to Prince Edward Island initially that might have been later on but certainly at one point and he made his way up to this particular base in King, St Edward Island, no, not St Edward Island, King Edward Island, wasn’t it, and it was the wrong, it was, it was an American base and he then had to try and find, work his way. Let’s have a look at the logbook here, just read it, Macloed, I think that’s High River, Queen Mary, ok, he went over on the Queen Mary, it, which he said was amazing, he [laughs], he was very lucky, because you had to work your way, you couldn’t, you didn’t just sit there as a loaded troop ship and it went very, very fast, they could outrun the U-boats, the speed was, it just went on its own, faster than anything else and they were sorting out what he should do and they decided that as he was RAF, they would put him onto anti-aircraft batteries, not that he’d knew anything about firing guns at all, but and therefore he didn’t need to swab the decks or do the food or everything else like that, so they gave him a bit of training but then they were joined by seven specialist gunners, anti-aircraft people who then said, no, we don’t want you there [laughs], so basically him ended up just doing absolutely nothing, he just had this very nice cruise going over and he does describe, there was a continuous rainbow over the front cause of the speed they were going and he says, and he remembers one night where he went up on deck and it mirrorlike, it totally, totally calm and he said, this looked amazing with this completely totally still and they were just going at the high speed through the water and so he was quite lucky with his trip over. Yes so, Charlottesville, yes, Charlottetown, that’s right, I do know this Prince Edward Island, isn’t it, is it Prince Edward Island?
CB: Yeah.
PP: Yeah, Prince Edward Island, that’s right that he arrived and it was quite tricky, you know, nowadays and all that, in that time and he eventually arrived after a long, long journey and they were rather mystified because he’d arrived completely, he’d arrived at America, oh, that’s right because he’s Royal Canadian, he’s in the Royal Canadian Airforce at that point and they said, no, this is American one, he had to go to the other end of the island and anyway, so he did listen to a lot of shuttling around I think where first of all he wanted to be pilot, then navigator and that so he was got pushed around from one place to another but anyway he eventually ended up over in the Rockies and he trained over there and he says, they basically flew seven days a week. And I think one of the days, Sunday was just only half day but they basically just flew continuously [unclear] they right away through I don’t think [unclear] days or anything, I think he said on Christmas day they actually maybe possibly had a day off but it sounds absolutely continuous, and he seemed to have quite a good time there. I have a photograph of him training on that. He, I can’t remember the details but he then having got through that I think then he got his, he would have got his wings, yes, uhm, and they were gonna send him down for flying on Liberators and I’m not quite sure, I do know he ended down in the States but they’d been having serious crashes there with Liberators and they decided he was an inch too short because they thought it might be due to the fact that they needed to put strong rudder on and if people were a bit short they weren’t able to push it sufficiently so having gone down there and he started doing all this he then, they changed their minds. I do know he went on, he, we had a relation Ruth Van Anders, who he sent a postcard to from a prisoner of war camp in New York, and she, and he had some leave I think after finishing and she said well come down, he said I don’t have any money, and she said, oh, I’ll wire you some money wide fifty dollars which is a huge amount of money at that time, cause they were quite wealthy [unclear]. And he went to New York and one of the things he did there was to go and see this new musical, the first week of this new musical called Oklahoma on Broadway, which he very much enjoyed and we had the full seventy eight set later on when I was young, of Oklahoma. And then he went on down to Trinidad because again there was another relation there so he does, but he seemed to be quite wined and dined and faited because he was in uniform and the American girls seemed to like him I think. Anyway, he then came back and he came back on the Queen Mary again and it’s just been the Quebec Conference because the Peel family my, the, his uncle or great uncle Reg, Reginald Peel, was Commodore of the Cunard fleet, he had been captain of the Titanic sistership, actually, and so was known, the Peel were known as a family. He got introduced to the something like the deck captain or something, it’s not the captain of the ship but the person who organised the passengers and said, oh, you must come along, there’s some, you know, there’s someone of the managery people, RAF people, you know, you must come along and be my guest and he went to this and he was a very, would be just, would it be pilot officer, that he just
CB: Probably.
PP: Yes.
CB: If he was commissioned immediately.
PP: What
CB: Otherwise he would have been a sergeant
PP: No, he, I think he was commissioned immediately, but I, anyway and he went in and it was this cocktail party and he said the most junior other officer cause it, oh, what it was, it was after the Quebec Conference which was the Churchill-Roosevelt, was it, Roosevelt conference where they decided I think D-Day wasn’t it? And so was the really, really senior people and they were all track and [unclear] so this is the most senior people and the most junior person there was an Air Commodore and then him [laughs], uhm, so he, he felt slightly, slightly out of his depth there. Anyway, so he appeared to have quite a nice trip back. He then may well have gone onto various places here but I do remember that he, he was about to go to, I think operational training, and he came out in a rash and they probably took him off to an isolation hospital there’s an isolation hospital there so this would have been what, ’43-’44, anyway they got all these facilities for people coming back to the, you know, from desert warfare and he was the sole person in there and the medical officers [unclear] you know two, I think it was a sergeant or something, medical orderly, you know, what do you think he’s got? Smallpox. No, it’s chicken pox, or measles or whatever it was and so he, he, and it was quite some time you know so he was all ready to go and he just had to sit on his own in this completely empty hospital but I think again he probably quite enjoyed the fact that all the nurses to look after him and he was in isolation. So, then he went to operational OTU on Stirlings I would guess
CB: We’ll stop there. Right, we’re restarting now.
PP: Ok, so
CB: The point he got his wings was when?
PP: Ah, June 1943. So then he, he moved around America a bit, he went to the, in August ’43 he, I think they considered him for flying on Liberators but his, he was too short, but anyway he, eventually he came back and then was, at advanced flying unit at South Cerney, in brackets it’s got Bibury here, funnily enough very close to where he ended up living and where actually I did glider training, then he moved to Market Harborough in March ’44 to Operational Training Unit and he was there for a couple of months, flying Stirlings I understand,
CB: He would have been on Wellingtons there
PP: Wellingtons, was it?
CB: Yes
PP: Ok, there we are, yes, Wellingtons
CB: So, they were crewed up, did he ever describe
PP: Yes
CB: The experience of crewing up?
PP: Yes
CB: What did he say about that?
PP: Well, basically they put them all in a hangar [laughs] and let them sort themselves out which he thought was a, again a rather wonderful RAF way of doing it, and you just sort of wander round and, and they said, again going back to the public school thing, it was like, choosing, you know, people for a game, and just left to sort each other out basically. I can’t remember any actual stories he told us about that, but he says, let them all in and you wonder round so if you liked somebody and put, you know, put it together like that.
CB: Yes. As the pilot, he was the captain. Did he feel that the polarity was on him, in other words people needed to come to him?
PP: He didn’t say, he basically just said people talked to each other and sort of, it was quite almost like a social thing, it, yes, he just thought that that whole process put him in but he didn’t talk about him, himself organising if he had done he probably wasn’t that sort of person that would but he always said that he was the bus driver, the navigator was the one who did the interesting work and he just, he just drove them there [laughs] and drove them back so he was very dismissive of what he, well, maybe not dismissive but he, he played it down.
CB: So, was an informal arrangement but very effective.
PP: Yes, yes, I mean, they mainly just basically left people to sort each other out which is interesting, it’s very interesting way of doing it if you think about it, so they were doing it on gut feeling, I think, to see how well they got on, another thing he did say about flying was that that because he was the only officer, I wonder whether I should say this later on,
CB: Well, say it now and we can [unclear]
PP: Ok, and you can [unclear] later. Was the fact that actually he always felt in war films that, you know, the crew went back and you know, share drinks and stuff like that, and he said the rest, there were no other officers in this crew, and so they had a different mess, they didn’t share stuff, right, and so because the NCOs were in a different mess to the officers, I don’t think that totally held true to, they must have done certain stuff he talks about having parties and things like that, but it is interesting that it wasn’t the, the way I’ve always seen it in films where they had this gang of people who were all equal, it was very much the officers and the NCOs even though they were, you know, they were very much, you know, fighting together.
CB: So effectively there was a social and rank divide but when they were in the air,
PP: Yes, yes.
CB: How did that?
PP: There it was very much and there’s a story about coming back this, well this is when they were on ops, I’ll tell it now then. They were, it was September the 27th, we can see from his logbook where they were coming back from but anyway they were coming back across the North Sea and it got to midnight and the rear gunners to skipper, go ahead rear gunner, happy birthday skip! Cause it’s his 21st birthday. Radio operator to skipper, go ahead radio operator, happy birthday skip! And they went right the way round the crew and they all wished him a happy birthday on his 21st birthday. Now they had it from when they got back, they had either a hang up or some reason, something, you know, they didn’t get back when they thought they were going to get back, so they, there had been a party planned because there was a, one of the squadrons I think was moving out and so they were having a final leaving party and so they’d gonna combine it with his birthday party so they got back in, because they were late he said, they got into the where the party was the mess and the crew must have come along cause all there was, was completely empty and there was just a sign saying free drinks for you and that was it so he went to bed and flew the next day. That was his birthday, 21st birthday.
CB: Yeah. A hard time.
PP: Yes, yes. Uhm,
CB: So you point,
PP: We, yeah,
CB: The point about the rest of the crew being NCOs, and him being an officer would be for the formal meeting process but what about when they went out socially?
PP: Well, he told me they didn’t particularly go out socially and again this is, I was surprised because they did, he said because NCOs and officers didn’t particularly mix, I don’t think he was a great drinker, well later on he did drink quite a lot of vodka when he was in his nineties but that’s different, he sort of moderation in most things, what he [unclear], twenty year old I don’t know, but he doesn’t talk about going out socially with the crew I say because I asked him about that and he said, well, we were, you know, it was NCOs and it was officers, so he said, we didn’t particularly.
CB: Let’s come back to that in a minute. So, at the Operational Training unit, it was Market Harborough,
PP: Yes.
CB: Then where does he go from there?
PP: He goes to Winthorpe, this is Heavy Conversion Unit where this is where he would go from the two engine Wellington then on to the four engine Stirlings, and he was there from July ’44, he was there, right the way through till September so this was you know, two more months so again there’s a long, long process of going from one place to another cause if he’d been navigator, he would have bene straight on, this process continues and then he moved in September ’44 and this time it’s only a couple of weeks and this was then conversion to Lancaster, Lancaster Finishing School and that was at
CB: At Syerston
PP: Syerston, ah, Syerston, can’t quite read it, no. Ok. So and then finally and then at some point during here he would was about to go onto one of these ones where he ended up with his chickenpox or measles, I’m not quite sure which one but eventually then on the 14th of November 1944, he then joined 44 Rhodesia Squadron, Dunholme Lodge and he always said he, within the short time because he was actually flying for three months and he actually he moved around, he moved four different places he moved round in the, he was in two different squadrons and so he actually had, he didn’t really have a sort of permanent base, he got attacked to all permanent squadron really.
CB: Difficult to settle.
PP: Yes, so, he was with 44 Rhodesia Squadron for two weeks and then, and then they, at Dunholme Lodge they moved to Spilsby and that was for 39, 10, that looks like only a week they were there and then he is moved to 227 Squadron where they spent a couple of months before he finally got shot down. So, would you be interested in me telling you some of the stories he’s told me?
CB: Well, I think so. The, it’s intriguing that he was such a short time with 44 Squadron and so he went from the OTU with six in the crew to the HCU on Stirlings with seven in the crew because the flight engineer would have joined.
PP: Yeah, yeah. Flipping through his logbook here, so Syerston there we got [unclear] course and there we got, 44 Rhodesia Squadron, right, so, so his first, so, he was a passenger, he flew down and he got to Dunholme, so his very first operation on September the 18th, Bremerhaven and he was second pilot on that so basically the first operational mission and then there’s four more things HLB, not sure where that stands for, basic training things as in and x cross country and then the first time he flew was on the 26th of September operation Karlsruhe. That’s right. Then the 27th was then operation Kaiserslautern and that would’ve been the one which I, he came back and it was his 21st birthday, so, that was his third mission and then on the 30th he moved to the, the squadron moved to Spilsby. Uhm, right.
CB: Ok, we’ll pause there for a mo. So, we’re back on ops now, a significant raid was on Norway but again, what was that?
PP: Yes, no, that was, Bergen. He said because it was occupied territory, therefore you had to be a lot more precise, with the bombing, and you, and unless you could identify the target, you didn’t drop bombs, so he talks about this and the, you can see the, he says no bombs dropped, cloud over target, his description was though as a very large number of bombers coming in he thought probably and the Pathfinders had dropped flairs [unclear] or something like that, had dropped it, but had problem with cloud and they had all the bomber paths were coming in with different heights, more or less simultaneously, and they went round and they could sort of partly see it and as they got it, got to it, the bomb aimer said, you know, can’t see it, sorry, abort, so they went round again, again came in and the bomb aimer said, we can’t, sorry, sorry, we can’t do this, so my dad decided to go round for the third time, I think the crew getting a little bit worried because all these other, they were quite low down, all these other bombers, hundreds of bombers, all coming in at different levels and bombs, they could actually see slim pass, but they went round a third time and he said, after the third time [laughs], he said, they really and they couldn’t do it the third time, still cloud so they came back with the bombs but he said that the crew, he didn’t feel he could ask them to get around a third time, he’s not sure they will [laughs], he would’ve lynched him because it was a very, very frightening experience. But on the way back, it says back over the North Sea, and he said that it was, it was, you know, the most stressful time and going back, coming back and he fell asleep and it’s on autopilot, what they call it, Archie, was it or? Anyway
CB: That’s the Anti-aircraft
PP: No, no, yeah, but there’s
CB: Yeah
PP: Anyway, the nickname
CB: George
PP: George, yes, that’s right, the and they were coming back and he, you know, they were on autopilot, and he woke up suddenly, ok, and so he thought he better just check out with the rest of the crew, you know, pilot to rear gunner, no answer, pilot to radar, no answer, he went round the whole of the crew, the entire crew were asleep, including himself [laughs]. So and he thinks it was probably due to the stress of this because, you know, this flying at night. Now, whether it was that mission or another mission, I’m not quite sure, but they, I think it must have been another mission, that’s right, when they did drop the bombs, they came in and they were coming round in a, on, near the airfield and suddenly there was a [mimics the sound of an explosion], and the whole aircraft shook, what’s that? What was that? And member of the crew looked in the bomb bay and one of the bombs had a hang up and has dropped into and is rolling around in the bomb doors, so they called up and said, we’ve got, it’s not a hang up, you know, we’ve got a bomb in, running around the bomb bay, and he said, where are you? And he said, well, you know, we are on our final approach to board, and he said, and then he said, there’s another call, plane two call, saying, we’ve got two in our bomb bay from another aircraft, where are you? We’re on the perimeter track [laughs]. Anyway they went off and they had to go off to the North Sea to drop the bomb, they just basically go off and open the bomb door so there was a designated area to do this [clears throat] and they went off and but when they got back, said obviously the control tower hadn’t told anybody so they’d assumed because they was hours over, they were lost. So, their names had been scrubbed off, there they, you know, they no longer existed, he think, thought some of the crew had their rooms cleared, you know, they started doing this basically, everybody just assumed they’d gone. One of the things that I asked him about how he felt about, well, people not coming back, you know, and he said, well, I mean, it wasn’t that bad, it was only one or two a mission, who didn’t come back and then I started doing the maths, and I think there’s twenty in a squadron, it’s twenty in a squadron
CB: Twenty to thirty, it depends
PP: Yes, ok.
CB: Yeah
PP: Something like that, so one or two a mission and you have to do thirty missions, and if you’re losing one or two out of twenty, who are not coming back, the statistics of and so he said to me, wasn’t that bad, it’s only one or two who didn’t come back.
CB: So, what were they told to do with the bomb?
PP: What, with the bomb that was rolling
CB: They got the bomb in the
PP: Oh yeah, well, basically, they were told to go off and drop it over the North Sea, over there. That’s what delayed them, you see, so they just, they went off and just opened it and dropped it over the North Sea and that then was why they were delayed and couldn’t come and had been written off effectively by the time they got back. So those
CB: So the first, the normal tour would be thirty operations.
PP: And he got
CB: And he didn’t get that far,
PP: No, he
CB: So, what’s the next bit?
PP: Yes, well, he would, as I said, he was pretty much average [laughs] and pretty much on average if you got half way through, and this was oh, they did three missions on the Doms, Dortmund- Ems Canal which they did that three times and that was quite [unclear], and one of the Lancasters that they flew which I identified, I’m not sure which mission it was, was one of the Lancasters that went on to do over a hundred missions, very few of them identified one of those, was one of the ones that they flew cause they did, the planes seemed, changed from, you know, they went on mostly the same one but often changing, now he said they’d had a virtually brand new plane, D Dog, he told me was actually the first mission but it’s actually the second mission and they were going to Giessen, so uhm, they’re on the, they, on their bomb run in when they were attacked and the rear gunner thought that he’d destroyed, had destroyed the [unclear], I’ve got it, I’ve got it, and then they were also attacked again and then the mid upper also thought, you know, said, you know, I got him, I got him, you know and it’s down a claim here one destroyed and one damaged and, so they were feeling, he said, they were feeling pretty good actually because they got two enemy aircraft and they saw this aircraft ahead of them, they thought and the front gunner said, there’s one ahead of us, shall we go for it? And so they decided to go and attack the fighter which probably wasn’t a terribly sensible thing to do because they had a backward firing gun and actually the fighters apparently did that, they flew beneath so that they could fire up into the Lancaster, so they went down, and backward firing gun went [mimics the sound of a machine gun] and got right well on the bomb bay, now the odd thing was because they’d been attacked on their bomb run in, he’d forgotten to close the bomb bay so it was still open, so they were on fire, they closed the bomb bay doors, they started to evacuate some of them, some of them jumped out but I can’t remember quite which order, I mean, the rear gunner did, the rear gunner actually never opened his, he died, he was killed, he never opened his parachute and my father always thought it was cause it was a different sort of parachute and it was a seat type rather than a clip on one and he thought that he was, always thought that he, and this is a memory he had right the way through to his nineties, he always thought that he was eyes shut reaching for this rip cord because it was completely unopened. Anyway, so some of them bailed out but then the smoke appeared to clear and they thought, maybe we are alright, so the crew’s been a bit depleted and so they then decided oh, they’re ok, we’ll hold off and they kept going. Second mistake of the night, was there was still a lot of smoke around so he decided, well lets clear the smoke by opening the bomb bay doors, just to clear the smoke cause they thought the fire was out at which the fire started up again, now, so, yeah, ok, then the, it was, what was his name, Andre, anyway, one of the crew was Spanish, and he didn’t want to bail out because he’d fought in the Second World War,
CB: That was the bomb aimer.
PP. It was the bomb aimer, yes
CB: Yes
PP: Yes, he’d fought in the Second World War, ah sorry
CB: Spanish civil war
PP: The Spanish civil war and he’d always said he could never bail out because the Germans would, you know, would take, you know, he was different to the RAF because he’d been in the civil war so he was very, very frightened, he didn’t want to, didn’t want to bail out. And the bomb aimer, I don’t know the radio operator, was sitting on the and he heard this later when they, cause they met up at the interrogation centre they and two of them, I think eventually he got pushed out basically, the bomb aimer just got [unclear] somebody pushed him out, right, gotta go, [laughs] and there were two others and they were sitting on the main hatch about to bail out, and beneath them was the German fighter, who was just flying along, he said so close that if they’d jumped out they would hit it and this fighter wasn’t doing anything, he was just flying along beneath alongside them and they’d been going some time and my father always thought that the, he wondered whether he, you know, the fighter had seen they were stricken, they were on fire, you know, they were bailing out and he was just watching them and counting to see whether everybody they got out but he wasn’t, he was just really, really close, so close that he could see the face, he, I mean, my father know this, I mean this was later on he, but anyway they jumped out and he said he was so close they would outright hit him, anyway my dad jumped and he said, basically and I said, how did you fell, and he said well, relieved because it was hot back there and I was jumping out in for cold you know, it’s nice and cool and it’s really pretty, he said, it felt [unclear] whether he could feel it but it was feeling was, you know, far behind so he jumped out headfirst and one, two, three and he was looking down and there seemed to be lakes, these clear patches and woodland and he thought they were lakes and so and he was heading, he was trying to steer and he kept on going right towards these lakes and he didn’t want to end up in the lakes so he’s frantically steered away from these, these pale patches of water towards the dark patches and he ended up landing, slap banging in a pale patch which he thought was a lake and discovered it was a field so was actually very lucky that he didn’t end up in a tree because that was not, I think one of other crew broke an arm or something like that. Anyway, he ended up, he was on a run for about a week, and he hid in a farmhouse, at one point he was in a barn, and a German guard came in and he just had to keep very, very quiet and he made his way, he was trying to make his way to Switzerland I think it was, and it was December, it was very cold, and he said some people were actually seemed quite nice or just sort of ignored him you know, he didn’t, somebody he
CB: Is it German people?
PP: It must have been German, it must have been German but he, I mean, it wasn’t specific, I mean, they didn’t make a fuss, just sort of let him stay or they didn’t make a fuss. This was of course during the Ardennes offensive I think it was because this was December. Right, anyway he got to what was presumably the Rhine and to get across he decided he wasn’t going to swim across in December so he, there was a bridge across and there was [unclear] farm wagons and things going across and so he snug in behind and he had this torch, there’s a battery in the torch and it had a wire across and he walked across and he just tried to hide and he got across and the German guard saw him and saw this wire and was very worried about the wire, anyway so that was it, he was caught. He learned later when he met up in interrogation centre with two rest of the crew that the Martines, that’s the name of the Spanish chap, had been, was executed by the Germans and it became, it was a war crime that was investigated after the war and I’ve discovered quite a lot of information about that, exactly what happened and where he was executed, whether it was actually cause he was Spanish I don’t think because I was very surprised at the number of RAF that were being randomly killed around that time
CB: Just to interrupt [unclear] killing particularly do you think?
PP: The Germans
CB: Yes, [unclear]
PP: Germans, and it wasn’t, it wasn’t like an organised thing if you see, it appeared to be, I’ve done some research into this, and I, I was surprised that it was, I mean, it was the height of the bombing, they would just, sometimes just killing aircrew quite a few of them, I’m really quite surprised at the numbers that, those that happened, my feeling was that actually it wasn’t particularly that he was Spanish but he was always because it was, it wasn’t like it was an organised thing, it was just, he was unlucky. Two other members of the crew however or rather one of the members of the crew had told him how after they’d landed and he was pinched up and was crawling along this hedgerow and he heard something on the other side of the hedgerow and he stopped and the noise stopped on the other side and he crawled along and this noise started and he eventually came to a gap in the hedgerow and he peered through and you can guess what was happening [laughs] and find another member of the crew [laughs] looking at him, which is fairly amazing they’d ended up that close when consider how long this plane must have been flying for after, fairly recent, a couple of years ago, a German chap who was trying to locate where the Lancaster had actually ended up, was asking me because they didn’t, hadn’t found that wreck and it sounds like it was flying for quite some time.
CB: It’s interesting that sometimes the crews bailed out of the aircraft which carried on
PP: Yeah
CB: And landed a long way away
PP: Yes, it’s, well it was, I mean, it was on fire and they decided that this was flying straight and level from what I can go because they spent some time arguing about, you know, how rather try and push Martines out and watching this other fighter that was just flying along beside them you know
CB: Yes
PP: The interesting couple of stories from the interrogation centre. Ok, he’s been interrogated and the technique was that they told you, my father said, the Germans basically knew quite a lot from [unclear] information are you with 277 Squadron? You know how is so and so, you’ve got the new Lancasters, haven’t you? And would tell you all this information with the idea that they know everything to try and get you into this thing, you know, so you give away another morsel of information and so this was happening and, and the German had really very good English, my father’s being interrogated and he said, my father said to him, he said, look, why are you bothering? Said, you’ve lost the war, it’s obvious you’ve lost the war, why are you asking me all this, why are you bothering? The German classically said, I’m asking the questions not you [laughs] and got quite cheerful [unclear]. Later on when they were taken up to, right the way up to Germany because they went up to Stalag Luft I, Barth which is right up cause he went right from the Swiss border, right the way up through and he said he was with two Americans in a train and they had a single elderly guy with them and it was an all passenger train and they had this long, long journey and they decided they were going to try and escape and so they discussed amongst themselves that one was going to overcome they guard who was not, you know, was not first line troops and then what they were going to do and they worked it all out and every time they were just about to do it, it went over a bridge or a viaduct and so they said, oh no, [unclear] and so in the end they didn’t actually do anything and my father said it was probably quite good I did, they didn’t because this was of course, this was getting round just before Christmas I think and fairly six, no, it would’ve been, yeah, it was, it was probably 10th, mid-December anyway. Ok
CB: Ok, we’ll stop there for a mo.
PP: Yeah, ok. So, whilst he landed, he dug a hole for the parachute and he took off his epaulettes and military stuff and they had flying boots which could convert to shoes so they looked like civilian but the other thing they had was their escape maps which were these maps on silk and so he had this torch and so he figured out where he was approximately and there to try and make his way across to Switzerland.
CB: So, the German experience interrogation, what did he say about how that was carried out?
PP: Do you want me to repeat that story?
CB: Just the attitude of the interrogators.
PP: Well, the attitude of the interrogators was always the thing about telling them, we know everything about you, we know everything about your squadron, what you were doing, the names of people, the type of aircraft they’ve got, all this information.
CB: But they, were they passive, aggressive? Did you?
PP: It’s sounds like.
CB: Friendly?
PP: No, I don’t think friendly, I think they were bureaucratic I think from the response when my father said, why bothering [unclear], we ask the questions not you. So I think it was this and this sort of relaxed, sort of well-spoken English, oh, we know what we are doing, you know, we know what you are doing, but giving lots of information or rather the Germans giving information to try and pick up or you might agree that the, my father might agree with something but that would confirm what they thought so
CB: Difficult trap part of the trade
PP: Yes
CB: So, they go by train to Stalag Luft I
PP: Yes
CB: Then what?
PP: And well basically, well I asked him about, you know, when did you try to escape? And he said, well, at this point of the war, December, the allied armies were just about to cross the Rhine I think at this point, I mean, it was very clear the war was coming to an end and so they weren’t doing any escapes at this point because the war was, they were going to be free fairly soon in some circumstances rather. The camps that were very, they were [unclear] jammed in their rooms, they had formed, he seemed to sort of a have a notebook that he had there and he seemed to spend quite a lot of his time, attending lectures, there was all sorts of skilled people there and they gave different lectures on different subjects, I think my father learned German and car maintenance and so there’s lots and lots of people, they formed sort of mini universities because there was a lot of highly educated people there. He shared a, in his hut there was some and I can’t remember the name, there was a chap who after the war I think was quite famous and became a woman, sex change, but anyway they, I said most of this thing was organised their time and his book, his notebook which I have here, which I thought would, from the very faded, round, cause paper was very scarce which I thought would have a wonderful diary is actually mostly [laughs] car maintenance and things, remove the cylinder head and this, that, the, it was very cold, they had, he told about they would saving up for Christmas day and they’d been making this alcohol so they could have it on Christmas day and it was a great big [unclear] of alcohol [unclear] something else like that and when they drank it on Christmas day they discovered at the bottom was a dead rat [laughs], the it was cold, it was depravation it, but basically they were safe at this point, it was a huge camp, there was American side and the British side and the but with the, with the thing of certain you know RAF officers, they, a lot of them would’ve come to public school would have been going to university so they were actually a very intelligent group with a lot of knowledge and then the main thing was that they took their time to be running lectures for each other because at that point there was no point in trying to escape, that would be foolish, the Germans were getting tougher about escape, they had been at Stalag Luft III so this, they had this sort of quite organised
CB: What about food parcels?
PP: Yes, they got a few parcels through and particularly they were saved up particularly for Christmas because he was arriving, he had arrived about two weeks before Christmas, so they were godsend, I think in the postcode I have here he actually talks, he talks about food parcels
CB: Is it a postcard sent to a friend in New York?
PP: Yes, the friend that he, that he had stayed, shall I read this out?
CB: Please do.
PP: Dear Ruth, as you see I really have done a silly thing now, just before Christmas to, this is the eighth of January 1945, I apologise for not writing for so long, but circumstances have prevented it. I forgot whether I wrote to thank you for the razor blades, the cake and the writing pad. The letter was just what I needed and the cake, and the cake just what I wanted, there is still some cake left, and I dream about it so, this cake has obviously back at the [unclear] base and I dream about it now. It was so rich and filling. Then there’s two lines that have been crossed out by the censor, we have enough coal to keep the fire going during the day, at the moment I’m quite enjoying myself as long as it does not go on that long. Love, Jarvis.
CB: [laughs] fascinating. And that was recovered from Ruth, an American
PP: Yes, that’s got through, it may well have arrived after he was liberated so flying officer MG Peel this number Stalag Luft I, via Stalag Luft III, that’s interesting so at that point in the war it still got through from Stalag Luft I to Stalag, via Stalag Luft III and across to Scarsdale, New York, despite the fact we are only three months from the end of the war. Ok, one of the things they did have was they had a sweepstake for when the war was going to end and everybody put in, signed a check I don’t know what it was for, it might have been five pound, no probably it wasn’t that much, maybe it was a pound, I don’t know what it was but everybody signed a check or gave the promissory note and this was quite so that the amount was going to be really quite a large sum amongst the people that were doing this and it was certainly going to be adding up to a year’s wages and, and he was I think only a day out, I know what happened, they were going to end the war officially and then for some reason there was a delay before it was officially ended so and so he, cause otherwise [laughs] whoever won that actually ended up with, would be set for at least a year’s pay if not several years pay. So, shall I talk about when they were liberated?
CB: Yes, yeah.
PP: Ok. Basically they, I know they were quite lucky actually in a way because some of the other camps the Germans court-martialled them away and when the Russians were getting fairly close, the Germans talked to the senior officers cause the both American and British and they had different compounds, they had many thousands, the, and said, right, you’re all going to move, you know, we are going to move you out and they basically said, no, you will [unclear] what you gonna do, there’s thousands of us, there’s only, you know, I don’t know, a hundred of you so the Germans gave up for that point, which and I know some of the other camps that didn’t have a lot of the POWs, you know, that died as a result as they went on this.
CB: This camp was at the bottom of the Danish peninsula
PP: Yeah
CB: While some of these other ones were in the east
PP: Yeah
CB: Germany or Poland
PP: Yes, yeah
CB: So, they were moving them away from
PP: From, yes, yes
CB: The Russian advance
PP: So, anyway so the Germans disappeared and some of this I know about because I have a copy, they of, they produced a newspaper, so the, basically there was this period where the Germans disappeared and so they had to run the camp and so they took over the German printing press and they printed their own paper which was number one, first one, last one, it says on it. I should get you a copy of that. And basically they went out, the, they knew the Russians coming closer basically the Americans I think did most of this cause went out and to try and find the Russians bit, you know, a bit tensions at this point but they eventually met up with the Russians and, and took them back to the camp and so they were liberated. My father recalls the Russian [unclear] the man in charge saying to the British-American commanders, would you like some women? You know, your men must, we can arrange to get some German women and so, you know, you can have sex with them, which the Americans and the British politely declined but that was the, very much the attitude then and my father was horrified when he discovered what the Russians had been doing and he writes about it very poignantly in a letter that I only saw a copy of the first time recently, how he felt that the Russians were far worse than the Germans so I’m trying to remember anything else about
CB: On what basis was that observation?
PP: From what it would have been based on, I would imagine cause he doesn’t say and I, he never told, he did tell me that story about offering the women and he told in the way I just said which was quite humorous but actually it’s not humorous and but he told it in that way and it was very recently, very, very recently that my sister discovered this, in this pile of letters that he sent from Paris in 1947, to his girlfriend who later became his wife and my mother, about how he felt about it and this was a complete revelation to me how he felt about that, is that worth me reading that out?
CB: I suppose
PP: Yeah, cause I mean, in which case we’ll stop there cause I’ll then have to read it from
CB: Yeah. Ok, we’re talking about letters.
PP: No, yes, this was how he felt [unclear] the Russians and how he felt about them and it was very, very recent that my sister discovered in a pile of old letters, a letter that he wrote in June 1947 because after the war and this describes how he felt, after the war he was working in Paris and this letter to my mother, it’s written at four o’clock in the morning, on 16th of June 1947, and I’m just gonna read it out, ok, it’s a little difficult to read, so bear with me, ok, my disillusionment has an entirely different source I think from yours. After being for five months in POW camp and living for the day when we would be released, I was expecting something far removed from reality. What happened was that an army just as if not more brutal and definitely more barbaric than the Germans were, was our saviour. The thought that we were their allies, this is the Russians of course,
CB: Yeah
PP: The thought that we were their allies and therefore should approve of their actions are utterly repellent, was utterly repellent. All my ideals for which I personally was fighting meant less than nothing to them. Another cause was the fact that our own mode of fighting was just as bad and that I had allowed myself to drift into it without making any objection. At the beginning, [unclear] at the beginning of the war, I did not think that and I just have to go through the next page here, bear with me, at the beginning of the war, I did not think that any of the RAF would bomb towns indiscriminately, yet that is just what I myself did. I found I could enjoy dropping bombs without bothering to think of the results, I’m therefore not merely disillusioned by the state of mankind but in myself, all of which is going to take some time to mend. Good night my darling, I must get some sleep. With all my love, Jarvis. Now that’s really, I think and inevitably I think that to me and so that was his views immediately after the war which is interesting because he said his, I must, it will take some time to mend. And I think basically it, you know, it mended but he didn’t talk about it, he put that away
CB: Parked in the subconscious
PP: Yes, I mean, how do you cope with that so my feeling is that he would, he was not terribly emotional, I mean, he was brought up to be unemotional, he was brought up by a nanny basically, I mean, his father was really quite old, so and then very early to prep school so he definitely was somebody that did not believe, you know, in showing emotions but it’s interesting because in that letter he was revealing them, and I think that came from, where would he have got that from, my feeling is that would’ve been from what he gathered from other POWs who, the Americans and you know, from what they discovered cause they, they spent some, there was some time, I don’t know how quickly they repatriated but they would’ve been very aware of what was, how the Russians were treating the locals and I think that would’ve been him being told you know, what was going on and he was horrified at that. I think that’s where he would’ve come from because I don’t think this was public knowledge at that point because the Russians were of course our allies so this would been him hearing from others the stories of, you know, what they’d heard and seen around the camp, I think that’s where it’s come from, and of course his feelings about the bombings were, I asked him about that, how, you know, and he said well, that’s what I trained to do, that’s what I, that’s what we were trained to do, so he did what he had to do, you followed your orders. He was always unhappy about the fact that Bomber Command weren’t thanked after the war, he felt, he never made a great fuss about it cause he, he didn’t [unclear] about anything but I think that that was hurtful.
CB: Was he a member of any of the associations like the RAF association? Royal British Legion?
PP: He, I don’t think so, no, he, I mean, he had his Caterpillar badge, which and he would always go to the remembrance day, right the way through to his very, you know, final year, he would go to remembrance day, in the local village so he always did that but he never joined any of the associations or anything like that.
CB: And when the Bomber Command memorial was unveiled, did he go to that?
PP: No, he didn’t go to any of those things
CB: He wasn’t invited.
PP: No, no, which was a shame actually because he was actually very, very fit right through to the end, I mean he was losing his memory and we did arrange personally to take him over to the Lancaster that can still taxi, and we took him on a taxi run, I managed to sneak his uniform on without him realising but he took it along and I said oh, you are a bit cold, and put his jacket on and he didn’t particularly notice that it was this RAF jacket and then flunked it on his head, oh my new uniform, so and he was very self-deprecating about it and he did when they described at the beginning, you know, they did the audience thing about saying all about how, what the Lancaster, what the bomber crews did and they made it a bit melodramatic, a bit exciting and he sat there apart from falling sleep half way through [laughs] as we walked away, [unclear] load of old rubbish [laughs] cause he, they, he didn’t see it as, you know, that exciting but he, when people came up to him and did say, oh, I want to thank you, you know, shake him by the hand, he did actually quite enjoy that, it’s the last time he ever went out actually really.
CB: Was it? Yeah
PP: Into any sort of [unclear], yeah
CB: But to what extent after the war, are you aware of his keeping in touch with crew members?
PP: Don’t think he did at all. Don’t think he, immediately after the war, he stayed in the RAF and he worked in Paris and then he went to Cairo and he was involved with the setting up of air traffic control that and he did that for some and what he did do, he was in the reserve, auxiliary RAF, that’s right, so he stayed in the RAF for quite a few years and he did, you know, summer
CB: [unclear], did he?
PP: No he didn’t fly, he was in air traffic control
CB: Right, air traffic
PP. Because any flying would be in his notebook and there’s nothing in there, so he used to go on these camps and I remember him going to the camps, but you know, and he would do so this each year, so he stayed in the, associated with the RAF for a long time so I mean, certainly I would say [unclear], maybe early sixties I don’t know.
CB: So he was working for the RAF on air traffic.
PP: Yes, as I say, yes so his fighter, he
CB: Fighter control
PP: Fighter control, so he did, he would go up to the east of Scotland and he would be doing fighter control off the intercepting Russians coming over so uhm and he did that as member of the Auxiliary RAF but I’m not aware, I mean, the only, it wasn’t a crew member that he stayed in touch with but the only RAF person that he stayed in touch with, I think he did have some friends, I think my godfather is possibly an ex-RAF man, was my mother’s, he was friend with his, this chap, Trevor Richard, who said, oh, I’ll, you know, they were meeting up and he said, oh, can I bring my sister? His friend said and his sister was a very glamorous, young woman who then became his wife and became my mom and they met actually in Piccadilly Circus, outside the restaurant there, I don’t know what it was, famous restaurant, anyway, and my father’s usual state [unclear] joking about him being late, he was late the very first time we met, and they went on honeymoon to Normandy which [laughs] was a totally disastrous honeymoon, they went in an old MG which totally broke down and they didn’t get any further than Normandy and of course Normandy had been completely demolished in the war so, and my mom on her, the day that she, they went off on the honeymoon, she was under the car [laughs] trying to hold the exhaust on cause the exhaust fell off but anyway.
CB: It was a memorable event.
PP: Yes, memorable.
CB: So, the war’s over, but he’s in the RAF. How long did he stay in the RAF for?
PP: I think
CB: The late forties.
PP: I’ll tell you what, he stayed for a bit, I think a couple of years, then went to Oxford.
CB: Yeah
PP: He went back to his, he went to Oxford to Worchester College and where his tutor was Asa Briggs who became very renowned
CB: Historian, yeah
PP: Yes, and what was interesting I cause Asa is, I think still alive and I said, well, he said, well your tutors were the same age as you, so they were both the same age, cause everybody had been in the war.
CB: Yeah
PP: And he did that and completed his degree PPE and he came out and he was looking out, oh and I was born whilst he was a student, and he came out and he [unclear] got a job at a few hundred a year as a factory inspector as they were called then and they were very, very poor and they actually sold the car to buy a pram [laughs]. And he, that’s what he did, until he retired early due to stress and then took up sort of farming really, sheep and cows and horses and things like that.
CB: Where did he do that?
PP: Well, we moved into, as a factory inspector he was moved every seven years so my childhood, I was born in Oxford and we moved to Lyndhurst up to Leicester and back to Lyndhurst and then up to Glasgow and then down south and then we moved to near [unclear] farm house which they stayed in then for, I don’t know, forty odd years, a long, long time.
CB: So, you have a younger brother.
PP: Tony, who also went into St Edwards, yes.
CB: And a sister.
PP: My sister, she, yes, who’s, yes, Nicki, Tony, my brother and Nicki.
CB: What did they do?
PP. Nicki is a paramedic, she’s on fast cars, and so she actually is right on the frontline of emergency staff, and funnily enough meets a lot of ex, cause a lot of people who deal with the quite elderly and so she meets actually a lot of people, quite a lot of RAF people and she’s always interested in that and chats about it, and my brother was a teacher and is now retired.
CB: Well, Phillip Peel, thank you very much indeed for a most interesting talk about a most interesting man.
PP: Aren’t you going to ask me which record I like best?
CB: Yes
PP: Which, which [laughs]
CB: What about?
PP: [unclear]
CB: Yes, what about dancing on the ceiling?
PP: [laughs]



Chris Brockbank, “Interview with Philip Peel,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 22, 2024,

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