Interview with Cyril Peters


Interview with Cyril Peters


Cyril Peters joined the Royal Air Force at Cambridge in 1940 and trained as a pilot in Canada and the United States. On his return to Great Britain he served as an instructor before flying operations as a pilot with 77 Squadron. He became a teacher after the war.







00:44:32 audio recording


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MJ: This is an interview for the International Bomber Command Centre with —
CP: Flight lieutenant.
MJ: Flight Lieutenant Cyril Peters DFC.
CP: Air Force at Cambridge in 1940 when I was nineteen. I was attested, sworn in and given a number 1331907 and sent to Uxbridge for three days assessment training. At the end of my three days at Uxbridge I was informed that I was accepted as U/T aircrew and should wear a white flash in my forage cap. Initial training was done at Scarborough at Number 10 Initial Training Wing, living in the Grand Hotel which the RAF had requisitioned. Fifty two of us on the course for two months. At Scarborough we battled with navigation, instruments, air frames, engines, Morse code — sending and receiving eight or nine words per minute. Guns. I learned to take a machine gun apart to bits and put it back together again. Never ever fired on in anger but I could take one to bits. Air Force law. You name it we studied it as well as running up and down the hills at Scarborough with a full pack and rifle. Ostensibly to instil discipline into us. At the end of the course we were on parade outside the Grand Hotel in three ranks with our kit bags when were marched around to stores. We broke off in single file and walked to the stores and inside we were each given some extra kit which we stuffed in the top of our kit bags and kept our mouths shut. We had long since learned that if you opened your mouth to ask the simplest and most sensible of questions it was deemed you were challenging authority. You were charged with the offence and you would either get seven or fourteen days jankers. So we kept our mouth shut. We were trained from Scarborough.
[Telephone ringing.]
CP: Excuse me.
[Recording paused]
CP: We were trained from Scarborough and after a brief stop in Manchester we arrived at Gourock where we boarded the French liner the Louis Pasteur. In the very early ‘30s the Louis Pasteur had held the Blue Ribband for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic. She was a twenty five knot liner but how many hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of U/T aircrew were on the Louis Pasteur I wouldn’t like to hazard a guess. There were thousands on board. She was bursting at the seams. We steamed off into the North Sea with a cruiser ahead, a destroyer either side as escort and we belted across the North Sea like a dose of salts. In a matter of two and a half, three days we were berthed in Halifax, Nova Scotia, had been trained down to Toronto and after two weeks in Toronto were informed our flying training was to be done in America. In Arizona. At number 4 British Flying Training School. BFTS. A flight sergeant was put in charge and we were put on the train at Toronto for Chicago. When we reached Port Huron which, I think was the last station on the Canadian side the flight sergeant shouted out, ‘Get your civvies out and put them on and put your cap badge in your lapel so I shall know who you,’ so and so’s, ‘are.’ Being a flight sergeant in ‘41 I can assure you he wasn’t interested in so and so’s. His language was far more colourful. So I opened my kit bag and there on the top were civvies which we took out and put on and we put our cap badge in our lapel as chiefy had told us so knew who we so and so’s were. We had to enter America as civilians. The American government weren’t sticking their necks out by entertaining foreign troops in their country at all. We were civilians. When we arrived in Chicago, at the terminal in Chicago from Toronto the [pause] Chicago is like London. Once you go into one terminal and you need to go out in another direction you had to change terminals. The taxis that had been employed to transport us to the other terminal drove on the platform, up to within a foot of the carriage in which we were travelling. And I reckon, with luck I stepped one foot on the platform and with my kitbag I was in the taxi. And lined up in two rows just outside the taxis, the whole length of the platform, motorcycle police wheel to wheel. And as soon as we were all on board the taxis we drove through Chicago with a police escort either side. And when we reached the other terminal the same applied. The taxis drove on the platform to within a yard of the carriage in which we were to travel and again I reckon, with luck, I stepped one foot on the platform with my kit bag — I was in the carriage. And lined up, in two rows just outside of the taxis, the whole length of the platform, motorcycle police wheel to wheel. And as soon as we were all on board the train moved off. Very slickly organised. The train journey across America was three or four days. The train stopped every night at 6 o’clock for thirty minutes so we got out and wandered around. One of the drivers blew his hooter at twenty five past so you ran like a stag and made the train to clamber on because when he started at half past six you knew he wouldn’t stop until the next night at 6 o’clock. You had to be on board. We got off in Arizona at a town called Mesa. Mesa is situated about fifty miles due south of the capital, Phoenix and we were bussed ten to twelve miles out into the desert to 4 BFTS. We were classified as Number 4 course at 4 BFTS. Numbers 1, 2 and 3 had done their previous six, twelve and eighteen week training under the American Air Force at Thunderbird Field and they came in to 4 BFTS just before we arrived. When we arrived there was a hut for the sheriff, for his rifle and twin revolvers. There were four corner accommodation blocks over an area of desert. No paths. No tarmac. No nothing. Anywhere. There was a mess hut because they’d got to feed us and a control tower. That was it. Twelve rows of aeroplanes. Four rows of Harvards — the 86s, the advanced trainer. Four rows of Vultee — the intermediate trainer. And four rows of Stearmans — the primary trainer. And that’s it. This 4 BFTS was a private venture by Southwest Airways Incorporated. And boy oh boy did they ever get their fingers out. In a matter of three or four weeks the area inside the four corner accommodation blocks was grass. On it had been built a cadet lounge with easy chairs and magazines from England which we could enjoy if we had time from our studies. All the paths were laid. A parade ground had been put down. One hangar was completely built and the second was half way up. Considering that was a private venture they really got their fingers out. We started flying September 1941. Fifty two of us. On March the 13th 1942 — thirty two of us. Twenty had been scrubbed for lack of aptitude. We were on parade outside our accommodation block in three ranks. We were marched around to stores. We broke off in single file and walked to stores and inside we were each given a handful of sergeant’s stripes, a pair of wings, made to sign for them and told to bog off and sew them on. A most intriguing and surprising Wings Parade. And the next day we left Mesa for Chicago, Canada and home. Pearl Harbour had occurred early December ’41. From this time America were in an emergency and we were allowed to wear uniform the whole time. In camp, out of camp, anytime. So we were coming back to Chicago in uniform. And boy oh boy what a difference that kick up the backside had made to the Chicagoans. A more friendly, likeable, pleasurable people it would have been difficult to meet. Had I accepted all the two hundred packets of Camels and Lucky Strikes I’d been offered I should have needed a trailer to have towed them in. Very generous. Very warm. Very friendly. We enjoyed, we walked, we enjoyed our walk through to the other terminal. We were, we left Chicago and we were trained in to Canada. To Moncton. And at Moncton we boarded the steamship Banfora. SS Banfora. A pre-war cattle ship. And I say this quite simply because a contingent of the Canadian army marched on the Banfora to come with us to the UK and join their compatriots and with fifteen minutes they walked off. You could stuff it. They certainly weren’t going to travel on such rubbish accommodation, not on your nelly. It didn’t matter to the powers that be. They merely filled it with aircrew. They knew we daren’t mutiny. If we did we would either be shot or clapped in jail. And so we came home in convoy, on the Banfora, a pre-war cattle ship. The American instructors had recommended me for single engine day fighters. Spits and Hurris which is what I wanted. When I got back to the UK the lords at the Air Ministry decided my single engine aeroplanes should be a Tiger Moth and a Magister. I was sent to Number 6 Flying Instructor’s School operating at Scone near Perth in Scotland and within two months I was a qualified flying instructor to teach basic exercises to solo standard. Not to wing standard. Just to solo standard. So we taught straight and level flying, medium turns left and right, gliding turns left and right, climbing turns left and right, take offs and landings and taxiing control on the ground. That was all. And I had eight students. Four in the morning. Four in the afternoon. And detailed to fly five hours every day. The locals at Scone had convinced us that the only way to enjoy their honey was to drink it neat and chase it with a half pint of beer, a whisky beer chaser. And I could buy a whisky beer chaser in Scone mess for eight old pence. That’s just over tuppence in modern parlance. And I was sure, when it came time to my posting from the flying school there was nowhere in England where I could buy a whisky beer chaser for eight old pence so I elected to stay at Scone. I did my first year or so at Scone. It was July the 13th ’43 when I received the King’s pleasure — was appointed to a King’s Commission and posted to 11 EFTS – to 9 EFTS operating at Ansty near Coventry. I arrived at Ansty, reported to my boss, the wing commander flying. He didn’t want me at Ansty. His four flights were full but his two flights at his satellite at Southam needed instructors so I was sent to Southam. I got to Southam and I reported to the CO. The flight lieutenant. He said to me, ‘Here at Southam we’ve got twenty Tiger Moths. Bowsers to feed them. If you want a bed tonight to lay your head on you’d better get in to Southam and find one. If not – hard luck.’ So I pulled into Southam and I got digs with an elderly widow, Mrs Paxton who had living with her her nephew Ted. Ted was a very highly skilled motor mechanic who for years had been servicing all the police vehicles in the area and the police were determined not to lose him. So they made him a war reserve copper which kept him there all the war to do their servicing. To get from Ansty, from Southam dead across country to the village where I was born, Gamlingay which was between Biggleswade and St Neots on the A1, a little bit east of that, if it was a short leave I barely got to Gamlingay in time to turn around and come back. And I said to Ted, ‘I’d better buy myself a vehicle.’ So he said, ‘Well if you go along to the local garage they’ve got two.’ So I went along and they had a 1929 Austin 7 with a part fabric body, reconditioned engine – ten pounds. They had a 1931 Austin 7 with a non-reconditioned engine – five pounds. I knew that my, that the fuel on my vehicle would have would always be at least fifty percent paraffin so I opted for the non-reconditioned engine. Five pounds. Registration number HX 4819. She smoked well but by God she went well. I kept her and a year later when I’d been posted to Yorkshire I sold her for a tenner. So she did me proud did old HX 4819. The Rolls Royce works at Ansty had been completing the building of the Mosquito aircraft before flight testing them and delivering them to squadrons for operational use. And it was quite obvious in very early spring of ’44 that Mosquitoes were far more urgently required than pilots because snap you fingers over night the EFTS was shut down. There wasn’t a Tiger Moth in the vicinity and twenty of us pilots had been posted to an Advanced Flying Unit at South Cerney near Cirencester in Gloucester flying the twin-engined Airspeed Oxford for eighty hours. So we got out but on the bomber trail not the fighter. After AFU the next stage was OTU. Kinloss, the satellite at Forres. Forres, the satellite of Kinloss had just emptied its crews out to the next stage of training so a whole batch of us were posted in to fill it up again. Here we were to fly the Armstrong Whitworth Whitley, the old flying coffin. Flat out, nose down, one twenty indicated if you were lucky. A pre-war bomber. Ye Gods. The second day at Forres we were detailed to report to a large briefing room. Inside were every aircrew trade. Pilots, navs, bombs, wops, gunners. No engineers. We didn’t need engineers on the Whitley. And here we crewed up and I started picking my crew. I saw a pilot officer bomb aimer, six foot three, built like a tank. And I thought Ye Gods what a great asset he’d be if later on you were at a local pub and got in a fix. So I went over to him and I said, ‘You’ve got yourself a skipper. I’m Pete.’ He said, ‘I’m Cliff. Cliff Lamb. And I know a navigator.’ I said, ‘Dig him out.’ So we dived in the motley throng and he dug out a five foot, a pilot officer navigator. Five foot nothing. Slim as a bean pole. Pilot Officer J E E Viella. John Viella. Black hair, black eyes. I said, ‘Ok John. You’ve got yourself a skipper. I’m Pete. What cooks?’ ‘Father ran from Mussolini in the early ‘30s to London. I’ve done all my schooling in London. I’m in my second year of accountancy and I’ve joined the air force. How long have you been flying?’ Which rather took me aback. I said, ‘Since 1941.’ ‘How many hours have you done?’ ‘I don’t know. Twelve, thirteen hundred.’ ‘Well we’d better get ourselves a couple of gunners and a W/op.’ He thought I’d just transferred trades and I would have what anyone normally through the trade would be. About two hundred and fifty hours. I’d been kicking around a bit longer. The three of us saw a gunner on his own by the side of the room holding a bottle and we three agreed anybody holding a bottle, irrespective of what was in it, was recommending himself. So we went over to him and said, ‘You’ve got yourself a crew. I’m Pete. The skipper.’ He said ‘I’m Sergeant GWC Jack from Grantown on Spey. I’m nineteen and I’m a rear gunner.’ We said, ‘Smashing job, you’re in.’ He said, ‘I know a mid-upper and a W/op.’ We said, ‘Go and dig him out.’ So he went and dug out Sergeant Haines, a mid-upper. Sergeant Will the W/op. We had a full crew. Our work on the Whitley was eighty hours. Usually in six, roughly six hour cross country’s day or night. On each cross country there’d be some bombing practice for the bomb aimer and some gunnery practice for the gunners. We had trouble with our wireless op. On every trip after an hour, after two hours he pronounced his radio unserviceable. Took it to bits and spread all the bits over [coughs] sorry.
[recording paused]
CP: And he took his radio to bits and spread it over the floor of the Whitley which meant that from that time the navigator never ever received any help from the radio for his navigation. Thank the lord he was an ace. Give John a minute with his sextant on the sun, moon, any star. He knew all the constellations. Betelgeuse. Cassiopeia. I got an exact fix. Never ever on any operation day or night was I ever off course. Which is why I’m alive today and talking to you in my nineties. He was brilliant without a shadow of a doubt. This culminated in the last trip. We’d landed. We were in dispersal doing our rundown checks and switching off. And I called to Will, ‘Get your things together, pack your bags and bog off. You’re out.’ And his great chum, the mid-upper, Haines said, ‘I’ll go with him.’ Now, when you get rid of two bits of dead wood from your crew at the drop of a hat there’s only one reason. Old Lady Luck is firmly on your shoulders, and she’s been there ever since. We were posted to an Advanced Flying Unit – Marston Moor, where they were flying the four-engined Halifax Mark 2 and Mark 5. Fifty hours. We picked up our engineer, Sergeant Ted Millington. We had, at the end of our six we were posted to 77 Squadron operating at full Sutton on the Halifax. Full Sutton is near Elvington. We arrived at Full Sutton and when you get [pause] — ages, I was twenty three. The navigator John and the engineer Ted were twenty two. Jock in the tail was nineteen. We managed to pick ourselves up a spare wireless op, Ross, Ross Tinian. A flight sergeant. Ross and Cliff, the bomb aimer they were both old men. They were twenty eight. They were old geezers. So we had a crew without a mid-upper gunner but when we got to a squadron every time I operated I had either Flying Officer Harris as my mid-upper or Flying Officer Davis. Davis was an Aussie. And I was lucky. Everytime they either flew with me. On the two occasions when I didn’t have Harris then I had Davis. So I was very lucky. Once you get to a squadron you’re converted to their aircraft and they were flying the Halifax Mark 3 with radials. And the difference between the Mark 2 and 5 and a Mark 3 was phenomenal. I could get a Mark 3 with a full bomb and fuel load up to twenty thousand plus without any trouble at all. I would have been poorly placed to have got a Mark 2 or a 5 up beyond twelve, fourteen thousand feet, without a shadow of doubt. The difference was quite remarkable. After you’re converted you’re detailed to fly second pilot with an experienced crew and I flew with Flight Lieutenant Taylor and his crew. A night operation to the Ruhr, to Essen — six and a half hours. It was Flight Lieutenant Taylor’s twenty ninth trip so he’d got one more to do before he got a fresh job. Then I was detailed to fly with Flying Officer Charlesworth. Again to the Ruhr. A night trip. Six and a half hours to Duisburg. It was Charlesworth’s fifteenth trip so he’d got fifteen more to do before he got a fresh job. And then I was as free as the air to operate with my own crew. And the first target we bombed was Bingen. Bingen was a town way, way south on the Rhine. Its claim to notoriety was the fact it had fairly extensive marshalling yards. And through those marshalling yards regularly, numerous times weekly, came troop trains loaded with reinforcements from Austria and from Munich for the German front line. And a hundred and five of us were sent out this night cock up the contract. Pick off the marshalling yards and apparently intelligence found out for us afterwards we’d done a good job because no more [laughs] no more troop trains ever came through Bingen from then on. At the end of that trip we were in dispersal doing rundown checks and switching it off and I said to myself, ‘Pete if that was an indication of what you’re tour is going to be like. You’ve got it made. You’re going to make this.’ I’d seen little, no flak on the way in to the target, over the target, out from the target. On the way home we hadn’t been molested or searched for or shot at. It had been a piece of doddle. You get stupid thoughts when you’re twenty three and in charge of a bomber don’t you? I’d like now to give you this map. And this was an actual map of a trip that I did on my eighth trip on my tour to an oil refinery in between Bohlen and Dresden and Leipzig. In the Dresden area between Leipzig and Chemnitz. Our boss, Bomber Harris insisted concentrated bombing was vital. He insisted concentrated bombing often swamped defences and once you got defences swamped then the middle and end of an attack could be as accurate as the opening. If you’re going to swamp, if you are going, and four hundred of us were detailed to bomb Bohlen this night. The four hundred of us would go through. The first hundred at seventeen thousand feet. Five minutes. The second hundred, eighteen thousand feet. Five minutes. The third hundred, nineteen thousand feet five minutes. And the rest twenty thousand five minutes. Twenty minutes — the job’s done. Two thousand tonnes of bombs on the ground. When you think that the Germans, the most weight of bombing they dropped on us was three or four hundred tons, you can understand two thousand just swamps them. They had nothing to fight against it at all. And we thought this was smashing. We thought Bomber Harris deserved a pat on the back for that. We thought that was smashing. If you’re going to control your area you’ve got to, if you’re going to concentrate them you’ve got to control them and so Bomber Command laid down the route we were to fly and I must admit considerable thought had been given to these routes that they gave us. We were detailed this night to leave base at nine thousand feet and we left there at nine thousand feet. Flying due south to Reading at one seven five. When we were going to this part of Germany we always turned over Reading. It gave the locals a morale booster if they heard four or five hundred bombers going out. They’d think, ‘By crikey somebody’s getting their backside kicked tonight. We hope the boys come back.’ We hoped we all came back too. From Reading we turned south easterly and we flew over the English coast at C, the French coast at D, to position E. From E we flew due, roughly due easterly to F. Still at 175. Now if you can continue that line from E to F straight on with your fingers it’s making for Frankfurt, Mannheim, Mainz. So if you’re defending Germany and you’ve picked up the stream you think that’s the target and you can get your night fighters up around. Once we get the night fighters up they could only be up two hours and then they had to go home for a drink. We’re going to be four hours to the target and four hours back again. So it’s good if we can get them up. But long before we get anywhere near Frankfurt, Mannheim, Mainz we turn north easterly to G. Now, on this leg we change from 160 [pause] from 175 to 160 so we’re climbing. We’re climbing to bombing height and so you can say I’m at seventeen thousand feet before I get to G. And G is actually just about, if you move it with your finger is going for Kassel. Fresh target. Before we get anywhere near Kassel at G we turn a little bit more to the east to H. Still at 160. But if you follow a route from G to H with your fingers it’s making for Leipzig. Fresh target. And this was how it was done. To fool up the German defences. We’re changing. We’re going to — because after H we turn north easterly and we’re actually making for Berlin. And he were always dodgy about Berlin. But long before we got anywhere near Berlin at I we turned just below due east and to J. And here we’re just north of Leipzig so that there’s no danger and then we turn on our bombing run to K. At 160, Cliff, the bomb aimer sat in the seat on my right all the trip until we got to the target area when he slid down, went to the nose of the aeroplane. Got his bomb sight ready. And his job now — he had, two jobs, two things. First to identify the target. He’d seen stacks of photographs and pictures of the target at main briefing and the wing commander had given tremendous insight into it. He now had to select it on the ground and pick it out. Once he’d got it picked out then he had to make sure it crossed his bomb sight on the centre line to the aiming point when he pressed the button. Bombs gone. As the skipper, once you heard, ‘Bombs gone,’ your natural inclination was to shove on full power and belt the hell out of there. But that wasn’t possible because when he, when he pressed the button, bombs gone he activated the camera and the camera took five pictures one after the other across the target in thirty seconds. During those thirty seconds you were allowed to increase your speed by ten. That was a big morale booster I can assure you. Once you got an indication from your dash that the camera had finished then it was full power up to two hundred and belt the hell out of there. Once we left the target our speed is now two ten and after five minutes from the target we’d lower height to seven thousand feet. And we fly back over Germany at seven thousand feet until we come to Frankfurt, Mannheim, Mainz where there’s light flak to twelve so we climb up to fourteen. Keep at fourteen until we’re well clear and then we let down to eight thousand feet. And we fly at eight thousand feet via Reading back to the Humber. At the Humber we let down to two thousand feet and join Full Sutton and land. My trip was a little bit different. We set course at nine thousand feet for Reading. We turned across the English coast at C, the French coast at D, to position E. From E we flew to F at one seven five. From F we got our climbing one sixty. And at seventeen thousand feet we level. And after G the starboard inner engine decided to pack up. There was no flak. No night fighters. It was a pure mechanical failure. So it was switch off, fuel off, feather the prop. Speed now back to one forty and I needed left rudder to keep straight. I now had the option of coming back. Dropping down four thousand feet, turning one eighty degrees and coming home on my tod with a full bomb load. I hadn’t got a full petrol load. Of the just under two thousand gallons I started with I’d probably used up three fifty, four hundred but I’d still got sixteen hundred gallons left which was a lot of fuel. If they couldn’t pick me up to predict me they’d alerted a couple of fighters to come up and shoot me down. So I said to the crew, ‘I suggest we stay with the stream, using them for cover.’ When there are four hundred of you every radar screen is covered on the ground. Swamped. And instead of bombing at H plus 4 which was my time on target we’d bomb at H plus twenty at the end of the attack. And instead of bombing at seventeen thousand feet we’d bomb at fourteen thousand feet. And the crew said, ‘Ok skip. Press on.’ Whenever I’d done practice flying at Full Sutton at two and three engines it had been in the Halifax with a couple of hours of fuel on board. The boys don’t fully bomb up and fully tank up an aeroplane for you to go and play with obviously. So I’d never flown one under this configuration at this height and I boobed. Instead of getting there at H plus twenty we were twenty minutes late. We got there nearer H plus forty. But our boss’s theory was right. Defences had been swamped. If there were a half a dozen gunners firing at us that was all. And that was in scare mongering. Cliff picked to go on the ground and bombed it. We took our five pictures. No question of changing speed. I was stuck at one forty and so we turned away and when we came to let down to seven thousand feet we were still at one forty. I remembered that when we were bombing the North German ports Wilhelmshaven, who were Hamburg. We had crossed the North Sea at five hundred feet above the water. When you’ve got three or four hundred bombers, each with four fans whipping around flying at five hundred feet the prop wash is a bit disturbing. So you thanked the lord when you got near the Frisian Islands and you climbed up to bombing height and stayed there. So I thought if we stayed under bombing height like that it might be an idea to go down lower than seven thousand feet. And I went down to four thousand feet. And I must admit the whole way back even through Frankfurt, Mannheim, Mainz nobody fired a gun at us. We were completely clear the whole time. We stayed on the course that they’d laid, command had laid down for us and we were probably in the Frankfurt, Mannheim, Mainz area when the starboard outer, I presume it had been keeping watch on the starboard inner all night thinking Ye Gods he has had a night off. I’ve worked my socks off for this driver. I’m fed up. I’m going to pack up but to let him know I’m going to pack up I’ll make sure there’s a slight explosion and a sheet of flame from the starboard outer which there was. And the driver recognised it was going to pack up so it was switch off, fuel off, feather the prop and I pressed the graviner button. I’d got four graviner buttons. One for each engine. And it flooded the engine with foam which I hoped would douse all flames and it did. Speed was now back to one thirty and I’d got on full left rudder. My left knee locked. That was one improbable out of the way and I controlled the attitude of the aeroplane with power. If I put on too much power the strength of the engines rolled me and turned me to the right. If I took off too much power I rolled and turned to the left. So it was a case of juggling. We ran into cloud. Clouds are very handy. You can hide in it. We knew night fighters were around but this cloud contained icing to the extent that I was rather concerned if we stayed in it indefinitely the build up might be awkward. So we had to get out of it. To go below it might be a problem because it could be on the ground. So it was a case of climbing out of it. To climb I needed power. So it was a case increasing power very slightly so that I could still keep the wings level and keep straight and wait. Wait for my slight increase of power to give me a slight increase of speed, five and whip that five into height ten feet and wait for my five. Another ten feet. There was no panic. We were three seventy, three hundred and seventy five four hundred miles to England, it would take me a good two and a half hours at least to get there so there so was no hurry. And we uched, jigged, gripped our way up to six thousand five hundred feet. We were clear of cloud and I reckoned six five would be ok to cross the drink to UK. So we levelled at six five. I now checked with the nav, with Johnny. I was a bit concerned at the time we’d taken to uch up to six. And he confirmed what I thought, we were nearing the front line. This thought was under the auspices of the trigger happy American gunners and our own gunners, neither of whom liked aero engines. They shot, the American gunners shot them out of the sky irrespective of whose they were. Our own gunners were a bit more selective. So I called the W/op and said, ‘Break the seal on the IFF and switch it to distress.’ In his compartment he had a six inch square back box. The IFF. Identification Friend or Foe. It had a switch that was off, that was wired off and on the wire was a seal. And the wireless ops were warned by the signals leaders back at Full Sutton that if on any trip they interfered with that seal on the strip they’d be court martialled. But this was an emergency. Ross broke the seal, switched it on and immediately, way on the port horizon came three airfield sandra lights. The searchlights at the corner of the airfield intertwining. And on the starboard horizon three more. These were two emergency airfields. That was Woodbridge in Suffolk and that was Manston in Kent. They had picked up our emergency drill and lit themselves up. I made for Manston. When I reached Manston I did the circuit. When I was nicely placed on base leg I throttle back, did a glide approach and landing on the amber runway. Once we were on the ground I used my inner engine to get me through the red runway on to the peri track when I stopped and switched off. Waited for a tractor to come and hook on and tow us in, which they did. They picked us up, took us, debriefed, fed us, bedded. Sleeping in full flying kit that night I think we kept warm. They got us up in the morning. Fed us. Gave us a warrant to London, across to Kings Cross and up to York. And when we walked on the platform at Kings Cross station of the York train we had a bit of a snozzle. The very first compartment we came to, there was no corridor, had a great big notice filling one window completely — “Reserved for crashed aircrew.” And this got the billy goat of our rear gunner. He snatched the door open, ripped it off the window and tore it to shreds and threw it down. ‘What the hell are they talking about? We haven’t had a crash landing. We made a normal landing. Get their facts right.’ ‘It doesn’t matter Jock. We’ve got a compartment. Let’s get in.’ We were all carrying our parachutes. When you’d signed for your parachute you didn’t leave it out of your sight. If you didn’t hand it back in it could cost you sixty or seventy quid to replace and that was a lot of money then. We were carrying — we were in full flying kit. We got in, dumped our stuff, got to York and we were picked up. Taken to Full Sutton. When we reached full Sutton my immediate boss, the wing commander flying, wanted a full report of our sortie which I gave him. And three weeks later I was in the mess and I picked up the Daily Mail, and on the, on the front page were headlines, “Two engines failed but he went on.” And when I saw it I thought well goodness me some other geezer’s having a bash at this. But reading the article it was talking of Flight Lieutenant Peters and his trip over Germany. And some three weeks later I was called in to the CO’s office of group captains. Inside was our AOC, the group captain and my immediate boss Wing Commander Forbes. And the AOC pinned a bit of this ribbon under my wings, congratulated me and wished me a safe and satisfactory tour as did the group captain and Wing Commander Forbes. And that was it. Many many many many many many many months later my Distinguished Flying Cross arrived by post with an apologetic letter from the king. He was sorry he couldn’t hand it to me personally. He was far too busy. Probably handing out awards to sportsmen. Anyway, he sent it by post and he wished me a long and happy life. And considering I’m now in my ninety fourth year and still pressing on he was right.
[recording paused]
After leaving the air force I went into teaching. I taught until 1952 when I returned to flying with air work at Royal Air Force Digby flying the Tiger Moth. After a year flying Tiger Moths I returned to the air force in which I served for fifteen years. Finishing at Royal Air Force College, Cranwell. I then returned to education in Sleaford and finished up my education in ’86 when I retired and I’ve been retired ever since.
MJ: This is the end of the interview with Flight Lieutenant Cyril Peters DFC on the 29th at 12:30.



Mick Jeffery, “Interview with Cyril Peters,” IBCC Digital Archive, accessed June 12, 2024,

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