Updated: Feb 17, 2022
Arthur Peter Pease, the son of Sir Richard and Lady Pease of Richmond, Yorkshire was born on 15th February 1918 in London and educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he read History. He was a member of the University Air Squadron and was commissioned in the RAFVR in September 1938.
Called to full-time service in October 1939, Pease completed his flying training and was posted to No.1 School of Army Co-operation at Old Sarum in late May 1940. He met Richard Hillary there and they became friends. They went to 5 OTU Aston Down on 23rd June and after converting to Spitfires, they joined 603 Squadron at Dyce on 6th July.
Pease had success in combat as well as being damaged. He shared in the destruction of an He111 on the 30th but was hit by return fire. However he was able to return to Montrose unhurt. On 3rd September he claimed a Me109 destroyed and on the 7th he made a belly-landing back at Hornchurch in Spitfire L1057, after being damaged in combat over London.
However, on 15 September 1940 – the day now commemorated annually as ‘Battle of Britain Day’ – his luck finally ran out. 603 Squadron was scrambled from RAF Hornchurch at 2.45pm to combat a large force of enemy bombers bound for London and encountered numerous Dornier 17 and Heinkel 111 bombers over Maidstone. During the battle, Peter’s Spitfire Mk I (X4324) was hit.
For Leutnant Roderich Cescotti, piloting one of the German bombers that day, it was an experience he would never forget:
“Few Tommies succeeded in penetrating our fighter escort. I saw a Spitfire dive steeply through our escort, level out and close rapidly on our formation. It opened fire, from ahead and to the right, and its tracers streaked towards us. At that moment an Me 109, that we had not seen before, appeared behind the Spitfire and we saw its rounds striking the Spitfire’s tail. But the Tommy continued his attack, coming straight for us, and his rounds slashed into our aircraft. We could not return fire for fear of hitting the Messerschmitt. I put my left arm across my face to protect it from the plexiglass splinters flying around the cockpit, holding the controls with my right hand. With only the thin plexiglass between us, we were eye-to-eye with the enemy’s eight machine guns. At the last moment, the Spitfire pulled up and passed very close over the top of us. Then it rolled on its back, as though out of control, and went down steeply trailing black smoke. Waggling its wings, the Messerschmitt swept past us and curved in for another attack. The action lasted only a few seconds, but it demonstrated the determination and bravery with which the Tommies were fighting over their own country.”
Pease was just 22 years old when he was killed. He was buried in the Churchyard of St. Michael and All Saints at Middleton Tyas, Yorkshire, close to his family home.
John Oakley, a Professor of Law at the University of California, became fascinated by Pease’s story after a visit to his grave, and commissioned the new memorial which stands only a few metres from the place where his Spitfire crashed in 1940. The memorial was created by local Kent stonemason, Gordon Newton, and unveiled by local Kingswood Councillor, Jill Fort, on what would have been Pease’s 100th birthday.
In 2000, local villagers planted a lime tree at the site of the crash, and Pease is commemorated in nearby Broomfield Parish Church.
Both Flight Lieutenant D.J.C. Pinckney and Flight Lieutenant R.H. Hillary were killed later in the War.
Twenty-six Old Etonians are known to have participated in the Battle of Britain – the highest number from any public school of the time - eight of whom were killed.
The name of Flying Officer A.P. Pease and that of the seven other Etonian casualties of the Battle can be seen on the Eton War Memorial in the Colonnade.
School Librarian, Eton College
Photo courtesy of Battle of Britain Monument
He was a popular member of the Squadron whom with Colin Pinckney was known as 'Poppers' and 'Pinkers'. In the 'Last Enemy', Hillary said that Pease
'was the, I think, the best looking man I have ever seen. He stood six foot three and was of deceptive slightness, for he weighed close on thirteen stones. He had an outward reserve which protected him from any surface friendships, but for those who troubled to get to know him it was apparent that this reserve masked a deep shyness and a profound integrity of character. Soft-spoken, an with an innate habit for understatement, I never knew him to lose his temper. He never spoke of himself, and it was only through Colin [Pinckney] that I learned how well he had done at Eton before his two reflective years at Cambridge where he had watched events in Europe and made up his mind what part he must play when the exponents of everything he abhorred most began to sweep all before them.’