Since my last blog post, a few things transpired that have prompted me to elaborate a bit more on my dad’s war experiences. I gave my mum a copy of my post to read and she was so thrilled that she phoned my brother Mike to ask him to read it too. Mike called me after he had spent a couple of days looking up more information on the internet. I thought what he had found out was so interesting that I wanted to include it in Ted’s story. He also discovered a few discrepancies in Edna’s recollections of events but by and large she had got it right! After speaking to Mike I found some letters that Ted had written to his sister Rose before he was shot down, as well as a few written by Edna to Rose after he had been taken prisoner. I really enjoyed transcribing these letters. It made everything so much more real to me and I must confess I felt a bit emotional at times knowing that as my dad wrote them he had no idea what he was about to go through- what a pity the art of letter writing has died out.
This is what Mike found out (and Mike, please feel free to comment if I have left anything out):
- My dad flew 27 ops (not 33). When I mentioned this to my mum she said that she knew it was either 3 short of 30 or 3 over (no flies on her!). A tour of duty was 30 completed operations. An “op” was a successfully completed flight or sortie, where the primary or secondary target had been attacked. Crews turning back early through technical problems did not count as having successfully operated. About 25 per cent of crews survived a first tour. After a six month rest, they came back for another tour of 20 operations. (www.elsham.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/raf_bc/)
- The average age of the bomber crews was 21 years old. As my dad would say “it makes yer fink, doesn’t it?”
- The target of the raid that took place on the 18th December 1944 was the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein. When the invasion of Poland took place on 1 September 1939, Schleswig-Holstein was in the harbour of the Free City of Danzig, having arrived there in August under the guise of a ceremonial visit and was moored close to the Polish ammunition depot at Westerplatte. At 04:47 on 1 September the captain gave the order to open fire on the Polish positions on the Westerplatte and, in doing so, fired the first shots of World War II. In 1944 she was an anti-aircraft platform stationed in Gdynia to protect the port from enemy air attacks. SMS Schleswig-Holstein was burned out after being hit three times by RAF bombers on 18 December 1944.
- After being picked up in the Baltic Sea, Ted was taken to Stalag Luft VII, a Luftwaffe prisoner-of-war camp located in Bankau, Silesia, Germany (now Baków, Poland). The camp was opened on 6 June 1944, and by July held 230 prisoners, all RAF flying crews. They were joined by members of the Glider Pilot Regiment captured at the Battle of Arnhem in September 1944. By 1 January 1945, the camp held 1 578 British, American, Russian, Polish and Canadian troops. On 19 January 1945, 1 500 prisoners marched out of camp in bitter cold. They crossed a bridge over the river Oder on 21 January, reached Goldberg on 5 February, and were loaded onto a train. On 8 February they reached Stalag III-A located about 52 km south of Berlin near Luckenwalde, which already held 20,000 prisoners, consisting mainly of soldiers from Britain, Canada, the U.S. and Russia, adding to the already overcrowded and unhygienic conditions. I found this interesting account of the Evacuation of Stalag Luft VII in Silesia – January 1945 Diary kept by an RAF POW. Finally, as the Russians approached the guards fled the camp leaving the prisoners to be liberated by the Red Army on 22 April 1945.
- Despite being liberated on the 22nd April 1945, it took almost a month for him to get back home. This account of the liberation of Stalag Luft III -A explains why it took so long for Ted to get back home and what the argy-bargy was about between the Americans and the Russians that Edna referred to in her account.
My dad was a laatlammetjie (Afrikaans: a child born to older parents many years after its siblings) and Rose, one of his three sisters, was more like a mother to him than his real mother. These are some of my dad’s letters to Rose when he was posted to the RAF bomber command, squadron 207 based at Spilsby, Lincolnshire.
- 1802650 Sgt Peek E.C
- Sgts Mess
- R.A.F. Spilsby
- Nr Spilsby
Here it is at long last. I shall be operating in about three days and one of them that goes down has your name on it. And on another I shall write “Remember 47”.
We have been spending the time since arriving here last Saturday polishing up on everything. They take no chances with you. It’s funny but I could never see myself doing this but now its arrived I’m aching to get cracking and funnily enough I feel quite impartial and calm about it. That’s caused by the behaviour of experienced crews that one meets. When they come back you’d imagine that they had only been down the road.
Too bad about our street door. I hope you’re not being so badly disturbed now.
No we’re not intending to get our home yet. We may get a flat in Derby but only if the war lasts any time. Edna is going to get all the permits she can.
Give my regards to Bill when you write again and also to the Browns.
P.S. I’ve just remembered, Eric has my watch. He got it repaired for me last time I was home. I’ve written for it but had no answer so you’ll know where it is won’t you. 44 Carleton Rd, Holloway. N7
Just in case anything happens.
Having just piled some coke on the hut stove, I can now settle down to write you a letter. Tuesday night is letter night and I’ve written Marge to thank her for some walnuts.
As for this stove it’s one of those efforts that gets bloody hot after two or three attempts at lighting and after belching out smoke and soot all over the unfortunate “fire-lighter”. It’s a lovely little thing, bless its heart.
Still only 23 ops to my credit, very slow but can’t be helped. The skipper has become a rather important cog in the station’s machinery and consequently, we don’t fly so often. We should finish the tour sometime in December and I’m keeping my fingers crossed to be with you at Christmas.
I get my last leave in about three weeks and Edna and I are going to Scarborough. She hasn’t seen her Ma since we were married so I think we should share and share alike. I like Len anyway, we always have a good time up there, we know quite a few folks from being stationed there six months. Just like home from home.
Remember my commission, well I was to see the Group Captain if I was a category A navigator and I wasn’t. (Note past tense) Now I’m sweating like hell to be a Cat A and am succeeding. One more good trip and I see Grumpy. So that’s how it stands at the moment.
Ron, our w/op, has seen Grumpy and is through so he’ll be Pilot Officer within any time now. He’s a good worker and deserves it. I’m not sure if I deserve it or not, I have never been a conscientious navigator but we’ve always done better than average.
I guess that’s all the news for now so cheers.
Roll on Saturday. I start my nine days leave then and I’m meeting Edna at York to go on to Scarborough. I’m getting awfully cheesed hanging around doing nothing and I shall be very glad to get away.
I still have only 24 ops to my credit. When a crew reaches 20 it generally gets slowed down and besides that the skipper is Deputy Flt/Commander and has a bit of office work to do. I’m afraid I shan’t be home for Christmas.
I have seen the Wing Commander again and he passed me through to the Group Captain who I saw yesterday. Grumpy has recommended me after an awfully long interview and I next have to see our Base Commander, an Air Commodore. It’s now up to him. I think I shall get it but don’t mention it to anyone yet and I’ll let you know when I’m certain. P.O. Peek eh. How does it sound? Tickle Bill won’t it?
My last trip was to a storage dump near Hamburg. It was a bit sticky but we had nothing out of the usual happen. As you know collisions are a great worry and we’ve had our share but it was all we could do to miss other Lancs on this particular effort. The rear-gunner swears we came so near that he heard its engines roaring and the bomb-aimer was just about to let them go when another Lanc passed right beneath us. He’ll never know how near he came to having a few tons of bomb dropped on him. Some one in his crew must have spotted us with our bomb-doors open. They certainly soon got out of the way. I bet they nearly all had a baby.
I’m glad to read that you’re getting out of London for a while. It definitely would be best while these Y2s are about.
Well that’s about all for now.
About time I wrote you a letter isn’t it? I got the parcel O.K. and received your letter with the clover. Thanks a lot.
Soon after I arrived back off leave I had an interview with the A.O.C., Air Commodore Thornton and it looks as if I shall be Pilot Officer Peek next time we meet. It’s not absolutely certain that I passed but it seems that way. If I did I should get my commission in about three weeks time. I’m looking forward to surprising them at Chid and a lot of other people.
Ron’s commission came through a couple of days ago and he’s in London right now getting his uniform and accessories fitted up. We intend having another night out when we get leave and this time he’s coming back for the night. You don’t mind do you?
Too bad I shan’t be with you at Christmas but I shall never finish in time. I expect I’ll be seeing you sometime in January, about the middle. That is if you haven’t moved. Any more gen about that happening?
I did my 25th op the other day when we went to a dam near Aachen and busted it wide open. Good fun. I love giving these buggers wet feet. There was no opposition at all, we just sailed in, gave it to them with love and beat it out of the place pronto.
Don’t you worry about our cash slipping through any fingers. I’m a changed man, go on, laugh. It would shake you how much we’d saved since getting married. We’ve made bags of provisional plans and if they come off we’ll be on top of the world. It’s impossible to bank on anything nowadays but we can hope.
I do hope Bill is on his way home. It would be marvellous. I’ve been reading of men coming home from overseas. They must get a helluva kick when they’re on an English train. I know how I feel about leave and they must be ten times as excited. It would be great if Bill was home on my next leave.
Now about Dr Caltknop and the bombing. He’s quite right, the Yanks do what is called the saturation raids while we and especially my group (no kid) do precision targets. All this stuff about Yanks bombing blind and dropping bombs in a barrel so many thousand feet is all baloney. I’ve heard some damn funny tales of American navigation and bombing. They’re lost without the leader. We had a Liberator land here and I was talking to a sergeant in our mess He told me that he wouldn’t fly in Lancs for anything. He said we fly too low for comfort. They don’t feel safe unless they’re at 30 000 feet with flak vests and helmets on.
Funny thing to tell you before I finish. We were stooging over the Thames estuary about five o’clock on Sunday morning and London was on the starboard bow when the rest of the crew saw a big explosion down there and they considered it to be a 1 or 2. It looked to be about North-West London. We were only at 2,000 feet and they saw it quite plainly.
Well I guess that’s about all for now.
P.S. When you write to Edna again would you mind sending her my P.O. Savings book. I think it is in my chest of drawers somewhere.
(posted on 22 Nov 44)
The apples turned up O.K. thanks very much. I’m afraid I haven’t had hardly any time to eat them yet though. I flew last Saturday, Monday & Tuesday nights to Gladbeck, Darmstadt & Stuttgart. It’s definitely telling on me and I was damned glad we had a stand-down last night. Almost the whole camp was in Skeggy.
Some fellows get used to ops after they’ve done a few but I can’t get that way myself. I’m shakier now than when I started, inside I mean. My navigation is bang-on but my feelings aren’t.
The last trip was to Stuttgart on Tuesday night and it was a chimer. I never want to go through an evening like that again. Give me a little cottage in Chiddingfold and I’ll be happy for life. Some people don’t know when they are well off.
It all started just coming up to the target with about 15 mins to go. The mid-upper reported a combat about 400 yds away. Then suddenly he shouted to get veering, a fighter was on us. I think I died for ten seconds, it was our first fighter attack and believe me it isn’t pleasant. I got my chute from underneath the table and put it beside me ready. Anyway, as the man in the pub says to cut a long story short we dodged him and carried on. We next ran into flak and search lights but they were very disjointed and not much of a menace. We had to support the markers by doing a dummy run over the target first and that’s no picnic. So we did this and bombed. Was I glad to feel that 4000 pounds go. Then off home but our troubles were just beginning. About 5 mins after leaving the target our rear-gunner reported a combat 800 yds away and shortly after we were dodging another fighter. As we’re doing this the bomb-aimer shouts “DIVE”. Can you imagine this over the inter-com. It’s really nerve-wracking. Next thing I know is the kite is either hit or hit something else. There’s a helluva jar and I thought this is it. I waited for the nose to dip but the skipper holds it steady. I thought the fighter had got us but we had lost him and hit another Lancs belly with our port wing tip. The skipper did a great job in getting us back with the wing tip + a bit more completely missing. So, two fighter attacks, flak, searchlights, dummy-run and another Lancaster hit was our night’s fun. If I’d been pregnant I’d have delivered quads.
I shouldn’t tell Mother any of this fun if I were you but you might tell one or two others. We’re not cheering ‘cos we got back. Two of our boys didn’t. Makes yer fink though doesn’t it.
Lots of love, Ted
These are the letters that Edna wrote to Rose after Ted was taken prisoner of war
4 Salisbury St
I have just wrote to mam. I hope the telegram gave you the shock it gave me. Oh! Rose isn’t it wonderful. Now don’t forget to wire Bill and as you say dash the expense.
The telegram ran as follows.
Information received through the International Red Cross Committee states that your husband P/O Edward Charles Peek is a prisoner of war in German hands. Letter confirming this telegram follows.
I will send the letter down to Mother when I receive it. I’m so happy Rose and feel happy for mother too. She will be a changed woman.
Well I must drop a line to Win & Marge and not forgetting Will he’s been very good.
I wrote to you today but I never posted the letter so I won’t bother sending it now.
I received the parcel alright thanks a lot Rose. You have no idea what you have been to me. We must keep praying for him and for the rest of the crew.
All my love, Edna
Excuse short letter
- Salisbury St.
I hope you haven’t crossed me off the list for not writing.
Well Rose I want you to do me a favour. With all these prisoners being released one never knows but what Ted might walk in on us. If by any chance he does and please God it might be soon well if he comes and lands in the south of England he is bound to come to you first Rose. Well if he does please keep him there and I will come down to you at once even if it means flying. I don’t suppose he will be in a very good condition and he will be very tired so I think that it will be better if I come to him don’t you. I have not yet had news of any of the crew. Ron is in ……., which I think is in the north of Germany.
Mrs Winton sent me these snaps the two girls are Ron’s sisters. Mrs Winton looks very young really doesn’t she. I thought you would like to see them.
I hope both you and Bill are keeping well. Maybe it won’t be long Rose before he is back with you. I hope not any way.
Isn’t it terrible the things the Germans have done to the political prisoners. Gosh it frightens me to death when I think of them.
I do hope Ted will be alright. Do you think he will Rose.
Lots of love, Edna
- Salisbury St.
Well I am sorry to say I have not yet heard anything, you can’t imagine what I am going through. I worry so much, I can’t help it. When I hear of all these boys coming back and yet no news of Ted I get so down hearted.
Wyksey and Ron have got back. I heard from Ron’s mother today and from Wyksey’s wife on Sat. I can’t understand why Ted isn’t back. He was supposed to be with Wyksey in the same camp. I suppose I’ll hear of the full crew coming back and Ted will be still out there. I wish I didn’t worry so much. I shouldn’t mind waiting if only I could hear from him. I would be willing to wait years if made to but I couldn’t do it with out news from him.
Why don’t they hurry up and get them all back they take such a helluva time to do anything here.
I know I sound awfully grumpy Rose but its just how I feel. If something doesn’t happen soon I don’t know what I’ll do. I know I can’t stand much more of this.
Don’t forget to wire if you hear anything. I hope I can settle down and write a decent letter soon to you.
Lots of love, Edna
Writing this story about my dad has been a real eye-opener for me. I have enjoyed learning more about WWII, the R.A.F. and prisoner-of-war camps. I have also come to understand my father a bit better than I did before. It used to annoy me that he always played his cards very close to his chest. I now understand why, that’s how he coped. It also occurs to me now that I never ever heard him speak ill of the Germans. R.I.P. Dad.
Edward Charles Peek: born 5th January 1922 (86 Cannon Street, City of London) – died 28th October 2001 (11 Morningside Road, Durban)