Friday, 25 November 2016

RIP: Peter Turley

Memories of Peter Turley, who died this week

Back in 2013, it was suggested that I go to interview Peter Turley, who was residing at Maison St Brelade, for the Parish Magazine's "Parishioners Remember" spot. I knew he'd been a rear gunner on a Lancaster during the last war, and he showed me his medals, and told me a lot about his war time experiences which i wrote down. I'm "old school" in my reporting, so I make notes with pen in a notebook!  Peter was a delightful man to interview, very charming, and also very proud of those years, justifiably so.

He was only a young man of 18 at the time when he was flying, and it still amazes me and humbles me to think that himself, and other very young men, younger than my sons are now, showed such bravery, even though they knew that many of their comrades and perhaps themselves would not survive. It was a world in which ideals of self-sacrifice for others, for the greater good, still counted for a very great deal; it was very much a heroic generation, although those taking part just saw it as "doing their bit".

Parishioners Remember
Peter Turley remembers his time in Bomber Command

THE Bomber Command Memorial was unveiled in London in June this year by the Queen, a belated recognition of the significant part that bombers played in World War II with their raids on Germany's industrial heartland.

Peter Turley, who is now resident at Maison St Brelade, was a young man of 21 when he was rear gunner on a Lancaster on those flights. He made 34 operational flights over Germany, and bailed out once over Belgium. He said.

"I will be thinking about those times today. The memorial is a bit late in coming, but it's great that we now have the memorial to remember the bomber crews." He enjoyed the visit to London, and said 'it was very well organised, and spoke to HRH the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla.'

The night flights were long, sometimes lasting 8 or 9 hours. "I was scared most of the time as we all were," said Peter, "but I kept alert." Once they had passed through particularly intense of flak, and then one single flak burse hit the aircraft just 100 yards behind them. He saw a big black explosion, and the plane began a spiral descent while he watched, hoping the crew would bail out. The spiral grew faster, but no one left the stricken craft, which broke into two as it plunged down.

The memorial in London was both to those who survived, and those who lost their lives. The crew that Peter was with made it through the war. They were all volunteers, making dangerous flights to attack German armament factories. It is often forgotten how young these men were, mostly around 18 to 22, with an older skipper of 31. It is right and proper that they should be remembered with a memorial today.

Parishioners Remember Peter Turley recounts more memories of his time as an Avro Lancaster Rear Gunner.

PETER Turley, who is now resident at Maison St Brelade, was a young man of 21 when he was rear gunner on a Lancaster on those flights. He made 34 operational flights over Germany, and bailed out once over Belgium. One flight he remembers in particular from 1944, after the Normandy landings.

"The Lancaster was flying back home after an electrical storm knocked out one of the four engines. Another engine failed, and the aeroplane was losing height badly. The Skipper thought that it probably would not have enough power to get bank to England, so near the Belgian border, he told 5 of the crew to leave by parachute in case he had to ditch in the sea. The Skipper and the navigator struggled on with the plane, and one of the engines regained power, so they managed to limp back to Kent after all."

Meanwhile Peter Turley landed alongside a fellow crew member in the dark, in what he described as 'the muddiest field in Belgium', losing a boot on the way down. They had no idea where the rest of the crew had landed, or whether they were behind Allied or German lines. Swiftly they stashed their parachutes out of sight in a hedgerow, and set off to find habitation, and hopefully a friendly face. At the first house, the Flemish did not understand English, and others would not open doors, but eventually, they found a house where they were given shelter and welcome. They were given food, had a much needed wash and a good nights sleep. The following day, young men from a resistance group, wearing grey and white berets, came to the house, asked them questions in English. Once satisfied that their story was genuine, they took them to another house, to be reunited with flight engineer Nobby.

Fortunately, they were behind Allied lines not German ones. So they were taken to an RAF unit who took them to an airfield just outside Brussels, then onward to England. All the crew that jumped had made it back, unscratched apart from the odd graze and bruise, back to their squadron.

Peter still remembers the debriefing, when the chief concern of the officer concerned was the loss of the very expensive parachutes. Could they tell him where they were? Obviously, they had no idea, part from the fact that it was in a hedge bordering a field in Belgium, and it was very muddy. And for all Peter knows, they may still be there!

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