Fg Off Peter Allwood
I’m grateful to Tim Allwood who recently posted this tribute to his father on our Twitter page.
This is the story of my father Flying Officer Peter Allwood. A man I remember as being quiet, strong and a wonderful father who doted on me. Due to him taking early retirement we spent many happy days together walking in the Derbyshire countryside. He would never talk in detail about his wartime experiences to my mother despite all their long years of marriage, and as he died when I was 17 the details we have are fairly sketchy in places. However, we are blessed by the fact that his mother kept all correspondence from those times and I have been able to discover a wealth of information from these. Although his experiences were brutal and unpleasant it should be remembered that they were not that unusual, and when compared to the fact that half of all aircrew died during their service, he was one of the ‘lucky’ ones.
He volunteered, aged 19, for Bomber Command and underwent extensive pilot training in Canada and the United States, having a couple of hair-raising training incidents on the way. He eventually crewed up with a group of lads and they were posted to 44 Rhodesia Squadron. The members of his crew were Leslie Bown (Flt Engineer), Ray Lord (Navigator), Richard Parkinson (Air Bomber), Stephen Sheldon (Wireless Op.), Ernest Farley (Air Gunner) and Maurice Beckley (Air Gunner). After training on several planes including Wellingtons and Stirlings they eventually moved onto Lancasters and became operational towards the end of October 1944, flying from Spilsby in Lincolnshire. They flew a few missions including bombing Nuremberg and Walcheren before on Nov 4th/5th on a mission to the Dortmund-Ems Canal they were shot down. They took off at 1752 hrs and sometime later that night they were hit by a Ju88 night-fighter. I don’t know the exact details but Ernest Farley (rear gunner) and Maurice Beckley (mid-upper gunner) were both killed as the plane caught fire. Maurice was 21 and Ernest just 19. This probably affected my father greatly for the rest of his life. The smell of something burning, in particular, upset him in later years. My father was able to regain control of the plane but after a certain passage of time it became obvious that the only option was to bale out. He managed to keep the plane flying, enabling the other four to bale out. Once control is lost and the plane begins to spin, centrifugal forces make it impossible to exit the plane so these moments must have been especially terrifying for them wondering if they would get out, burn, or be finished off by the night-fighter looking for an easy kill.
Peter Allwood’s POW card
They all made it out (the vast majority of aircrew attempting to bale out were not so fortunate) and landed in German territory. My father was now on his own. He managed to evade capture for a few days before being caught and sent to Dulag Luft for interrogation and then on to Stalag Luft 111 at Sagan in eastern Poland in mid-November 1944. This was his home until the night of Jan 27th 1945 when at short notice the prisoners were told they would be setting off on a march west as the Russians were now only about 30 miles from the camp and fighting could be heard clearly. The winter was one of the worst on record with sub-zero temperatures and blizzards. Many of the prisoners were not in a fit state to undertake the march and there were many cases of dysentery, frostbite and illness on the way, not to mention ill treatment and deaths at the hands of their captors as people attempted to escape. Eventually they reached Spremberg and then, via train, the camp at Luckenwalde. Conditions here were apparently appalling with overcrowding and disease etc. He remained here until the arrival of the Russians in mid-late April 1945. Despite originally viewing the Russians as liberators it soon became a case of out of the frying pan into the fire as the Russians took over their charge. I do know my father talked of this as a rather unpleasant time and at one point he thought he was going to be shot by the Russians as he and some others were lined up and threatened. Despite all of this, the situation regarding allied prisoners in these camps was resolved and he and his mates eventually made it back to England, where they returned to a ‘normal’ life. It wasn’t until a long time after the end of the war that my father started to make contact with others from his past. He joined the Aircrew Association and the Ex Prisoners of War Association and we went on family holidays to places from his past, although I didn't realise it at the time. I am very fortunate to have extensive paper documentation of his wartime experiences including his pilot’s logbook, his POW card from Stalag Luft III, letters from the prison camp, letters from the parents of the other crew members while they were officially 'missing', his original wings and his golden caterpillar awarded for saving his life with a parachute.
I sometimes wish I knew more but perhaps that is not always a good thing. I do miss being able to talk about it with him now I am older (36) but he has passed on to me important values of determination, courage, a sense of fairness and of doing the right thing. I hope people who read this will realise what a whole generation of people did so selflessly not all that long ago. The two boys who died in my father’s plane are only two in 55,000 but every single one deserves to be remembered for the immensely courageous people they were, all having volunteered, staring death in the face time and time again and eventually giving their lives in what must have been a truly terrible final few moments, or surviving and having to live somehow with those experiences for the rest of their lives.
Maurice Beckley (from Rhodesia) and Ernest Farley are buried in the Reichswalde Forest War Cemetery, Germany.
Peter Allwood’s 44 Squadron badge