A Pilot’s Story

The following is an account written by Paul’s father, J H Rogers, for the Essex Aviation Group News on the occasion of the death of Peter Townsend, with whom he served in 85 Squadron, 1941.

The author is in the cockpit starting the engine with Peter Townsend climbing aboard. (Image copyright Rogers Collection)

After a good thrashing by the Luftwaffe, a much decimated 85 Squadron returned from the B.E.F. in Northern France to rebuild and refit at RAF Debden, Essex where a young Peter Townsend was charged with the job of battle training the replacement and very raw pilots. My job was to train the new entrants in my flight to look after the planes and the pilots whilst being bombed and shot at ad lib.

In the absence of any other battle hardened pilots to carry the load at the start, Peter and VYQ, his Hurricane Mk I, flew all the daylight hours, seven days a week, to bring the new men up to snuff with a change of survival, as quickly as possible, with the expectation of imminent invasion which, thankfully, never came. We got the Battle of Britain instead, bombed out from Debden and dispersed to satellite grass fields (Castle Camps, pictured below) meantime, until they got disheartened with the losses in daytime and opted for the Blitz on cities at night. (Image copyright A.J. Brookes “Fighter Squadrons at War”).


The alarm has gone and Flying Officer Lewis has doubled over to his aircraft at Castle Camps. The engine is already ticking over and Joe is holding back the canopy ready to elevate the Sutton harness so that Lewis can take the pilots seat. (Image copyright A.J. Brookes “Fighter Squadrons at War”).

In the interim, 85 Squadron was used for re-training of pilots and ground crew at Martlesham Heath with the never ending duties of coastal patrol etc.

These duties were highly dangerous, both in the air and on the ground,with the ever present risk of being jumped by hordes on enemy fighters and ground strafers.

The only way out for pilots was to pull the ‘tit’ for maximum overboost and dive for home at maximum speed, hoping the engine would last out and the wings not fall off-some did. When the cost in men, planes and engines got too steep, this debacle got called off and the build up of the Blitz called for another caper-Hurricanes as night fighters – an all round dead loss.


Quick turn around in between patrols, Sqdn Leader Townsend disembarks to report to the Intelligence Officer while 3 airman start to replenish the Hurricane and carry out repairs as necessary. The airman at the front is re-fuelling from the bowser: could refuel at the rate of 150 gallons per minute! The other airman, at the back of the wing, is about to remove the panel at the base of the Co. letter V in order to check the oxygen contents. The third airman, offside, checking wing damage. (Image copyright A.J. Brookes “Fighter Squadrons at War”).

Around this time Peter got a big toe shot off by a cannon shell which luckily failed to explode and passed through without further damage worth mentioning. The dauntless Hurricanes were replaced by Boulton Paul Defiants. These were eventually replaced by twin-engined ‘Havocs’ from America (a night fighter conversion of the Douglas Boston) with dodgy radar scopes which fared a bit better if they could avoid being shot down by fellow pilots or our own quality radar chiselled flak! All this meant a tremendous amount of work and worry for all concerned with very little to show for it, and Peter carried the main burden of care for us all and the can back to the bosses for the shortage of impossible results.

Squadron Leader Peter Townsend with walking stick and damaged toe from previous enemy attacks. (Image copyright A.J. Brookes “Fighter Squadrons at War”).



With the expectation of getting back to the Squadron in time for the ‘invasion’, Peter got me posted for flight training with Tiger Moths which then lead to operational duties, flying Wellington aircraft with 99 Squadron.



I was put on conversion to fly 4-engine Sterling bombers from Stradleshall and 214 Squadron at Waterbeach, Cambs until late 1943, when I lost most of my sight due to heavy flak and strafing from enemy aircraft. I reverted to ground duties with a flight of my own to look after in a different command; so we lost track of each other for nearly half a century! Peter’s subsequent career as an Equerry to the King and his wholly unjustified ‘banishment’ to the diplomatic service is public knowledge.

We again discovered each others whereabouts and exchanged correspondence up to his death.

I am greatly grieved that Peter’s magnificent services to the nation, well beyond the call of duty, have never been properly acknowledged or published and hope that this little effort will go someway to produce for the record, a memorial to a most kind, generous, brave and gallant English gentleman. They don’t seem to be made like that any more.

This picture is of father (centre) late in the war (end of 1944-45) at a maintenance unit for the repair of rogue bomber aircraft which became unserviceable for whatever reason. Note father is the only one who has kept flying wings badge because, unofficially, he would air test the repaired aircraft. This was all operated from Shepherd’s Grove, Suffolk. Image copyright Rogers Collection)

Note that father’s right-hand side eye has been removed because of injury during the 1000 bomber raid over the industrial Ruhr Valley in Germany (very brave man).

Battle of France picture (right) – aircraft VY-Q. Take off from a make-shift grass airfield. Note the ground crew with the accumulator and we believe, my father giving clearance for take off (hand-raised). (Image copyright Rogers Collection)

This is a photo of father and mother when father was flying Wellingtons from 214 Squadron at Waterbeach, Cambridgeshire.  This picture was taken at DeFreville Avenue, Cambridge, circa 1942. Note the 2-tone MG (maroon and black).  Image copyright Rogers Collection)


  The above images are copyright of A J Brookes and Rogers Collection.

Pilot Sgt. J ‘Spike’ Rogers c.1943

(1914 – 1996)

(Image copyright Rogers Collection)