Bio / Text:
Donald Victor PEACOCK
Supermarine Spitfire Mk.1 K9941 (c/n 154 - 154th production Spitfire)
Sgt Donald Victor Peacock died flying Spitfire K9941 of No. 72 Sqn, when he dived into a field at Back Lane, Hooton Roberts, near Rotherham, South Yorkshire, having stalled (possibly in cloud) and lost control following an engine failure whilst on a local flying exercise from RAF Church Fenton.
Source: Leicestershire War Memorials Project.
Coalville Times Article - Friday August 25th, 1939
Hinckley R.A.F. Pilot Killed
Fighter Crashes in Mist in Yorkshire
Sergt. Donald Victor Peacock, R.A.F., was killed on Monday when his machine, a Supermarine Spitfire, crashed in a field at Hooton Roberts, near Rotherham.
Sergt. Peacock, who lived in Leicester Road, Hinckley, was apparently attempting to make a forced landing when the plane fell near a farmhouse. Help was quickly at hand, but Peacock had been killed instantly. Eye-witnesses said the plane emerged from the mist, narrowly missed farm buildings and nose-dived into the ground.
Coalville Times Article - Friday September 1st, 1939
Sergeant-Pilot Donald Peacock, of Hinckley, who was killed in an aeroplane crash on Monday, was buried at Hinckley on Friday. Thousands
Funeral Of A Hinckley Airmangathered on the route of the funeral procession. The coffin, covered with the Union Jack, was borne on a R.A.F. wagon and R.A.F. men formed a guard of honour at the church. Fifty Hinckley firemen followed the procession to the graveside, where a volley was fired by men of the Royal Air Force.
From Donald Peacock (Donald Victor Peacock's nephew)
Donald Victor Peacock was born in Hinckley on August 10th 1945, the second son of Arthur Thomas Peacock and Clara Ellen Peacock (nee Grewcock). His elder brother, Clifford Arthur Peacock, was my father and he was born on February 1st 1910. The two boys subsequently had a baby sister, Nanette, who was born in 1922 but tragically died in 1923 following an infection from an insect bite.
Uncle Don’s family home was 15 Leicester Road, Hinckley which is an end of terrace, now next to the Hinckley Fire Station. The house had a small front garden leading to the door which opened on to a passage in which the stairs leading to the first floor were situated. The passage also gave access to the door opening into the front room or parlour and this was kept for special occasions. At the end of the passage was a door leading to the lounge/dining room; a small room but having (in my time) windows opening to the forecourt of the fire station and into the conservatory at the rear of the property. The lounge then had another door leading to the kitchen which was rather long and narrow and may have been an extension at some time.
Upstairs there were three double bedrooms a bathroom and a toilet. This was quite extensive but needed a lot of modernisation in the 1960’s when I knew it.
There was a cellar accessed by a door leading from the lounge and this was not used for very much as there was a coalhouse outside with a washhouse (with coal fired copper) and an outside toilet. There was also a brick workshop, which was a treasure house to me growing up and no doubt for my Uncle Don also.
The garden was long and narrow and had a lawn, greenhouse and a decent sized vegetable patch.
In the next house lived grandfather’s half-brother Frank Waller and his wife Miriam. Frank was in partnership with Arthur in the family firm Peacock and Waller that was just further down the Leicester Road. The firm had been established in 1911 and was a general engineering company with the capability of doing fabricating, factory fitting and sub-contract manufacturing. During the First World War the company produced munitions and made shell casings and the like.
As Uncle Don grew up it became apparent that he was a good sportsman and excelled in swimming. He attended Hinckley Grammar School and was recorded on the commemorative panel there showing former pupils who had died in the War. This board is now held by Hinckley Museum. In 1931 it was reported in the Hinckley Times that Uncle Don had passed his school certificate at the Grammar School and was also one of the principal prize winners. It was also recorded in the newspaper accounts of his death that he was a former swimming champion of Hinckley and junior swimming champion of Leicestershire. I have a number of medals awarded to him and these show that he was active in the 1930’s at the Leicester ASA competitions and was champion in the under 19 age group at Hinckley and was first or second at 100 yards on several occasions at county level. He also played water polo and his team was champion of the second Division on two occasions. In the Tamworth Herald of February 5th 1938 it shows the Hinckley team defeating Tamworth and Uncle Don scoring two goals and his great friend (Laurie?) Simmons also scoring two.
Uncle Don was also awarded the Award of Merit from the Royal Lifesaving Society having been trained in lifesaving skills by the swimming club. His interest in the St John Ambulance movement was undoubtedly stimulated by his father, who had served in the South Africa (Boer War) as a St John Ambulance volunteer before transferring to the Imperial Light Horse in South Africa.
I assume that Uncle Don left school at the age of 16, having gained his school certificate, and joined the family firm as an apprentice. I do know from conversations with my father that my grandfather was very keen on him taking over the firm in due course.
In due time he enlisted in the local fire service as a volunteer as his father was at that time the Chief –Captain Peacock as he was entitled in the Brigade. His elder brother, Clifford, was also in the fire service but was a full time fireman in Coventry for many years but also served in Acton before returning to Hinckley to be Second Officer in 1938. So for a time all three family members served together in the Hinckley Brigade.
From these few facts we can gain the impression of a young man keen on sports and also committed to engaging in pastimes that would be useful to his fellow citizens. By 1935 the world situation was beginning to look grim. In late 1935 Italy invaded Ethiopia and then in 1936 the Spanish Civil War broke out. Further afield Japan had invaded Manchuria in 1931 and this is sometimes taken as the date when World War II broke out.
Probably in reaction to these events the Air Ministry decided to revise the current arrangement of having only a few airfields to allow Reserve Officers to maintain their flying skills and to augment them.
This major change occurred in 1935 when, partially in response to the demands of the Expansion Schemes, the Air Ministry introduced an entirely new flying training sequence. The first phase was now going to be provided at civilian-manned schools which would acquire quasi-military status in December 1937 when they were designated as numbered Elementary and Reserve Flying Training Schools (ERFTS).
The first four prospective ERFTSs were created from the four remaining Reserve Flying Schools and they provided the model for the immediate formation of a further nine; there were more than forty by the time that war was declared. Thereafter, apart from Cranwell cadets, the ERFTSs conducted all RAF elementary flying instruction while continuing to provide refresher facilities for reserve pilots.
Air Force Reserves 1912 to Munich written by Wing Commander ‘Jeff’ Jefford) taken from a paper Royal Air Force – reserve and auxiliary forces published by the Royal Air Force historical society.
In August 1935 the original 42-acre site at Desford, and an additional 56 acres for future expansion, was bought by the aviation instrumentation company Reid and Sigrist, who had contracted to create one of the thirteen new Civilian Flying Schools as part of the Royal Air Force's expansion scheme. Desford was the ninth CFS when it was officially opened on 13 December 1935 by Viscount Swinton, the Secretary of State for Air. Prior to this Desford had operated as a base by the Leicester Aero Club from 1929 who then moved to Braunstone Frith in 1935.
In 1937 the RAF Volunteer Reserve was formed and Desford became home to No. 7 Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School. Also that year No. 3 Civil Air Navigation School, flying Avro Ansons, was based there, until eventually leaving at the end of 1939. A further 150 acres of land were also acquired in 1937, and new administration blocks, hangars, a gun range, and squash and tennis courts were built. In 1938 facilities at Desford were further improved with the addition of reserve quarters and new control buildings, and a separate air-conditioned building to house a Link Trainer. (Wikipedia)
The story of the acquisition of Desford by Reid and Sigrist is very well told by Roy Bonsor who gave a talk in 2008 and I reproduce an extract here below.
Thirteen Civilian Flying Schools were to be set up and Reid and Sigrist of New Maldon contracted for one of these Schools, even though they hadn’t got an airfield at that stage. However George Reid must have had some knowledge of the Desford area, as he came to see John Cart, and it was said, that over one weekend, he negotiated with him and bought the farm, in it’s entirety in August 1935. The airfield, having reverted to farmland, required a lot of development before it would be suitable to teach RAF prospective pilots to fly. George Reid was a friend of Lord Nuffield and Nuffield bet him £10 that he would not get the work completed in the three months that the RAF contract required. En Tout Cas of Syston, received the contract to level the airfield, and Fairby Construction the contract for the buildings. ‘Hallfields’, the home of the Cart’s, was demolished and it was stated that the roof slates went to re roof buildings at Mount St. Bernards Abbey whilst the bricks were pulverised and sent in ship’s ballast to the United States, where they were eventually used as hardcore for a tennis court for Ginger Rogers! Fairby also had the job of constructing bungalows for the use of the students, which were built to a high standard (and included central heating), a large hangar and a range of other ancillary buildings were also added. It became the ninth of the Civil Flying Training School to open and Reid won his bet. It is not recorded whether he was paid. The official opening was on the 13th. December 1935, which was by Viscount Swinton, the Minister of State for Air. Many high ranking officers attended, along with local dignitaries like the Lord Mayor and chief of police. From the beginning, Desford was equipped with a fleet of De Havilland Tiger Moths, an aircraft which became synonymous with the airfield and which was to be rarely absent from the local skies for the next sixteen years.
In 1937 Desford became officially 7 Elementary and Reserve Flying Training School.
No doubt Uncle Don would have viewed these developments with some eagerness as Desford was only a few miles from his home in Hinckley and in company with a number of other young men from Hinckley threw his hat in the ring and was accepted as a trainee pilot. However we find that he initially went to the Phillips and Powis – Aircraft Ltd. Reserve Training School at Woodley near Wokingham.
Here is what Wikipedia has to say about Woodley Airfield.
Until the 1930s Woodley was a village of little significance. In that decade, Woodley Aerodrome was opened in a 100-acre (40 ha) field belonging to Sandford Farm. In 1932 F.G. Miles came to Woodley and joined with Philips and Powis in the production of the Miles Hawk aeroplane, leading to the formation of Miles Aircraft Ltd which continued producing aircraft in Woodley until after the Second World War. In the years before the war numerous aviators visited Woodley, including Charles Lindbergh and Amy Johnson; Douglas Bader lost his legs in a flying accident on the airfield in 1931. From 1935 a civilian flying school was operated by the Philips and Powis company, where trainees were prepared for service in the RAF.
Woodley was an established Training Centre and seemingly had a good supply of Hawk Trainers, made by the Miles Company on site, and would have been a good choice to go for training. The Hawk trainer was a single-engine monoplane rather than the single engine biplane Tiger Moths being flown at Desford.
Uncle Don started flying on April 6th 1936 during the period that Woodley was still a Civilian Flying School. I was intrigued as to what branch of the RAF he had joined, as the RAFVR was not yet in existence, and so I sent off for his service record from the RAF. As his next of kin this was easy but if I had not been I would have had to obtain the permission of the next of kin.
The records that came back show that he was mustered as an under training pilot on April 6th 1936 as an Aircraftsman second class and then promoted to Sergeant on April 7th 1936. This was the normal way of enlisting volunteer pilots in those days although it evidently did cause some controversy among NCO’s who had had to wait years for promotion. The Form 543 shows that he was enlisted into the Section II, Class F Reserve and his mobilisation station was Castle Bromwich. His initial service number was 700419 and his initial period of enlistment was 5 years with effect from April 6th 1936. It also gives his description as height 5feet 10 inches, chest 36 inches, hair fair, eyes blue, complexion fresh. His occupation was listed as engineer and welder.
I have a photograph of Uncle Don alongside the Hawk Trainer G-ADZA and this would presumably have been taken to celebrate his first flight.
On April 7th ,8th and 9th Uncle Don flew 11 more times with F.O. Slade and accumulated 6 hours in the air and had progressed to step 10 in the sequence of instruction. He had flown in two more Hawk Trainers, GAEAY and GADWV. His flying training then resumed on April 14th,15th,16th, 17th and 18th and he flew again with F.O.Slade in another Hawk GAEAZ and also GADWV , GADZC and GADVF. This time he had 5 hours 40 minutes in the air and had progressed to step 11 which he emphasises by adding spinning in brackets in the remarks column. On the 18th he had one flight with a new instructor Mr Crommelin.
By the 20th he was back flying again and this time had another instructor Mr Wilson and so it went on with regular flights to the end of April by which time he had accumulated 28 hours and 15 minutes flying and had progressed to his first solo test on Apr 25th by a senior instructor F.Lt. Moir.
After this he took control of the trainer on several flights and progressed to stage 12. He also was instructed by Mr Skinner on one flight. By the beginning of May he had progressed to stage 15 and 16 and on May 5th he began instrument flying, which was stage 27. On May 14th he began cross- country flying and flew from Woodley to Hamble and back and subsequently had other flights from Woodley to Sywell. (Stage 25).On May 25th he had a Test by the Superintendent of Reserve F.Lt. Sinclair and his log book showed that he had completed 56 hours of flying and was signed off by F. Lt. Moir the Chief Instructor. Of this total 33 hours was dual and 23 hours solo. This fact is also recorded on his Form 543 with a comment on his annual training report section plus a report from the Instructor “Average, could have done better if keener.”
He returned in October 1936 and did a further 10 hours flying of which he flew four times with Mr Maxwell and once each with F. Lt. Moir and once with F.Lt. Kibbenberger who tested him in his role as Superintendent of Reserve at that time. This flying time counted as part of his second year training and this time the report was “Average; requires a lot of flying practise. Careless in flying.”
During his two periods of training at Woodley he flew in the following Hawk Trainers.
G-ADVF, G-ADWT, G-ADWV, G-ADZA, G-ADZB, G-ADZC, G-ADZD, G-ADZE, G-AEAW, G-AEAX, G-AEAY, G-AEAZ, G-AEEL
It is sad to note that during the period of this course one pilot crashed and died at the controls of a Hawk Train at Woodley, but he may have been on a different course.
3.5.36 Miles M.2H Hawk Major G-ADAW, Phillips & Powis Aircraft, Woodley. Lost speed in turn, Sandford Mill, near Woodley; Victor Wright Neale (19) killed
From Woodley he returned home and thereafter his flying was from Desford when he did part of his second year training. He first flew there on Oct 26th 1937 and flew 4 times in two Tiger Moth’s L6946 and 6947. His instructors were Burke and Bamber. I recall that Mr Bamber became a family friend and used to visit the family home in Hinckley. His flying time is recorded as 8 hours 35 minutes dual and 11 hours 25 minutes solo. This time his instructor added the comment Average:- steady reliable pilot should reach good standard with more practise. Strangely the Form records he flew on a DH 82 Hawker Hart, whereas the log book clearly records Tiger Moth and all records I have seen show that Desford was equipped with Tiger Moths. I also find that the official designation for DH 82 is a Tiger Moth variant and guess this was just an error in the entry.
Sadly I no longer have his logbook for the period after 1937. At one time I worked with Sqd. Ldr. Mike Bishop who was a member of the local RAFA at Hinckley and I thought it would be an appropriate place for the logbook to be housed. I will try to track the logbook but at the moment I have no details of his subsequent flying after Oct 26th 1937.
However, the Form 543 shows that Uncle Don was discharged from the Class F reserve on his enlistment with the RAFVR on Dec. 10th 1937 at which point he had accumulated 1 year and 249 days service. On mustering into the RAFVR he was given a new service number 740987. The form also records he was authorised to wear a Pilots Flying Badge with effect from May 12th 1937 quoting as the authority A.M.L. 579472/36/F.T.I dated May 3rd 1937.
Another form records that he was mustered onto the strength of RAF Church Fenton on June 1st 1939 and he was a pilot with effect from Dec 11th 1937. It appears that on re-mustering with the RAFVR he was again classed as an A.C. 2 on Dec 11th 1937 and promoted to Sergeant on Dec. 12th 1937. There was a second Form 543 recording details of his next of kin and home address. This time his height was given as 5 foot 10 ½ inches and chest 36 ½ inches showing he had developed a bit in the intervening 2 years. His mobilisation station is given as Leicester TC. (ie Desford). Again the term of enlistment was 4 years, which would have taken him to Dec. 10th 1941. The form also records that he was killed in a flying accident on August 21st 1939.
Don’s Commanding Officer stated that he thought that Don may have got out of control in the clouds and come out of the clouds out of control and crashed. He stated that the fuel had been switched off and the ignition also switched off to prevent a fire. This would have been standard in the event of an attempted forced landing and I wonder if in fact the plane was experiencing fuel starvation and Don had attempted to make a forced landing on a slope?
Some while ago I read of a problem in the early Spitfires when they did suffer fuel starvation when climbing. This was due to the engine having a carburettor rather than fuel injection. The problem was eventually alleviated by the resourcefulness of a very clever lady engineer named Mrs. Shilling. My friend Nigel Ferriman, who is also an aircraft engine specialist and met Mrs Shilling, calls it Mrs Shilling’s sixpence - for it was about that size.
With war being imminent it would not have been sensible to go into these technical difficulties in public and no doubt that was why the official RAF explanation seems to be generally accepted in reports of the crash.
It is ironic that Don should have crashed mid-way between Rotherham and Doncaster. His great-grandfather, Thomas Peacock who was a gamekeeper, is buried in Bentley churchyard around 6 miles away. His grand-father, Frederick Peacock who was a greengrocer in Sheffield, was for a long time gardener at the Vicarage of Hooton Pagnell around 6 miles away and he died at a hospital in Kimberworth Park, near Rotherham again only 6 miles away. Uncle Don may not have known any of this for his grandfather Frederick died at an early age when his daughter, Florence, and his son, Arthur, were only a few years old.
My father told me that he had to drive my grandfather from Hinckley to Yorkshire to identify the body and naturally my grandfather was distraught, as of course was he. My interest in this story was intensified after completing some major work on the family history and starting to look in more depth at my immediate family. I decided to travel to North Derbyshire to see where my great, great, great grandparents lived near Eckington and passed an hour or two near to the spot where their farm formerly stood and the church in the village where they were buried.
I then moved on to Hooton Roberts to see if I could track down the crash site. My first port of call was the garden centre/nursery in the village and the gentleman there told me that he had only been in the village some 20 years and did not know the story but I should try the farm next door. This turned out to be the farm of the Wheelhouse family and Mr John Wheelhouse came to the door and was able to give me more information. He said that the plane had flown in over the village at very low altitude and crashed in a field around 200 yards away from the farm yard. Apparently his father had been playing in the street with friends and saw the plane come over. He told me where to go to see the site and also informed me that in the Strafford Arms pub across the road there was a notice board giving some details of the crash.
After going to see the crash site on the rising ground to the south of the village I then went into the Strafford Arms. I spoke to the landlord and had coffee and saw the notice board and offered to send more information and the landlord said he would like to make a bigger board to put the information on. Following this I went on to Bentley to see my great grandfather’s grave.
In 2019 I resolved to get any remaining photographs and artefacts together relating to Uncle Don and consider where to place them for reference. I recalled that the RAF had a Spitfire on display at Hendon when I visited there on business some 30 odd years ago and that Spitfire was the one next in serial number to Uncle Don’s plane. Further research showed that this was now on display at RAF Cosford and when my friend Martin Holly from New Zealand came for a visit this autumn we agreed we would visit the museum.
The museum is a fantastic facility and sure enough the Spitfire was on display. I had found out from various web sites that my Uncle Don’s Spitfire was K9941 and the Spitfire on display, K9942, was painted in the original colours that it would have been with 72 Squadron.