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15 October 2014
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Peter Dawbarn -Part 3: A Close Encounter with the Equine Kind

by Genevieve

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Peter Dawbarn
Location of story: 
Debden, Essex
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 June 2005

We flew Hurricanes in 17 Squadron; all Hurricanes. They were more robust than the Spitfires, and more manoeuvrable. (I saw on the television the other day a programme that said the Spitfire was more manoeuverable, but it wasn’t. You could turn inside a Hurricane; which is why they were so useful in dog-fights; because you could turn inside the Messerschmitt- you couldn’t catch them- they were faster than us- and the Spitfire was about 30 miles an hour faster as well, but we were more manoeuvrable.)

We had a few fights and things, you know, and then one day, towards the end of July, we were escorting ships off the Essex coast: a convoy of ships, because the Germans had been bombing them.

About four o’clock in the afternoon, as I remember, the clouds came down and down and down, it was down to about four hundred feet, and we were sent back to base. Well, I was leading a section of about three, and we got to about 20 miles away from Debden (which was our base) and my engine blew up- completely- smoke, steam, everything!

We were over a completely wooded area, and I looked down and there was one small field in the middle of it all, and I thought ‘that’s my only hope - down there’, I couldn’t bail out, as I was too low.

I knew I’d got to land with my wheels up, so I locked my hood back (first thing- to make sure you don’t get trapped in) I tightened my straps, turned off the petrol, turned off the ignition. By that time I was coming on over the field, but with no flaps or anything I was probably doing over 100 miles an hour then. I landed about two thirds across this small field, and went straight into the trees at the other side.

I’d have got away with it probably, but a branch of a tree came through the open cock-pit and hit me straight in the face and head. Within seconds my eyes were closed right up, and there was blood everywhere. I thought ‘I’ve got to get out of this thing before it blows up!’

I got out and started feeling my way towards the edge of the field, and I suddenly heard the ‘thumpety-thumpety-thumpety-thump’ of a very frightened horse, galloping around, and I thought ‘oh my God, no, after all this, I’m not going to be kicked to death by a horse’. (I can still hear it now, you know.)

Anyway, I was very lucky. Just down the lane from this field there was an air raid warden, who lived in a cottage there and he’d seen what happened. He came up and guided me to the edge of the field, and took me into his house. I remember him saying ‘get the women out, get the women out!’ I suppose I looked pretty horrible by this time. But the women were made of sterner stuff than that and they lay me on the floor and bathed my eyes, while he rang the ambulance.

I spent nearly six months in hospital then, and that was my end to the battle of Britain I’m afraid. That was in July, so I was in hospital when the worst of it happened. At the time I thought I was unlucky, but now I guess I’m lucky because I probably wouldn’t be here otherwise. Practically everybody in the 17 squadron was killed either in the battle or soon after, which is why you never hear of the squadron. I think there’s only me and a chap in Australia still alive!

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Becky Barugh of the BBC Radio Shropshire CSV Action Desk on behalf of Peter Dawbarn and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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