21.03.1944 No. 183 Squadron Typhoon Ib MN247 Fl/Lt. Peter E. Raw
Date: 21st March 1944 (Tuesday)
Unit: No. 183 Squadron (Gold Coast)
Type: Typhoon Ib
Base: RAF Manston
Location: Afferden, Netherlands
Pilot: Fl/Lt. Peter Edward Raw DFC. 119259 RAFVR Age 25. Killed
Submitted to Aircrew Remembered for publication in November 2017 by Simon Muggleton and Norman Franks
Webmaster note: Additional page has been added on the loss of another of the brothers, Sq/Ldr. Anthony William Raw
REASON FOR LOSS:
For a mother to lose a son in wartime must be devastating, to lose three sons (two in one year) must be heartbreaking, and almost beyond imagination. This is exactly what happened to one mother, Irene Raw, during World War Two when three of her four sons, all RAF pilots were killed. The second eldest son, Peter would become a fighter pilot flying the Typhoon, and would die in this aircraft on a low level sweep over Holland on the 21st March 1944. The full story of his last mission and a postscript will be told in this article.
Mrs Irene Raw (known by her husband Frederick as Trixie), a semi professional opera singer, had already lost her barrister husband, in June 1932 at the age of 41, having suffered a heart attack in his garden. This left her to manage a large house in Ealing London, and bring up their four sons ranging between 15,13, 10 and 4, and two daughters Beatrice and Patricia, both under 10, on her own.
Her husband had served in the Royal Navy during WW1, serving first on HMS Lysander in August 1914 in home waters, and then part of the Grand Fleet at Jutland in May 1916, gaining a Mention in Despatches for his good work.
In 1917 he was recommended for the award of the Distinguished Service Cross (DSC) for his service with the Dover Patrol, as Commander of Patrol Vessel P50.
(P boats were introduced in 1915, generally of 600 tons with one 4 inch gun and one 2 pounder, along with two torpedo tubes, for anti-submarine work).
Commander Raw with his new wife Irene
Frederick Raw attended Buckingham Palace in 1918 with his wife to receive the award personally from HM the King. By the early 20’s Frederick had started to study law, and in 1925 was called to the bar in Gray’s Inn, London.
Commander Raw left the Royal Navy on the 1st July 1930, and became a full time barrister. By this time he probably knew of his bad heart problem, and had set up a trust fund to provide for the family, which would include sending the four boys to Wellington School in Somerset.
Here, they all excelled in different sports, along with their high educational achievements. John, the eldest (born in 1916) was a cross country runner, swimmer and diver, becoming an outstanding rugby player, eventually playing wing forward for the Corinthian’s Club in Ireland. Peter (born in 1919), also a natural swimmer and rugby player at Wellington, would be recognised for his boxing ability whilst serving for a short time with the Honourable Artillery Company, gaining the nickname ‘Slosher Raw’. Anthony, known as Tony, (born in 1922) was also recognised for his boxing ability, swimming and rugby prowess, along with being an excellent cricketer and a participant of the Country Life Shooting Team. He was a school prefect and also a competent musician, no doubt a trait passed down from his mother. Robert (known as Michael) was the youngest (born in 1928), and had a lot to live up to with his three elder brothers. However, by the time he had left Wellington School he was in the cricket team, Rugby 1st XV, Captain of the Light Blues, along with Captain of the Shooting Team.
All four sons would have a military indoctrination at Wellington with the Combined Cadet Force, which would lead them on to become pilots with the RAF.
John initially joined the Civil Air Guard whilst living in Ireland with his wife Mona and later joined the RAF, in January 1940.
John passed all his training with flying colours and became an instructor whilst waiting for a posting to a fighter squadron. Peter enlisted in January 1941 also becoming a fighter pilot.
Anthony enlisted in June 1940, trained as a bomber pilot, and ended up flying Lancaster’s with the Pathfinders. Michael, too young to enlist during the war, would become a jet pilot post war, later to fly the Hurricane with the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight.
Sadly, John was killed first in April 1941 during a night training exercise whilst at the Central Flying School at Upavon. Peter’s life was lost over Holland in March 1944 flying with 183 Squadron. Anthony would lose his life in September 1944 during a bombing mission to Gelsenkirchen with 156 Squadron. In 1986 Robert died of cancer, 29 years after the death of his mother in 1957, who was then aged sixty four.
Anthony had been decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in May 1942, and the Air Force Cross (AFC) in December 1943, Peter was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in May 1943, and Robert the Air Force Cross in January 1955, giving their mother the unique distinction of having attended Buckingham Palace on five separate occasions, under three different Monarchs to see members of her own family receiving these decorations.
Irene would also attend Buckingham Palace on four further occasions to see Roberts godfather, Wing Commander Bruce Cole receive his DFC and Bar in1944, and his AFC in 1951 and Bar in 1955, (also awarded the King’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air in 1950).
This extraordinary and tragic family story was revealed by Norman Franks and Simon Muggleton in 2011 in their book ‘Raw Courage’, (Grub Street Publications). The book came about as a result of a large collection of personal and official letters that were exchanged between the four sons and their mother, being found in a leather suitcase in a junk shop in Camberwell London, in the early 1990’s.
These letters reveal how deeply they cared for their mother, and her own to them:-
Peter was born in Southsea, Portsmouth on the 15th June 1919, and followed his elder brother John into Wellington School, Somerset in September 1929. He was soon shining in all sports, especially swimming, cricket, boxing and the traditional Wellington game of ‘Fives’, becoming Captain of Fives in 1937. This was a game using cricket wicket keeping gloves in order to hit a ball against a wall, similar to squash.
In 1936 alone he achieved his 1st XV Rugby Colours, Swimming Colours, then becoming the Team Captain, Captain of the Cricket Team, gaining the 4 and 8 lengths open swimming records, a member of both the Bisley and Country Life Shooting Teams, as well as a school prefect and unsurprisingly a member of the Sports Committee.
On leaving the school in 1937, he returned to live at home in Ealing London, with his mother, soon joining the Otter Swimming Club nearby, and taking part in many competitions.
Peter started his working life with the Ocean Accident Insurance and Guarantee Corporation in Moorgate, London, which was not far from the HQ of the Honourable Artillery Company (HAC).
For reasons unknown he didn’t wish to follow his father into the Navy and joined the HAC as a Private in January 1938 (service No 6827008) attached to Infantry Battalion No 1.
His letters home in mid July 1938 reveal his day to day training in the Army mentioning the poor food, and camping on Salisbury Plain. He progressed through the ranks, as would be expected, and was offered a commission in the rank of 2nd Lieutenant with the Somerset Light Infantry by November 1939.
In January 1941, Peter’s letters home to his mother showed that he was now with the RAF as they had originated from the Officers Mess RAF Montrose, Scotland. The letters told her he had been accepted for pilot training. (Although his RAF service record shows he was still attached to the Army, not being released until 1942).
Peter’s letters were now also mentioning a girl called Mavis, and her sister Agnes, the girlfriend of Tony. Both were daughters of the Van der Beck family, Agnes the oldest at 21, and Mavis 19 years, were living with their family in Ealing. It would seem that both Peter and Tony as brothers, had met up at some stage socially with the two sisters.
By June 1941, Mrs Irene Raw was inviting Mavis around for tea, whilst Peter had moved to RAF Sealand, the home of No 19 Elementary Flying Training School.
Tony had also caught the bug of wanting to fly and had enlisted into the RAF in June 1940. He also progressed well through the various training schools, gaining his ‘wings’ and was finally posted on the 16th August 1941 to 61 Squadron Bomber Command, flying Halifax aircraft.
Peter continued with his training at various flying schools, and by the end of February 1942 he was also writing home to his mother about being awarded his ‘wings’, with a commission in the RAFVR, and more importantly, becoming engaged to Mavis!
One month later Peter had been attached to No 55 Operational Training Unit at RAF Usworth, Durham, flying Hurricanes. (an operational training unit was the last stage of training, prior to being posted to an operational squadron).
The wedding day of the two dashing brothers with the two stunning sisters had now been set for Wednesday 22nd April, and Peter’s letters home were full of instructions to his mother for the preparations to be taken.
The wedding went off splendidly at St Benedict’s Church Ealing, and was reported in the local Ealing newspaper under the banner headline:-
"Brothers Marry Sisters"
After a short honeymoon in Berkshire both brothers returned to their units, whilst the brides returned to Ealing in order to set up their respective homes.
On the 30th June 1942 Peter was finally posted to No 609 (West Riding) Squadron based at RAF Duxford, Cambridgeshire, an auxiliary fighter squadron, flying Typhoon aircraft, initially under the command of Squadron Leader GK ‘Sheep’ Gilroy DFC, and then Wing Commander Denys Gillam DSO DFC AFC.
609 Squadron pilots - Peter Raw stands to the right of the doorway
Peter’s first solo on a Typhoon was on the 4th July, a forty nine minute trip around the area, and within days he had painted his wife’s name Mavis on the cowling of his aircraft. He was also given the task of looking after the squadron mascot, ‘Billy de Goat’
On the 12th July, Peter was coming in to land when one of his 20mm cannons mysteriously went off, blasting shells into the runway. This was put down to faulty wiring! Another bit of useful training was fighter affiliation, when fighter pilots were often taken up in bombers to see what it felt like with fighter aircraft attacking.
Typhoon Mk1b DN 406 PR-F ‘Mavis’ 609 Squadron
On the 12th August, another pilot, Roy Payne and Peter had been selected for this exercise, and Peter was surprised to see the pilot of the Wellington bomber was none other than his brother Tony, who by now had flown over 200 hours into enemy territory and gained the Distinguished Flying Cross.
On the 21st October John Boulting the film producer came to RAF Biggin Hill in order to film some pilots for a propaganda film ‘Between Friends’, Peter becoming one of the extras. Although Peter was flying various ‘hit and run’ patrols in his Typhoon along the South Coast during the following months, it wasn’t until a move to RAF Manston in November, that patrols started to hot up for the squadron. Another change also came in commanding officers, Squadron Leader Roland ‘Bea’ Beamont DFC was assigned to the squadron, an experienced fighter pilot from the Battles of France and Britain, and also a test pilot with Hawkers.
During December 1942, Fock Wulfe 190’s started to fly over Dover shooting up the barrage balloons, and anything else within their sights. 609 Squadron being located at Manston were ordered to deal with this problem.
On the 15th December FW190’s from 1 Staffel of Jaeger Geschwader 26 decided to pay a visit and 609 were sent up to deal with them. Peter soon waded into the combat managing to fire head on at one of the FW190’s and chasing another all the way back to France. The New Year saw plenty of action for the squadron in completing many ‘Rhubarb’ sorties (flying low over enemy territory in pairs and shooting up anything Germanic, usually trains). On February 7th Peter racked up a worthy score of one train destroyed, four damaged along with a damaged barge over the area of Dixmude in Belgium, suffering damage to his own aircraft. The newspapers were quick to cover the events with the bold headlines in The Daily Sketch the next day:-
"Train Buster Hit By Train Debris"
An RAF train buster shot up five engines in Belgium yesterday and flew so low in attacking one that bits of it flew up and dented his wing. In strafing another his plane crashed through telegraph wires and he was fired at, the gunners missed him and on the way home he attacked a barge.
On the 10th March Peter made the headlines again, this time for his prowess as a boxer representing Fighter Command:-
"The Heavy - Weight Fighter Pilot"
Fighter pilots are not big fellows as a rule. Cockpits are not built for heavy-weights, but Flying Officer Peter Raw is a heavyweight, and in that class boxes on Wednesday night at an RAF station near London for Fighter Command.
Four days later Peter was out on a night intruder sortie near Lille when he spotted two loco’s heading eastwards and attacked them. Again the Daily News newspaper picked up on the story:-
"Londoner Goes Train Busting With RAF At Night"
RAF Fighter Command aircraft were out again during the night continuing their offensive. The pilot of one, a twenty three year old Londoner, who is a prominent amateur boxer and swimmer, then attacked the engine of the second train, “I saw my cannon shells hitting the locomotive, there was a big flash and clouds of steam”.
More intruder sorties followed. Peter was chosen as a subject by the RAF’s official war artist, Cuthbert Orde on his visit to the squadron in late March.
Several sorties took place during April, one of these was an attack on several German R - Boats and a flak ship in the Channel, led by Squadron Leader Beaumont. Peter was acting as his wingman, when his Typoon was hit in the engine, smashing a complete cylinder head. Luckily, Peter Raw managed to nurse the crippled aircraft home. This action has been illustrated in an oil painting by the artist Robert Taylor titled Typhoon Attack, (Peters aircraft shown in the rear)
By the middle of May Peter had claimed eighteen locomotives destroyed, plus another shared destroyed or damaged, in addition to three R boats, one 200 ton ship, three canal barges, and various rolling stock, with a FW 190 damaged. Most of this achieved by low-level fighter attacks.
Flight Lieutenant Raw’s fine record was recognised by the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross on the 18th May 1943:-
'This officer has achieved excellent results in attacks on rail installations in Northern France and Belgium, immobilising seventeen locomotives. Recently he took part in two attacks on enemy shipping, obtaining good results. This officer has displayed great courage and tenacity, pressing home his attacks with vigour'.
Author John Steinbeck is shown the controls of Typhoon Mavis by Peter Raw
Shortly after this award was announced, the famous American author John Steinbeck (The Grapes of Wrath ) made a visit to RAF Manston and spoke with Peter who showed him the controls, whilst he was sitting in his Typhoon Mavis. Mr Steinbeck was also introduced to Wing Commander Billy de Goat and later wrote an article for the morning papers about this famous mascot.
Peter left the squadron on the 17th June taking up a post as a test pilot for Hawkers, testing the new Tempest V (this was regarded as a ‘rest’ posting having completed a tour as a fighter pilot).
On the 17th February 1944 Peter was posted to 183 Squadron RAF Manston as the B Flight Commander. This squadron was equipped with the Typhoon and Peter was soon engaged in various ground assault sorties under the RAF’s 2nd Tactical Air Force (2nd TAF), ‘softening up’ the German defences prior to D Day.
Following a weeks leave at the end of February, Peter returned to duties on the 11th March, dive bombing and strafing targets in the Somme and Abbeville area.
Tragically Peter’s time with his new squadron was short lived, he would be killed on his twentieth operational sortie.
On the 21st March he led his flight on a Ranger mission (freelance flights over enemy territory harassing the enemy) on a low level sweep over Holland in the Twente - Enschede area, but the mission was called off due to thick snow clouds.
On their return Peter’s section (Fl/Lt. J.E. Mitchell and F/O. A.E. Napier) became separated and found some barges on the Waal, which they shot at, claiming some damage. Further along they found more barges and as Peter led the attack, his Typhoon (MN247) appeared to be hit by flak and crashed into a field on the opposite bank. The local police went to the scene and found witnesses to the attack and subsequent crash, which told a different story. It would appear that Peter Raw either misjudged or failed to see the loading boom on the barge which he hit and spun into the ground.
A statement was taken by Staff Sergeant (Opperwachtmeester) Johannes Schrader of the Marechaussee District Police, Eindhoven, from the 61 year old steamboat captain Petrus van den Hurksteam of the freighter ‘HJ’ property of the NV Koopvaart-Janssensboten of Venlo:-
Yesterday 21st March 1944, I was moored on the River Meuse at the quay off Afferden. At that moment in time, I saw a low flying aircraft coming from the east.
It flew from east to west and straight in the direction towards our ship. At the same time, I heard firing from machine guns and saw the explosions close by on the quay and shouted at my crew “Take Cover!” and hid behind the cooling chamber of the engine room flat on the deck. While I took cover, a round passed through the cooling chamber and I felt a shock go through the ship. It appeared that the aircraft had hit the loading boom of the ship and snapped it in two. When I looked in a westerly direction, I noticed that the aircraft, a fighter had crashed in a field on the other side of the River Meuse.
A further report was written by Staff Sergeant Johannes Fredericks of the Mareschaussee District Police who was sent to inspect and protect the crashed aircraft lying in the field about one km east of the provincial road between Boxmeer and Vierlingsbeek. Officers of the German Army also attended the sight of the crash scattered over three fields, and made their own report, removing Peters body to a nearby cemetery in Eindhoven.
Once the squadron returned to base it was clear to all that Peter could not possibly have survived the crash and the usual ’missing in action’ telegram was sent to Mavis Raw:-
'Regret to inform you that your husband , Flt Lt PE Raw is missing as a result of air operations on 21st March 1944. Letter follows. Any further information received will be immediately communicated with you'.
OC 183 Squadron RAF Manston - Kent
With the war now raging on the continent it would take some time before any further information would come to light on the circumstances of Peter’s death or in fact his actual resting place. Finally the Air Ministry was able to write to Peter’s mother in December 1946 to inform her that The Commonwealth War Graves Commission had found the location of his grave, and had placed an official headstone on the site.
Flight Lieutenant Peter Edward Raw DFC lies in grave 14 of row KK in Eindhoven Cemetery (Woensel) Holland. Some time after the war, Mrs Irene Raw received a letter from a resident of Eindhoven, Louise Janssen who informed her that twice yearly she placed flowers on Peter’s grave as he was one of the brave ‘soldiers’ who helped liberate her country.
That would be the end of this story on this brave fighter pilot, were it not for a group of Dutch aviation enthusiasts (Vliegtuigcrashes Boxmeer WW2 ) in the community of Boxmeer, and The Study Group Volkel who in 2016 decided to investigate the 25 possible WW2 aircraft crash sites in their area.
One of the crashes highlighted by the group identified the location of the crashed Typhoon (MN247) flown by Peter Raw, using the police report of the time. The team soon got to work with metal detectors, (having to battle through long grass) and after hours of searching found two pieces of aircraft aluminium, followed by engine related parts of the Typhoon Napier Sabre engine (with numbered parts) and sections of the radiator, identifying the aircraft.
On October 7th 2017 a memorial service was held in Boxmeer to honour Flight Lieutenant Peter Raw DFC, and where a small monument was unveiled, and attended by his daughter and grandchildren with other members of the Raw family. The local Mayor made a speech and schoolchildren from the primary school read a poem, followed by the Last Post and the laying of wreaths and flowers. The RAFA from Amsterdam laid a wreath along with representatives from the British Embassy and Dutch Air Force.
Further fuller information on Peter Raw’s RAF career and the Raw family, with numerous photographs can be found in the book Raw Courage (Grub Street Publications - London) Also the PlaneHunters article on their recovery can be found on the Back to Normandy Website.
: authors Norman Franks - Simon Muggleton. ISBN-13:
978-1908117137. Publisher Grub Street - 19th August 2011. Hardcover - 234 pages.
Fl/Lt. Peter Edward Raw DFC. Eindhoven General Cemetery (Woensel). Plot KK. Grave 14. Son of Commander Frederick E. Raw, DFC. formerly Royal Navy and of Irene 'Trixie' Raw, of Ealing, Middlesex, England. Husband of Mavis.
Researched and dedicated to the relatives of this pilot with thanks to Norman Franks - Simon Muggleton November 2017.