Peter Lake: 298 Squadron Halifax Pilot
22nd September 1924 - 29th May 2017 Age 92.
Royal Air Force Career:
Service in the RAF commenced on 4th January 1943 at 18 years 3 months – the earliest age allowed for aircrew training (Although other notes point to his age at being 17 years 3 months - happened a great deal during those years - youngsters lying about their age in order to join up).
Progress through the various stages of training took two years and three months before being posted to 298 Squadron, Tarrant Rushton, as a Sergeant Pilot on Halifaxes with a crew of five other Sergeants. The Squadron was in 38th Airborne Division. Duties included towing Horsa and Hamilcar gliders, dropping supplies to S.O.E and S.A.S. agents, or even dropping a jeep and a six pounder gun on parachutes if required.
After some initial training in these duties he stood by for operations for some ten days, and then the war in Europe ended.
The task then became one of transportation. Prisoners of war from Brussels, ferrying occupation troops (thirty at a time) up to Norway, and collection of gliders from various parts, were the main jobs.
Newly tropicalised Halifax VII’s were collected from Kinloss, and the Squadron prepared to move in three waves to India to train the 44th Indian Airborne troops in Waco gliders ready for the final attack on Japan.
As a supernumerary crew they were on the first wave. A faulty tail wheel after landing at Lydda in Palestine, (as it was then), resulted in the aircraft becoming a “Christmas tree” for any other faults on the aircraft in the subsequent waves of the Squadron. Before the replacement spares for their aircraft finally arrived from England, and were fitted to their aircraft, the war in Japan had ended.
From Drigh Road airfield in Karachi, the Squadron moved on to Raipur in Central Provinces. This was the base from which regular runs around India were used to transport RAF cargo in newly fitted panniers under the bomb bay, or walking and stretcher cases of wounded, or sick personnel inside the fuselage, from one hospital to another.
The route ran from Raipur to Nagpur-Bhopal-Karachi-Bombay, where each crew slipped at a place called Santa Cruz for a few days, then picked up the next aircraft on the run and finished Calcutta-Raipur. Individual runs included Akyab in Burma, and some of the crews over the Hump to China. The Squadron base moved from Raipur to Digri, (just west of Calcutta), then to Baroda on the west coast, and finally to Mauripur in Karachi.
By the time the Squadron moved to Mauripur he had become increasingly ill. On arrival in Karachi, he was hospitalised in the British General Hospital. Diagnosed as having tropical Sprue (1), he remained there for sixteen weeks, and was then medically repatriated as being unfit for tropical posting. Before he could be posted to Fairford, he was demobilised.
ACRC St Johns Wood, London. 04.01.43 - 20.02.43
No. 1 ITW Babbacombe, Devon. 20.02.43 - 07.06.43
No. 16 EFTS Battlestead Hill, Burton-on-Trent, Derby. 07.06.43 - 08.07.43: Tiger Moths
ACDC Manchester. 22.07.43 - 27.08.43
No. 31 Depot, Moncton, Canada. 05.09.43 - 01.10.43
No. 5 BFTS Clewiston, Florida, U.S.A. 04.10.43 - 17.04.44: PT17 Stearmans, AT6 Harvards
No. 31 Depot, Moncton, Canada. 20.04.44 - 04.05.44
No. 7 PRC Harrogate, Yorkshire. 11.05.44 - 15.06.44
No. 16 EFTS Derby. 16.06.44 - 06.07.44: Tiger Moths
No. 7 PRC Padgate, Cheshire. 07.07.44 - 15.08.44
No. 18 (P) AFU Church Lawford, Rugby. 15.08.44 - 13.11.44: Airspeed Oxfords
No. 81 OTU Sleap / Tilstock, Shropshire. 14.11.44 - 28.02.45: Whitleys
No. 1665 HCU Tilstock, Shropshire. 01.03.45 - 02.04.45: Halifaxes
ORTU Matching, Essex. 03.04.45 - 18.04.45
No. 298 Squadron, Tarrant Rushton 19.04.45 - 05.07.45
Raipur, India 06.07.45 - 10.12.45
Digri 11.12.45 - 27.05.46
Baroda 27.05.46 - 04.07.46
Mauripur 04.07.46 Medically repatriated
The crew: Rear L-R: Michael (Mick) Watson - Navigator from Hull, Walter (Wattie) Pennel - Air Gunner from Glasgow - Doug Bushnell - Flight Engineer, Front: A.F. (Doc) Dougherty - Wireless Operator from Birkenhead, Peter Lake - Pilot from London, Reg Wilson - Air Bomber Regular RAF.
(1) Tropical sprue is a malabsorption disease commonly found in tropical regions, marked with abnormal flattening of the villi and inflammation of the lining of the small intestine - was responsible for one-sixth of all casualties sustained by the Allied forces in India and Southeast Asia during World War 2.
ACRC - Aircrew Reception Centre.
ITW - Initial Training Wing.
BFTS - British Flying Training School.
EFTS - Elementary Flying Training School
PRC - Personnel Reception Centre.
AFU - Advanced Flying Unit
ORTU - Operational and Refresher Training Unit
OTU - Operational Training Unit.
HCU - Heavy Conversion Unit.
Peter Lake - the person:
Peter Lake was the kindest, loveliest, most caring, warm, intelligent, interesting man that you would ever hope to meet. He had the most wonderful sense of humour and a gentleness second to none. He enjoyed company and laughter.
He started life in 1924. He was one of twins, the other of whom was stillborn. He always said that he had a very happy childhood. His was a boy typical of his age … enjoying kite-flying, games, cricket, and making model aeroplanes and crystal sets. He worked hard at school and did well. At the earliest age permitted, he joined the RAF and became one of a 16-week training contingent of 2000 hopefuls. On his own merit, he achieved his dream and became one of the small minority selected to serve his country as a pilot.
He was sent to America to learn to fly in Clewiston, Florida … where he enjoyed himself thoroughly. Besides learning to fly, which he loved, he was particularly happy to be released from austere food-rationing in England and enjoy great food, including mammoth stacks of pancakes and syrup each day for breakfast! At the age of 19, he returned to England to take responsibility for a crew of five other men flying Halifax in 298 Squadron out of Tarrant Rushton and later across India.
Whilst in the RAF, at the age of 17¼, he met Helen, whom he adored until the day he died. Peter and Helen married in August 1944 when Peter was still only 19. (note: his age!)
After the war, Peter became a teacher. He taught for a period at the Queen Victoria School for children of Scottish servicemen aged 10/11 to 18 in Dunblane, Scotland, but later he specialised in teaching children with learning difficulties and special needs. By the time he ended his long career he was head teacher of the third largest special school in the UK. It was a career that he loved, helping many children meet their potential and learn the skills needed to make their way in the world. He was the most loving father to Helen’s and his six children, and later he proved to be a beloved grandfather to his 11 grandchildren and many step-grandchildren and great grandchildren.
He was brave, adventurous and creative. Peter turned his hand to many things. In his early marriage, he kept bees to provide honey and made homemade furniture. In 1957, he took his family to Canada for two years. It proved a big adventure and a tremendous experience. Initially the family lived in rural Nova Scotia, braving extreme winter weather (which the children loved), scorching hot summers, snakes and the odd armed escaped convicts hiding out in the barn of their rented farm.
After a year in Nova Scotia, Peter applied for, and was awarded, a new teaching post in Ottawa. When he faced the logistics of how to move his growing family and all their belongings from Nova Scotia to Ontario over the summer holidays he used his typical resourcefulness and built the family a caravan to make the 900-mile trip. During the trip, the family ate like kings, gorging themselves on barbequed Weiners, corn-on-the cob and barrels of apples bought by the roadside.
In Ottawa, the family enjoyed another snowy winter … living in a house that backed onto a large shared oblong yard which, once hosed over with water, doubled as a huge skating rink for the winter months. In the summer of 1959, when Helen and Peter were expecting their sixth child, they returned to Scotland to complete their family.
The sojourn in Canada very much depleted their resources and Helen and Peter experienced several years of financial hardship. Initially, with their six children, they resorted to living in derelict farm workers cottages and farm houses close to Dunblane in Scotland … normally experiencing life without any running water or electricity. Living like this was great fun, like camping holidays, with plenty of outdoor living and picnics. Peter’s children recollect that even in the great outdoors Peter always wore a smart jacket, shirt and tie! In later years Helen described these times as a particularly happy period of their lives.
Peter was incredibly resourceful. He crafted home-made toys for each of his children at Christmas and birthdays. Christmas Eve for the Lake children always smelt of turps, on Christmas Day his children could look but not touch as the paint was still tacky, but it was often not until Boxing Day they actually got to play with their wooden toys. It was Peter who made his daughters’ beautiful party dresses. With the end of sugar rationing he would make delicious batches of toffee, fudge and coconut ice … allegedly for the children (although Peter had a seriously sweet tooth!) … the sweets never lasted long! He made home-made jam – traipsing everyone around the countryside in Scotland (often in the rain) collecting wild fruit. The jam lasted much longer than the fudge … particularly one batch of blackcurrant jam which unfortunately set like vulcanised rubber (making it difficult to get a spoon into!) which lasted several years but would not be wasted.
He loved woodwork, pottery, basketry, ceramic tiling and mechanics but hated gardening. Holidays were nearly always spent camping or caravanning, often at St. Andrews or Huntly. He and Helen would take the children with them on the rare occasion they might play a game of golf … normally with the hope of the children finding more golf balls than they started out with.
Peter enjoyed the freedom of touring with mobile facilities for his family to sleep in. In the 1960’s he bought a VW transit van without windows to avoid the purchase tax payable on the numbers of windows in new vehicles. He converted the transit into a dormobile with perfectly fitted tax-free windows, a little kitchenette, table and beds. The family enjoyed many adventures in the van.
He enjoyed puzzles and crosswords throughout his life. He had a remarkable range of vocabulary, until dementia defeated him. Even towards the end of his life he could work out the occasional complex word but would struggle on the easy ones.
He was interested in absolutely everything … and had an insatiable thirst for knowledge. His pockets were always full of tools and gadgets … always ready for anyone who might call upon his help. Even into his early 80s he would rescue his children … or sometimes even their friends … when their car had broken down or their plumbing failed or something needed fixing.
He was always kind. He was terrified of spiders but would never kill one. To the chagrin of Helen, he would remove the cheese from mousetraps rather than risk killing a mouse. When humane mousetraps became popular he would walk for miles to try to find somewhere nice for the mice to be released. He cared about the loneliness of old people and the fear of children who had no-one to care for them.
Despite suffering from bowel cancer, a replacement hip, increasingly profound deafness and early signs of dementia, in his 80’s he was the sole carer for Helen for the last 10 years of her life.
Following Helen’s death four years ago at the age of 90, and after insisting that he did not want to impose on any of his children, Peter decided to move into a residential care home as he became increasingly unable to live independently. He chose the Priory in Arundel and quickly became very settled in his new surroundings. The Priory became his home where he was surrounded by the staff who, over the four years of his residency, built a relationship of mutual trust and affection with him. Peter’s family wish to express their thanks and gratitude for the wonderful care and dedication that the staff of the Priory provided Peter in his last years.
Peter spent his life providing and caring for all of his family. Throughout their lives he was always there for them for which they will be forever grateful.
I will say that he always looked on his experiences as a pilot as one of the most important times of his life: Sheena Lake and family - June 2017. His funeral will be on the 29th June 2017 - the day this obituary will be published.
If you have additional information or photographs to add to this Obituary please contact us.
We seek to commemorate all and would be pleased to receive your contributions.