Pilot who took minutes to advance the war effort

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Peter Vaughan-Fowler was born

in Lahore on January 18, 1918.

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At the outbreak of war he was still at school at the Imperial Service College, but a year later enlisted in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve (RAFVR) and volunteered for pilot training.

He was an outstanding pilot and when only 19 years old, was selected for Special Duties training even though he had only 250 hours of flying and none at night!

He was posted as a ‘pick-up’ pilot in April 1942 to No 161 Squadron’s ‘A’ Flight to fly Lysanders.

Vaughan-Fowler’s first successful operation was during the October moon period, when, on the night of October 26/27, he dropped two secret agents (the pick-up pilots called them ‘Joes’ and never knew their identity) off in a field near Mâcon and brought two back to RAF Tangmere.

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This operation was the first of 21 successful operations out of 27 attempted from Tangmere between October 1942 and September of the following year.

Peter Vaughan- Fowler proved to be an exceptional pick-up pilot and usually his trips were uneventful due to his careful preparation and accurate navigational skills.

However, when sharing a double Lysander operation with ‘Bunny’ Rymills on March 17, 1943, Vaughan-Fowler, on landing, was alarmed to see flames belching out of his engine’s exhaust.

After switching everything off, he managed to put out the flames by ramming his ‘Mae West’ life-jacket into the exhaust.

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On departure, the engine started but then cut – he started it again and this time was able to take off and return to Tangmere.

Vaughan-Fowler built up a reputation with James ‘Mac’ McCairns for carrying out successful double Lysander operations and even conducted on September 12/13, with Hugh Verity and ‘Mac’, a triple Lysander operation, carrying eight ‘Joes’ out and eight back – the three Lysanders spent only nine minutes on the ground.

Verity landed first at 2336 hours, Vaughan-Fowler at 2337 followed by McCairns – Verity, the last to leave, departed at 2345 hours!

Vaughan-Fowler’s last Lysander operation from Tangmere was a double operation with McCairns on the night of September 18/19, 1943 to a field near Ambérac in which British Special Operations Executive agent ‘Tommy’ Yeo-Thomas (the ‘White Rabbit’) was returned to France.

For his highly-successful tour with No 161 Squadron, Peter Vaughan-Fowler was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and Bar.

Early in 1944, after a short spell with No 21 Squadron, flying night-fighter Mosquitos, he was called back to Special Duties work, this time in the Mediterranean theatre, where he established a Lysander flight which operated from Corsica into southern France before the Allied landings.

Vaughan-Fowler flew four of these operations. After the liberation of France, he commanded a Mustang fighter ground- attack squadron and his fine leadership was recognised by the award of a Distinguished Service Order.

Vaughan-Fowler remained in the RAF after the war and retired in 1975 as a group captain.

He died, in Oxford, on April 24, 1994.

Recently the Vaughan-Fowler family presented to the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum the leather Irvine flying jacket Peter wore during his time when flying from Tangmere with No 161 Squadron in 1943.

This article, written by David Coxon is the 33rd in a series of monthly articles on the people of RAF Tangmere. More information on the Tangmere Military Aviation Museum, including opening times and entry prices can be found on our website

www.tangmere-museum.org.uk

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