Squadron Leader Peter Billyeald MBE DFC

Squadron Leader Peter Billyeald MBE DFC

Peter joined the RAFVR in 1938 at the age of 20 “to learn to fly at somebody else’s expense” as he put it. He learned to fly at Tollerton Aerodrome, near his home town of Nottingham.

At the outbreak of war he was sent to Flying Training School at Peterborough where he flew the Hawker Hart & Hawker Hind – biplanes developed in the 1920s & 30s.

In July 1940 Peter was posted as a Pilot Officer to 40 Squadron at Wyton, Cambridgeshire, which had been operating Blenheim bombers in France and had suffered heavy losses. Peter flew his first operational sortie in a daylight attack on Caen aerodrome in September. More daylight raids followed but these soon turned to night raids after further losses became unsustainable.

In early 1941 the squadron welcomed the conversion to Wellington bombers – the Blenheim was unsuited to night flying as well as being slow, cold & outdated. The extended range of the Wellington led to raids into Germany and on his 29th operational sortie Peter’s aircraft was hit by flak over Berlin damaging the hydraulic system. On his return to base he had to land without flaps and without brakes, he ran out of runway and was only able to stop the aircraft by hitting the back of the gunnery range. The Wellington was destroyed and it was fortunate that no one was killed, although two of the crew were injured.

Wellington R1166 crashed at Alconbury on return from a raid on Berlin 23/24 March 1941

Having completed his first tour, and having destroyed one of its aircraft, the RAF sent Peter to Moreton-in-Marsh (21 OTU) as an instructor! He spent the next 18 months training pilots to fly Wellingtons. He also met his future wife, Flt Officer Paddy Barr, who was a WAAF serving as Assistant Adjutant at Moreton. Peter was recommended for an AFC which was downgraded to a Mention in Despatches in the 1943 New Year Honours List.

In November 1942 Peter was posted to 464 Squadron at Feltwell, Norfolk as a Squadron Leader for his second operational tour. 464 was an Australian squadron operating Lockheed Venturas on escorted daylight raids on Northern France and the Low Countries. Peter led many of these raids. During this time the squadron took part in Exercise Spartan in March 1943. The prime purpose of the Exercise was to develop Army / RAF co-operation in readiness for the invasion of northern Europe. Peter led several of the raids during the Exercise including the high-level raid on Pangbourne on 7th March, as well as others on Sonning, Goring, Didcot & Wallingford.


Ventura AE939           S/L Peter Billyeald and crew

Peter completed his second operational tour of 19 sorties in May 1943 for which he was awarded the DFC. He was posted to Staff College and then to HQ of 2nd Tactical Air Force, where he remained until the end of the war. Peter received a second Mention in Despatches and was appointed MBE in the 1946 New Year honours list.

The citation for his DFC reads as follows:

“Squadron Leader Billyeald is an outstanding officer who has completed numerous operational missions, most of them as flight commander. He has invariably displayed keenness, determination and leadership of an exceptional nature. His earlier operational experience, which extended over a long period, has contributed much to the efficiency and spirit of his present squadron. His example both on the ground and in the air has been most praiseworthy.”

Peter died in April 2004 and his ashes were scattered over Tollerton Aerodrome and thus the final entry in his log-book has a similarity to the first.

Paddy died in 2016.

This summary of Peter’s RAFVR career has been compiled by his sons Stephen, Patrick & Guy.



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