University of Oxford
75 files

Spitfire Pilot's Memories

online resource
posted on 2024-06-05, 16:48 authored by Their Finest Hour Project Team

Peter Eldridge (interviewee's father) was a Spitfire pilot during the war and brought in his flying logbook, which was probably his most treasured possession. He was very young when war broke out, so he wasn't in the Battle of Britain, he joined up later in the war. Peter didn't talk about his experiences during the war at all until about 20 years ago when his son asked him to write down his memoirs, which had been brought in to be photographed.

He was evacuated from school with his brother down to the south coast in 1939. Then when he left school he joined Barclays Bank and used to do fire-watching duty at a hotel in London. He then joined the RAF and was sent to Africa to conduct training, which I think is amazing! He got on a train to Blackpool then got on a boat and sailed all the way round to Rhodesia where he was then asked to get in a plane and start flying. His story is written in his memoir and logbook. I brought it in because so many people don't have these stories.

I'm a bit of a collector and when my Dad died in 2019 at the age of 94, he passed these on to me. I have here all these things that he collected during the war - so we have Allied forces money and tickets for a concert in Bethlehem. He went to the church of the Holy Sepulchre on Christmas Eve 1944. He trained in Rhodesia then went North - I have a ticket here from Bulawayo to Cairo - where he spent some time in Egypt and then Palestine. At the end of the war - 1944 - he was escorting bombers in Italy, Monte Cassino, etc.

When I was photographing his log book during lockdown, I noticed very faintly written in pencil in the margin, one of his missions was to escort a plane which contained the American Secretary of War. I thought, wow, he never mentioned that - it must have been secret, which is why he wrote it very faintly in pencil.

He did a bad landing one day, became very ill, and was invalided out in 1944. So he didn't see the end of the war. I always used to joke with him that he got an RAF pension until the day he died and no wonder the country is in the state it's in! They paid his pension all these years.
Did he talk about his service? No, not really. He was just one of those who served. His brother was a Bevan boy and went down the mines, his brother-in-law was a Bevan Boy. His brother-in-law, who was his best friend, served in the Navy on the Arctic conveys. None of them ever talked about it. I think it is great that there are some stories that are out there, but they will be forgotten.

Peter Eldridge grew up in South-West London, in Earlsfield. Funnily enough, his father had been a Seaforth Highlander and I have these great photos of him in a kilt in World War 1. He had never been out of London in his life, I thought, why did he become a Scottish soldier? And someone said to me that probably it was the glamour. But that meant that he served in the trenches in a kilt! Can you imagine? What have you brought in? I have my father's logbook and his memoirs, and I found this an extract from his operations record book where he joined up. He was very proud of being a member of 111 Squadron. He bought a book on it. There's a newspaper cutting (which I haven't brought in) with a squadron leader being received at the palace - he obviously kept an eye on things that went on.

I have various photographs, obviously a military kit with his shorts on, some money (Allied military money), and various tickets. Like a bedding receipt for Rhodesia railways, he stayed at the Imperial Hotel in Kampala, a concert in Palestine. He kept everything - and I do the same thing now, I keep everything. I didn't know that my Dad did that as well until I discovered all these things.

I don't know how often he looked at them. What it means is that you can trace where he's been with these objects - he went to see something called 'The Entertaining Wanderers of Khartoum'. He went obviously to the cinema, presumably the Tivoli at Abou Sair, somewhere in Egypt. Ticket from Khartoum to Cairo.

This is the certificate of pilgrimage to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, presumably, this is something that you can still get. And it was 24 December, which is quite moving because that is Christmas Eve.
Is he someone who would have had the opportunity to travel if it wasn't for his service?

Well, not as a child certainly, he came from a very modest background. But post-war he trained to be a quantity surveyor, then joined the civil service. And in 1959 we went to live in Singapore for 3 years. Came back and then lived in Germany for 3 years. Although he was a civil servant, he was attached to the military, and he built barracks. Then I lived overseas, my brother lives in Canada, and my sister lives in Italy. It has obviously become part of the family's genes.

These photographs are so small. I know you could buy photographs. He probably took some of them, but not all of them. But he obviously sent them home because he's written on the back comments.

Did your father keep in touch with his squadron after the war?
Well no. I used to watch Remembrance Day at the Cenotaph each year and I always wondered why isn't my Dad there. He wasn't a member of the British Legion - and you had to be a member to attend. He said he didn't really make any friends, but he kept in touch with someone called, Peter Upton, who I might have met as a child. He went to a couple of reunions but didn't see anyone that he knew. I think that's because they all moved around a lot.

How did your Dad feel about his service? Did he enjoy it?
Yes, I think he did. I think he got the travel bug from his service. He could have stayed in London for the rest of his life being a quantity surveyor, but he chose to travel a lot with work. Quite recently I came across a photograph of my parents, my sister and me in a coach in Victoria station being seen off by my Grandparents. So 1959, I was 18 months old, getting on a train to Southampton, getting on a boat for 3 weeks, going through the Suez Canal, and stopping in Bombay and Columbo. Then living in Singapore for 3 years. Then coming back and living in Croydon! For my Mum in particular, she was a housewife. In Singapore we had to live with servants because that's what you did then - the whole ex-pat colonial life. And then we came home. The experience in Germany was different, we were very much more part of the military then, I went to an army school. I suppose we take it for granted, I've lived overseas since then. You talk to people and most people haven't.

After the war, education made a difference for Peter, enabling him to be a quantity surveyor. He really took a step up because he saw what else was out there during the war. My favourite story, he embarked from Blackpool (maybe he sailed from Liverpool). My husband was a big Blackburn Rovers fan, and we had a neighbour who supported Arsenal, but whenever he had a spare few tickets he'd ask him [Peter Eldridge] to come. In the car, Peter was asked when he last went to the football, and he said, "Well in Blackpool when I saw Stanley Matthews play in 1943".
Was he reluctant to write his memoirs or had he just assumed that people weren't interested?

I think the latter and once he had got going, it was interesting. I think it's an interesting read. It's great to have it in the family because it's not just his experience as a pilot but right from when he was evacuated. So you have the whole story. He and his brother shared a room in Lewes. The whole school went - that was very common to be evacuated from London. The people in Lewes had the school in the morning and then the evacuees had the school in the afternoon, that's how they worked it. But I think about the teachers. Did they take their families? Lots of questions you're not sure you'll ever get the answers to.

My grandfather was a special constable because he served in the First World War. At the start of the war, Peter would have been 15. I can't imagine how that must have been growing up: as a boy, you know that you're likely to see action. I've had this experience quite recently, with the war in Ukraine when it first started. My friend who has two boys said, I'm worried they're going to get called up. And I've got a daughter, but that's how you think if you have boys.


Item list and details

1. Spitfire Pilot Log Book 2. Photos and Memorabilia

Person the story/items relate to

Peter Eldridge

Person who shared the story/items

Jo Woodworth

Relationship between the subject of the story and its contributor


Type of submission

Shared at Great Missenden Library, Buckinghamshire on 30 September 2023.

Record ID

94645 | GRE001