Memories take flight for 93-year-old Peter

As war clouds gathered, Shrewsbury youngster Peter Short was witness to a strange and suspicious incident on the outskirts of the town.

"One Sunday morning a small single-engined two-seater German sports plane landed in a field at Sutton Farm," said Peter, who is now 93.

"I cycled over, by which time a small crowd of onlookers had arrived. The two German crew were looking at a map claiming that they were lost. We all thought they were spies – they probably were."

Peter, who lived at the time with his parents in London Road, and now lives in Alcester, Warwickshire, said: "In my dotage I am recalling many memories of my great interest in aeroplanes all through my life. My first at four years old was of two Bristol Bulldogs flying low past the little private school in Whitehall Street, Shrewsbury, my home town.

"My late grandfather had a small farm adjacent to the old aerodrome in the old racecourse – long gone – where he attempted to rescue two men in a burning aircraft. He was unsuccessful, but badly burned in the attempt."

This old airfield at Monkmoor was in the news much later, he says.

"A Vickers Wellesley bomber force-landed there and came to rest by the front door of a council house in Racecourse Lane.

"I had an uncle who was an RAF pilot who one day entertained our family in our garden on London Road by performing aerobatics in a Hawker Fury and got away with it."

During the war Shropshire had many airfields and the skies were full of aircraft of all types.

"At this time I was a teenager and with a friend, every two weeks, we did a round trip on our bicycles armed with borrowed field glasses – my dad's. First we went to Atcham, where the Americans arrived with Airacobras and then Lockheed P-38 Lightnings. The Yanks just let us roam around anywhere, and were always friendly.

"And then on to High Ercall where the new fighter the Hawker Typhoon had recently arrived. The two of us were at the dispersal area happily sketching a Typhoon at close range when suddenly a Jeep arrived with a Flight Sergeant erk who told us to **** off, but did not take the very accurate sketches that we had made.

"One particular incident I remember was being woken up one night by my frightened mother as there was an air battle in progress, tracers whizzing about and my father just home on his bicycle from night duty at the post office and carrying a handful of empty bullet cases, still warm.

"One Saturday morning I was walking along Town Walls in Shrewsbury when overhead appeared a large number of Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses of the US Army Air Force – 87 in total, I counted them. They formated, taking over half an hour."

He thinks they were preparing to bomb the U-boat pens at St Nazaire, France, although perhaps they were on some sort of exercise as Shropshire would be far off their track for an operational raid.

"The Luftwaffe did not bother us too much in the war. On several evenings our family watched Heinkel HeIIIs on their way to bomb Liverpool caught in the searchlights at Wroxeter, our local battery.

"Another time my school pal and I watched a solitary Dornier Do17 in broad daylight score a direct hit on the sugar beet factory at Allscott with a stick of bombs.

"One early evening in summer I was with my father in our garden when a solitary Heinkel HeIII broke out of cloud at low level and released its bombs to hit the local railway goods yard. It missed but hit an adjacent timber yard killing several Italian prisoners of war there."

In 1942 young Peter joined 1119 Squadron of the Air Training Corps and had a flight in a Wellington bomber at Shawbury.

"I was lucky in sitting in the co-pilot's seat next to the Canadian pilot who threw the plane around like a fighter and entertained visitors on The Wrekin at low level."

For a teenager and keen aeromodeller they were, he says, exciting times for him and his pals, and they would cycle to local airfields with notebooks and binoculars every other weekend.

"We collected the plane numbers and their squadron letters as others collected car numbers."

There was also tragedy, and he witnessed several accidents, some fatal.

Another memory was a post-war incident when an American B-47 Stratojet landed at RAF Shawbury.

"On a Sunday afternoon shortly afterwards I was sitting in our garden when there was an almighty roar and a B47 climbed steeply in a cloud of smoke during a rocket-assisted take-off."

Peter added: "It is quite nostalgic to remember these events of planes from years ago and I am lucky to have taken part in those interesting times."

During the war he was at Priory School for Boys, and later studied architecture. After a spell of National Service he worked for five years for Salop County Council's architects' department in Column House, later moving out of Shropshire.

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