Former WW2 Spitfire pilot from Horsham dies aged 94

Former Second World War Spitfire pilot Peter Eldridge from Horsham who passed away last month aged 94 SUS-190402-130555001
Former Second World War Spitfire pilot Peter Eldridge from Horsham who passed away last month aged 94 SUS-190402-130555001

The daughter of a former Spitfire pilot from Horsham has spoken of her pride in her father’s Second World War service following his death last month.

Peter Eldridge, who moved to the town with his wife Valerie in 1982, passed away aged 94 following a stroke on Tuesday January 8.

Peter Eldridge from Horsham, who passed away last month aged 94, when he was a Spitfire pilot during the Second World War SUS-190402-130605001

Peter Eldridge from Horsham, who passed away last month aged 94, when he was a Spitfire pilot during the Second World War SUS-190402-130605001

After joining the Air Training Corps, Peter began his service in September 1942 when he was called up to the Royal Air Force (RAF) aged just 18 ½.

He spent six weeks in London doing some basic training before being selected for air crew.

His daughter Jo Woodworth said: “The family are very proud that he flew spitfires in the Second World War and think it is sad he has had no recognition for his war service in his later life.

“Like most men who served in the war he did not talk about it. We asked him to write his memoirs about tenyears ago.

“He did not have a heroic war - no Battle of Britain - but I think his story is interesting nonetheless.”

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After being selected for air crew, Peter was sent to Blackpool ready for an overseas posting and in December 1942 he boarded a ship for Rhodesia - the first time he had left the country.

He learnt to fly initially on Tiger Moths, and after 80 hours he was recommended to fly single engine planes.

He continued training, this time in Harvards, learning more complicated flying manoeuvres.

In November 1943 he was given his wings and was promoted to Flight Sergeant.

He then travelled to Cairo and had some leave in Tunisia and Palestine.

He was introduced to Spitfires in Egypt and remained in an operational unit until February 1944.

In April, Peter had some final training in formation training and in May joined 111 Squadron in Italy. The next couple of months were spent escorting bombers heading for Northern Italy.

However, Peter did a poor landing in July and was subsequently diagnosed with pneumonia and a pleural infusion.

Jo added: “He was transported back to the UK and transferred to a RAF hospital in Swindon. When he recovered he was discharged from the service as unfit for duties.”

Born in London in 1924, Peter was the second child in a family of five.

His father Walter had served in the First World War and married in 1915 in a break from military training. He was injured in 1917 and had some home leave, and his first child Marjorie was born in March 1918.

“Sadly on November 23, 1918, his first wife Florence died in the Spanish flu epidemic,” added Jo.

“All this meant that when Walter remarried in 1922 and dad was born in 1924, he already had a big sister.”

The family moved to Earlsfield London in 1927. Peter attended Bec Secondary School, and at the outbreak of the Second World War the whole school was evacuated to Lewes where Peter and his brother John lodged with an elderly couple.

Bec School shared a building with Lewes County School for Boys, each using the building for half a day.

Peter returned to London in July 1940 having matriculated. Now 16, he got a job at Barclays Bank in Mayfair and once a week a team from the bank spent the night on the roof of the Connaught Hotel on firewatching duty.

After being discharged from his RAF duties, Peter went to night school to become a quantity surveyor.

He joined the Civil Service and with his family travelled widely across the UK and overseas to Singapore and Germany.

Peter and his wife Valerie enjoyed a happy retirement after settling in Horsham. They moved to Skylark House in January 2017. Valerie died in July 2017.

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