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Peter Bailey - Wing Commander 233 Squadron

Obituary from the Telegraph newspaper

April 2021

Wing Commander Peter Bailey 233 2.jpg

(source The Telegraph)

Wing Commander Peter Bailey, of 233 Squadron RAF Blakehill Farm has died.


Wing Commander Bailey who has died aged 99, towed a glider to Normandy on D-Day and flew a similar operation on the first assault during the ill-fated Arnhem operation. Post-war he commanded VIP transport squadrons in Britain and in Australia.


Just before midnight on June 5 1944, Bailey took off from Blakehill Farm near Swindon in a Dakota of 233 Squadron. He was piloting one of six aircraft towing Horsa gliders loaded with jeeps, trailers and motorcycles for the men of the 3rd Airborne Brigade who were parachuted on to a dropping zone near Touffréville. His school friend Bryan Hebblethwaite was flying the glider.


The following day, Bailey dropped supplies to the ground forces near Ranville, east of Caen, when he met intense light flak from “friendly forces”. Two of the squadron aircraft failed to return.


Over the next few weeks he flew into hastily prepared airstrips in Normandy carrying supplies and returning with casualties. At the end of August he flew on three consecutive days to an airfield near Paris carrying food for the local population. By September he was taking ammunition to airfields near Brussels.


On September 17, the first day of Operation Market Garden, Bailey towed a Horsa carrying men of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers to a landing zone west of Arnhem. Again Hebblethwaite was the glider pilot, but he was killed in the ground fighting a few days later. During the next few days, Bailey flew re-supply missions to the 1st Airborne Division when he met intense anti-aircraft fire.


Over the next few weeks, he took supplies for the advancing Allied armies into airfields in France and Belgium. For his service during the airborne operations, he was awarded the American DFC.


The son of a severely wounded First World War veteran of the Leicestershire Yeomanry, George Peter Brett Bailey was born on March 28 1922 and educated at Framlingham College, Suffolk, where he was a member of the Officer Training Corps and where he excelled at sport, being a key member of the shooting VIII.


He joined the RAF in 1941 and trained as a pilot in Canada. After gaining his wings, and being assessed as above average, he remained in Canada as a flying instructor until the end of 1943, when he returned to Britain and converted to the Dakota. After a brief spell with 512 Squadron flying supplies to Gibraltar and North Africa, he joined the recently formed 233 Squadron and began training for operations with the airborne forces.

In December 1944, Bailey was transferred to a new Dakota squadron, No 243. The crews sailed for Canada to collect Dakotas built there, which they flew across America and the Pacific Ocean, landing at Camden in New South Wales.


From there, the squadron provided support for British forces operating in the south-west Pacific area; this included sorties into Papua New Guinea and Borneo. After the Japanese surrender he flew to Hong Kong to repatriate PoWs. When the squadron disbanded in April 1946, he remained in Australia on the staff of the British Mission.


Bailey returned to Britain in late 1947 and became an instructor on Dakotas. He was detached to Lübeck in Germany and from there he flew some 250 re-supply sorties into Berlin during the emergency airlift.

In 1950 he returned to Australia to serve with the Royal Australian Air Force VIP transport squadron, No 34, based near Sydney. On one occasion he flew the Prime Minister Robert Menzies to London, a five-day flight with numerous stops en route.


In 1953 he served on the intelligence staff in the Air Ministry before becoming a flight commander on 80 Squadron flying the photo-reconnaissance variant of the Canberra from RAF Laarbruch on the Dutch/German border.


During his time on the squadron he was deployed to Malta to conduct an aerial survey of Italy. He was awarded a Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service in the Air.


After further service in the Air Ministry responsible for aircrew training policy, Bailey returned to flying, in command of the Metropolitan Communications Squadron at Northolt. This was the RAF’s VIP transport squadron, and his many passengers included Sir Winston Churchill, Lord Mountbatten, and the Queen when the Queen’s Flight needed support.


In June 1964 Bailey served in Germany on the staff of the Second Allied Tactical Air Force as a reconnaissance specialist. On return to Britain two years later he became the wing commander responsible for operations at RAF Wyton, the home of the RAF’s strategic reconnaissance force of Victors, Comets and Canberras.


Bailey retired from the RAF in 1970 and went to Karoo in South Africa to manage the production side of a game farm. While there, he became friends with Dr Christiaan Barnard, the first heart-transplant surgeon.

Back in England, Bailey ran the government’s Youth Training Scheme until 1986, when he emigrated to Queensland, where he took on a major role with the Red Cross as disaster officer for the Sunshine Coast. In 2000 he was president of the local Probus club.


He was a strong supporter of squadron reunions and the Society of Old Framlinghamians. On a brief visit to Britain to celebrate his 90th birthday he was able to meet the son of his friend killed at Arnhem, Bryan Hebblethwaite, and to attend the annual reunion of 80 Squadron.


Peter Bailey married his first wife Shirley in 1946. In 1997 he married Joy Mason after a long friendship. She died in 2011 and he is survived by his two children and a stepchild.

Peter Bailey, born March 28 1922, died April 14 2021

Wing Commander Peter Bailey 233.jpg
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