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Peter Townsend (RAF officer)

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United Kingdom

Peter Townsend

Years of service

RAF officer

Peter Townsend (RAF officer) Peter Townsend InterviewAudio YouTube

Birth name
Peter Woolridge Townsend

22 November 1914 Rangoon, Burma (

Commands held
RAF West Malling (1943–44)No. 605 Squadron RAF (1942)RAF Drew (1942)No. 85 Squadron RAF (1940–41)

Rosemary Pratt, Marchioness Camden (m. 1941)

Battles and wars
Battle of Britain, World War II

Duel of Eagles, The odds against us, The girl in the white ship, Time and Chance: An Autobi, The postman of Nagasaki

19 June 1995 (aged 80) Saint-Leger-en-Yvelines, France

Gerald Carroll, Anthony Clarke (businessman), Eldon Griffiths

Peter townsend raf officer

Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, (22 November 1914 – 19 June 1995) was a Royal Air Force officer, flying ace, courtier and author. He was equerry to King George VI from 1944 to 1952 and held the same position for Queen Elizabeth II from 1952 to 1953. Townsend also had a romance with Princess Margaret.


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Princess margaret rejects her suitor raf officer captain peter townsend england hd stock footage

Early life

Peter Townsend (RAF officer) Princess Margaret Scarred by a forbidden love Daily

Townsend was born on 22 November 1914 in Rangoon, Burma, to Lieutenant Colonel E. C. Townsend and his wife. From 1928 to 1932, he was educated at Haileybury College, then an all-boys independent school.

RAF career

Townsend joined the Royal Air Force in 1933 and trained at RAF Cranwell. He was commissioned a pilot officer on 27 July 1935. On graduation, he joined No. 1 Squadron RAF at RAF Tangmere flying the Hawker Fury biplane fighter. In 1936 he was posted to No. 36 Squadron RAF in Singapore, flying the Vickers Vildebeest torpedo bomber. He was promoted to flying officer on 27 January 1937, and returned to Tangmere that year as a member of No. 43 Squadron RAF. Townsend was promoted to flight lieutenant on 27 January 1939.

Peter Townsend (RAF officer) Peter Townsend RAF officer Wikipedia

The first enemy aircraft to crash on English soil during the Second World War fell victim to fighters from RAF Acklington on 3 February 1940 when three Hurricanes of ‘B’ flight, No. 43 Squadron, shot down a Luftwaffe Heinkel 111 of 4./KG 26 near Whitby. The pilots were Flight Lieutenant Townsend, Flying Officer "Tiger" Folkes and Sergeant James Hallowes. Two more He 111s were claimed by Townsend, on 22 February and 8 April, and a sixth share on 22 April. Enemy aircraft had been shot down in 1939 by the RAF from over Scotland's Scapa Flow shipyards during the Luftwaffe's first raid on Britain. Townsend was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in April 1940:

Peter Townsend (RAF officer) Retired RAF Officer and author Group Captain Peter Townsend 1914

Flight Lieutenant Peter Wooldridge Townsend (33178)

In April 1940, whilst on patrol over the North Sea, Flight Lieutenant Townsend intercepted and attacked an enemy aircraft at dusk and after a running fight shot it down. This is the third success obtained by this pilot and in each instance he has displayed qualities of leadership, skill and determination of the highest order, with little regard for his own safety.

By May 1940, Townsend was one of the most capable squadron leaders of the Battle of Britain, serving throughout the battle as commanding officer of No. 85 Squadron RAF, flying Hawker Hurricanes. On 11 July 1940, Acting Squadron Leader Townsend, flying Hurricane VY-K (P2716) intercepted a Dornier Do 17 of KG 2 and severely damaged the bomber, forcing it to crash land at Arras. Return fire from the Dornier hit the Hurricane coolant system and Townsend was forced to ditch 20 miles (32 km) from the English coast, being rescued by HM Trawler Cape Finisterre. He was mentioned in despatches the same month. On 31 August, during combat with Bf 110s over Tonbridge, Townsend was shot down and wounded in the left foot by a cannon shell which went through the glycol tank and exploded in the cockpit. He continued to lead the unit on the ground even after this wound resulted in his big toe being amputated, and he returned to operational flying on 21 September. Townsend was promoted to the substantive rank of squadron leader on 1 September 1940. A Bar to his DFC was awarded in early September 1940, for leading his squadron in protecting convoys during July and August 1940, personally shooting down four enemy aircraft and leading his squadron in destroying at least 10 enemy aircraft and damaging many others. Part of his citation reads:

...The success which has been achieved has been due to Squadron Leader Townsend's unflagging zeal and leadership.

Townsend oversaw the conversion of No. 85 Squadron to night operations at RAF Hunsdon during early 1941. In May 1941, by now an acting wing commander and credited with shooting down at least 11 enemy aircraft, Townsend was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). His citation credited Townsend as an officer who had

...displayed outstanding powers of leadership and organisation, combined with great determination and skill in air combat. By his untiring efforts he has contributed materially to the many successes obtained by his squadron.

Townsend was promoted to the temporary rank of wing commander on 1 December 1941. He later became commanding officer of RAF Drew in April 1942 and commanded No. 611 Squadron RAF, a Spitfire unit. He was later leader of No. 605 Squadron RAF, a night fighter unit, and attended the staff college from October 1942. In January 1943, he was appointed commanding officer of RAF West Malling. His wartime record was nine aircraft claimed destroyed (and two shared), two 'probables' and four damaged.

Civil service

In 1944, Townsend was appointed temporary equerry to King George VI. In the same year, the appointment was made permanent, and he served until 1953 when he became Extra Equerry, an honorary office he held until his death. He ended his wartime service with the temporary rank of wing commander and was promoted to the permanent rank of wing commander on 1 January 1949.

In August 1950, Townsend was made deputy Master of the Household and was moved to comptroller to the Queen Mother in 1952. He was promoted to group captain on 1 January 1953, and retired from the Royal Household the same year.

Townsend served as air attaché in Brussels from 1953 to 1956, when he retired from the RAF.

Later life

Townsend spent much of his later years writing non-fiction books. His books include Earth My Friend (about driving/boating around the world alone in the mid-1950s), Duel of Eagles (about the Battle of Britain), The Odds Against Us (also known as Duel in the Dark) (about fighting Luftwaffe night bombers in 1940–1941), The Last Emperor (a biography of King George VI), The Girl in the White Ship (about a young refugee from Vietnam in the late 1970s who was the sole survivor of her ship of refugees), The Postman of Nagasaki (about the atomic bombing of Nagasaki), and Time and Chance (an autobiography). He also wrote many short articles and contributed to other books.

Townsend was a director of one of Gerald Carroll's Carroll Group companies.

Townsend was one of several military advisors for the film Battle of Britain (1969). He also appeared in the PBS video, The Windsors: A Royal Family (1994).

Personal life

On 17 July 1941, Townsend married (Cecil) Rosemary Pawle (1921–2004). They had two sons, Giles (1942–2015) and Hugo (b. 1945). The younger son married Yolande, Princess of Ligne. Townsend and Pawle divorced in 1952. Pawle married, secondly, John de László (son of the painter Philip de László), and thirdly, in 1978, the 5th Marquess Camden.

After the divorce, Townsend formed a relationship with and proposed marriage to Her Royal Highness Princess Margaret of York, who was initially inclined to accept him. He had met her in his role as an equerry to her father, King George VI. Divorced people suffered severe disapproval in the social atmosphere of the time and could not remarry in the Church of England if their former spouse was still alive. Their relationship was considered especially controversial as Margaret's sister, Queen Elizabeth II, was the Church's supreme governor.

The government sought to discourage their relationship by urging Princess Margaret to wait two years to marry and posting Townsend to a post in Brussels. When he was 44, he met and in 1959 married a Belgian woman, Marie-Luce Jamagne (then 20), who bore a striking resemblance to Princess Margaret. Their daughter, Isabelle Townsend, became a Ralph Lauren advertising model in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Isabelle and her family live in a house in France named "The Mill", where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor once resided.

Death and legacy

Townsend died of stomach cancer in 1995, in Saint-Léger-en-Yvelines, France. He was 80 years old.

In 2002, a sculpture of Group Captain Townsend, designed by Guy Portelli, was erected at Townsend Square, part of the Kings Hill development, on the site formerly occupied by the RAF West Malling airfield.

Townsend is portrayed by Ben Miles in the 2016 Netflix television series The Crown.

Selected works

  • Earth, my friend. Coward-McCann. 1960. OCLC 1329573. 
  • Duel of Eagles. Simon and Schuster. 1970. ISBN 0671206419. OCLC 119851. 
  • The last emperor: an intimate account of George VI and the fall of his empire. Simon and Schuster. 1976. ISBN 0671223283. OCLC 2284054. 
  • Time and Chance: an autobiography. Methuen. 1978. ISBN 045893710X. OCLC 4307096. 
  • The Girl in the White Ship. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston. 1983. ISBN 003057787X. OCLC 8387613. 
  • The Postman of Nagasaki. Collins. 1984. ISBN 0002170671. OCLC 12010257. 
  • Duel in the dark: the sequel to Duel of eagles. Harrap. 1986. ISBN 0245542477. OCLC 16801897. 
  • References

    Peter Townsend (RAF officer) Wikipedia