A Landing by Moonlight

Sadly I have been informed that Peter died 27th August 2010. A Spitfire did a flypast at his service.
Peter was a much loved man, by both family and workforce. RIP Sir, duty done.

Try landing a plane, in a dark field, at night, hopefully by moonlight, with only the aid of a torch being wielded by someone on the ground. That's exactly what Lysander pilots had to do, night after night, delivering secret agents and collecting them. Dropping off much needed supplies and rescuing the occasional downed RAF pilot from the clutches of the Gestapo. One such pilot was Peter Arkell, a member of the Arkell Brewery family.

The Brewery's own site states " Despite the slow recovery period after the Second World War, a handful of new pubs were added to the Arkell's estate and, in 1954, Peter Arkell, the eldest son of Sir Noel, joined the company as a director. A war veteran who had seen service with the RAF in Burma, Peter had spent a year in hospital after crashing behind enemy lines. He brought valuable brewing experience to Arkell's as a former director at the Tadcaster Tower Brewery. Peter, who was awarded the OBE in the Queen's Birthday Honours in 1997, once said: "My initials are 'PA' - Pale Ale. I was born in the brewery and I married a brewer's daughter. I'm in it up to my neck!"

Peter's Lysander operating in Burma

A section of Peter's Log Book (Image: Arkell Brewery)

The Lysander was the main means of transport of the SOE (Special Operations Executive). It was used to fly agents in and out of enemy occupied France. The Lysander was a slow moving aircraft that could land, and take off, in small fields. It could operate underneath enemy radar. Famous secret agents like Violette Szabo and "the white rabbit" were flown in by Lysander. The Lysander was also used to extract escaping airmen.  The Lysander had a maximum speed of 206 mph and had a crew of 2. It needed just 250 metres for a take off and it needed just 320 meters for a landing. The Lysander was armed in case of attack - it had 2 .303 Browning machine guns were fitted into the two wheel spats and on occasion, a Lewis machine gun in the rear cockpit. Along with its human cargo, the Lysander could also carry two supply canisters. To the SOE, the Lysander was known as the 'scarlet pimpernel of the air'.

Several units operating Lysanders went to France with the British Expeditionary Force in September 1939 and in November a 'Lizzie' shot down the first Luftwaffe Heinkel bomber to fall in BEF territory. During the evacuation of Dunkirk in May and June of 1940, Lysanders were employed in dropping supplies to beleagured troops defending Calais and made several attacks on German positions. Many Lysanders were lost during this period. Later on the Lysander found its true element. With its excellent short and rough field performance and fitted with a long range fuel tank and fixed ladder, they were widely used as special night mission aircraft to ferry agents and supplies to and from the occupied Continent. In this role the aircraft served until the end of hostilities, thus deserving itself a rightful place in aviation history.

No 161 Squadron, based at RAF Tempsford, was responsible for flying agents into and out of occupied France. This special duties squadron, equipped with Lysander aircraft, used RAF Tangmere, on the English south coast, as an advance base for flying highly dangerous night-time missions into occupied France. Pilots needed to exercise flying skills of a very high order indeed as they were required to fly at night during full moon periods across hostile territory, locating and landing at a pre-determined rendezvous for a drop or a pick-up on ground which was typically illuminated by only three hand-held torches. Landing on and taking off from muddy ground could be very hazardous indeed, even for the most competent pilots. Headquarters for the crews and SOE agents at Tangmere was Tangmere Cottage; incoming SIS agents went to Bignor Manor before being transferred to London for debriefing.

Lysander kitted out for agent's work, note fixed ladder

Email from Brian Scott, Canada.

I have just read your item regarding Peter Arkell and his operations over France with S.O.E.   But perhaps you did not know that with a colleague F/Lt George Turner DFC, later S/Ldr, he was sent to Burma to form "C" Flight, 357 S.D. Squadron.  I was sent later on to join "C" Flight from Calvely, arriving in Burma just after Peter had his accident and was sent home.  I believe that Peter is still alive or he was when last I spoke with another of our "Lizzie" mates living in Deal, Kent, a Ken Stamp.  We are probably the only Lysander bods left.  Peter died 2010.