OBITUARY: AIR MARSHAL SIR PETER WYKEHAM

Peter Wykeham was one of those very rare men who combined outstanding courage and performance in the air with considerable intellectual and cultural depth.

He joined the Royal Air Force as an aircraft apprentice in 1932 and three years later took a cadetship to the RAF college at Cranwell, graduating in 1937 to No 80 Fighter Squadron. Until a change by deed poll in 1955 his surname was Wykeham-Barnes - the name under which his wartime reputation was gained.

On posting again to fighters in the Western Desert, he was the first pilot of his squadron to engage the enemy and the first to be shot down and to return on foot. This time he insisted on being included immediately in the squadron's next operation, although suffering from a bullet lodged in a most awkward part of his anatomy. He was awarded the DFC in November 1940 and a bar to it in 1941 when leading 73 Squadron in defence of Tobruk from within the boundaries of that fortress.

A DSO followed in 1943 for leading offensive operations in the Italian theatre and later he took command of No 140 (Mosquito) Wing in No 2 group. As such he led the legendary 24-Mosquito raid on the Gestapo headquarters at Aarhus in Denmark for which was awarded a bar to his DSO.

During these years he was also awarded a number of high foreign decorations and was three times mentioned in dispatches. Nor was this to be the sum of his flying achievements. After taking the RAF Staff College course in 1945 he was sent to the Experimental Establishment at Farnborough where as a test pilot he played a vital part in flying and evaluating the early and often dangerous generations of jet-engined aircraft. For this he was awarded the Air Force Cross. Shortly afterwards an approach came from the United States Air Force in Korea which was experiencing difficulty in developing Fighter Intruder attacks, particularly at night.

Wykeham's leadership and development of low-level tactics in aircraft not ideally suited to the job were perhaps best illustrated by the comment of one of his American air crew: "Damned if I am going to fly with that crazy English commander again - he's gonna kill us all." Wykeham was among the first Britons to be decorated in the Korean war.

He then progressed through various command and staff appointments and promotions during which his reputation as a military thinker, particularly on joint service operations, developed steadily.

Wykeham generated both loyalty and affection among those with whom he worked. An army colonel at the time said: "How can you help giving your best to a man who opens his daily conferences with the words `Good morning dear friends'."

At this stage Wykeham's capacity as an author was emerging. He was commissioned to write the highly successful history of Fighter Command in 1960 and followed this in 1962 with a private venture on Santos-Dumont, the pioneer balloonist, a subject which always fascinated him.

In 1949 he married Barbara, daughter of J.B. Priestley, and they had a large and most happy family. Like her father, Barbara holds strong and individual and socialist views and Wykeham shared them.

In many ways he was a nonconformist. During the days of the Aldermaston Marches Barbara was often to be seen wheeling one or more of her offspring on the final lap to Trafalgar Square, where she would often be joined by her husband, then an Air Vice-Marshal.

In 1964 he took command of the Far East Air Force, a command which coincided with the minor war or "confrontation" against the Indonesians. He was able to put into practice his theories of the use of air power and the importance of inter-service co-operation, thus contributing critically to a victory which was not only comprehensive but very cheap on casualties. In 1967 he returned home to be deputy chief of the Air Staff; but in 1969 retired prematurely from the Royal Air Force.

The circumstances of that retirement are known to few people. Suffice it to say that they reflected no discredit at all on Peter Wykeham himself; that the political bureaucracy responsible had much to be ashamed of; and that his departure was a very real blow to the defence of the country and to the Service to which he was devoted.

His later life was dedicated largely to his close-knit and supportive family and to interests in the civil aviation industry. He remained an active and expert pilot almost to the end, an end accelerated by a cruel and painful illness which he bore with his usual courage and cheerfulness.

Christopher Foxley-Norris

Peter Wykeham-Barnes (Wykeham), air force officer: born 1 September 1915; served with fighter squadrons 1937-43; DFC 1940, Bar 1941; DSO 1943, Bar 1944; commanded fighter sectors and wings 1943-45; Air Ministry 1946-48; Test Pilot 1948-51; OBE 1949; AFC 1951; seconded to US Air Force, Korea 1950; commanded fighter stations 1951-53; Nato 1953-56; staff appointments 1956-59; AOC No 38 Gp, RAF 1960-62; CB 1961; Director, Joint Warfare Staff, Ministry of Defence 1962-64; Commander, Far East Air Force 1964-66; KCB 1965; Deputy Chief of Air Staff 1967-69; married 1949 Barbara Priestley (two sons, one daughter); died Stockbridge, Hampshire 23 February 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £50,000

£40000 - £50000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager - West London - £...

Recruitment Genius: Recruitment & HR Administrator

£17000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Guru Careers: HR Manager / HR Business Partner

£55 - 65k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: A HR Manager / HR Business Partner i...

Recruitment Genius: Senior HR Assistant

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Company's vision is to be t...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'