Obituary: Gp Capt Peter Bryer

Gerald Mornington ('Peter') Bryer, sailor and aviator: born Southampton 1 December 1896; married 1934 Joan Grigsby (two sons); died Little Applemore, Hampshire 17 May 1994.

OLD MEN turn to genealogy. Peter Bryer constructed his of generations of ships, which from 1775 his family sailed out of the Solent. Initially packet-boats (one a revenue privateer) and latterly yachts, most were cutters, often distinguished by innovative rigs: for over two centuries since 1793 they have commonly been given the family name of Frisk.

Navigation was hereditary, but he was also born in Southampton in 1896 in time to catch the excitement of flying early; Bryer was the boy who clung to the tail of Louis Bleriot's plane while it gathered power to circle Salisbury Cathedral spire in 1912 (he got on better with Colonel Cody). From the Farman 'Longhorn' on which he first flew solo after an hour at Hendon, to the bulbous Catalinas and majestic Sunderlands he commanded in the Indian Ocean, Bryer could also have constructed a genealogy of the aircraft he flew. Most were maritime, often distinguished by innovative rigs which he pioneered. Early test pilots took their lives in their hands as regularly as a Formula One driver. Bryer crashed routinely.

After passing out from the Royal Naval College, Greenwich, in 1916, Lieutenant Bryer, RNAS, was posted to the Grand Fleet, which catapulted Sopwith Camels from the tops of gun turrets, whence there was no return other than ditching close to the ship before the aircraft sank. He was commissioned into the RAF, on its foundation on 1 April 1918, wearing its uniform in the sky blue originally ordered for Tsarist forces, by then surplus to their requirement, along with a King's Regulation excusing spurs in flying machines.

But the Great War was not over when Bryer escorted the German Fleet to Scapa Flow. Young pilots had designs of their own when HMS Argus was converted into a rudimentary aircraft carrier and Bryer was reputedly the first to make a deck landing without being killed when he tried it again. For developing an arrester hook he was awarded the Dunning Memorial Trophy, named after a less fortunate pilot. Churchill's and Lloyd George's political designs were less practical. In Russia General Wrangel was fighting an after-war. Bryer was awarded an early Air Force Cross for testing aircraft for the 'White' Russians. Some planes ended up in the Caspian after flights of great endurance.

Churchill's design of 1915 in Gallipoli was turned inside out in 1922. In an after-war the Allies were in Constantinople, holding a zone between Greeks and Turks, on paper from the Bosporus to the Dardanelles, until the Greeks were driven from Smyrna (Izmir) in September.

On the Trojan side of the straits British forces dug into Chanak (Canakkale), an indefensible position which led to the resignation of Lloyd George. On the Gallipoli side, where the trenches of 1915 were still raw, Bryer set up a tented seaplane station at Kilya where Fairey III D aircraft could be beached after their floats were punctured by 'Kemalist' rifle fire. Greek refugees from eastern Thrace had been replaced by Bulgar 'bandits' along the northern shore of the Sea of Marmara, who threatened one of Bryer's crashed pilots, whom he retrieved below the cliffs of Selymbrid (Silivri) on Christmas Day 1922, as his military OBE cites.

Between wars military services commonly shrink. Bryer chose to stay with the infant RAF; at Calshot on the Solent for the Schneider Cup in 1929 and from 1930 to 1934 with a squadron of Wapitis on the North-West Frontier of India, where he was Master of the Kohat Hounds. The economy of pacifying a village with a bomb from a biplane in Afghanistan or Kurdish country in Mesopotamia was then an argument for the effectiveness of the RAF.

From 1938 Bryer commanded Sunderlands: first in Singapore, before its fall to the Japanese, and from 1940 in Kogala, Ceylon (a lagoon which he found for his flying boats). Bryer then helped evacuate the Greek king and government, including George Seferis, to Alexandria after the fall of Crete in 1941.

In 1942 he was Senior Air Staff Officer of the Middle East Air Force in Jerusalem and from 1943 commanded 246 Wing at Port Reitz, near Mombasa, which embraced the Indian Ocean from the Nicobars to Madagascar. He returned to England to sail the 'windfall' of German Tall Ships from Hamburg across the mined North Sea and, from 1945, to direct Air-Sea Rescue.

For over 30 years Peter Bryer gave without question his sailing and flying skills to a series of British strategic and political mishaps, on which he had almost 50 years to reflect. But he had better things to do. On the North-West Frontier in 1934 he had read a sailing book by Joan Grigsby, whom he arranged to meet on furlough in Portsmouth harbour; the honeymoon was spent that November in a six- metre yacht in the North Sea. Peter Bryer designed, built and sailed two more ships, both called Frisk. A Tiger Moth flew over his funeral in the New Forest. He is survived by his widow and two sons.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are in need of a HR Manage...

h2 Recruit Ltd: Business Development Manager - HR Consultancy - £65,000 OTE

£35000 - £40000 per annum + £65,000 OTE: h2 Recruit Ltd: London, Birmingham, M...

Day In a Page

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'