Obituary: Gp Capt Peter Bryer
Friday 03 June 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.
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