Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

WWII fighter pilot dies aged 93

Wing Commander Peter Ayerst, pictured here with the Spitfire in 2005, has died at the age of 93

A wartime fighter pilot believed to be the last remaining survivor of the Battle of France has died at the age of 93.

Wing Commander Peter Ayerst, who died on May 15, spent eight years as a fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force throughout the Second World War, before retiring as a wing commander.

A spokesman for Shoreham Aircraft Museum, West Sussex, where Mr Ayerst attended memorial dedications and signing events, said he would be "greatly missed by members of the museum and all those who had the privilege to have spoken to him".

Mr Ayerst, from Beckenham, Kent, joined the RAF in 1938 on a short service commission and was despatched to France at the outbreak of war, a statement on the museum's Facebook page said.

He said: "Peter was a great friend of the museum for many years.... He will be greatly missed by members of the museum and all those who had the privilege to have spoken to him, and listened to his vivid recollections of his service."

The former pilot, who flew Hurricanes and Spitfires throughout that time, survived a confrontation with 27 Messerschmitt Me109s - German fighter aircrafts - with his Hurricane riddled with bullets, he spokesman said.

During the Battle of Britain he shot down the first of his eight kills, a Heinkel He111. After serving with fighter ace Douglas Bader, Mr Ayerst was posted to North Africa in 1942 where he was forced to crash-land his Hurricane in a mine field, he said.

He later led repeated attacks on enemy motor transport, personally destroying a Junkers Ju 52 and 17 vehicles, the spokesman said.

Mr Ayerst, who was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) in December 1944, flew Spitfires on intruder sorties over France before and during D-Day, on bomber escort duty against Germany's V-weapons sites and in support of mass daylight raids, he continued.

The pilot also worked at the Vickers Armstrong factory in Castle Bromwich, Birmingham, which produced up to 320 Spitfires and 30 Lancaster bombers a month.

Mr Ayerst retired from the RAF in April 1973 having flown his last aircraft, an English Electric Lightning XS459, landing at RAF Wattisham in Suffolk.

His time as a fighter pilot was captured in the book Spirit of the Blue, written by his friend Hugh Thomas.

In November 2005, Mr Ayerst was reunited with a Mark 22 Spitfire he had last flown 60 years ago.

Mr Ayerst's logbooks showed he had flown the aircraft - serial number PK 664 - while working as a test pilot.

The reunion took place after Mr Ayerst saw an item about the aircraft in an aviation magazine and took his logbooks with him when he went to see it at the Science Museum in London.

He said it was "thrilling" to see the plane again when it formed the centrepiece of the Inside the Spitfire exhibition.

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