Peter Townsend (RAF officer)

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Peter Townsend
Royal Air Force Fighter Command, 1939-1945. CH89.jpg
Flight Lieutenant P W Townsend (left) with Flight Lieutenant Caesar Hull in 1940
Born Peter Wooldridge Townsend
22 November 1914
Rangoon, Burma
Died 19 June 1995(1995-06-19) (aged 80)
Rambouillet, France
Spouse(s) Rosemary Pawle
Marie-Luce Jamagne
Children Giles Townsend
Hugo Townsend
Isabelle Townsend (b. 1961)

Group Captain Peter Wooldridge Townsend, CVO, DSO, DFC and Bar, RAF (22 November 1914 – 19 June 1995) was Equerry to King George VI 1944–1952 and held the same position for Queen Elizabeth II 1952–1953. Group Captain Townsend is best known for his romance with Princess Margaret.

Early life[edit]

Peter Townsend was born 1914 in Rangoon, Burma, and was educated at Haileybury College.

Military career[edit]

Squadron Leader Townsend of No. 85 Squadron RAF exits his Hawker Hurricane at RAF Castle Camps, July 1940

He joined the Royal Air Force in 1933, and trained at Cranwell. He served in Training Command, and as a flying instructor at RAF Montrose. He was stationed at RAF Tangmere in 1937 and was a member of No. 43 Squadron RAF. The first enemy aircraft to crash on English soil during World War II fell victim to fighters from Acklington on 3 February 1940 when three Hurricanes of ‘B’ flight, 43 Squadron, shot down a Heinkel 111 of 4./KG26 near Whitby. The pilots were F/L Townsend, F/O ‘Tiger’ Folkes and Sgt. James Hallowes. He was awarded the DFC in April 1940. Two more He 111s were claimed by Townsend, on 22 February and 8 April, and a sixth share on 22 April. Enemy aircraft had been shot down in 1939 by the RAF from over Scotland's Scapa Flow shipyards during the Luftwaffe's first raid on Britain.[1]

By May 1940, Townsend was one of the most capable squadron leaders of the Battle of Britain, serving throughout the battle as CO of No. 85 Squadron RAF, flying Hawker Hurricanes. On 11 July 1940 Townsend, flying Hurricane VY-K (P2716) intercepted a Dornier Do 17 of KG 2 and severely damaged the bomber, forcing it to crash land at Arras. Return fire from the Dornier hit the Hurricane coolant system and Townsend was forced to ditch 20 miles from the English coast, being rescued by HM Trawler Cape Finisterre. On 31 August, during combat with Bf 110s over Tonbridge, Townsend was shot down and wounded in the left foot by a cannon shell which went through the glycol tank and exploded in the cockpit. He continued to lead the unit on the ground even after this wound resulted in his big toe being amputated, and he returned to operational flying on 21 September. A bar to his DFC was awarded in early September 1940.

He oversaw the conversion of 85 Squadron to night operations at RAF Hunsdon during early 1941. Awarded a DSO in April 1941, he later became Commanding Officer RAF Drew in April 1942 and commanded No. 611 Squadron RAF, a Spitfire unit.

Townsend was later leader of No. 605 Squadron RAF, a night fighter unit, and attended the staff college from October 1942. In January 1943, he was appointed Commanding Officer of RAF West Malling.

His wartime record was 9 aircraft claimed destroyed (and 2 shared), 2 'probables' and 4 damaged.

In 1944, he was appointed temporary equerry to King George VI. In the same year the appointment was made permanent, and he served until 1953, when he became Extra Equerry, an honorary office he held until his death. He was promoted Group Captain in 1948. In August 1950, he was made deputy Master of the Household and was moved to comptroller to the Queen Mother in 1952. He retired from the Royal Household in the next year, and was air attaché in Brussels 1953 to 1956.

Personal life[edit]

On 17 July 1941 Peter Townsend married (Cecil) Rosemary Pawle (1921–2004) with whom he had two sons, Giles (b. 1942) and Hugo (b. 1945). They divorced in 1952 and Rosemary later married John de László (son of the painter Philip de László) and became the third wife of the 5th Marquess Camden in 1978.

Townsend later married a Belgian woman, Marie-Luce Jamagne, in 1959.[2] Their daughter, Isabelle Townsend, became a Ralph Lauren advertising model in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Isabelle and her family live in a house in France named "The Mill," where the Duke and Duchess of Windsor once resided.[3]

Relationship with Princess Margaret[edit]

Group Captain Townsend is best known for his romance with Princess Margaret.[4] He had met the Princess in his role as an equerry to her father, King George VI. Despite his distinguished career, in the social atmosphere of the time, when divorced people suffered severe disapproval and could not remarry in the Church of England, Townsend had no chance of marriage with the princess unless she renounced her royal privileges. Their relationship caused enormous controversy around 1953. The Princess eventually renounced Townsend, who was sent to take up a post at the British Embassy in Belgium.

Although Princess Margaret later married photographer Anthony Armstrong-Jones in 1960, she herself divorced in 1978.

Later life[edit]

Peter Townsend spent much of his later years writing non-fiction books. His books include Earth My Friend (about driving/boating around the world alone in the mid-1950s), Duel of Eagles (about the Battle of Britain), The Odds Against Us (also known as Duel in the Dark) (about fighting Luftwaffe night bombers in 1940-1941), The Last Emperor (a biography of King George VI), The Girl in the White Ship (about a young refugee from Vietnam in the late 1970s who was the sole survivor of her ship of refugees), The Postman of Nagasaki (about the atomic bombing of Nagasaki), and Time and Chance (an autobiography). He also wrote many short articles and contributed to other books.

Peter Townsend was one of several military advisors for the film Battle of Britain (1969), and he also appeared in the PBS video, The Windsors: A Royal Family (1994).

Stele of the grave in the churchyard of Saint-Léger-en-Yvelines

He was a CVO (1947), DSO (1941) and DFC (1940 and bar). Townsend died of stomach cancer in 1995, at the age of 80, in Rambouillet, France. A sculpture of Group Captain Townsend stands in Townsend Square, part of the Kings Hill development on the site formerly occupied by RAF West Malling.[5]

His son Giles Townsend is President of the Cambridge Bomber and Fighter Society currently restoring a MK I Hawker Hurricane of No. 85 Squadron RAF and a Hawker Fury biplane of No. 43 Squadron RAF. His son Hugo Townsend is married to Yolande, Princess of Ligne.

References[edit]

  1. ^ http://ww2today.com/peter-townsend-shoots-down-the-first-enemy-plane-over-england
  2. ^ Gregory, Joseph R. (2 February 2002). "Princess Margaret Dies at 71; Sister of Queen Elizabeth Had a Troubled Life". The New York Times. Retrieved 1 July 2013. 
  3. ^ "Love Story," by Christopher Petkanas. VOGUE, October 2010, page 309.
  4. ^ Daily mail
  5. ^ http://www.rousekentpublicartaward.co.uk/khs_f.html

External links[edit]