Scots war hero and Chelsea Pensioner who served in the Army and the RAF

Born: February 18, 1915;

Died: December 29, 2017

DUNDEE-born Peter Carrie, who has died aged 102 as a Chelsea Pensioner, had the rare distinction of fighting the Second World War both for the Army and the RAF. He was believed to be the only Chelsea pensioner who had an RAF Bomber Command clasp on the famous scarlet uniform of Army veterans.

In 1934, aged 19, he had enlisted in the Army's Royal Tank Corps - the oldest tank unit in the world - and for the rest of the 1930s served in the North-West Frontier province of colonial British India (now a province of Pakistan) and the notorious Khyber Pass between Afghanistan and Pakistan as Britain fought local tribesmen. Carrie and his fellow soldiers nicknamed the North-West Frontier "The Grim."

Carrie's Royal Tank Corps - in Vickers tanks - were part of the so-called British-Indian Mohforce during a difficult campaign against Mohmand tribal marauders in the North-West Frontier in which the Mohforce took heavy casualties. Never having seen a tank, the local tribes had to invent a new word, translatable into English as "snakes that spit."

After the Second World War broke out, Carrie fought with the Tank Corps in France until he was badly wounded by shrapnel and was found almost covered by the dead bodies of his comrades. "He was like a pin cushion," according to his grandson Kerry, but was carried onto a ship during the 1940 Dunkirk evacuation and treated in a military hospital in England. It was through a personal letter from King George VI that his parents learned he was alive but seriously wounded.

The Army was forced to declare him unfit for further combat but after three years' recuperation and determined to continue in the war effort, he signed up for the RAF as a flight engineer with the rank of sergeant in 1943. He soon found out that flying in a Lancaster as part of RAF Bomber Command was at least as dangerous as fighting on the ground. "Flight engineer" may not sound as crucial as pilot but each of every Lancaster's eight-man crew was trained to save each other's life and get their plane home safely.

Sergeant Carrie's Lancasters were fired at by Nazi anti-aircraft guns during most of their almost-daily missions in 1945 against German troop positions, factories, munitions depots, bridges, shipping (by dropping mines) and railways while he served with RAF 75 (New Zealand) Squadron, the first Commonwealth Squadron to be formed by RAF Bomber Command. 75 (NZ) Squadron was one of the RAF squadrons which flew the most sorties, dropped the heaviest weight of bombs and suffered the most casualties of the war. Statistically, its airmen at the height of the war could expect to live for only six weeks. Its motto was the aboriginal phrase Ake Ake Kia Kaha, in English "Forever and ever be strong."

Almost all of the squadron pilots and crewmen were New Zealanders but Carrie and a few other Brits, including his friend the wireless operator Gordon Ford, were called in to help them get off the ground, stay in the air and get back to base in one piece. "The Kiwis came over to England but were short of men so I joined them," he explained. "They used to have drink sent over from home and after every mission we'd have a wee shot."

In 1945, and for the last six months of the war, Sergeant Carrie was assigned to the so-called Lukins' Crew of 75 (NZ) Squadron, during which he went through his hairiest scrapes. His Avro Lancaster bomber was piloted by Flight Officer Bernard Lukins and based at RAF Mepal, near Ely, Cambridgeshire. Their first bombing raid, in a Lancaster Mark 1 on February 18, 1945, Carrie's 30th birthday, was on the western German city of Wesel, the first of a series of bombing raids which destroyed 97 per cent of the city's structures and helped the allies in their vital push across the Rhine.

The following night, February 19, again en route to Wesel, Carrie's Lancaster suffered engine failure and was forced to jettison its massive bomb load in The Wash estuary off East Anglia to allow it to return to base and land safely. The Lukins' Crew were soon back in the air to bomb Gelsenkirchen, Dessau and Cologne during March 1945, allowing American troops to take the latter city a few days later. On March 11, Carrie's Lancaster, with the designation AA-J, was one of more than 1,000 allied aircraft to devastate the city of Essen with more than 4,600 tons of bombs. Again, it allowed allied forces to push forward towards Berlin.

On April 14/15, 1945, Sergeant Carrie's Lancaster, this time with the designation AA-A, took part in the air raids on Potsdam, within the Nazis' Berlin defence zone. It was the last wartime raid by a major Bomber Command Force on a German city and destroyed a key Nazi army barracks and a vital railway system. It was perhaps the last straw for Adolf Hitler, who committed suicide in his Berlin bunker two weeks later.

Announcing Sergeant Carrie's death, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Hillier, said: "The valour, the courage and commitment men like Sgt Carrie showed during WWII was just exceptional, in Bomber Command, in the mission that they did, and sustained throughout that war." It was only in 2014, shortly before Sergeant Carrie's 100th birthday, that Sir Stephen, after being informed of his history, pinned an RAF Bomber Command clasp on Carrie's Chelsea Pensioner uniform, a brevet which made him a rare, if not unique Second World War Army/RAF veteran. Until then, Sergeant Carrie had lived quietly among Army veterans without drawing attention to his RAF career.

Peter Stewart Carrie was born in Dundee. He died in the Royal Chelsea Hospital in London, long a care home for elderly servicemen and women. While still mobile, he was often photographed by tourists in his scarlet Chelsea Pensioners uniform and medals on ceremonial occasions. To most of those tourists, he was simply picturesque, a bit like a red telephone booth. Few, if any, realized he was an exceptional war hero. Apart from his grandson Kerry, no further details of any surviving family were immediately available.


With thanks to Simon Sommerville and