Peter Hood (1922-2021) – A Tribute

Picture taken in 1942

My dad, Peter Hood, passed away in 7 May. This post is a combination of text prepared by my brother, Barry, for an obituary that appeared in The Daily Telegraph (ironically appearing on the 80th anniversary of the sinking of HMS Hood) (the comments on the obituary have been particularly touching to read) and my own tribute that I gave at the funeral on 1 June.

Peter James Kendrick Hood, born on 2nd September 1922 at Orchard Cottage Broad Street Guildford, was one of the last remaining RAF pilots to have flown the Avro Lancaster in the Second World War.

He was educated at Woodbridge School Suffolk and at Cranleigh School in Surrey. In 1932 at the age of ten, while on holiday with the family at Shanklin, his birthday treat was a flight in a Biplane sitting on his father’s lap with his sister Jean.  That began the love of flying which led him at the age of 18 to join the RAF on 1st July 1941. On 29th September he made the eleven day crossing to Canada where the flight training began in Toronto before going to Alabama and Georgia to learn to fly. He loved flying learning first in Stearman Bi-planes with open cockpits with the instructor. He was playing a game of rugby on the air base on 7th December when the announcement of the bombing of Pearl Harbor was made and America entered the war.

He got his wings as a pilot and was selected to train the new recruits which continued for a year. Dad had many stories of flying to Canada sometimes being trapped there for days in the snow and flying down to New Orleans for a couple of days for the jazz.

Dad returned to England in May 1943 and after training on four engine planes he joined Bomber Command flying Lancasters. He was a pilot on many raids into enemy territory until 30th March 1944 when, on the Nuremburg raid the plane was hit (see my post on the Lancaster), the crew bailed out and were captured as POW. He was in Stalag Luft 1 until 1st May 1945 when liberated by the Russians and returned to England.

While in Toronto dad had met Eva, who came over after the war and they were married in 1946. They had three children, Barry, Susan and Marion.

Apart from flying, dad loved farming, and had spent many happy days on his sister and brother-in-law’s farm in the 1930s, which gave him a sense of freedom from the constraints of boarding school life. Dad knew that he did not want to become a civilian pilot after the war. He left the RAF and studied Agriculture at Reading University. After obtaining his degree, dad joined The Ministry of Agriculture as an area advisor visiting farms in Kent, Isle of Wight, Oxfordshire, Surrey and Shropshire.

Dad enjoyed motor racing and often went to Silverstone for the Saturday meetings and he was always particular about the best spot to see most of the racing. In 1957, we went to Aintree to watch the Grand Prix and stayed overnight in an estate car in the car park field. In the morning he cooked eggs and bacon on the primus stove, the best breakfast ever. The racing was great and in those days you could go everywhere. He stood next to Stirling Moss, who won the Grand Prix, in his Vanwall. Exciting but not as exciting as the drive through Aintree when overtaken by two Maserati’s and a Ferrari, the Grand Prix racing cars driving into town.

After a long illness Eva died in 1968. Peter later married Gill and in 1971 they had me.

At the time I was born, dad was not quite 49 years old. Now, I’m 50 and have a much better understanding of what it must have been like being my father at that age. Growing up, I never thought as my dad as old, at least not until he retired at 60 when I was still 11, but I can certainly understand now why he didn’t often feel like playing football with me.

Apparently, the first words I heard my dad speak, when he came to see my mother and I after I was born on 1 May, were ‘You do realise that today is labour day’. And so began my lessons in using puns and humour, which were further reinforced during with his own quips and being shown James Bond movies, Jaws, and Zulu. Musically, he taught me to love movie soundtracks, with a Night on a Bare Mountain being played most years on Halloween. Although I never gained the love for jazz and big band that he had, the tunes of Artie Shaw and Glenn Miller do strike a certain nostalgic chord from hearing them growing up.

I also grew up hearing about his exploits during World War 2. But there was no glorification of the events. Far from it. The discussions were much more about what happened in America – including pointing out the social injustices of a segregated life in Montgomery, Alabama, the routine of it all, and the context of the events. In fact, one of the stories I remember him discussing about his flying experiences in the USA was when he flew to and fro over a drive-in cinema, much to the annoyance of those trying to hear the cartoon’s sound in their cars below.

The experiences of his night flying during the war may have had a particular influence on my childhood which I have very fond memories of now. Every summer, and many Easter, holidays we would travel to the South of France, where we had an immobile home. In a time before cheap flights, this was done by car. My dad would drive through the night, stopping only to refuel and have some soup. Meanwhile, in an age when seat-belts were not compulsory, I would lie across the back of the car, watching him drive, watching the lorries go by, listening to music, or merely sleep. On the way back to Calais, the race would be on to try to catch an earlier ferry than booked on – the 730 miles being covered in as little as 10 hours at least once. I wonder how often he recalled being in the Lancaster cockpit during these night journeys.

As much as anything, when I think about dad now, I think about his hobbies – many of which he took up after retiring. He enjoyed walking – particularly the hills in Shropshire, such as the Caradoc. He took up chess, drove a boat, enjoyed dealing in shares, watching sports on TV, and enjoyed bird-watching. Of course, none of these were without certain incidents. There is not a remote control or computer that hasn’t been accused of some misdemeanour at some point. Tablets and other touch screens would be tested to their limits by the strength of his prod. And, as for the birds, it was selective – he kept some tennis balls for throwing at pigeons that dared to think about roosting around the house. As well as Formula 1, rugby was his sporting passion. Although supporting Exeter and England, it was the Welsh fans and rugby that he had a soft spot for – and that is the reason for the ‘Bread of Heaven’ hymn during the funeral – and I remember the tears in his eyes during the singing at matches I took him to in Cardiff.

In recent years, it has been great to see him interacting with my children, in the way that I know that he did, not only with his other grandchildren, but also, his children. Is there any of us who did not fall victim to his wandering hands at the dinner table, threatening to take bread or chips?

I know that I am not alone in remembering my dad as someone who touched lives in an understated and considered way without blowing his own trumpet.

Rest In Peace.

Photo taken in 2012

See also Favourite Poems – Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

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