Wednesday 11 January 2017

Peake Pasha Takes to the Air

From 1921 to 1939, the principal British military officer in Transjordan was Colonel C. F. Peake - Peake Pasha. Peake had founded the Arab Legion and been responsible for establishing small detachments throughout the country. In a land in which roads were only just beginning to be constructed for the growing number of motor vehicles, travel on land could be slow and visits of inspection slower still given that so many Arab Legion posts were in remote places.

Peake was normally based in Amman – his house now the art gallery called Darat al-Funun and his garden the restored remains of the ruined Church of St George. Not far off – though rather more than the ‘short mile’ his biographer claims (actually 2.5 miles straight line) was the ‘big RAF aerodrome at Amman’, now Marka, Amman’s domestic airport, home of the Royal Jordanian Air Force and the base from which our Aerial Archaeology in Jordan operates.

In 1930, Peake – who had seen some service with the RFC at Salonika during the war, decided to learn to fly. Then aged 47, he bought a Tiger Moth and arranged for the 26 year-old Roger Atcherley, one of the pilots at RAF Amman, to teach him. It very nearly ended in tragedy, twice in the same afternoon.
On the second day of his instruction the dual-control machine in which they were flying plunged suddenly earthward, hit the ground obliquely with a resounding bump and careered across the aerodrome in a series of enormous bounds, like a gazelle in full stride. When the plane had finally come to rest well outside the boundary of the landing-ground, Atcherley turned to Peake in the seat behind him.
“What do you think you're playing at?" he said peevishly. “It's no earthly use your going on learning if you can't do better than that!"
"Better than what?" asked the astonished Peake. "I wasn't doing anything. You were in control. You never told me to take over and land the thing."
It transpired the communication tube was defective, Peake had not heard Atcherley tell him to take the controls.

Undeterred they had tea in the mess and set off again:
"I'll take her up for you,"' said Atcherley, "and get her in position for landing. Then you take over and bring her down."
When they had climbed to about forty feet, Atcherley turned round and waved a stick at his pupil, who, thinking this was merely a cheery gesture of "All's right with the world," was about to wave back when the plane disconcertingly dipped its nose, and next instant crashed into the ground, shearing off its under-carriage and smashing one wing, whilst an ominous plume of black smoke ascended from the engine.
Atcherley jumped out immediately, but Peake, who was badly winded  remained in his seat.
"What on earth have you done now ?" he gasped.
"I think you'd better get out before we discuss that,” said Atcherley, "the plane's on fire !"
Peake had just got clear when the whole machine burst into flames and in a short time was utterly destroyed. The explanation of the was that this joy-stick had become detached from its fittings, leaving Atcherley helpless to control the machine, whereupon, being debarred verbal communication owing to the defective tube, he had waved the stick in Peake's face to show him what had happened and warn him to take over. Peake, however, in his innocence, had failed to recognize the stick as an integral part of the machine (he thought it was a cane which Atcherley habitually carried), and had taken no action.
Despite four broken ribs, Peake bought a replacement aircraft, learned to fly and henceforth dropped in regularly on his outposts – to the discomfort of the legionaries who did not like such short notice of an inspection or that his elevated view as he arrived enabled him to see things not tidied away properly.
RAF Amman in late 1930s (APAAME_1936-39_RAF_JWHodson-0001)

Peake remained in Jordan till 1939, retiring as a Major-General of the Amir’s army, and lived to 1970 (aged 83). Atcherley was to die aged 66 just 3 weeks later but by that time he had been knighted and risen to the rank of Air Marshal.

C. S. Jarvis, Arab Command. The Biography of Lieutenant Colonel F. G. Peake Pasha, CMG, CBE, London, 1942: 135-6