• Mark Appleby

From New York to Europe via Montreal - remembered in Driffield

Updated: Feb 14, 2020

On a recent walk through Driffield Cemetery, among the CWGC headstones, one in particular stood out to me - and the young man commemorated on it was from somewhere rather unexpected.

Headstone of Sergeant George James Peck, Royal Canadian Air Force, in Driffield Cemetery
Sgt George James Peck RCAF

Sergeant George James Peck, 22, was a pilot with 214 (Federated Malay States) Squadron of the Royal Canadian Air Force. So far, not so unusual – as around 50,000 Canadians served with the RCAF and RAF in Bomber Command operations over occupied Europe in WWII.

What marked out Sgt Peck was his hometown – he was the son of George and Helen Peck, of Brooklyn, New York. He also had three elder sisters – Dorothy, Helen and Evelyn.

A little further digging by Mike Abbott, the Driffield Historical (Battlefields) Society’s resident historian, revealed that he was born in South Orange, New Jersey on January 10, 1920, and lived at 530 First Street, Brooklyn, working as a travel agent for a while – and as an office boy for United Artists Corporation - until enlisting with the RCAF at the YMCA in Drummond Street, Montreal.

Page from the Second World War Book of Remembrance at the Canadian War Memorial.

It seems he’d left the US and made his way to Canada with the specific aim of joining up. Apparently when he signed up on November 5, 1940, “on enlistment the deceased exhibited his birth certificate and that he declared his willingness to serve but took no oath of allegiance. No evidence of American citizenship was received.”

Sgt Peck sadly died when his aircraft, a Wellington bomber, crashed in the North Sea off Whitby, North Yorkshire, on 15 January, 1942, while returning to RAF Stradishall, Suffolk from a mission to bomb Hamburg, Germany.

214 Squadron Wellington bomber undergoing repairs at RAF Stradishall.
214 Sqn Wellington being repaired at RAF Stradishall. Pic: IWM

Sgt Peck’s crewmates included two Canadians, two Brits, and a New Zealander – the oldest being 27, the youngest only 20 years old. Only two bodies were recovered following the crash, the other - Flight Sergeant Edward Everett Hale - was buried at Thornaby on Tees Cemetery after being washed ashore near Redcar.

The crew of Wellington Mark I C R1759 BU-L consisted of:

  • Flight Sergeant William John Elder, R/65845, Royal Canadian Air Force. Canadian, aged 20.

  • Flight Sergeant Edward Everett Hale, R/58480, Pilot, Royal Canadian Air Force. Canadian, KIA 15 January 1942, Aged 25

  • Sergeant Arthur Lionel Lax, 741541, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. UK, aged 25.

  • Sergeant Joseph Barnby Myers, 947280, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve. UK, aged 27

  • Sergeant George James Peck, R/77370, Pilot, Royal Canadian Air Force. American, aged 22.

  • Pilot Officer Henry Joseph Woodrow, 403487, Navigator, Royal New Zealand Air Force. New Zealand, aged 27.

For more info, see also:

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