Birkett Peter Pte 4455593
Name Birkett Peter
Army number 4455593
Date of birth
Unit Durham Light Infantry, T, no enlistment date, but probably mid-May 1939. Posted 9th Bn DLI. Posted 12th Bn DLI 1/9/1939. Trf Black Watch 1/2/1940, Posted 1 TS, Posted 5th Bn Black Watch August 1944. Class Z Army Reserve 19/8/46.
Platoon or other sub-unit
Task or role
Prisoner of War
Died/Killed in action 30/7/2012
Home address 12, Cronnewell Row, Hamsterley Colliery, Newcastle
Source table 1TS
The obituary for Peter Birkett appeared in the Regimental Journal - the Red Hackle - and is reproduced below with the kind permission of the Tyneside Scottish Association:-
Peter Birkett 1st Tyneside Scottish and 5th Battalion The Black Watch died on 30th July 2012 aged 91 years.
HMS Greyhound lay offshore and there seemed little chance of reaching her, hundreds, indeed thousands of men were waiting to be picked up by the small craft which were working the inshore waters.
It had started on 2nd May 1939, when a young Peter Birkett came to the surface at Hamsterly Colliery in County Durham, at the end of his shift. “Birkett, report to the Gateshead School Hall at seven o’clock tonight.” he heard shouted. “OK Charlie” he shouted back “Sergeant to you Birkett.” He was in the 9th Battalion the Durham Light Infantry of the Territorial Army. By a quirk of fate, in September 1939 this unit spawned the 12th Battalion DLI (TA), which metamorphosed into the 1st Battalion Tyneside Scottish, The Black Watch (RHR) and with two rattles on the drum they were in France in April 1940.
After a bit of a “Cooks Tour” via ARRAS and FICHEUX, where an ill-equipped and largely unknown Tyneside Scottish managed to hold up a largely unknown Erwin Rommel and his tanks for a period of several hours armed with little more than rifles, bayonets and bloody mindedness. The remnants of the Tyneside Scottish then made their way to Dunkirk. The 19 year old Peter decided to swim out to Greyhound. Somehow, he made it and was hauled on board.
Having landed back in the UK and ticked the appropriate box on the officially provided post card, Peter was eventually reunited with the remains of his Battalion. Of nearly 700 men, 180 were dead, 400 were POW’s and between 110 and 140 had made it back to British shores. Eventually, re-equipped and reinforced, mainly from the Black Watch, the Battalion went to Iceland where they remained until December 1941. Returning to Wales on Christmas day, the Tyneside Jocks got down to serious fitness training.
It was here that Lieutenant Colonel A J H Cassels took command of the Battalion. He would end his career as a Field Marshal and left an indelible mark on the men of the Tyneside Scottish.
June 12th 1944 saw the Battalion returned to France and on 1st July the Germans made a determined attempt to breach the British line at Rauray, just south of Caen. As luck would have it, they had chosen the hinge between the 49th and 15th Divisions, a position held by the 1st Battalion the Tyneside Scottish. The attack failed and the enemy lost over 30 AFV’s. Peter was serving in the Intelligence Section. General Montgomery said of the battle of Rauray, “............... The depleted Tyneside Scottish stood firm against the two Panzer Divisions. Had the Germans reached the beaches, the war would have been over.”
Peter moved into the Caen sector and apart from the shelling, complained mainly about the mosquitoes which were annoying most of the lads. On 15th to 18th August, the Tyneside Scottish made its last assault in Normandy on Mezidon-Canon. The Battalion was broken up at the end of August with the Tyneside Jocks going mainly to the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders and 5th Black Watch. The 5BW would be Peter’s home until the end of the war. With this Battalion, he would help in the capture of Le Havre; move into Holland; have to get out in a hurry when the dykes were blown by the Germans and then, enjoy a short leave in Antwerp where two of his comrades were killed by a flying bomb. Late December and early January saw the Battalion involved in the Ardennes. “We were going east as the Americans were going west,” he said.
On 22nd March he did a reconnaissance of the Rhine crossing area with the CO and on his return to the Battalion was sent on UK leave, returning in early April. After that, it was steady progress north and a victory parade in Bremerhaven. (He made it sound easy).
Upon discharge in August 1946, Peter started to court the young lady next door and married Nina on Christmas Eve 1949. They would remain married for the rest of his life, a period of 63 years. Peter had not wanted to return to the mine, however, he needed a job to make headway with Nina and determined to make the best he could of matters. He studied and passed his Colliery Deputies examination, becoming an Overman. As the coalfields shrank, he became a Deputy responsible for the salvage of equipment from closing collieries in the Durham area.
After retirement, Peter busied himself working with the WVS on their meals on wheels project and was also involved, along with Nina, in the transport of underprivileged children to and from holiday accommodation in various locations.
Peter leaves his widow, Nina, two children, Colin and Nina, grandchildren Mark; Garry; Ian and Adam and a great-grandchild Aaron. They should take comfort in knowing that Peter was loved and respected by all who knew him and it is no chance thing that friendships made with those who he helped to liberate during the war, both French and Dutch, have endured until the present day. The Branch has lost it’s historian and a stalwart member. He will be remembered by us all.