No. 99 & 148 Squadron
FIRST GREEK FLIER IN CANADA
Peter Valachos was born in 1915 in Brantford, Ontario, Canada. He was the son of James Valachos, a pioneer of the local Greeks in Brantford, Ontario, having come to Canada in 1904. The couple also had three daughters, Evelyn (Coulos), Lillian (Roda), and Kathleen (Hawken), and two more sons, William and George. He established the Olympia Candy, a landmark of this city which up to 1953 was run by his sons and daughters. Two of his sons served with the Canadian Army, Peter with the Air Force and William with the Army. Peter prior to joining the RAF in 1938 he served in the Dufferin Rifles in Canada. Ηe was also a licensed pilot in Canada and the fact that he was Greek gave him relative publicity as can be seen below, in A Publisher Extra Newspaper dating September 14, 1938:
"From information received from the secretary of the Brant-Norfolk Aero Club, Brantford, Ontario, Canada, we learn that Peter J. Valachos, age 23, is perhaps the only Greek aviator in Canada. He is now in England where he joined the Royal Air Force on July 20th of the present year as an officer in that branch of the British service. The young aviator learned to fly at the Brant-Norfolk Aero Club in Canada. The Brant-Norfolk Aero Club of Canada is justly proud of the achievements of Mr. Valachos and the editor respectfully extends his congratulations to the Club and its enterprising graduate."
Peter was also a very popular character among his colleagues and a newspaper clipping from April 1938 refers to him and his travel to England to join RAF.
"Peter Valachos, well-known Brantford flyer, was tendered a farewell party last evening in the Coronation Room of the Brant Hotel, prior to his leaving for England, where he hopes to be able to enlist in the Royal Air Force. The dance was sponsored by a large number of his friends and more than 100 were in attendance. 'Pete', as he is popularly known, leaves Brantford on Sunday for New York from where he will sail for England on April 20. He will be accompanied by Major J. J. Hurley, President of the Brant-Norfolk Aero Club, of which Pete is a member, Leonard Baldwin, formerly of this City and now of Kitchener, and Cecil Richardson, a director of the local aero club. The three companions on the trip were among the guests at the dance. During the evening the guest of honor was presented with a gladstone traveling bag by the female members of the party and with a wardrobe trunk by the men's friends of the party. The music for the dance was supplied by Archie Gray and his Orchestra. Pete has a fine flying record at the local Club with more than 70 hours of flying time to his credit. He has his private pilot's license and has passed~three of the four tests for his commerce license. Upon his arrival in England, he intends to make an application to enlist in the R. A. F. and hopes to be accepted."
However, to enlist RAF needed also some recommendations. His old headmaster Dr. A .M Overholt of the Brantford Collegiate Institute and Vocational School strongly recommended Valachos candidature and Pete was one step closer to achieving his goal, something which finally managed.
ENTER ROYAL AIR FORCE (RAF) BOMBER COMMAND
So far we are not aware of his training, however, we do know from photographs that during his operational training he flew the Handley Page H.P.54 Harrow bomber. He arrived at No.99 Squadron on 11th July 1940 which was the first unit equipped with the Vickers Wellington bomber. As a Flying Officer was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) for service with 99 Squadron on 11th February 1941 although he had already transferred to No.214 Squadron on 12th December 1940. Almost immediately retransferred to No.148 Squadron and flew missions against axis targets in Italy and North Africa, from Luca, Malta. His actions in the No.99 Squadron frequently covered North America and Canada newspapers. According to The Wilkes-Barre Record, Pennsylvania Thursday, October 31, 1940.
"Adventure in plenty has come to Flying Officer Peter Valachos of Brantford, he reveals in letters home. Flying an RAF bomber, on one occasion his gunner became ill. He returned to the base, picked up another gunner, and carried on to drop his eggs on Berlin. Returning from another raid, he was forced đown in a fog and in pitch blackness, landing in rough country. Damage was confined to one wing. We may get reprimanded, but we consider ourselves lucky, he wrote. The next night he was in the air again."
True in the article above, on 20th November 1940 Valachos and his crew, force landed Wellington R3203 when returning from an operational flight near Jerusalem Farm, Halsham, east of Hull. The aircraft sustained Cat. R(b) damage. The aircraft was returning back to its home base in Newmarket because of an electrical failure. Later that month it was dismantled and removed by road for repair to V.A. Ltd. at Weybridge and the crew escaped injury. Usually, the Canadian pilots and crews lived in houses and motels together and enjoyed the hospitality of their British owners who were very proud of them and their contribution to the war effort. Mrs. Lady Howe was one of those British who opened her house in Cavenham Park, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, and took care of many young Canadians, including Peter. She sent a letter to the Greek Canadian family back in Brantford which was published in an unknown newspaper. From her letter, we are able to get a good look at how these men spend their time between the missions over Axis-held Europe.
"Peter is a great friend of ours and often comes here with his other friends for tea, dinner and sometimes to spend the night. After dinner, they retire to the billiard room, and there enjoy several games before I send them off to bed early. They enjoy (whenever they can) a good night’s sleep, and it's wonderful what it does for them. I'm pleased to be able to tell you that Peter is fit and well and often is the life of the party. He often tells me how much he adores his job and says he wouldn't trade it for any other. But what I want you especially to know is that Peter has an English home and an English mother until he gets safely back to you again and if I can help him in any other way, please let me know. I'm doing the best I can for your boy. We all feel so tremendously bucked up and full of confidence in a victorious - and we hope an early - peace with honor."
Peter J. Valachos as an RAF Officer (Left) and as a young high school student (Right).
Peter poses in front of an airplane belonging to the Brant-Norfolk Aero Club, Brantford, Ontario, Canada, 1938. According to Publisher Extra Newspaper perhaps he was the only Greek aviator in Canada. (Jamie Coulos)
Peter and his crew during his operational training, pose in front of a Handley Page H.P.54 Harrow bomber of No.75 Squadron. (Jamie Coulos)
The Greek Canadian pilot on the co-pilot's seat of a Short S.25 Sunderland flying boat probably while based in England. (Jamie Coulos)
Wellington T2825 (BS-V) was one of the bombers Peter Valachos DFC might fly while based in Luca Malta during January 1941. The bomber belonged to the B Flight while the Greek Canadian pilot flew with A Flight. For some unknown reason, the Squadron ORBs don’t mention the serials as well as the individual aircraft letter for all the bombers operating from A Flight. No.148 Squadron flew missions against targets in Sicily, North Africa, and Greece. When Luftwaffe targeted Malta the Squadron almost wiped out. During the period (31t October 1940 and 28 February 1941 ) the Wellington Detachment/No. 148 Squadron had seven men killed, eleven wounded and nineteen missing in action. Six Wellingtons had been lost on operations (four due to enemy action and two in accidents), and three destroyed on the ground. (Copyright Bertrand Brown)
The Award of the DFC didn't go unnoticed by the newspapers and in the February 10, 1941 issue of The Gazette it is written not only the announcement of the DFC but also the wish of the Canadian-born Greek to fight for the land of his fathers.
"Flying Officer Peter John Valachos, 25-year-old Greek-Canadian whose award of the Distinguished Flying Cross was announced in London yesterday, recently wrote to his father here that he hoped soon to have a chance to fight on behalf of the "land of his fathers." He said in a New Year's greeting that he was stationed at Malta."
Pete flew a total of 26 missions with 99 Sqn (6 as Co-pilot) before flying again operationally with 148 Sqn. Unfortunately, the citation for his DFC is not known although some newspapers reported an unbelievable event claiming that this was the reason for the Greek Canadian pilot obtaining his precious award. According to another newspaper:
"Word that Flt. Lt. Valachos had received the award of the Distinguished Flying Cross in February 1941 but it was not until July of last year that details of the heroic incident that resulted in the high honor were revealed. He attacked, over the English Channel, a formation of five Nazi bombers and succeeded in destroying three of them."
There is not such an incident reported in the 99 Sqn Operational Record Books. It is believed that the DFC was awarded for the successful completion of 25 missions over enemy territory.
MALTA & GREECE
As noted the then P/O Valachos transferred on 10 December 1942 to 214 Squadron however he never showed up, instead he was re-posted to the 148 Squadron flying from Luca, Malta. He flew his first mission during December hoping that one day he would also fly missions over Greece. During his days in Malta Valachos flew some memorable raids. On 8 January 1941, No.148 Squadron was ordered to strike the Italian Fleet in Naples and achieved direct hits on a battleship as well as other ships inside the harbor. The raid was reported on Italian radio. Four days later they bombed the airfield in Catania and achieved the destruction of three Ju 88 and four He111 while they damaged one He 111, one Ju52, and one three-motor Italian transport and an undefined number of further Italian airplanes. They also destroyed one hangar, the HQ administrative building. These numbers were confirmed by a number of Italian prisoners and for their success, the HQ Med sent a congrats telegram on 23 January. The raid wasn't without losses as one Wellington was shot down and one more damaged. While at Malta he experienced the cruelty of the initial Luftwaffe raids on the island which for January 1941 were 51. Despite the danger, those on the ground watched with fascination as the attacks developed. Valachos was heard to say:
"A two million dollar show and we can't sell a seat!"
Peter Valachos flew 9 missions with 148 sqn logging a total of 35 missions.
After his service in Malta for a month, actually a very intensive month, he disappears from the records and there is no mention of him in personnel transfers or losses. He appears again in Crete serving in Allied HQ as an RAF attaché. In Christopher Shores book Air War for Yugoslavia Greece and Crete, it is mentioned:
"RAF Heraklion, Crete, Headquarters Staff captured, including F/L P.J. Valachos DFC MiD RAF (Can.), a 99 Squadron Wellington pilot who had been assigned to Heraklion as he was fluent in Greek."
First reports that Valachos was a prisoner of war came July 10 when the Brantford branch of the Canadian Red Cross said the 25-year-old flier was a prisoner in Athens, Greece. The Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, October 31, 1940 issue writes:
"Flying Officer Valachos Again Is Nazi Prisoner. Flying Officer Peter Valachos, who ironically was held prisoner in Greece, his homeland, after being shot down in the Battle of Crete, now is confined to a prison camp in Germany. The fate of the pilot, who was one of the first Canadian aviators to cross the Atlantic when Britain entered the war, was learned here by his uncle, Steve Valachos."
Peter proudly shows his DFC to his RAF colleagues after the award ceremony in Buckingham Palace. (Jamie Coulos)
The Royal Notification regarding Peters distinguished service, signed by the Secretary of Air, Sir Archibald Sinclair. (Jamie Coulos)
Left: F/O Valachos standing far right, along with his crew, in front of a No.99 Squadron Wellington (LN-V), in Newmarket, Suffolk, in September 1940. (Jamie Coulos). Right: Wellington Dispersal by Michael Turner is a great painting tributing the men of No.99 Squadron during their early fighting over Europe during 1940. Ground crews prepare Wellington bombers on their snow-covered airfield at Waterbeach during the bitter winter of 1940. (https://www.aviationartprints.com)
However, in another newspaper article, it is noted that prior to his imprisonment and his service with No.148 Squadron, before becoming an attache in Crete he trained Greek fliers in the Middle East, something that can not be verified so far.
On June 29, 1943, the King George II of Greece visited Montreal, and Valachos parents formally presented in front of him, 40 years after they left Greece to immigrate to Canada. The honor was the result of the heroism Peter showed during his flying career. As a prisoner, he was able to send some letters to his family through the Red Cross. In one of those letters, he mentioned that he moved to different prison camps quite often, one of those being in Poland. According to some newspapers and photos, some of the prisoner camps mentioned are Oflag XXI-B in Poland in which Peter held for sure during November 1942, and the Stalag Luft III in Germany where he was held during 1943. During his stay in the latter prisoner of war camp, he asked his friends to send him golf balls, badminton equipment, and shoes. He also wanted phonograph records, so some of Irving Berlin’s choices were sent. However, the Germans refused all of Irving's discs. You‘d think the name Berlin would appeal. It must also be noted that many sources over the web claimed wrongly that he was taken as a prisoner on the 31st of July after he was shot down over Crete. As a PoW, he relinquished his RAF Commission on 24th November 1944 on appointment to the RCAF.
After repatriation, he returned to Canada and joined the Royal Canadian Artillery from 1953-1959. He worked for the Ontario Government in the Ministry of Industry and Tourism for 20 years. Peter was a member of the Air Force Club, the Probus Club, Brantford Rotary Club, Royal Canadian Military Institute in Toronto, Brantford Golf and Country Club, and the Brantford Club. He died in Brantford General Hospital at age 86.
The Royal Hellenic Government medal for the Greek Campaign 1940-41 was awarded to Peter J. Valachos because of his participation in the Battle of Crete. From the time Greece entered the war, Peter expressed his will to fight for his fatherland in any way he could. That's why he left England and asked to transfer to Malta which was closer to Greece. (Jamie Coulos)
A group of RAF and RCAF Officers posed in Stalag Luft III in Germany in 1943, while they were Prisoners Of War (POW). Peter J. Vlachos DFC, kneels far right, having a mustache on his face. It is known that except in Germany, Peter was also held as a POW in Oflag XXI-B in Poland. (Jamie Coulos)
A Wellington bomber from No.148 Squadron during rearming and refueling before another mission from Malta, against North Africa or Greece. Peter flew some daring missions against Axis shipping and installations during his almost a month of service with the No.148 Squadron. (Jamie Coulos)
An official RAF document reporting Valachos state as a POW and a letter from the Canada House to his father, expressing their sympathy to his family at the time when Peter was still missing. Valachos smiles for the camera during his elder days. (Jamie Coulos)
PETER J. VALACHOS COMBAT MISSIONS
SERIAL & NOSEART
|1||99||23/24 - 07 - 1940||5:00||Wellington IC, R3210||Germany & Holland|
|2||99||29/30 - 07 - 1940||6:00||Wellington IC, P9277||Germany|
|3||99||01/02 - 08 - 1940||5:00||Wellington IC, P9277||Germany|
|4||99||05/06 - 08 - 1940||6:00||Wellington IC, P9277||Germany|
|5||99||13/14 - 08 - 1940||4:30||Wellington IC, P9277||Germany|
|6||99||16/17 - 08 - 1940||6:30||Wellington IC, P9277||Germany|
|7||99||23/24 - 08 - 1940||5:30||Wellington IC, P9277||Germany|
|8||99||28/29 - 08 - 1940||5:00||Wellington I, L7804||Germany|
|9||99||30/31 - 08 - 1940||6:00||Wellington I, L7804||Germany|
|10||99||05/06 - 09 - 1940||6:00||Wellington IC, X3217||Germany|
|11||99||08/09 - 09 - 1940||4:30||Wellington IC, R3203||Germany|
|12||99||11/12 - 09 - 1940||5:30||Wellington IC, T2541||Ostende, Belgium|
|13||99||15/16 - 09 - 1940||4:00||Wellington IC, N2768||Germany|
|14||99||21/22 - 09 - 1940||3:30||Wellington IC, N2766||Germany|
|15||99||25/26 - 09 - 1940||4:00||Wellington IC, N2768||Lunen & Haltern Germany|
|16||99||28/29 - 09 - 1940||6:30||Wellington IC, N2768||Darmstand, Germany|
|17||99||09/10 - 10 - 1940||5:00||Wellington IC, N2768||Germany|
|18||99||13/14 - 10 - 1940||6:00||Wellington IC, N2768||Germany|
|19||99||20/21 - 10 - 1940||5:00||Wellington IC, N2768||Germany|
|20||99||01/02 - 11 -1940||-||Wellington IC, N2768||Germany|
|21||99||06/07 - 11 -1940||-||Wellington IC, N2768||Germany (Abandoned)|
|22||99||08/09 - 11 -1940||-||Wellington IC, N2768||Germany|
|23||99||13/14 - 11 -1940||-||Wellington IC, N2768||Germany|
|24||99||15/16 - 11 -1940||-||Wellington IC, N2768||Germany|
|25||99||17/18 - 11 -1940||-||Wellington I, L7847||Germany|
|26||99||19/20 - 11 -1940||-||Wellington IC, R3203||Germany|
|27||99||25/26 - 11 -1940||-||Wellington IC, N2767||Germany|
|28||99||28/29 - 11 -1940||-||Wellington IC, N2768||Germany|
|29||148||30 - 12 - 1940||7:00||Wellington IC||Naples & Taranto, Italy|
|30||148||01 - 01 - 1941||4:06||Wellington IC||Tripoli, Libya|
|31||148||05 - 01 - 1941||3:35||Wellington IC||Tripoli, Libya (Abandoned)|
|32||148||08 - 01 - 1941||4:28||Wellington IC||Naples, Italy|
|33||148||12 - 01 - 1941||2:35||Wellington IC||Catania, Italy|
|34||148||20 - 01 - 1941||2:17||Wellington IC||Catania, Italy|
|35||148||22 - 01 - 1941||2:14||Wellington IC||Catania & Cameso, Italy|
|36||148||27 - 01 - 1941||4:58||Wellington IC||Naples, Italy|
|37||148||31 - 01 - 1941||3:21||Wellington IC||Tripoli, Libya|
Dimitris Vassilopoulos correspondence with Jamie Coulos
No.99 Squadron Operational Record Books
No.214 Squadron Operational Record Books
No.148 Squadron Operational Record Books
Air War for Yugoslavia, Greece and Crete 1940-41, Christopher Shores, Brian Cull, Nicola Malizia, Grub Street Publishing, 2008, isbn: 978-0948817076
Malta: The Hurricane Years 1940-41, Christopher Shores, Brian Cull, Nicola Malizia, Grub Street Publishing, 1987, isbn:978-0948817069
The Royal Canadian Air Force, Summer 2018, Volume 7, no.3 issue
The Windsor Star, Tuesday, May 10, 1938 issue
Pensacola News Journal, Wednesday, September 14, 1938 issue
The Leader-Post, Tuesday, October 1, 1940 issue
The Wilkes Barre Record, Thursday, October 31, 1940 issue
The Gazette, Monday, February 10, 1941 issue
Star Phoenix Wednesday, September 24, 1941 issue
The Windsor Star, September 24, 1941 issue
Press and Sun-Bulletin, Thursday, February 19, 1942
The Ottawa Journal, Wednesday, March 10, 1943 issue
The Ottawa Journal, Wednesday, March 17, 1943 issue
The Philadelphia Inquirer, Friday, January 5, 1945 issue
Star-Gazette, Thursday, January 11, 1945 issue
The Province, Thursday, March 28, 2002 issue
Special Thanks to Jamie Coulos, nephew of Peter John Valachos.