Murray Peden – A Thousand Shall Fall

“I consider it not only the best and most true to life ‘war’ book I’ve ever read about this war, but the best about all the wars of my lifetime”
-Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir Arthur Harris.

“…. Murray Peden’s A Thousand Shall Fall is, in my view, the best personal experience account of Bomber Command which I have ever seen. The author’s power of recall is astonishing and also extremely accurate. He conveys, in a completely authentic manner not only the activities of Bomber Command but the flavour of life for the air crews who served in it.

“Murray Peden is not only a first class eye witness of the events and experiences which he describes but he is also a most gifted writer whose language it is a joy to read.”
-Dr. Noble Frankland CBE DFC, Imperial War Museum.

“The best book any Canadian has written about his war experiences, and one of the best books about the war that has been written anywhere”
-The Canadian Historical Review

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Having completed a tour of operations as a Bomber Command pilot, being awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and receiving commendations from his superiors such as, “excellent leadership and brilliant flying when attacked by enemy aircraft,” “shown on all occasions outstanding leadership, courage and determination,” “a very efficient captain who, throughout his tour of operations, has inspired the greatest confidence,” and “fought a most successful engagement against determined enemy night fighter attacks, bringing his damaged aircraft, with wounded crewmembers, safely back,” Murray Peden had all the experience necessary to know what a wartime career as a bomber pilot was like. But what sets Murray apart is having the wonderful talent to be able to weave his wartime experiences into what is generally regarded as the finest book written by a Bomber Command pilot about the campaign. Our museum has always stocked and recommended his book, “A Thousand Shall Fall.”

Murray was one of thousands of young Canadians who were inspired to become pilots by the legendary Billy Bishop. His book opens with, “I saw Air Marshal William Avery Bishop only once -at a recruiting rally in the Winnipeg Auditorium in the spring of 1941. I was seventeen, impatiently awaiting my eighteenth birthday so that I could join up. My classmate at Gordon Bell High, Rod Dunphy, sat beside me, both of us exhilarated by the pugnacious speech of the short, stocky flyer who, at that moment, was the greatest fighter pilot alive, with a score of seventy-two confirmed victories.”

As Murray was learning to fly at No. 5 Elementary Flying Training School at High River, he came to know of the Town of Nanton, just 25 kilometres south of the school. In his book, he wrote of how he and his friend Francis Plate, “frequently managed to get solo sessions at the same time. We would enliven these by arranging to meet over some town in the aerobatics area -usually Nanton – where we would proceed to take turns topping the other’s performance. He liked to start the ball rolling by doing three or four loops in a row then flying alongside, taking his hands off the controls, and shaking them modestly over his head like the heavyweight champion of the world . . . I would hold my nose in disgust, dive into a slow roll and follow it with a stall turn, after which he would waggle his wings to claim the spotlight again and launch a new series of evolutions. After one of these sessions we would carefully separate before landing, approaching the field innocently from different directions.”

Murray completed his training flying Cessna Cranes at No. 10 SFTS at Dauphin, Manitoba, Airspeed Oxfords at an Advanced Flying Unit at Kidlington, and at No. 12 Operational Training Unit at Chipping Warden aboard Wellingtons. At No. 1657 Heavy conversion unit, he learned to fly the huge, four-engined Stirling and then, still only nineteen years old, he was ready for wartime operations.

Murray’s wartime flying included bombing operations in the Stirling with No. 214 Squadron as well as flights with No. 161 Squadron dropping arms, equipment, and supplies to the French Resistance. Later he flew B-17 Fortresses with No. 214 Squadron. These aircraft were crammed with newly developed, and secret, electronic devices. Murray recalled that, “We went to war without bombs but with Tinsel, ABC, Mandrel, Jostle and all the other countermeasures invented by the Telecommunications Research Establishment at Malvern. The crew included a “Special Wireless Operator,” a fluent German-speaking airman whose primary function was to tune his powerful jammer — code-named ‘Jostle’ — to the frequencies being used by the German night-fighter controllers and blot out their transmissions to their own questing night-fighters.”

No 214 Squadron RAF Fortress.

Murray’s closest call was when, after being heavily damaged by an Me 410 fighter that wounded two of the crew, he flew back to England with an engine on fire. The right main tire had been shredded and the Fortress swung off the runway upon landing, striking a Lancaster that had landed with a 12,000 pound bomb still on board. The Lanc was cut in half. Following his thirtieth operation, Murray was posted as an instructor and awarded the DFC.

Following the war, Murray attended the University of Manitoba where he graduated with a Law Degree and after some time in private practice, spent twenty years as Chairman of the Manitoba Securities Commission. In 1979 he had two books published, “Fall of an Arrow” which told the story of the Avro Arrow and, “A Thousand Shall Fall.” Shortly thereafter his third book was also published, an autobiographical work entitled “Hearken to the Evidence” recounting some of his experiences as a young Crown Attorney.

On several occasions, Murray combined a visit to his old aerodrome at High River with a tour of the museum. Many of us have been able to enjoy lunch with Murray during these visits and we treasure our autographed copies of, “A Thousand Shall Fall.”

During 2008, the museum acquired a Tiger Moth aircraft that was well on its way to being restored to flying condition. At a directors’ meeting, a motion was passed to honour Murray Peden by placing the markings of the aircraft that he soloed in at #5EFTS on the Tiger Moth. The reasons for requesting that Murray accept this honour included his connection to High River and Nanton, his wartime service with Bomber Command, his outstanding contribution to the historical record as the author of “A Thousand Shall Fall,” his long-standing support of our museum, and his tireless efforts to ensure that the efforts and sacrifices made by his fellow Bomber Command aircrew are properly portrayed to the Canadian public.

Murray’s response was, “This is a tribute I will never forget, I assure you; and I am absolutely delighted that you are inclined to make this gesture. Apart from the great distinction you thus confer on me, your actions, to my mind, mark a deeply satisfying recognition of the wartime service of so many other young men at No. 5 EFTS, High River, and I find that richly rewarding indeed.”