Captain Peter Fleming
Researched by Bill Ashby, CART's Coleshill Information Officer. firstname.lastname@example.org
Page last updated at 2:53pm
||31 May 1907, London.
||Valentine Fleming MP and Evelyn Beatrice Sainte Croix Rose. Married 15
||Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford.
||29/11/1930 Grenadier Guards.
Peter Fleming 1940
||Died 18th August 1971 Black Mount, Scotland.
Family & Pre War
Peter Fleming was one of four sons of the barrister and MP Valentine Fleming, who was killed in
action in 1917, having served as MP for Henley from 1910. Peter's younger brother was Ian Fleming, author of the James Bond books.
Fleming was educated at Eton College, where he edited the Eton College Chronicle. The Peter
Fleming Owl is still awarded every year to the best contributor to the Chronicle.
He went on from Eton to Christ Church, Oxford, and graduated with a first-class degree in
English. In 1932 he fell in love with the actress Celia Johnson (1908–1982), best known for her role in the film Brief
Encounter. They were married on the 10th December 1935.
Peter was working as assistant literary editor at The Spectator – when he came upon a small ad
that would catapult him to fame. The notice, in The Times classifieds, read: 'Exploring and
sporting expedition, under experienced guidance, leaving England June, to explore rivers Central
Brazil, if possible ascertain fate Colonel Fawcett; abundance game, big and small; exceptional
fishing; Room Two More Guns.'
Shooting was Peter's greatest passion; solving the mystery of Colonel Fawcett, who had
disappeared in the jungle in 1925 while searching for a fabled lost city, would be the icing on the
Although the expedition failed, the resulting book, Brazilian Adventure, made Peter's name.
In February of 1935 he faced, along
with Ella Maillart, a voyage of seven months in China, from Beijing to Kashmir, through the
deserts of Central Asia (at that time he was already an agent of MI6).
After that trip, in 1936, he
published News from Tartary and One’s Company, and Ella Maillart Oasis prohibited in
|On 3rd January 1939
Peter’s wife (Celia Johnson) gave birth to their son (Valentine) Nicholas Fleming known as Nichol
2nd Lt. Commissioned, Grenadier Guards - Supplementary Reserve of Officers.
||Promoted to Lt.
||Leaves Army and started travelling.
Returns as Lt. Seniority 18/2/1937  Transferred, Grenadier Guards to regular
Army Reserve of Officers.
1939 September 3rd
A member of the Inter Services Projects Board which oversaw the activities of Section D of Mi(R)
Military Intelligence (Research). They discussed amongst other matters the embryo ideas for
Units such as the Commando’s and Auxiliary Units.
Led a group of 4 Officers and 2 radio operators on a reconnaissance mission in advance of the
British landing in Norway. British & French troops landed but the Luftwaffe were able to
bomb unhindered. He was sent back in his Sunderland flying boat to report back to Military
Intelligence chiefs in London. The plane landed in the far north of Scotland where he started
to work on his report. In the meantime a message from Sweden said that Peter Fleming may have
been killed when the Grand Hotel was bombed. The Daily Sketch ran the story next day stating that
he had been killed-in-action which caused his family great grief. The weather was getting worse and
he had two abortive attempts to fly down to London.
The London train had already departed so his way round the problem was to order up a
special train which consisted of a huge engine an elaborate sleeping car and a couple of coaches to
keep it trim. After making his report and speaking to Winston Churchill he was sent back to
Norway. The Royal Navy evacuated the whole force on May 1st.
The Commander of XII Corps requested and got Peter to form staybehind units to boost the defence
in the South East corner of England. He had Mike Calvert a Royal Engineers explosives expert
and a detachment of Lovat Scouts to help train the men he recruited and organize the underground
bases the men would operate from. They were named XII Corps Observation Unit and became the
prototype for the British Resistance Organisation known as Auxiliary Units.
The Garth 1939
A large house called the Garth at Bilting between Ashford and Canterbury was selected as his Head
quarters and training camp. Not long after setting up, it was decided to bring in Local men
of Kent to form Patrols. Lectures were done in the main hall in the old part of the
building. Auxiliers have spoken of Peter showing them detonators and how dangerous they
could be if mishandled by setting them off in the fireplace in the hall this caused quite a few
men to jump! He was seen wondering around the Garth smoking his pipe with detonators
in his shirt pocket he then pulled one out to show a man and was treating it like it was no more
dangerous than a twig! Peters brother Ian Fleming who was in Naval Intelligence
visited him at the Garth and arranged for a delivery of soft towels for the men.
Seven man Guerrilla patrols were thoroughly trained in all manner of sabotage behind an
occupying invader. Peter’s teams were set tasks that including raiding Monty’s Headquarters
removing secret papers from his safe and leaving time pencils in the safe and around the
buildings. Army Camps were given the same treatment. All the raids were
successful and nobody was spotted getting in or out. The men got high praise from Peter
but Peter got a dressing down from Monty for showing up deficiencies in his security set up and
blowing up his flower bed.
July - Nov 1940.
In July 1940 Colonel Colin McVean Gubbins had been appointed to form and Command similar
units to be called Auxiliary Units which absorbed XII Observation Unit’s in Kent and spread to
cover coastal counties in the South and East and included Scotland.
Colonel Gubbins left to form SOE in late 1940 and asked Peter to join him.
Norman Field arrived to take over at the Garth to find Peter had
just returned with his Lovat Scouts having set explosives on a number of bridges. Something he had
done off his own back. The handover was quick, it only took a week and released Peter to
follow Gubbins into SOE. Thomas White from the Battle Patrol described his
departure: “He came into the room – Well goodbye fellas it’s been fantastic working with you
all, hopefully we have all learned something from each other. I will pass on what I have
learned to all the other soldiers that I will be working in the future. At the point he came
to attention very smartly, saluted and turned quickly away, but not before I saw a tear in his eye,
that quickly rolled down his cheek!".
Ws (War substantive) / Captain. T (Temporary) / Majority
Despatched to Palestine to recruit Italian Prisoners-of-war to fight in Greece but none came
forward. But he managed to persuade George Pollock, head of SOE Cairo, to send him and a
small demolition team of fellow ex-MI(R) soldiers to Yugoslavia in an attempt to support King
Paul’s military forces. In April 1941, armed with a ton of explosives, £40,000 in notes and
gold sovereigns and Italian pocket dictionaries as none could speak Italian, they were infiltrated
into Northern Greece on what became known as the YAK Mission. Unable to halt the SS Division as
they advanced south through the Monastir Gap, they were forced to retreat. Fleming and his men
helped evacuate the British Vice Consul and diplomatic staff to Cairo.
Message from General Wavell (CiC SW Pacific) “Should be glad of Peter Fleming as early as
possible for appointment my staff” . Embarked 17/2/1942 Arrived Delhi 15/3/1942.
Headed Allied strategic deception program against Japan in India and Burma. Designated ‘D’
Division initially based at Delhi and later in Ceylon. His task was to feed by various means
false information (along with truth) to affect Japanese plans. One of his ruses was the
planting of a case apparently belonging to Wavell, abandoned during the retreat from Burma, and
indicating to the Japanese that India was more strongly defended than it actually was.
Ws/Lt. Col. T/Col
When General Wavell became Viceroy of India he was replaced by Lord Louis
Mountbatten. Peter travelled extensively through India, Burma and Afghanistan (where he
liaised with the Chinese) and when peace came he also visited Malaya and Vietnam to access the
results of his deception schemes. He returned back home to Nettlebed at the beginning of
November 1945 in time for the first pheasant shoot of the season. At the end of the war Lord
Louis wrote a personal letter of thanks for all the hard work that he had put in.
||Awarded the Order of the British Empire.
||Retires from Army.
After the war he returned home to his estate and become Squire of Nettlebed in Oxfordshire.
His home ‘Merrimoles’ needed refurbishing and he began to put it in order. His wife Celia continued to be a
successful actress. In 1946 a daughter was born they called ‘Kate’, followed by another they named ‘Lucy’ the
During the war Celia as well as acting and keeping home, had worked as a driver and a switchboard operator for
the Henley branch of the Women’s Auxiliary Police Corps. For which she was given a medal. This was followed
later by the CBE and later the DBE for her theatrical performances. The Queen Mother attended the celebratory
dinner at Merrimoles.
Peter continued to play the country gent with the care and upkeep of the farm and the
He broke his pelvis riding, and often went to Scotland to go shooting, usually without
Having been out of uniform for a couple of years he decided in 1948 to enrol in the local
Territorial Army Unit – 4th Battalion the Ox and Bucks Light Infantry as a Lieutenant.
By 1951 he had regained the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and taken over command of the battalion.
In addition in 1952 he was appointed High Sheriff of Oxfordshire. He relinquished command of the
battalion in 1954.
Although Peter had never stopped writing articles for the Times and the Spectator he now started
writing books again.
In 1960, he was Appointed Deputy Lieutenant of Oxfordshire.
His father was Valentine Fleming, the Member of Parliament for Henley from 1910. In 1914,
with the start of the first world war, Valentine joined “C” Squadron, Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars, and rose
to the rank of major. He was killed by German shelling on the Western Front on 20 May 1917; Winston Churchill
wrote an obituary that appeared in The Times.
Brother - Michael Valentine Paul Fleming, Born 1913, had barely begun his career as a
stockbroker when World War II broke out. He joined the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and in
1940 after gallant fighting (Mentioned in Dispatches three times) while fighting in France he was wounded,
taken prisoner and died in captivity October 1st 1940. His widow and four children moved into
Brother - Ian Fleming born 1908 was a heavy smoker and drinker throughout his adult
life, and suffered from heart disease. In 1961, aged 53, he suffered a heart attack and struggled to
recuperate. On 11 August 1964, while staying at a hotel in Canterbury, Fleming walked to the Royal St George’s
Golf Club for lunch and later dined at his hotel with friends. The day had been tiring for him, and he collapsed
with another heart attack shortly after the meal. Ian Fleming died at age 56 in the early morning of 12
August 1964—his son Caspar’s twelfth birthday.
1971 – Peter Fleming born 1907 was in fine spirits with a shooting party in Scotland
accompanied by his dog ‘Chort’. They had enjoyed themselves for several days. On the 18th August 1971
the guns were stretched out in line approaching Creag Dhubh – the Black Rock – It was a warm day. The sun was out
and ‘Chort’ had retrieved two grouse that Peter had bagged. The stalker on Peters left turned to pick up the
birds when he heard a groan. Looking back he shouted “Colonel Peters down!” He was dead from a sudden
heart attack. His body was moved. After considerable discussion half the party decided to go on with the
shoot believing that would be how Peter would have wanted it. So for the last time the hunter came home from
It was a shock when the news reached ‘Merrimoles’. He had seemed so imperishable it was unbelievable. His
wife was cruising the Aegean and daughter Lucy was on her honeymoon.
Peter Fleming and his wife are buried in St Bartholomew Churchyard, Nettlebed.
We went along to pay our respects.
Epitaph (his own words)
He travelled widely in far places
Wrote and was widely read
Soldiered saw some of dangers faces
Came home to Nettlebed
The Squire lies here his journeys ended
Dust and a name on a stone
Content amid the lands he tended
To keep this rendezvous alone
Special thanks to the Fleming family and Kate & Lucy Fleming. Also Phil Evans, Adrian Westwood, Nina
Hannaford, Dr Will Ward, Sally Kent (Reading University Library), Peter Fleming: A biography (Hart-Davis, Duff - 1974).