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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Peter Lewis
11 August 1918 – 12 December 2008
Allegiance United Kingdom
Service/branch British Army
Years of service 1937–1946
Rank Major
Unit London Regiment
Queen's Royal Regiment
Durham Light Infantry
Battles/wars Second World War
Awards Military Cross
Mentioned in Despatches

Major Peter John Lewis MC (11 August 1918–12 December 2008) was a British soldier, journalist and author awarded the Military Cross for his actions during World War II.

Lewis was born in Leicester and educated at Lindisfarne College, leaving in 1935 to become a sub-editor at Everybody's Magazine.[1] He joined the Artists Rifles as a private in 1937 and was then commissioned into the 6th Battalion, Queen's Royal Regiment as a second lieutenant on 19 June 1940.[1][2] Following the outbreak of war, the regiment went to France in 1940 as part of the British Expeditionary Force.[1]

Attached to 8th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry in North Africa in May 1942,[3] in June a patrol containing Lewis encountered a line of enemy positions. A small reconnaissance force was repelled, but the patrol leader, Captain Ian English, managed to contact his superior, Major Clarke, and inform him of the situation. Clarke decided to send in a force of armoured cars filled with soldiers from the Durham Light Infantry (commanded by Peter Lewis) at 9:15am, with machine gun, mortar and artillery units to support the attack (from 2nd Battalion Cheshire Regiment and 74 Field Regiment Royal Artillery) with a barrage starting at 9:14 and finishing at 9:16. The artillery assault started a minute late, and Lewis misinterpreted Clarke's orders to halt as an order to attack immediately. The force charged towards the Italian lines while dodging their own shells, and after Lewis's armoured car ran over the only operational Italian anti-tank gun the enemy force surrendered; 20 officers and 210 other soldiers in total, along with a large quantity of machine guns, anti-tank guns and other equipment; the British lost one man in the attack.[1][4] Lewis received an immediate award of the Military Cross, gazetted on 24 September 1942,[5] while his sergeant who had killed the anti-tank gunners was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.[1]

In 1942 he commanded a company in Operation Supercharge during the Second Battle of El Alamein; he was injured in combat, and the only officer from his unit to survive. He was again wounded in March 1943 when, on the Mareth Line, an officer nearby stepped on a mine. Following the Allied invasion of Sicily, he was again injured in fighting at Catania and was captured by the Italian Army and sent to a Prisoner of War camp at Lucca. After Italy surrendered in September 1943 the Germany Army took control of the prison camp, and directed that the prisoners be transferred by train to Germany. While other prisoners on the train distracted the guards Lewis, along with Flight Lieutenant Tony Snell, escaped through a small window. The following morning they found they were near Mantova. After a six day walk they encountered members of the Italian resistance movement near the small village of Fabrico, who helped them hide in a safe house in Modena for almost two months.[1][6][7] With help from the resistance the pair gradually made it to the Swiss border, and they returned to England in November 1944, Lewis was Mentioned in Despatches on 1 January 1945, and Snell was awarded the Distinguished Service Order.[1][8][9]

Lewis retired in 1946 with the rank of acting Major and returned to his job at Everybody's, and worked as a motor racing correspondent for The Observer between 1954 and 1960. He published his first book, Alf Francis, Racing Mechanic in 1957, Dicing with Death in 1961, Motor Racing through the Fifties in 1992 and The Price of Freedom in 2001. In 2006 he collaborated with Captain English (now Major English) on a history of the Durham Light Infantry.[1] He died on 12 December 2008.[1]


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