Title: Papers of Lieutenant John Desmond Peck.
Date range: 1939-1996.
Reference number: PR03098.
Extent: 56 cm; 4 Boxes, 4 folios.
Location: Private Records collection, Research Centre, Australian War Memorial.
Abstract: The collection of Lieutenant John Desmond Peck's papers comprises certificates, documents, reports, photographs, newspaper cuttings and service records relating to his experiences serving with the 2/7th Battalion in Crete and as a prisoner of war and partisan in Italy during the Second World War. The collection contains documents about his trial for espionage at Vercelli, Italy, 1944. It also includes a postwar memoir called 'Captive in Crete' c1995, biographical interviews on audio tapes c1996 and photographs 1940-c1990.
Provenance: The papers were donated by Barbara Daniels, daughter of John Peck of Cheshire, UK. Records were transferred to the Memorial in 2002 from UK. Collection processing and the guide were completed in 2003.
Restrictions on use: Copyright of materials described in this guide is governed by copyright law in Australia. For further information contact the Curator of Private Records, Research Centre.
Preferred citation: Guide to the papers of Lieutenant John Desmond Peck, Australian War Memorial, AWM PR03098.
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- Papers of Gunner George Sprod, AWM 3DRL/3110 and AWM 3DRL/5040
- Papers of Brigadier A L Varley, AWM 3DRL/2691
- Papers of Lieutenant Colonel William Jeater, AWM 3DRL/3589
- Papers of Lieutenant Norman Martin White, AWM PR00410
- Papers of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Henry Kappe, AWM MSS1393
- Papers of Private William Alexander Dawson, PR00737
- Papers of Private Percy James Cusack, AWM PR01535
- Papers of Lieutenant Colonel Harry Dunkely, AWM PR84/035
Subjects: Prisoner of War camps; 2/7 Battalion AIF, 1939-1945; Underground movements; Espionage; Submarines; Escapees.
John Desmond Peck (1922-2002) was born at Woollahra, New South Wales, son of H J Peck of the Royal Australian Navy. The family later moved to Victoria where they lived at Crib Point, Melbourne, near the Naval Base. When he was thirteen years old Peck obtained a job on a farm at Craigieburn. Peck needed no encouragement to enlist in the Australian Imperial Force in October 1939 when the Second World War broke out. He increased his age by four years to 22, in order to be eligible for an overseas posting. He travelled on the 'Empress of Japan' to Egypt and then on to Palestine for training and was posted with the Headquarters Australian Overseas Base. Eventually his age was discovered and rather than being sent back to Australia, General Blamey allowed him to stay in Gaza as his batman. In 1940 Peck transferred to the infantry and joined the 2/7th Battalion, AIF. From Palestine he went to Libya in the Western Desert for training. He saw action for the first time at Bardia in January 1941, then went on to Tobruk and Derna. Landing on Crete at Suda Bay in April 1941 he was involved in hand to hand combat when he and others were surprised by a large body of Germans advancing from the aerodrome. The 2/7th Battalion remained on rearguard duty and so were not evacuated from Crete and were captured by the Germans.
He escaped from Galatas prisoner of war camp and with help from friends at Georgioupolis evaded capture for about a year. New Zealander Noel Dunn and Lt Peck trained bands of Cretan partisans in infantry weapons and tactics. He met Commander F G Pool, a British naval intelligence officer who with him coordinated the escape of many prisoners from the island by submarine. Peck suffering from malaria was assisted to escape by George Psychoundakis, a local Cretan, but missed two Royal Navy undercover submarine evacuations. He was captured with a RAF radio set in May 1942 by an Italian patrol and taken to Italy via Rhodes for trial as a spy. He avoided the firing squad, escaped and arrived at Bari Camp PG 75 in Athens. In 1943 after spending time at Cranina Camp 65 and Udine Camp 57, he escaped from Vercelli Camp 106 and travelled to the Swiss border. During 1943 to 1944 Lt Peck organised the expatriation of 1,500 ex POWs to Switzerland. He received a DCM for his work. Arrested in February 1944, he was sentenced to death, and was sent to the San Vittore Gestapo Prison in Milan, North Italy but escaped to Switzerland. He returned to Italy in June 1944 to join the underground Italian resistance. Peck crossed the Swiss frontier in October 1944 and travelled to England. In January 1945 he returned to Australia and attended the Victory March in London in 1946. Lt Peck lived in England after the war and worked with the English Electric Company in Stafford.
Scope and content note
The papers of VX9534 Lieutenant John Desmond Peck record his experiences after becoming a prisoner of war in Crete during the Second World War. His transcript Captive in Crete, tells of his capture in 1941 by German Alpine troops at Kalives. Lt Peck's collection of papers includes resistance movement documents in German and Italian and documents concerning his trial for espionage 1944 at Vercelli. Other items in the collection include a report of his activities for the Australian Army, 1944; letters from the Australian Red Cross Society to Lt Peck's parents, 1941-1945; letters of appreciation to Lt Peck from prisoners of war he assisted to escape, 1946-1953 and from his friends in Crete and Italy; photographs; newspaper cuttings; service records; a certificate of appreciation from the Shire of Flinders,1940; the citation for his DCM; audio tapes; and correspondence from the British historian Roger Absalom, 1988.