Guide to the papers of Lieutenant John Desmond Peck


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.


Administrative information

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.

Access: Open.

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.


Additional information

Related collections:

  • Papers of Sir Edward 'Weary' Dunlop, AWM PR00926
  • 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.


Biographical note

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.

SERIES 1: Personal Papers of Lt J D Peck, 1939-1988

Description: Private and official letters to Lt Peck and his parents. Other records include Lt Peck's service papers and certificates.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
1/1 Letters from Lt Peck to his parents, Mr and Mrs H F Peck, 1939-1946 and Letters from the Australian Red Cross to Mr and Mrs H F Peck, 1941-1945. 1
1/2 Official correspondence to Mr and Mrs H F Peck; telegram from friends to family, 1939-1945; Service papers of Lt Peck, including a list of the POW camps in which he was imprisoned; official correspondence to Lt Peck, 1946-1964. 1
1/3 Papers and letters to Lt Peck concerning the Victory March and the investiture of the DCM, citation and personal papers of Lt Des Peck, 1945-1951. 1
1/4 (Folios 1 and 2) Certificate of appreciation from the Shire of Flinders presented to J D Peck, 1940; Lt Peck's certificate of appointment as an officer in the Permanent Military Service, 1946. Folios
1/5 Letters from the Italian and Greek resistance to Lt Peck, 1946-1953; newspaper clippings about Lt Peck, 1945-1946; letters from English POWs to Lt Peck, 1944-1988. 1

SERIES 2: Memoir: Captive in Crete, 1950-1990

Description: Lt Peck wrote Captive in Crete after the war and filed in this series are drafts, publisher's correspondence and photographs.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
2/1 Rough drafts and chapter outlines in pencil, correspondence and aerial photographs for Captive in Crete, c1950-56. 1
2/2 Final typed draft of Captive in Crete, c1990. 1

SERIES 3: Official Reports, 1944-1946

Description: Reports written by Lt Peck for the Australian Army and typescript notes on his partisan activities in Italy, 1944-1946.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
3/1 "Lt J D Peck, VX9534 POW report"; Report for Australian Army; partial typescript describing Peck's interrogation and trial at San Vittore, c1944. 1

SERIES 4: Resistance papers, 1943-1946

Description: Photographs, papers and correspondence, written mainly in Italian and German, concerning the resistance movement in Italy and Lt Peck's trial in 1945, at Vercelli, Italy.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
4/1 Miscellaneous papers and correspondence concerning the resistance movements, 1943-1956; Lt Peck's Associazone Nazionale Partigiani d'Italia (partisan) ID card; photographs. 1
4/2 Papers concerning trial at Vercelli, 1945 (Squadristi). 2
4/3 Italian documents about Trial at Vercelli, 1943-1945. 2
4/4 Papers in Italian concerning the organization of the partisans, 1943-1944. 2
4/5 Italian and German documents, 1944-1945 concerning the organization of the partisans/ evidence/interrogations. 2
4/6 Papers in German and Italian concerning the partisans, and the Inquest at Vercelli, 1944-1945. 2
4/7 German documents concerning partisans in Monza , 1945. 2
4/8 German and Italian documents, 1944-1945 concerning suspects. 2
4/9 German documents including police notes for trial at Vercelli, 1945. 2
4/10 German documents including notes for trial at Vercelli, 1944-45. 2

SERIES 5: Papers concerning Oreste Barbero, 1944-1971

Description: This series contains papers which refer to Oreste Barbero who assisted Lt Peck in his partisan activities in Italy. Also includes correspondence from friends, 1944-1960.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
5/1 Papers concerning Oreste Barbero, in Italian, 1944-1955. 2
5/2 Private letters in English and Italian, concerning partisan work, including one from Mark Sala and excerpt from the New Statesman and Nation June 2, 1945, 1944-1960. 2

SERIES 6: Newspaper clippings, 1937-1960

Description: This series includes a large quantity of cuttings relating to Lt Peck and the activities of the Resistance movement in Italy.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
6/1 Italian newspaper clippings, 1937-1945. 3
6/2 Italian newspaper clippings, 1955. 3
6/3 Italian newspaper clippings, 1956-1957. 3
6/4 Italian Newspaper clippings concerning Vercelli, 1955-1957. 3
6/5 Italian newspaper clippings, 1960. 3

SERIES 7: Photographs, 1940-1990

Description: This series contains portrait and tourist photographs taken during the military career of Lt Peck. It includes photographs of resistance fighters and of Lt Peck in the disguise he assumed when he was assisting prisoners of war to escape from Italy to Switzerland.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
7/1(Folio 1) Photograph album containing photos of Lt Peck's military service from January 1940 to May 1940. Folio
7/2 Two notes books containing addresses and loose photographs, c1941. 3
7/3 Funeral and family photograph album of Ferrari Oreste, 1953. 3
7/4 Photographs of Lt Peck and miscellaneous photographs including friends, c1940-1943. 3

SERIES 8: Papers concerning George Psychoundakis, 1990-1991

Description: Photographs, correspondence and audio tapes relating to the reunion of George Psychoundakis and Lt Peck.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
8/1 Audio tape of Peck and George Psychoundakis and others, including the history of the Crete campaign by Tony Knight; photographs of Psychoundakis; papers concerning the anniversary of the Battle of Crete, 1991. 3

SERIES 9: Papers associated with Roger Absalom, Bill Bunbury and Bill Rudd, 1988-c1999

Description: Correspondence exchanged between Roger Absalom, Bill Bunbury and Bill Rudd relating to Absalom's research on Australian prisoners of war in Italy during the Second World War.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
9/1 Papers and letters associated with Roger Absalom's research, 1988-1991; letters from Bill Bunbury, 1988-1995; Bill Rudd, c1999. 4

SERIES 10: Commemoration, 1992

Description: Papers and photographs relating to the ANZAC Day commemorative Service, Staffordshire, UK, 1992.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
10/1 Papers and photographs of Peck at the ANZAC Day commemorative service 1992, at the British Military Cemetery Cannock Chase, Staffordshire; information about a teak paper knife (in MHT collection). 4

SERIES 11: Audio tapes and transcripts: biographical material, c1995-c2000

Description: Audio tapes (16667/7) made by the Imperial War Museum, c1996, by Bill Bunbury for ABC Radio Talking history program, 1995.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
11/1 Interviews by Conrad Wood of Peck telling his life story (Tapes numbered 16667/7), c1996; Two audio tapes from Bill Bunbury of the ABC Social History Unit, WA: 'Wartime escapes in Italy' contains an interview by Bill Bunbury with Roger Absalom about Peck's story, c1995. Transcript made of an interview with Heidi Egger, c2000 concerning Peck's early life, evading capture on Crete and life with the partisans, and briefly discussing Bill Bunbury's book 'Rabbits and Spaghetti', published 1995. 4

SERIES 12: Miscellaneous publications, 1943-1991

Description: Miscellaneous published magazines and books collected by Peck.

Series/Wallet Title, date and description Box
12/1 'Duro a morire! ', Guiseppe Cappa, c1943; 'Il tempo del bastone e della carota', Benito Mussolini, c1943; 'After the Battle', no 47, 1985 'Resistenza Vercelles', (reference to Peck on page 15; L'insurrezione di Milano, dal 25 al 29 Aprile 1945, Giovanni Fugalli. 4
12/2(Folio 1) 'Una Libera republica nell'ossola partigiana', Herbertus Bergwitz, 1979; 1'943-1945 Resistenza come rivoluzione, Guido Campanelli', 1975; 'Mud over blood chronicle': 2/7 Australian infantry Battalion Association, 'Cede Nullus' Newsletter, August, 1988 and June 1991. Folio