PETER PEASE, star-bright son of one of the great North-East families, was himself tipped for all-surpassing achievement.

A high achiever at Eton and at Cambridge, he was suggested as a future Foreign Secretary and engaged to one of England’s great beauties (of whom we shall hear much more.)

On September 15, 1940, aged just 22, Flying Officer Arthur Peter Pease died in what became known as the Battle of Britain and with full military honours was buried 12 days later in the family plot in Middleton Tyas churchyard, near Richmond.

Though he may not be forgotten, Peter Pease is little acknowledged, either. To mark the 75th anniversary of his death, a semi-retired law professor at the University of California hopes that honour may be evened.

John Oakley rings from the USA. “Peter Pease was a wunderkind,” he says. “He had the looks of a Greek god, won every academic award there was, edited the Eton newspaper, sang so well he was recorded by EMI and had fallen in love with a quite remarkable lady.”

This week Prof Oakley is in England, his fifth visit in the past year, starting seven weeks of further research towards a book on Pease and three fellow pilots and on the significance of the Battle of Britain.

“I was struck by Peter Pease’s obscurity,” he says. “I think he deserves a bit better.”

THE Pease family were bankers, County Durham coal owners, railway pioneers and politicians. They helped finance Darlington and to build Middlesbrough.

Peter was the eldest son of Sir Arthur Richard Pease. Had he lived, he would have become the third Baronet Pease of Hummersknott.

He was commissioned into the RAF Voluntary Reserve in 1938, joined 603 Squadron in July 1940 and had been in several dogfights before his Spitfire was shot down near Kingswood, in Kent.

John Oakley salutes his heroism, hopes to write of it as part of a greater analysis of the Battle of Britain and of the reasons for war.

“The Battle of Britain was in a very vivid sense a battle for national survival. It was as if Isis was multiplied 1,000-fold and camped 20 miles away.

“Those pilots knew that it was very likely they were going to die. The idea of those German tanks bulldozing those lovely country villages would have got me into a plane, too. It would have been a barbaric state run by a madman.”

Peter Pease’s funeral was reported in The Northern Echo the following day, with a photograph of the long military cortege as it passed down the avenue of lime trees that leads to St Michael’s church in Middleton Tyas.

Planted in 1990, a single lime tree now marks the site in Kingswood, Kent, where the Spitfire crashed to earth. A simple sign – “touching, but humble” – explains its significance.

Among the mourners, simply identified as Mrs Hannay, was Peter’s sister – whose flying officer husband Patrick Hannay had himself been killed in action that May, just weeks after their marriage.

Many in the list of those attending had titles familiar to Echo readers. Also among them was Miss Denise Maxwell Woosnam.

DENISE, Peter Pease’s fiancée, was the daughter of Max Woosnam, one of sport’s truly great all-rounders. He’d captained Manchester City and England, won the Wimbledon doubles and an Olympic gold at tennis, scored a century at Lord’s and achieved a 147 break at snooker.

His daughter was a debutante who had been presented to Edward VIII, the king so taken by her that he announced that all the other debutantes could “consider themselves presented” and went off to play golf with Wallis Simpson, instead.

Denise became an ATS officer, met Pease at a night skating party in Cheshire. It was love at first sight, the couple soon engaged.

“Everything happened so quickly in the war,” she once said. “You saw everything as through a telescope at the wrong end.”

After Pease’s death, she regularly visited in hospital his friend Richard Hillary, himself horrifically burned after being shot down.

During a long and agonised recuperation, Hillary wrote The Last Enemy, a still-acclaimed account of war that has never been out of print, is said to be “reverential” to Peter Pease and was dedicated to Denise Woosnam, his muse.

“For me she was the very spirit of courage,” Hillary wrote. “Her inner beauty and serenity, her perfection of carriage and grace of movement were strikingly reminiscent of Peter. She was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen.”

John Oakley read the book, drawn to the story of Pease and Hillary but also that of their fellow pilots Colin Pinckney and Billy Fiske, an American who won double bobsleigh gold in the Winter Olympics.

Pinckney himself was so smitten by Denise Maxwell that, out of loyalty to his dead colleague, asked to be posted to the Far East and was himself killed over Burma.

Prof Oakley has visited England five times in the past year – “I have a pension, I’m paid to breathe” – becoming friends with Sir Richard Thorn Pease, Peter’s 92-year-old younger brother. Known to friends as Jock, Sir Richard was vice-chairman of Barclays Bank and lived in Richmond before moving to the Cotswolds to be nearer family.

Prof Oakley’s researches were also much helped by Mrs Doreen Patterson, as Denise Woosnam had become, and who died on July 29, aged 97.

The Times published a lengthy obituary of an amazing woman. “She was a beauty to the end,” it said.

JOHN OAKLEY is not just writing a book on his four pilots, but seeks at his own expense to erect a bronze plaque in Peter Pease’s memory both in Kent and in St Michael’s church in Middleton Tyas.

In Kent there have been objections and he met with the parish council last night. In North Yorkshire – for this is not just England but Church of England – he must first clear the battery of ecclesiastical bureaucracy.

In the meantime he will be at St Michael’s on Sunday, September 20 – 6.15 for 7pm – to give an illustrated talk on Flying Officer Arthur Peter Pease, who is buried in a peaceful corner of the churchyard. It will simply be called Here Lies a Hero.