obituary of Peter Padfield | history books

My colleague and friend Peter Padfield, who passed away at the age of 89, was a freelance author who made outstanding contributions to the history of the sea for five decades, as a sailor, historian and analyst.

Born in Kolkata, India, Peter came from an army family. His father, William Padfield, was a captain in the Royal Engineers attached to the Indian Army, and his mother, Annice (née Abbott), was the daughter of the Colonel of Engineers in Bombay (now Mumbai). William died when Peter was seven, and Peter returned to England with his mother and younger brother, where he attended Northcliffe House prep school in Sussex, which was evacuated to Cornwall during the Second World War.

He was later educated at Christ’s Hospital in West Sussex, and the Thames Nautical Training College, HMS Worcester. Peter then served as helmsman in P&O liners, before joining the crew of the replica of the 17th-century Mayflower, recreating the journey of the Pilgrim Fathers, described in his first and final book, The Sea Is a Magic Carpet. (1959) and Mayflower II Diary (2019).

Peter Padfield at the wheel of Mayflower II in 1957

Peter met Jane Yarwood, whom he married in 1960, in London, where he worked in nautical journalism until the international success of The Titanic and the Californian (1965) encouraged him to become a full-time writer. The number of books Peter wrote, and the range of subjects, attest to a broad and comprehensive commitment to Britain, the sea and, in the case of his Nazi studies, the need to understand what goes on on the other side of the world. the hill in World War II. His work was characterized by a penchant for challenging comfortable orthodoxies, whether on the Titanic disaster, or the politics and personality of the last leader of Nazi Germany, Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz. Peter emphasized Dönitz’s early and deep attachment to Nazi ideology, at a time when many saw the war criminal again as a hero.

The Maritime Trilogy, Peter’s three-volume study of British maritime identity, inspired other scholars, myself included, to rethink the links between the state, the maritime enterprise, and naval power. profile comments and awards. My favorite among his books is Broke and the Shannon of 1968, an elegant study of a great sailor and his defining battle, a work that continues to shape our understanding of the long-forgotten Anglo-American War of 1812. Peter was a learned seaman of the highest order, an author who followed his own path and made a huge contribution to the most British subjects, maritime history.

Jane passed away in 2018 and Peter’s brother, Tim, passed away in 2020. Peter leaves behind his children, Deborah, Guy and Fiona, and grandchildren, Max and Megan.

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