“Many thanks for your letter. Good - that’s settled. You have a place. If anyone you know, by the way, is thinking of volunteering for the Mayflower, please tell them she’s full. All we need is a good cook now. Sincerely yours, Alan Villiers.”
– Captain Alan Villiers to Peter Padfield, February 7, 1957
Peter Padfield, a highly-respected friend of Plimoth Patuxet Museums, and a skilled mariner who was aboard Mayflower II’s historic transatlantic crossing in 1957, died Monday, March 14, 2022 at his home in Woodbridge, Suffolk, England. Peter was 90 years old.
Only 25 years old when he joined Mayflower II’s crew, Peter brought to the expedition previous experience in the Royal Navy reserves and as a Third Officer from the prestigious United Kingdom passenger line, P&O. He often recalled his time during the 1957 voyage learning the unique skills needed to handle a square-rigged sailing ship, swimming in the middle of the Atlantic while becalmed, and spending quiet hours sketching the intricacies of the vessel’s sails. He wrote about overcoming any trepidations aloft on Mayflower writing: “I found it quite exhilarating up there swaying wildly, hanging on to the best available rope with the wind whistling about your face and clothes.”
As part of the efforts to fundraise for Project Mayflower, Mayflower II crew franked more than 100,000 envelopes with a custom mark while at sea. Peter acted as the Mail Officer, responsible for organizing the effort, while also still carrying out his mariner duties. Across several days, the men worked in an assembly line instituted by Peter to ensure that all received the stamp. Soon teams broke out and competition pushed the men to outdo each other. Project Mayflower founder Warwick Charlton, remembered that “when the last envelope was done there was a cheer from the party working on the fo’c’sle head; they descended to the waist deck and hoisted Peter Padfield…shoulder high.”
In 2019, Peter published his record of the Mayflower II voyage, including diary letters and pencil sketches, in Mayflower II Diary: Sketches from a Lost Age. Although initially reluctant to publish, he was encouraged by many, including Plimoth Patuxet Museums, to share his rare, never-before-seen sketches, photographs, and stills from a cine film he shot during the journey, as well as insights on the voyage after a long naval history career. He wrote in the preface, “As the book has taken shape I have grown to love it as a vivid reminder of a splendid crew and a youthful, so hopeful time.”
Inspired in part by his experience on Mayflower II, Peter became a leading naval historian. He authored a score of nonfiction naval and maritime histories and contributed to two others, biographies focused on the Second World War, as well as several novels. In 2003, he was awarded the prestigious Mountbatten Maritime Prize for his work on the widely acclaimed three-volume history, Maritime Supremacy.
Peter is predeceased by his wife of almost sixty years, Jane, and survived by a son, two daughters, and his grandchildren.
As we commemorate the 65th Anniversary of Mayflower’s transatlantic voyage this year, Plimoth Patuxet Museums remembers and honors this extraordinary man for his contributions to the history and living legacy of Mayflower II.
I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by;
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face, and a grey dawn breaking.
I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied. . .
And all I ask is a merry yarn from a laughing fellow-rover,
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream when the long trick’s over.
-from Sea Fever, by John Masefield