Spitfire ace and mushroom farmer Peter Hearne dies aged 98

Peter Hearne in his RAF days (centre). Picture: GREGG BROWN

Peter Hearne in his RAF days (centre). Picture: GREGG BROWN

“We need to sometimes stop and think what these people did”

Damian Hearne, with his father's medals. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Damian Hearne, with his father's medals. Picture: GREGG BROWN

A distinguished war-time fighter pilot left the skies for a career firmly on the ground – when he gave up flying for farming.

Second World War flying ace, former Squadron Leader Peter Joseph Hearne became fascinated with mushrooms after a chance conversation and ended up founding a successful Suffolk company.

Tributes have been paid to Mr Hearne, who will be known to many as the founder of Capel Mushrooms, an organic mushroom growing company just outside Ipswich, following his death at the age of 98.

Mr Hearne was born in February 1919 in Allahabad, India, where his father was a member of the Indian police force and as a youngster lived in Belgium before going to school in England. He cut short his degree studies to join the RAF in 1941 and went to Canada to train before becoming operational in 1942. “He was quite free to talk to about the war,” said one of Mr Hearne’s sons Damian.

Some of Peter Hearne's RAF mementos. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Some of Peter Hearne's RAF mementos. Picture: GREGG BROWN


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Mr Hearne flew all three types of fighter planes that took part in the war: the Spitfire, Hurricane and Mustang.

He mostly piloted these aircraft over the North Sea, helping to escort other vehicles to Norway, and would have been involved in a potential invasion of the country had it taken place.

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During the war Mr Hearne had five confirmed kills and damaged other aircraft. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross and is listed in the second volume of the well known ‘Aces High’ book which documents the activities of notable fighter pilots.

After the war he continued to fly at bases across the world before leaving the RAF in 1962 and moving to Capel St Mary, where he and his wife raised nine children.

Mr Hearne spent 20 years in the RAF. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Mr Hearne spent 20 years in the RAF. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Having left the RAF a chance encounter led him to the world of mushroom growing. Whilst sat in the barbers one day Mr Hearne saw a man come in with a box of mushrooms. Fascinated, he decided he wanted to know more about how they were grown and ended up growing them himself.

“That’s exactly how it happened,” says Damian, “he grew a wonderful business.”

As well as his business Mr Hearne became a stalwart in the church community in Capel, helping to bring together different denominations for annual events.

Reflecting on his father’s life Damian said: “We need to sometimes stop and think what these people did.”

Mr Hearne's son, Damian Hearne, reflects on his father's life. Picture: GREGG BROWN

Mr Hearne's son, Damian Hearne, reflects on his father's life. Picture: GREGG BROWN

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