Police Constable Cecil Ernest 'Pete' Bearman was the first Essex Police officer to join the RAF, in May 1941. He died in a plane crash on 25 August 1944.
His great-niece, Sgt Lucy Bearman, has continued the family tradition of protecting and serving the people of Essex and says they are “all very proud” of what Pete achieved in a life that was cut short at the age of 27.
The Bearman family have strong Essex Police connections with Lucy’s grandad and great-grandad having served. Lucy’s nanna also worked at headquarters during World War II.
Lucy’s dad, who was born in 1946, was named Pete as a tribute to his late uncle.
“It’s tragic because he was a young man and only left the police to join the RAF because of the war,” said Lucy. “Like so many others, he never came back.
“Today we have everything at our fingertips, most of us we haven’t had the hardship of rationing, of losing lots of people around us. It’s hard to appreciate the sacrifices people made.”
Known as ‘Piccolo Pete’ in the Bearman family, Pete followed his dad, Henry, and his brother, Ronald, when he joined Essex County Constabulary on March 1, 1937. Henry had retired just 14 months earlier having begun his career in 1909.
Pete was educated at King Edward VI's Grammar School in Chelmsford and worked as a clerk with the Eastern National Omnibus Company before joining the police.
He worked in Clacton and joined the recently-created motor patrol team at headquarters before being posted to Chelmsford in December 1939.
The following summer he was awarded the Royal Humane Society's testimonial for his attempt to save a boy from drowning on 19 July 1940.
The incident was recorded in the Essex Chronicle:
“Boy Drowned - Barrie Pilgrim, aged seven years, of Railway Cottages, Arbour Lane Chelmsford, fell into the River Chelmer - where he was fishing - between Victoria Road and the railway bridge on July 19th, and was drowned.
"Upon receiving information at the police station of the happening PS Joslin and PCs Lacey and Bearman dived in, and Lacey recovered the body. The three officers applied artificial respiration, but their efforts were unavailing.”
Three days after the incident, Pete was posted to Romford.
Pete, Henry and Ronald Bearman
On 24 May 1941, Pete became the first Essex police officer to join the RAF and obtain his wings and a commission following training in Canada and the USA.
It was in America that he met and fell in love with a lady called Reba. Pete and Reba never married but the Bearman family remained in touch with Reba and visited her on family holidays until she passed away a decade ago.
Pete was killed on Friday, 25 August, 1944, whilst serving as Flight Lieutenant 122343, leading a flight of 131 Squadron, Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve.
He had been a flight commander for just two weeks at the time of his death.
His aircraft, thought to have been a Spitfire, is believed to have crashed in the village of Alderbury in Wiltshire, three miles south-east of Salisbury.
Pete Bearman's funeral service was held on 1 September 1944 in Chelmsford. The funeral cortege passed down Moulsham Street, along the High Street, and into London Road for the service at the Congregational Church.
The coffin, draped with the Union Jack and covered with flowers, was headed by officers and men of the Mobile Section of the Chelmsford Division Police, war reserves, and special constables. Four of Pete’s colleagues, PCs Coe, Hurst, Lacey and Wakefield, acted as bearers. The Chief Constable was among the mourners.
In a moving tribute, the Rev Herbert Stock said: “Truly he was one of the few to whom so many owe so much. By such sacrifice you and I are able to live. He wanted to get rid of this evil thing that has smeared our civilisation. Yes, he gave his life in a great cause.
“His was a short life, but it was one that was full of usefulness and service. He had lived with intensity. He had left behind a memory that us beautiful and fragrant. We shall remember him, and I hope we shall prove worthy of the life that has been given for us."
Pete is buried in grave 5680, part of the Square of Honour, at Chelmsford Borough Cemetery.
Lucy joined Essex Police in 2003 before becoming an officer in 2006. When she got married, she decided to keep the Bearman surname at work as a mark of respect to her relatives.
She said: “Pete is still talked about in the family and we all very proud of what he did. I felt it was fate for me to join the police. There’s such a strong link there from my family. My grandad talked so fondly of his life in the police and how much he loved his work. I fell in love with it too.
“I kept the Bearman name because I’m really proud of what the previous Bearmans have achieved. I want to keep that going.”