Stories of V-E Day: Dr. Philip Peven

By: Brian Louwers | Southfield Sun | Published April 29, 2015

 Dr. Philip Peven met the love of his life, Kay, in England before the Allied invasion of northern and western Africa in 1942. The couple corresponded profusely while they were apart, and the family still has hundreds of their letters.

Dr. Philip Peven met the love of his life, Kay, in England before the Allied invasion of northern and western Africa in 1942. The couple corresponded profusely while they were apart, and the family still has hundreds of their letters.

Photo by Brian Louwers


Editor's note: This story was included in a full-length C & G Newspapers feature commemorating the 70th anniversary of V-E Day, the end of World War II in Europe. The war in Europe ended with the surrender of Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945. Metro Detroit residents graciously shared their stories in interviews conducted between January and April 2015. Click here for more V-E Day stories from our coverage area.

Dr. Philip Peven, 98, Southfield

When Dr. Philip Peven graduated from the University of Michigan Medical School in 1941, he never could have guessed that his career as a doctor would lead him to the love of his life in England, or to battlefields across Africa and Italy.

A native of Detroit, he was completing his medical training at the Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center in Chicago when the United States went to war in December 1941.

“I knew I would be called to active duty in June when I graduated the next year,” Peven remembered.

To protect himself from the draft, he joined the Army Reserve and became a reserve officer in the Medical Corps in 1942. He shipped out soon after for England to prepare for action.

“We didn’t know at the time what we were going to do,” Peven recalled. “There was talk of an invasion, but the scuttlebutt was we were going to invade western Africa.”

Two months before he left for the invasion of Africa in November 1942, he met Kay, the woman who would become his wife, while he was billeted in the town of Swindon. Kay was teaching music at the time, and he knew her sister. They met at a party and the connection was instantaneous.

“Immediately, lightning struck,” he remembered. “That evening we spent together. We were conversing all that time, and that was our meeting.”

Kay was studying music at Cambridge, but they kept in touch and managed to see each other a few times before he shipped out in November.

“I asked her to wait for me, and she agreed to,” Peven remembered. He was 26 at the time, and she was 24.

“We corresponded profusely. I kept her well-informed of what was happening in North Africa, although when I was wounded, I didn’t tell her,” he said.

Peven was a combat medical officer assigned to the 1st Armored Division, fighting the German Afrika Corps under Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. He was wounded in an air attack on a medical convoy in February 1943.

He said a group of Messerschmitts spared the convoy’s ambulances but strafed the other vehicles, including the command car he was riding in. His driver was killed instantly.

“My driver had received a direct burst in the chest. I was hit with one of the bullets in the thigh, and the armor-piercing shell came through the hood of the car, exploded under the floorboards and splattered me with shrapnel,” Peven said. “I got up and tried to run out of the truck. I only ran so far and fell. I got up again and ran, put my helmet on. I felt the blood squishing in my shoes. I wanted to get as far away from the truck as possible, because the truck had started on fire.”

Peven was evacuated to a hospital, where he continued writing to Kay. His fellow officers thought he was crazy when he declined an offer to return to service in the United States. The group of hecklers included President Theodore Roosevelt’s grandson, Quentin Roosevelt II, who was wounded during the same month at the Battle of Kasserine Pass.

“At that time, she was waiting for me. I considered her my fiancée,” Peven said. “I didn’t stress how I was hurt. I just said I was wounded in the legs.”

After he returned to duty, he led a team of 75 stretcher bearers during the invasion of Italy. He’d been promoted to captain by that time and joined the 36th Infantry Division. He was later assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division, which fought up the Italian coast and captured Naples.

Peven said he’d seen enough combat action by then. He was able to secure a transfer to an evacuation hospital, where he worked as an orthopedic surgeon and spent his limited free time writing letters.

“During all this time I was corresponding with Kay, telling her my plans, that when the war ended I would get leave and come to England and we’d be married,” Peven recalled. He said he wasn’t completely sure he could pull it off at the time. 

But when the war in Europe came to a close in May 1945, he was a major and requested permission to fly to England. He finally got back to his beloved Kay and married her on Aug. 7.

“Kay, at the time, was teaching music in a London high school. She’d been through the Blitz during the time I was in Africa and Italy,” Peven said.

She’d also spent time dodging the air raid wardens to perform onstage for Allied soldiers, sailors and airmen with the British equivalent of the USO.

Peven returned to the United States that September. Kay joined him in Chicago in January 1946. They moved back to Detroit, where he began his private medical practice two years later, while Kay launched her successful entertainment career.

The family still has hundreds of beautiful letters that the couple wrote to each other while they were apart during the war.

Dr. Philip Peven retired in 1987 at the age of 70 after a career as an obstetrician/gynecologist. Kay Peven performed for years under the name Kay Britten. The couple had two children and three grandchildren. Kay passed away in 2013 at the age of 94.