Peter lived such a rich, colourful and long life, much of which I did not live through or experience. However, having listened to the stories, spent time talking to his friends and other members of the family, a rich tapestry emerged.
He grew up in the Worthing area. Peter and his brother, Jim, both went to school at Framlingham College, and some reports suggested that, as the responsible and caring older brother, much of Peter’s time was spent bailing his younger brother out of trouble! Peter was very proud of his school and as a dedicated old boy always took an active interest in the school. A recent announcement on the website suggested that Peter was their oldest member, but that did not diminish his interest.
Peter’s joined the Navy: the second of his two great loves. He joined straight from school in 1930 aged 16. He spent time all over the world with the Navy in a variety of roles and in many different locations. When we did talk about his time in the Navy, he spoke with most excitement about the time he served on the cruiser HMS Birmingham, which saw much action through the war. By the time he had finished in the Navy he reached the rank of Commander which was a significant achievement and one he was rightly very proud of.
There were some interesting reports from his Commanding Officer which shed some light on the man he was. A good example was “excellent power in command and thoroughly reliable with very good social qualities.”
Peter’s greatest moment came during his time in the Navy when he met WREN Elizabeth Ann Steele. They married in December 1941 and were married for an amazing 67 years. In 1942 Peter and Elizabeth’s first son, James, was born followed in 1946 by their second son, Philip.
It was only a few years later in 1948 that they all set off on another adventure to Simonstown on the Cape in South Africa. I recently came across a scrapbook of their time there and it looked like a time that they particularly loved and enjoyed. It also looked as if not much work was being done, as work had to compete with the glamorous balls, sporting events and amateur dramatics in which they took part, Elizabeth with her renowned dancing prowess, and Peter with his less renowned acting skills! No wonder Peter looked back on those times with great fondness.
When Peter left the Navy it appeared to signal the start of more mischief and capers with his brother Jim, whose family had now become affectionately known as The Indians due to Jim having spent time there during the war. Peter and his family, on the other hand, became known as the Africans. This created much confusion to those not in the know, if they were asked if they had seen the Indians or Africans recently.
Peter’s entrepreneurial skills were put to the test by Jim when he attempted to set up a rival to the department store Peter Jones, called, inevitably, Peter James. I remember Peter telling me about the branches in Reading and Bath. Apparently his role on the shop floor was short-lived, due to “poor customer service”, as he put it and a backroom job was soon found for him!
Peter took a job as bursar at New College Oxford. The Bursar is the College officer responsible for the endowment, the finances, and constitutional matters and also deals with student finances. However, several people have confirmed that actually the job meant being in charge of the victuals or grog, and that the Navy seemed to have a bit of a hold on this post.
It was claimed that Peter and Elizabeth lived in no fewer than 29 homes during their life together. My memories of some of these houses was always one of great order. It felt as if a tight ship was being run. They were places full of interesting and beautiful objects and pictures, places where there were often friends and laughter around. There was always a lovely garden.
The inseparable Peter and Jim, with their wives Elizabeth and Peggy, shared a diamond wedding anniversary in 2001 which created quite a buzz in the local media: the headline of the two couples enjoying a “double diamond” together was too good to miss. It is almost 4 years to the day that Elizabeth sadly passed away.
My personal memories of Peter revolve mainly about another great passion of his – cricket. We did share a great bond in our mutual love of cricket and this eulogy would not be complete without a mention. We would spend many days during the summers watching our beloved Sussex CC. Only a few months ago he still seemed to believe that one day I would, one day, be playing for the County, but that expectation now moves on to his great grandchildren.
Remembering with gratitude our times together at the cricket helped me recall some of Peter’s great qualities as a caring, generous, loyal and funny man, all of which I will sadly miss but fondly remember.
So, Peter, you have left me stumped, caught out and on a sticky wicket by leaving us, but I would like to say “well batted” and, as any cricket fan will acknowledge, 98 is an excellent innings.