All books for review to Rob Jerrard Please
Author: Peter Hughes
ISBN: 978 1905178377
Publishers: In Association with 'Bound Biographies' Self Publish
Publication Date: Dec 2009
Publisher's Title Information
'The past,' wrote Christabel Bielenberg, an Englishwoman married to an anti-nazi German, 'is myself.' And so it is for all of us, as our little lives curl through our own small segment of boundless history. A very few are conscious of starring in the world's great dramas; a few more have substantial supporting roles, but most of us are bit-part players, not even strutting and fretting our hour upon the stage, but gliding swiftly, scarcely noticed, across its wings. Yet we are the stuff of history, that myriad of unacknowledged extras without whom there could be no show.
Peter Hughes was born in his grandparents' pub, the Royal Oak, overlooking the Market Square in the Hampshire town of Ringwood, whose townscape, populated with memorable characters, he describes with an immediacy not in the least blunted by the passage of more than seventy years. It was (it is easy to forget it now) a smoky age, and Peter remembers his grandfather's daily retirement to the lavatory with the Daily Sketch and a packet of Woodbines. Everything changed with the advent of war in 1939, though for an adventurous boy there was more excitement than fear, and Peter and his friends finished up with 'a veritable arsenal' of weapons. Just after the end of the war he moved to Ringwood Country Secondary School, leaving at fifteen to join the Royal Navy as a boy seaman. His number was P (for Portsmouth division) JX882756: 'one never forgets it,' he recalls, and he is absolutely right. A month's compassionate leave to visit his sick mother took him from Colombo to Heathrow in a flight scarcely comprehensible to those more used to modern travel.
Peter was a leading seaman by the time he passed officer selection and was accepted for flying training. Commissioned before his training ended in 1957, he went on to learn to fly the Hawker Seahawk fighter and then converted to the Westland Wyvern low-level strike aircraft. An inner-ear problem cruelly ended his flying career, and he decided to take a medical discharge from the navy, marrying Betty - for whom the description 'childhood sweetheart' is almost literally appropriate - the same year. He reflects up the high loss-rate amongst the Fleet Air Arm's aircrew in peacetime flying - over 400 deaths in the 1950s - but adds that he still recalls his flying days 'as one of the most enjoyable periods of my life.'
In October 1958 Peter began training as an Air Traffic Control Officer, spending time at Hurn, Stansted and Heathrow before formally qualifying in mid-1959. The chapters dealing with his time as an air traffic controller will eventually be invaluable to aviation historians, for they pick out the detail of the profession in the 1960s, an age that is receding with uncanny speed. Deprived of his first career by ill-health, Peter was to find himself evicted from his second after a nervous breakdown: his certificate, nicknamed the 'Yellow Peril', was returned to him endorsed 'Permanently Medically Unfit ATCO - may not be reissued.' After a short stint as a civil servant he joined British Airports Authority and played a major part in the development of Terminal 3 before moving up to head office in London. Overwork saw him break down again, but he followed another period in London with a move to Heathrow to manage property and cargo. In 1988, unhappy with the management style within the newly-privatised BAA, he left on pension on medical ground.
But he was now 54, too young to retire properly. He first took a driver's job at Slough, conveniently close to his home in Windsor, but the firm was 'not a very efficient outfit,' and so he became civilian administrative officer to the Territorial Army infantry company based in Maidenhead. This, as it happened, was part of the battalion that I had myself commanded not long before, and it is fascinating to see how things ran in the real world of a rifle company. Peter accompanied his company on its move to Slough, shortly before one of the many defence reviews that have swung their boot through the busy ant-heap of the TA deprived Berkshire of its infantry company and converted the Slough detachment to a yeomanry squadron. He found himself amongst the many who had been given more and more responsibilities - 'with no financial reward, only job satisfaction,' and retired in April 1998. Peter was so well regarded that his unit clubbed together to buy him a fine trout rod, helping him ply 'my favourite pastime' beyond retirement.
There are few captains and no kings in this book (though the Prince of Wales makes a brief guest appearance.) Its charm is precisely in the fact that it traces the life of an ordinary man, forging his career in the post-war world, twice derailed by illness but twice rising above it, still married to Betty (despite a family background of bolting) and proudly recording that his two children are now in their forties and have made their own way in the world. It may never become a best-seller, but it tells us a great deal about that sense of duty and decency which run like a golden thread through any healthy society.
Professor (Brigadier) Richard Holmes CBE. TD
This is a life story, which I am sure will be enjoyed by any ex St Vincent boy, because yet again it shows what a diverse lot we were. It also covers another aspect, “What did you do after St Vincent Daddy?” Peter's first ship was HMS Mauritius, then Kenya.
The book begins where it should with Peter telling us of his birth and early life in Ringwood Hampshire. He attended Ringwood Grammar School followed by Ringwood County Secondary School.
Peter joined HMS St Vincent on 28 December 1949 and after New Entry joined Anson 143 Advanced Class (AC) Class. Other classes were known as General Classes (GC). He relates a very good description of life at Gosport, the discipline, dhobying, the mast, the wonderful pay - 12s 6d a week (62.5p) of which he got 5s (25p) a week to spend. (I did better ten years later on 7s 6d to spend). He reminds us of the 'Skates' who joined the band to get out of 'cleaning ship'.
As I say we were and probably remain a diverse lot. However, Peter was one of those who made the most of his opportunities and with the future in mind passed Education Tests 1 and 2 plus Higher Education tests in five subjects. He was a Leading Seaman before the age of twenty (a UA no badge Killock) and subsequently obtained a Commission via the Upper-Yardsman scheme (HMS Temeraire) and qualified as a Pilot.
Unfortunately an inner ear problem ended his service career and he left in October 1957, whilst still a Sub-Lieutenant. (He was due for promotion in Oct 1957, however this could not take place because he was not medically fit). He left to begin a new career as an Air Traffic Control Officer. He left this employment in 1988 and being still only fifty-four, took a driver's job, followed by admin duties with the TA until 1998, when he finally retired to fish and grow vegetables.
This is an excellent book, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading. There is much more to it than this short review can convey, however all through the book I sensed the spirit of 'get up and go', a spirit I'm sure Peter will, in part, attribute to his start as a St Vincent boy. I highly recommend this book.
For further information contact Peter on firstname.lastname@example.org