Peter Dickens  1911-1978

Peter ....it is said that his first name was Horatio. Horatio? Horatio Peter Dickens. He certainly had the right name to take to the seas.

Born in 1911 at Bulford Camp on Salisbury Plain and the third of three sons, he was only nine years old when his mother died. His brother, Louis, was at school in Ireland and Arthur was in India. But he was not motherless for long :-)  His father, Charles married Mabyn Roberts in 1922 and presumably they lived happily ever after.  

 

                  Mabyn with Peter's son, Barry in Burgh Rd. Aylsham

 In 1948, Peter, his wife Alma and son Barry, visited our home en route for East London where Peter was seconded to the S.A.A.F. No.43 Air Station as a Navigation Instructor. Alma and the little chap, Barry, stayed with us while Peter and my Dad went on to East London. We were all thoroughly impressed with this super-bright little boy. Chattering away so intelligently, he was a source of constant delight.  Nobody was surprised when, later in life, Barry had an illustrious career and retired as Air Commodore.

What I always look back at, in amusement, not anger, is the reaction of my mother, Roma, when she discovered that Alma wore a black nightgown when she stayed with us. Mum was aghast. I can't remember what Mum wore at night but I doubt that she wore anything the slightest bit frivolous. She had four children under eight, not much money and probably didn't shop in the right shops. But I remember it well ... I would've been about seven and could well have heard her telling her best friend about her sister-in-law from overseas who wore a black nightie!  Horrors:)

It is now a mere three or four years since one of my own grandsons, Gregory, obtained his Pupil Pilot Licence at 43 Air Station and his Commercial Pilot's Licence at Lanseria, near Johannesburg. When Greg returned from Port Alfred where 43 Air School is located, I asked him if he had seen the Dickens name anywhere and he said he thought he had seen it on a Notice Board - but couldn't remember where.

                                            South Africa - 1948

Peter, like most of the Dickens chaps, was charming, interesting, amusing and a great raconteur. When Peter visited his Uncle Ernie's son, John and his wife Anne, in the States, in 1965, he flew the Vickers VC10 jetliner on yet another proving flight for BOAC.  It was then that he told them this tale:

"My father had sent Arthur to the Army and Louis to the Air Force and I was supposed to go to the Navy but the money was running out. So I was sent to the Merchant Navy at Worcester but hated the life. When I got out, the only job was running tankers to the Gulf.

"When I finally got my First Mate's certificate, I confronted the old man (Charles).

"I've done what you asked and I've kept the bargain. I have my Certificate and here it is," I said, slapping it down in front of him. "I hate the sea and I'm never going back to it, but I hope you are happy". It was a terrible confrontation but at the end, as I stalked out, I had the presence of mind to pick up the Certificate and take it with me.

'"In the 1930's, I was in show business with a partner, mainly putting on concert parties in the North of England.

"In 1938, there was to be a big air show at Biggin Hill near London. The Spitfires were going to be swooping and the Hurricanes roaring. So we organised a large lorry of ice cream and took it in early. It was a fine hot day; the crowds were enormous and no other trucks could get through.

"We made a fortune! But a little later, we had some trouble with one of our parties up North - the leading man and lady were not hitting it off so I left London to try and solve the problem. My partner and I trusted each other, so we had agreed that each could cash cheques on the joint account.

"I straightened out the situation in the North but when I got back, my partner had cleaned out the account and gone to France. I was poor again.

"Then the Second World War started. I went to see the Navy and told them I wanted a permanent commission. After all, I had a First Mate's Certificate.

"They said they would put me in the RNVR but not in the real Navy. And they were serious! So I joined the Air Force where my navigational skills were admired.

"One of the funniest things that ever happened to me was at the end of the War when we had to fly a party of very high mukkitymuks - ambassadors, generals, etc. from Cairo to Teheran for a meeting with the Russians. We were flying pretty high and the Captain asked me to go back and see how the passengers were doing.

"They were all unconscious; turning blue and close to dead because the oxygen tubes had frozen shut. I told the Captain they were probably all dead - the whole Allied mission!

"The Captain was pretty devastated so we descended smartly to warmer altitudes and the passengers finally revived. They all said what a fine journey it had been and what a wonderful sleep they had had. We smiled and said we hoped they would fly with us again."

Finito!

Peter had married Alma White in 1936 but the marriage didn't work out. Mum said it was because of the black nightie :-) 

Perhaps because he was the only Dickens to be divorced, Peter called himself the Black Sheep of the family. Little did he suspect, there would be more such Black Sheep down the generations. I should know.

After the War, Peter became a Senior Navigator with BOAC and was the navigator of the first Comet to come out to South Africa.

Going back to when Peter and his brother Arthur, my Dad, went down to East London, Dad had some business to attend to but when they both had time, Peter showed Dad the clay pigeon shooting, which is apparently part of the training.

A clay pigeon is jet-propelled into the air,Dad told us later, with the object being to shoot it down. The shooting was indifferent on this particular day and an exasperated officer said: 'Come on, Peter, you show us how to do it'.

My brother, who said afterwards that he had never hit a clay pigeon in his life, complied unwillingly and considered he was about to make an ass of himself but hey, nobody was more surprised than he was when he hit the target first go, but he gave them the works after that.

Later, he took me to another shooting set-up. This consisted of a room on the floor, of which, was a map of Germany. By means of a conveyor belt and rollers, the map was made to undulate at different speeds. About twenty feet up was the cockpit of a bomber. Inside the cockpit was a fake bomb-release switch and when it was pressed it reflected a light below,indicating where the 'bomb' had fallen.Certain adjustments and allowances had to be made to register a hit.

Dad said he admired Peter enormously for what he did but knew for sure that he had done the right thing by staying in the infantry.

Another amusing tale he told Dad, and which our family still use when appropriate, is the 'system' Peter had developed when playing golf.

When an opponent played a good shot, he said: "Pretty!"  And when it was a bad shot, he said: "Pity."

The effect of these two words would unsettle and intimidate the other chap so much that he would get jittery and make mistakes.

Oh yes ...there was another time Peter was out here. Somewhere in the mid 50's I think. He had very little time; perhaps two or three hours at the most, so he invited Mum and me to lunch at the Luthje's Langham Hotel (no longer there) because it was the Hotel used by BOAC and, coincidentally, I was working over the road at Gestetner. Dad was working and couldn't get away ... in those days it could take over an hour by car just to get to Johannesburg!

Mum and I enjoyed our lunch immensely; Peter was entertaining and articulate and the story of the Comet was all over the newspaper at the time.  (Again, much later, when the Comets started falling out of the skies. We were fearful for him in those days).We were sorry time was so short for his visit.

We were relieved to hear he had re-married in 1954. Anne of the beautiful legs! My brother Tony was back-packing his way through Europe at the time and had dropped into England to visit his Uncle Peter and his new wife. When Tony returned to South Africa, all he could talk about was Anne's wonderful legs.  We later found out that she had been a shoe and hose model.

In the mid-50's, two children were born of the marriage between Peter and Anne: Jane and Clive. Today they have their own children.

 

Peter, his Uncle John and John's sons Tim and Jim - Delaware 1965 

 

After Peter died, in 1978 at the relatively young age of 67, Anne married William George Wood in 1982 but he died of a stroke in 1986.

Anne still lives at Merrys as she has done for a long time and she maintained a good friendship with Peter's stepmother Mabyn in Norfolk until Mabyn died at almost 90. Anne said that Mabyn had pink hair one week and blue the next, "One must care, darling," she would say.

Peter's son Barry and his wife Annette have a son, Timothy Frederick Charles.


 Leslie and Eric Dickens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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