Obituaries

Roger Peckham

8th March 1945 - 19th October 2013

Anyone who knew Roger Peckham will know that he was loyal, generous and had many friends as reflected by the attendance at his funeral service on 1st November at St Nicholas, Ashill. The church was standing room only with people from across the country, some friends travelling from as far as the South West and the North of Scotland. The congregation included family, ringers, former work colleagues and many others whose lives had crossed with Roger’s.

The service was designed by Roger and included some of his favourite hymns, music composed by his mother Dorrie and some Grandsire Caters rung on his handbells. A moving tribute was given by Roger’s cousin Chris Durrant and much of what is written here is taken directly from that. A quarter peal of Stedman Triples was rung immediately after the service and a peal of Grandsire Triples the following day by Roger’s family and close friends. Roger was born on 8th March 1945 in Brighton. Within a couple of years his mother, father and sister moved to Hassocks. Roger attended Hassocks and Hurstpierpoint Primary Schools, Hurstpierpoint College and Brighton and Hove Grammar School for Boys.

Church was integral to family life with choral and organ music playing a large part of this. Having been a chorister in Keymer Church the move from choir stalls to the ringing chamber was seamless and it was here he was taught to ring by Peter Romney.

On leaving school, Roger wanted to go to Plumpton Agricultural College, but as he had no farming background he was unable to get a place. For a short time he did work on a couple of farms before going to work at his father’s ironmongery business, J. B. Bennetts in Brighton.

During the 1960s Roger rang regularly at many of the nearby Sussex towers including Keymer, Wivelsfield, Ditchling and Hurstpierpoint. He was elected a member of the Sussex County Association in 1957 and rang his first peal, Stedman Doubles, at Wisborough Green in 1965. Ringing at Keymer always went hand in hand with ringing at Wivelsfield and it was here that he met Wendy who he married there in 1969.

In 1967 he attended Lowestoft College where he obtained his qualification as a Ship’s Radio and Electronics Officer. This was also the start of his connections with East Anglia and ringing in the area. It was also his most prolific peal ringing period and included a number of peals rung with the active minor band who rang regularly at Norton Subcourse and other nearby towers.

The following year he went to sea for the first time and subsequently he worked for Marconi Marine on a variety of ships, trading to Africa, South America, Scandinavia and the Far East. Next he moved employers to Zim Israeli Shipping. This had the advantage that Wendy was able to go with him on some voyages around the world as, at that time, Zim was one of the few companies which allowed wives to travel with their husbands and they journeyed to Japan, Chile, Canada and the Far East.

Roger wanted to spend more time with his young family so moved work closer to home, holding various positions for the next 30 years as Radio Officer, Technical Officer and Electrician on most of the cross channel routes. During this time he continued to be an active member of the Sussex County Association and was Southern division ringing master from 1981 to 1984. He took on the role of tower captain at St Cosmas and St Damian, Keymer building a strong band and leading the re-hanging of the bells there in 1976. He arranged several memorable ringing holidays to Devon based at Arthur Fidlers’ in Bow which were thoroughly enjoyed by all that took part.

Roger’s most poignant sea voyage was undoubtedly on the night sailing from Dover to Zeebrugge on 23rd May 1988 when the Seafreight Freeway, with 34 crew and 41 commercial drivers onboard, suffered a disastrous engine room fire in which there were serious injuries and very sadly, the loss of life of the 3rd engineer. An RAF Wessex helicopter was scrambled to airlift one badly burned crew member to hospital. Dover, Ramsgate and Calais lifeboats were launched along with two Sea King helicopters to ferry Kent firemen to the scene and a fire-fighting tug sailed from Dover. Roger dealt with all the communications between the ship and coastguard, lifeboats, air sea rescue, fire service and tugs throughout the operation until the fire was brought under control.

Again on the Seafreight Freeway, a little earlier on 16th October 1987, Roger’s ship was the last to leave Dover Harbour before the port was closed prior to the Hurricane which battered the channel and south coast that night. By this time Roger and Wendy had moved to Ashill where they were able to re-establish their connections with the Norfolk ringing scene. At the time the bells at St Nicholas, Ashill were unringable, but after instigating temporary repairs and establishing a band from scratch he was responsible for the full restoration and augmentation to eight in 1996/7. He led not only the actual manual work alongside the professionals from Whites of Appleton, but also in raising the substantial amount of money required. He was overwhelmed by the support he received from the people in the village, local businesses and bellringing friends which enabled this money to be raised in under two years.

He taught many people to ring and especially enjoyed teaching the young people at Ashill. For a number of years the band of youngsters he taught ably represented the tower in local striking competitions.

Roger’s final job with ships was his voluntary work involving the conversion of a Danish train ferry on the Tyne into the world’s largest civilian hospital ship, the Africa Mercy which brings hope and healing to some of the world’s poorer nations. He found this work extremely rewarding, and provided the opportunity to ring at a few towers in that area of the North East!

Roger enjoyed many hobbies, model railways, DIY, cycling and walking disused railways, but mainly his great love was bellringing. He was a ringer through and through.

He was elected a member of the College Youths in 1976, and was also proud to have rung at Canterbury Cathedral for the enthronement of George Carey as Archbishop of Canterbury.

He rang just over 200 peals in a wide variety of methods on all numbers up to twelve, mostly for the Sussex and Norwich associations. However, he was one of those people who gained as much pleasure out of getting one of his youngsters though their first quarter peal. Actually, he was never really one for the complex methods, what he did like most of all was his Stedman and Grandsire. Quality always being more important than complexity.

As Chris described in his tribute “He was a good chap, a most gentle and generous person, liked by all who met him. He was the most loving husband, father and grandfather”. He will be sorely missed.

CHRISTIAN PECKHAM
Adapted from the tribute given by Chris Durrant

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Central Council of Church Bell Ringers