Dedicated to my father – Stanley Charles Peachey: 1917 to 1986
I recently started writing about the research I’ve been carrying out on my family tree, with the intention of producing several blogs about the process, whilst interweaving this with stories and connections I’ve encountered along the way. I started off in a deliberately brief and factual way, but have realised as I go through the process, that what has felt intrinsically right instead, has been for me to open the stories out and take a far deeper dive into them. With Father’s Day being celebrated today, I decided to post part of the piece, so that I can celebrate some of realisations I’ve had about my own dear Dad. I am, I have to say, finding the telling of these stories so very selfishly-satisfying…
~ Sandra Peachey
A Piece of My Father’s History
To selfishly start with me, I made my way into this physical world as the product of an arranged marriage…
That is: I was created in the orbit of an ideological organisation called ‘Moral Re-Armament’ (shortened to MRA), founded by an American, one Franklin Nathaniel Daniel (aka Frank) Buchman, who started out on his spiritual career as a Lutheran Minister, eventually founding MRA. In turn, MRA went on to become an international moral and spiritual movement, led by Buchman until his death in 1961. It’s now known as ‘Initiatives of Change’.
My parents met in the 1950s, both being in the orbit of MRA, for different reasons. My father – Stanley Peachey, had made contact with the organisation during his army service in the Second World War and had a spiritual conversion, becoming a practising Christian, MRA member and non-smoking teetotaller.
Many of its members, were ‘guided by God’ and others in their circle, to go on international peace-keeping, philanthropical or industrial assignments. Some, like my father, practised their philanthropy more locally – he earned his living as a Plasterer, rebuilding the post-war city of Coventry in the centre of England, which had been decimated by German bombs – first with his brother’s building firm, then the City Council.
In researching for this piece, I discovered a piece in the Independent, published in April 2006 and republished on the Initiatives of Change website. The article is an obituary to Les Dennison who had died that year, having lived and worked in Coventry, where both he and my father were involved with the construction industry and the Trade Union movement, coming into contact as a result.
Les was a Plumber and Trade Union Convener. In the Second World War he had been captured by the Japanese in Singapore, becoming a prisoner of war (PoW) in the most horrific and inhumane of conditions; then forced to be a building labourer, working along the River Kwai, where the Japanese were constructing bridges between Burma and Thailand. In doing so, he suffered extreme deprivation and cruelty at the hands of his captors, whilst being witness to the many hundreds of fellow prisoners around him who were dying from beatings, sickness or starvation.
Over the years I heard his stories many times, including how he had killed one of his Japanese guards. He hid the body and managed to survive however, becoming one of the small minority who were shipped back to England, alive. On his return to Coventry, having been out of contact with the world for over 3 years, he discovered that his wife – believing she was a widow, had subsequently remarried…
Despite this, he and his wife became a family again, going on to have 4 children. To earn a living on Civvy Street, he trained as a plumber, also becoming a Communist agitator and Trade Union Convener in charge of 400 men. Yet as he moved on with his life, he was still bitter and angry both with his wife and the establishment for what had happened to him and the world, seeking to beat both, in retaliation.
When they met in 1959, Les and my father had several things in common, apart from their Trade Union affiliations. My father had also spent time in Burma during the war, but on military service, rather than as a PoW. They had both donated their War Gratuity, (or Demob Money (a payment made to those who left military service, to ease their transition back into civilian life)), to the causes which they respectively believed would make the post-war world a better place. For my father this was MRA, for Les – the Communist Party. These similarities however, gave them no common ground for respect, since it was my father’s opinion that those who didn’t look up to Les, were scared of him. Both men believed in revolution. For my father, a union shop steward at the time, this meant negotiating peaceful, mutually agreed resolutions; for Les it was about shaking up and replacing the establishment. Not only were they at loggerheads about the way of the world, but my father also confronted Les about the often violent way he treated his family – declaring him to be a dictator at home. ‘In order to change the world’, my father told him, ‘you first have to change yourself’…
The message hit home and Les began to believe in the possibility of a world free of hatred, fear and greed. He went on to become a member of MRA, as well as a practising Roman Catholic. As a result, he mended his marriage and went on to become a positive force for positivity and productivity in the local construction industry.
Several years later, on a visit to MRA’s world centre in Switzerland, Les had an encounter with a retired Japanese General. It was an emotive meeting, since this man essentially represented Les’ former captors. On meeting Les, the Japanese former General bowed humbly down before him, declaring: “I don’t ever expect you to forget what happened. I beg you to forgive me and my nation.” [Ref: Michael Henderson’s book ‘Forgiveness: Breaking the Chain of Hate’ (2002)]. This deeply touched Les, despite the underlying bitterness and hatred he still felt towards the Japanese and their country.
Subsequently he visited Japan a number of times on reconciliation missions, asking for forgiveness for his own hatred in turn, which included his being present at the 50th anniversary commemoration of the bombing of Hiroshima.
Whilst my father was a catalyst for this change, he and Les had an uneasy relationship in the years after they met. In my memories of MRA gatherings… in amongst the philanthropic bonhomie… I would witness their continued verbal sparring… Yet despite this, the fact that they both made an impact on the world, each in their own way, is undeniable.
Like so many true-life stories therefore, this one has a mixed ending, both in a personal and global sense. In many ways it feels to me as if the world has continued to be a corrupt and violent one, where self-servers hold the vast majority of power.
As for my father, his existence was far from perfect – he felt fear and despair so very many times in his life, especially towards its end… Yet despite this, he has created a legion of legacies, of which I am one. Decades after his passing, I still inevitably, carry some of his cross – passed along to me via DNA and nurture. But whilst I live with it, I also choose not to let it define the darker aspects of my psyche and instead to celebrate the powerfully positive inheritances which he bequeathed to me, instead. I always felt that he believed in me, was proud of me; he also made me laugh and feel cherished, as well as imbuing me with a passion for the creativity of the written word.
Telling this version of my father’s history now, fills me not just with pride, but with love – which, of all his legacies, for me, is the most lasting and joyful one. Whilst I always knew it, writing about this has articulated for me how his influence and that of MRA have affected my values and the way I live my life. I’ve now created my own path, making a difference in the ways I can, by creativity and coaching, in doing so to remind people that they have a choice about how they respond to the cards which life has dealt them. And this, despite my being so beautifully imperfect. My own father’s daughter.
So it goes, from Stanley to Sandra, rippling outwards…
And from Sandra to Stanley – “Happy Father’s Day, dearest Dad.”