My Family Tree & Me: A Piece of My Father’s History – for Father’s Day 2022

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.

My Father, watching the world,
sometime in the 1970s

So it goes, from Stanley to Sandra, rippling outwards…

And from Sandra to Stanley – “Happy Father’s Day, dearest Dad.”

Letter 19: To the Friends Who are Family

19 February 2012

Dear Friends and honorary: (take a deep breath here …) sisters, brothers, nieces, nephews, uncles and aunties, etc, etc and so on …

My blood ties are few … I have a mother and a brother living, and my dear departed father provided me with a whole crowd of first cousins and through them many more seconds and thirds.  Somehow though we were out of kilter with them in family history and we stay in rare Christmas card and family funeral touch …  No children for me and my bro, no living grand parents, aunts or uncles or anything else and so that is our little Peachey family …

So there is me – ‘friend’ to a few … sometimes called sister … I always wanted a sister – ideally a twin one; there are twin girl cousins out there in the family tree; yet not me.  Not quite an only child, but spaced from my big brother by nearly 8 years and we were together in the early years, then separated through adolescence and distance and caught up with each other later in our lives, when our dad died.

So friend becomes sister, becomes honorary Auntie to babies … this role given by friendship, affection and love extended to you, as a non blood relative.  You get to love the expansion of your friend’s lives.  The title is given as a gift and in return you give gifts back … as ‘cool aunt’ your brief is to spoil those darling children rotten when you have the ways and means at your disposal … 

So you grow up and grow older, watching the babies follow in your wake, establishing the patterns of their lives … watching the changing facial features, the family characteristics – now like their mum, now like dad … grand-dad … cousin … who knows who?  The inherent fascination and dissertation of seeing the lineage reflected and altered in unique genetic combination.

And as my world is filled with new generations, so too is my mother’s.  No blood grand-babies for her, so she becomes honorary Nanna to two.  So proud I am she does this, that she is allowed to shine and show her capability for love and generosity; and when I take her round to meet my friend’s babies, they all hang round her, for she has a child like quality which pulls them in.  Straight away, the purse is open, gifts are given … I remember HER mother too giving me sixpences, and so it goes on …

In my childhood, there were aunts and uncles and they came with affection and affinity, though rarely were there parental friends around to be granted the honorary given title I have gained in abundance.  So even now, after a quarter of a century of being an Aunt, I am so surprised at how I am accepted, welcomed and you can see – loved by those who had no choice but to have me there, to have me to share.  Now they see ME, not ‘just’ Auntie, for many of them have grown out of the title now and as I am Sandra to my life long friends, so now too to them …

And else where, I am known as ‘Auntie Sandra’ to ALL the family – adults and children alike – a huge loving reminder of the affectionate part I play in their lives. 

So the single girl creates a family, gets to hug the children and give them back … then time flows on and she becomes a strange new creature of honorary familyness – a Great Aunt indeed! 

So it was that I held one baby in my arms and looked down at her and then, so little time later, it is HER son in his turn, in my arms … I hold this new born personality for hours, looking down at him, held and sated with the special milky love that comes with cradling a precious new life.  So in that room there is Mother, Grand Mother and Auntie, all quietly together, loving this new little lad. 

Then how quickly quiet turns to toddler noise and we move on and on, inexorably, pacing through life with the new comers beside us: sometimes stopping together, sometimes in step and sometimes continents apart; and I am woven into the fabric of their living, of their memories and mostly they come closer and some shy away; and shying away is allowed, since this is not necessarily unconditional love, but it IS acceptance, just like I gladly accepted the gift of them into my rounded, bonded Auntified kind of life … 

And is it coincidence this love spills over into my vocation and how much I love my clients, those whose orbits I circle in; for as I love to be cherished, I love to cherish too and to me coaching is cherishing and loving and nurturing.  Sometimes this is soft supporting love and some times shaking love, but throughout time I would tell my babies the score if that felt required; and still they love me and still we move on and where ever it is we happen to go; we all move on in love.

   Big love and hugs,

         Auntie S xxx

PS: Peachey Letters has now been published as a book, to find out more and purchase your own copies – follow this  link…