Thursday, 21 June 2007

Peter Roughley DCM

Front of Peter Roughley's Memorial Card

As a child I loved looking at the old photographs and trinkets my Mother kept in her dressing table drawer. It was a beautiful old dressing table made of polished mahogany with the largest mirror I had ever seen. The whole room was filled with amazing things– fur coats that I couldn’t wait to grow into, handbags containing letters in from a soldier who looked like a movie star. An old cardboard box containing a crucifix and candlestick holders with half used candles still in them, remnants of some catholic blessing that must have taken place here. The curiosities were endless and kept me amused for hours. Of all these items, the one that fascinated me most of all, was a small black-edged card the size of a playing card. On one side of the card was a drawing of a wounded soldier looking at Jesus. It appeared to be very old fashioned and the white areas were yellowed with age. On the back was a short poem and some words that used to make me feel sad.

Reverse of Peter Roughley's Memorial Card

My Mother told me that it was given to her Mother following a mass for Peter Roughley who was married to her Aunt Sally but was killed in World War One. Years went by and these items just became part of my childhood memories but I never forgot the story of Peter and Aunt Sally and often wondered what had happened to him.

Peter Roughley DCM

By the late 1990’s my Mother lived alone for the first time in her life. We would talk for hours about family history. I think it made her feel closer to the people who had gone. She loved to colour the facts with stories of who these people were and what had happened to them in their lives, which was usually a sad tale. If it hadn’t been for her excellent memory a whole chunk of our family history would be lost. She recalled broken love affairs and a suicide following unrequited love. She described nights when all their relatives came to stay to get away from the blitz in Liverpool not knowing if they would have a home by the next day.
When she died in 2003 and we were left to empty a house full of memories while our hearts were heavy with loss. How do you throw away a birthday card sent to your Grandmother from The Front; your first drawing you brought home from school 40 years ago or a lock of hair from someone you have never met but was obviously well loved. I left the place where I was born and spent the happiest of childhoods with boxes of stuff I still can't throw away. I wonder what the new people thought when they saw the childish scribbles on the plaster under the wallpaper. I hope that their children feel the sense of love and security we had and that the house is as warm and comforting as it was for us no matter how old we were.
Looking through the boxes brought back all those childhood memories, I could almost smell Mum’s stew cooking! There amongst the memories was the black-edged card that fascinated me so much as a child. “Peter Roughley” the name conjured up memories of my Great Aunt Sally. I had met her only once or twice when taken to her flat in the Scotland Road area of Liverpool, where she lived alone. She was quite elderly by that time. I remember feeling very sorry for her that she didn’t have any children. I was only about six at the time but I couldn’t imagine a person having a life where there weren’t children running around playing. I wondered how different her life may have been if Peter hadn’t been killed. He was so handsome – I had found a couple of faded photographs taken in his Kings Regiment uniform. He looked too young to be married, never mind sent off to war. I didn’t have any pictures of Sally but decided that her and my Mother were so alike in their old age that they must have looked similar when young – small, dark hair and blue eyes. I imagined her, beautiful, young and alone waiting for news of her new husband together with thousands of other wives, girlfriends and mothers. One day she would receive the news that he had been killed in action. He wasn’t coming back to her ever again. She would never see that handsome face again, never put her arms around him again nor or feel his around her comforting her in difficult times. She would not have lots of babies like her other sisters. She must have felt that her life was over.
I wanted to know more about them. Finding out more became an obsession; I just couldn’t let it go. I later wondered if his spirit was restless and would only found peace when his story became known – it would be a tale which would make me realise that these men who died far in a “foreign field” were not just names on war memorials but real men who are connected to us. I had looked Peter’s name up on the Commonwealth War Graves website to see if there was any more information about how or where he died. The site referred to him as “Peter Roughley DCM” The Distinguished Conduct Medal – second only to the Victoria Cross was awarded for bravery. It also said that he was buried in Hooge Crater Cemetery, Ieper, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. I remembered one of my Mother's stories about Peter getting a medal. Aunt Sally was supposed to go to London to pick up a medal but she didn’t know if she actually went, as they were so poor that she doubted that she could have got the train fare together. I looked through the bag of medals she kept in the house – there was quite a few, mostly from the WW2 except for an odd one or two, which turned out to be my Grandfathers WW1 medals, but it wasn’t there. Looking back, it would have been amazing if it had, as these medals are quite rare collectors items. A bit more research turned up the citation in the London Gazette

I felt a lump in my throat as I read the citation, here was this young man who risked his life for his friends, died and our family hardly remembered him. I felt sad that he had been buried in Belgium and it was highly unlikely that anyone from our family had ever laid flowers on his grave. I felt I had to rectify this so on a cold but clear weekend in March we travelled to Ypres and visited the cemetery at Hooge Crater.

Hooge Crater Cemetery, Belgium

It would be impossible to go to this area and not feel great sadness. It is so peaceful and beautiful now but each blade of grass is tinged with the blood of our ancestors. The sun cast long shadows on the frosty ground. Row upon row of white stones interspersed with varying small bushes to try to break up the regimentation. You could see how well cared for the cemeteries were – but they were impersonal and so lonely – no little teddies placed on the ground by a loving son or daughter, no reminiscences of a Dad’s favourite football team. These graves have not had tears shed over them by a grief stricken family.

Peter Roughley's final resting place

We found Peter’s grave on Sunday morning. The sky was clear and blue and we could see for miles. A church bell rang appropriately in the distance as we laid flowers on his grave – deep purple coloured tulips. We shivered with sadness not only for him and Sally but for the others who also gave their lives for King and Country – the graves went on forever. As I laid the flowers I thanked him for the freedom we have and we take for granted. I cherished my husband and my life that bit more from that moment. We came back to England and got on with our lives. I no longer felt the same need to keep trying to find out what happened. Maybe his spirit was able to rest now, maybe he did not want his sacrifice to be forgotten. I hoped that there was an afterlife where they were both together.

Peter Roughley's DCM front

A number of years later I received an email from a collector who had just bought Peter’s medal. He kindly sent photographs of it and agreed that next time he was in the area – he would bring it along for us to see, but the medal itself is no longer important, after all its just a piece of metal. What was important was that Peter’s story not been forgotten. He, together with so many of his generation, had made a lasting impression in time.

Peter Roughley's DCM reverse

Rest in Peace Peter and Sally.
Barbara 14/8/06

Since publishing the story of Peter Roughley last year, a number of people have contacted me with comments, some have expressed how interesting the story is, others have shed a tear as it touched their hearts. Another person, Anthony, contacted me with newspaper clippings from the Liverpool Express telling initially of Peters award and sadly a few months later, a report of his death.

24 October 1916

9 June 1917

Anthony also sent photographs of the war memorial in Our Lady of Reconciliation de la Salette church in Eldon Street.

The War Memorial
Peter's name on the Memorial

You can read about Peter and others named on the memorial on Anthony's website


Rob Ryan said...

A moving and tragic story . We really don't know we're born do we ? I remember looking at my mum's mass cards when I was young, what great little reminders they are !

Barbara said...

Thanks for your comments Ryan. Its a tragic story that must have been repeated over and over again.

Anonymous said...

I am researching the memorial at Our Lady Of Reconciliation Church, Eldon Street, Liverpool. It lies just off Scotland Road. Peters name is listed there.

I could find no email for you, so i could not pass on a photograph.