Museum of the Manchester Regiment
The Men Behind the Medals

Peter Derbyshire

Peter Derbyshire : Photograph of Peter in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre.  Reference: MRP/10/009

Photograph of Peter in Tameside Local Studies and Archives Centre. Reference: MRP/10/009

Peter Derbyshire : (L to R) General Service Medal 1918-62 with clasp 'Palestine'; 1939-45 Star; Pacific Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal; 1977 Jubilee Medal; Long Service and Good Conduct Medal; Meritorious Service Medal; Efficiency Medal

(L to R) General Service Medal 1918-62 with clasp 'Palestine'; 1939-45 Star; Pacific Star; 1939-45 Defence Medal; 1939-45 War Medal; 1977 Jubilee Medal; Long Service and Good Conduct Medal; Meritorious Service Medal; Efficiency Medal

Peter was born on the 20th April 1905 in Pemberton, near Wigan in Lancashire. He was named after his father and his mother was called Winifred. He had 5 older siblings: John, Thomas, Mary, James Harold and Ellen, and 2 younger: Annie and Winifred Edna. By 1911 they had lost one other child. The family were Roman Catholics.

Peter senior was an underground fireman in a coal mine. In 1911 the family lived at 284 Billinge Road in Highfield, Wigan.

By the time he was 18 Peter junior worked as a junior clerk for a shipping company based in Wigan. His living conditions were poor though, so his father urged him to join the Army. Peter took a tram to Ladysmith Barracks in Ashton-under-Lyne and joined the Manchester Regiment on the 20th May 1924.

When he enlisted Peter was 5 feet 4 7/8 inches tall and weighed 122 pounds. He had a 'fresh' complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. He had a tattoo on his right forearm of a heart, an anchor and the letters 'PD'. Peter was given the service number 3519766 and began his basic training at Ladysmith Barracks in the Manchester Regiment Depot.

During his training Peter obtained the 3rd Class Army Certificate of Education on the 18th July and the 2nd Class Certificate on the 21st October. He finished his training just over a week later and joined the 1st Battalion of the Manchester Regiment in Cologne, Germany on the 31st.

The 1st Battalion moved to Konigstein during 1926. Peter left them on the 11th July and was posted back to the Depot. Peter had shown an interest in education, so it is possible that this posting marked the beginning of his time as a teacher for new recruits. To support him in this role he was sent on a six month course at the School of Education in Castle Martin, Kent, although we don't know when this was.

Whilst he was stationed at the Depot Peter married Alice Tetlow on the 26th December 1927. Their first daughter Jean was born on the 29th July 1928. They would have two more daughters and a son, all born in Ashton. Joyce was born on the 8th March 1930, Patricia on the 11th October 1931 and Peter on the 9th March 1936.

Peter was promoted to Lance Corporal on the 1st February 1928 and then to Corporal on the 25th January 1930. He was posted back to the 1st Battalion in Shorncliffe, Kent on the 17th April.

A month later on the 16th May Peter was one of the soldiers chosen to join a parade before King George V at Buckingham Palace. The King was the new Colonel in Chief of the Manchester Regiment and this was the first opportunity he had had to meet the unit. That October Peter obtained the 1st Class Army Certificate of Education.

The 1st Battalion was to move to Gosport, Hampshire, in late October 1931, but Peter did not go with them. He returned to the Depot on the 11th. We know that this was so that he could take up a teaching post. He was promoted to Lance Sergeant on the 5th April 1933.

Peter rejoined the 1st Battalion on the 11th October. The battalion sailed to the West Indies in January 1934. Half the unit was based in Jamaica, and half, including Peter, went to Bermuda. He continued his educational role, and was widely known as 'teacher'. Alice and their daughters went with him.

As a teacher Peter played a key role in the training of soldiers younger than 18, who were known as Boys. One of them, Charlie Frisby, remembered them being 'disappointed to hear that schooling would continue as usual. This disappointment lasted only as long as it took to get to know Peter'. Only the 3rd Class Certificate of Education was compulsory, but Peter was able to encourage many of the Boys to take the 2nd and even 1st Class Certificates as well.

The 1st Battalion left Bermuda for Egypt on the 26th September 1935. Peter's family returned to the UK. Tensions between the UK, who ruled Egypt, and Italy, who ruled neighbouring Libya, were rising during this period. Peter and the 1st Battalion took part in patrols of the border.

After the situation calmed during early 1936 Peter returned to barracks in Moascar. The 1st Battalion stayed in Egypt until the 14th January 1938, and spent much of this time training to become a mechanised machine gun battalion. Three days before he left Egypt Peter had been promoted to Sergeant, as a member of the Headquarters Wing, and now he found himself on Active Service for the first time.

A rebellion had broken out amongst several of the Arab tribes living in Palestine, and the British needed more soldiers to bring it under control. Peter served there between the 14th January and the 23rd September 1938. The 1st Battalion was based in the area around the city of Acre. Their roles were to search for gangs of rebels, to patrol the countryside and to guard important areas against attack.

After serving in Palestine the 1st Battalion moved to Singapore. They began to build defences and train to resist an invasion. Their main role was to man pillboxes on the beaches of the island. Peter joined C Company in early 1939, but after he was promoted to Colour Sergeant on the 3rd July 1941 he moved to B Company to become their Company Quartermaster Sergeant (CQMS).

The Japanese invaded Malaya on the 8th December 1941, and by the 27th January 1942 the British had been forced back onto the island of Singapore. The island was constantly bombed, and as the Japanese closed in their position became hopeless. The British garrison surrendered on the 15th February and Peter became a Prisoner of War (POW).

Peter was held at Changi until the 15th May 1943. On this day he was taken to a camp in Hokkaido, Japan. By Christmas 1943 Peter was at Hakodate Camp, where he was put to work unloading coal and fish from ships. Conditions for prisoners of the Japanese were poor. Sanitation, food and shelter were in short supply, and the POWs were expected to work long hours. Disease was rampant, and if a soldier fell sick the Japanese would no longer feed him, on the grounds that he could not work.

Peter was held at Hakodate until the end of the Second World War in August 1945. When he was released he was suffering from chest pains, known as pleurisy, and from frostbite in his feet. Peter had weighed around 144 pounds when he was captured. Upon release he weighed just 119. He was able to return to his family at 30 Leech Street in Ashton on the 18th November.

Peter recovered from his ordeal and was eventually passed fit to return to the Army. By May 1947 he was serving at the 63rd Primary Training Centre in Altrincham, Manchester. This was where recruits for the Manchester Regiment and others were trained. It was here on the 1st June 1948 that Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) presented Peter with the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal to recognise his 18 years in the Army. During May he had rejoined the 1st Battalion and on the 20th June he went with them to Wuppertal, West Germany.

After almost 2 years of training, sport and some internal security work Peter left the 1st Battalion on the 1st March 1950. He returned to the UK and went on release leave before leaving the Army on the 19th May. He went to live with his family at 873 Stockport Road in Longsight, Manchester.

As a civilian Peter found work as a ledger clerk in Reddish, Stockport. We don't know who he worked for. He must have missed the Army though, because on the 6th September he joined the 8th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment, a Territorial Army unit based at Ardwick in Manchester. Peter was given a new service number, 22511830 and assigned to Support Company as its CQMS.

As a Territorial Peter kept his civilian job and trained in the evenings and at weekends. He also attended annual training camps in every year of his service. He was promoted to Warrant Officer Class II on the 18th July 1952 and moved to C Company as its Sergeant Major. Peter's excellent record was recognised when he was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal during 1953.

Peter had joined the Manchester Regiment Old Comrade's Association (OCA) in 1927, and in 1954 he was elected to the Committee of the 8th Battalion OCA.

He had always been a fan of sports, especially football. It was traditional for the London Branch of the OCA to hold its annual reunion at around the same time as the FA Cup Final, so Peter was often able to attend both.

On the 5th September 1958 Peter's time in the 8th Battalion came to an end. He took up a civilian job in the Battalion Orderly Room though, so he was still a familiar sight at Ardwick. He became a key member of the OCA and attended many of their reunions and parades. By the early 1960s he was responsible for organising the Manchester Branch reunion each year, and by all accounts did an excellent job.

We don't know when Peter became Honorary Secretary of the Manchester Branch, but he held the position by 1966. He continued to hold this position and to attend reunions in Manchester and London throughout the rest of the 1960s and the 1970s. He retired in early 1974, but continued to work for the OCA as a volunteer.

On the 24th July 1976 Peter and Alice's son Peter died aged 40. He had followed his father into the Manchester Regiment in 1954, but to his family's surprise decided to leave after 3 years.

Peter celebrated his 80th birthday at the Ladysmith Ball held at Ashton Town Hall on the 1st March 1985. His friends took the opportunity to thank him for his devotion to the Regiment and its members

On the 4th August 1985 Peter died in East Birmingham Hospital. His friends from the OCA lined the route to the cemetery when he was buried and paraded their banners in the Chapel where the service was held. He was described as 'the perfect soldier, gentleman, loved and liked by all and a good friend'.

On the 5th January 1986 a commemorative plaque was put on display at Ardwick Drill Hall in memory of Peter's service to the Regiment. His medals were donated to the Museum of the Manchester Regiment the next year.

Museum of the Manchester Regiment
c/o Portland Basin Museum
Portland Place
Heritage Wharf
Ashton-under-Lyne
OL7 0QA

Telephone: 0161 343 2878
Email: Portland.Basin@tameside.gov.uk
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Trustees of the Manchester Regiment Museum & Archive and Tameside Metropolitan Borough Council