William Pemberton Peake (1865-1952) was born in Hildenborough, Kent in 1865 and baptised there on the 26th October. He was the son of Charles Richard Peake (c1831-1903), a bank manager, and Eliza Mary (c1833-1929) who had children: Ada Mary (1862- 1936), Charles William (1863-1965), William Pemberton (1865-1952) and Margaret Emmeline (1870-1953).
The family lived at High Street, Tonbridge, until the late 1880s when they moved to Croydon. William attended Cheltenham College and boarded at Beaufort House with the Reverend John H G Baxter, who was a Master at the College, and his family. After leaving school William studied medicine at St Bart’s, London, qualifying in 1887. His first employed role was Assistant Medical Officer at St Marylebone Infirmary. William contributed an article on “Tubercular Laryngitis – Tracheotomy With Cocaine” to The Lancet in 1888 and “Some Observations on the Pathology and Treatment of Migraine” in 1890.
In 1889 William moved to Leicester to work as Medical Officer of Number 4 District Leicester Union and set up his own practice. He began worshipping at St Martin’s and served as a sidesman from the very first. He married Alice Ambrosine Bucknell (1867-1949) at St Peter’s, Kensington Park in 1890, returning with Alice to Wygston’s House, 18 High Cross Street where they lived until at least 1894.
By April 1897 William and Alice had moved to 25 Friar Lane and from at least 1901 to 1911 they lived at Oxford House, 21 Oxford Street. They had children Lily Harriet Mary (1891-1984), Helena Margaret (1893-) and Charles Brinsley Pemberton (1897-1958). Alice and William enjoyed singing and amateur dramatics in their spare time – Alice organised a fund raising concert to raise money for the restoration of St Martin’s in 1895. William was also a member of The Leicestershire Architectural and Archaeological Society until 1904. He served the 1st Volunteer Leicestershire Regiment as Surgeon-Lieutenant from 1896, and was Captain Surgeon by 1908. By 1909 he commanded the 2nd North Midland Field Ambulance.
From 1910 Alice was an active suffragette and member of the Women’s Social and Political Union, speaking regularly at debates and events and taking a leading role in the development of local policy. William was also an active member and a practical supporter of the women’s suffrage movement: In 1911 he was billed to speak at a meeting organised by the WSPU at the Corn Exchange (but was unable to attend due to his own illness). In 1909, through his role as prison doctor, he had attended the medical needs of five suffragists from Nottingham who were gaoled at Leicester for making a disturbance outside a meeting held by Winston Churchill– the women had refused to eat during their five days imprisonment. He later suggested that this experience had impressed him so much that he had been moved to join the WSPU.
The coming of war thrust both William and Alice into action. In August 1914 Alice formed part of a committee to rapidly equip the old county asylum as the 5th Northern General Hospital and shortly afterwards William led the North Midland Divisional Clearing Hospital to the Front. The Leicester Chronicle reported: “Eight officers and 77 men of the North Midland Divisional Clearing Hospital under the command of Colonel Pemberton Peake, left Leicester shortly before 1 o’clock on Thursday for Luton to await orders. This unit has been organised for service with the Expeditionary Force, and not for home defence….The unit paraded at the Magazine at noon and Colonel Peake delivered a short address in which he expressed the conviction that the men would act in accordance with the highest traditions of the British Army….Mrs Pemberton Peake expressed a brief good bye, and the unit, headed by the Boy Scouts Bugle Band, marched to the Midland Station. At many points en route passers by raised their hats and cheered and the men were not slow in responding. A brave attempt was made to sing “Tipperary” but the band to a large extent drowned the popular chorus. At the Midland Station Colonel Peake thanked the Scouts for their services, adding that he hoped the time would not be far distant when the Scouts, at the conclusion of the war, would have an opportunity of leading them into the town again.”
After spending several weeks treating sick soldiers billeted at Luton in bell tents erected in the grounds of Wardown, a mansion near Luton, it was agreed to move the field hospital to the ground floor of the mansion itself. However the real work was to be carried out close to the Front, and so William landed in Boulogne on 27th February 1915, aged fifty. His Field Ambulance unit served under extremely treacherous conditions at Hooge, when the Germans launched their first ‘liquid fire’ attack (during which Canon Nugee’s son Andrew Nugee was blinded) and the attack on the Hohenzollern Redoute which killed several St Martin’s men. In 1916 the unit was ordered briefly to Egypt before returning to serve at Gommecourt and Cambrai.
By 1920 William, Alice and their daughter Lily had moved to Chelsea Cottage, St Helens, on the Isle of Wight where Alice and Lily were very active in the local Women’s Institute and performed in several dramatic entertainments. The Pemberton Peakes didn’t stay long on the Isle of Wight. A picnic tea was held to wish them farewell in August 1921 but they were still at St Helens in February of 1922. In December of 1922 William received his war medals and emblems at 132 Sinclair Road, Kensington. In 1927 William and Alice moved to Keeps, Hillside, Horsham, where they lived out their days. William died on 4th January 1952, Alice in November 1949.
Charles Brinsley Pemberton Peake was born on 2nd January 1897 and baptised privately at St Martin’s on 14th April 1897. He was educated at Wyggeston School and was about to go up to Oxford when war was declared. Instead, Charles Joined the Leicestershire Regiment in October 1914 as 2nd Lieutenant, two months before his 17th birthday.
The Wyggestonian magazine reported “And what of the versatile Peake? There he sits, learning Hebrew under canvas. We trust that he will instruct his men in the orthodox doctrine.”
Despite his young age, it wasn’t long before Charles was serving at the Front. He joined the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment at Humbercamps, Pas de Calais, on 9th June 1916 and soon made his mark. He was awarded the Military Cross for his actions on the night of 29th-30th June 1916. The citation read:
“For conspicuous gallantry during a raid on the enemy’s trenches. Although wounded he displayed great courage, and finally assisted back wounded men under heavy fire.” Just a couple of days later, on 1st July 1916, “Lt Peake and 2nd Lt Lea laboured through shell holes and through barbed wire carrying one man on a ladder that was to have been used to get in and out of the German trenches. It was only when they passed the man to helping hands in the British line that they realised a large part of his head was missing.”
Charles’ mother wrote to his former headmaster “He is very anxious for you to know, and make it as public as you can, that Geoffrey Lea and another officer named Holden (both Old Wyggestonians) equally deserve the Military Cross with Charles. He says they were simply splendidly brave, and so also was Private C P Watkinson.”
Charles was serving with the 9th Battalion in April 1917. On 10th April on the outpost line at Croiselles, the British were attacking the Hindenburg Line with heavy artillery under “extremely bad” weather conditions and the Germans responded with heavy shelling of the outpost line, with increased activity towards dusk. Patrols on both sides covered the area throughout the night. A gap in the wires enabled a German patrol to seriously wound Charles and kill one of his fellow lieutenants, before escaping back through the damaged wire.
On 14th April 1917 his photo and obituary appeared in the Leicester Mercury, p4:
“We deeply regret to hear that Mrs Peake, wife of Colonel Peake, has received official information that their son, Lieutenant C B P Peak, was killed in action on the 10th inst. He had been with the Leicesters practically from the beginning of the war, and had rendered distinguished service, having been awarded the Military Cross for gallantry in the field. He was 20 years of age, and last home on leave about three months ago. His father, Colonel Pemberton Peake is with the RAMC in France. The news will be received with great regret by all who knew the gallant young officer, and the greatest sympathy will be extended to his beloved parents.
The deceased officer won the Military Cross on the 29th June for conspicuous gallantry during a raid on the enemy’s trenches. Although wounded he displayed great courage, and finally assisted back wounded men under a heavy fire. Such was the official record. In a letter that he wrte to his mother, Lieut Peake modestly disclaimed special merit on the occasion, stating that others did as much as he did, but the official records do not over state these actions and Lieut Peake’s cross is emblematic of the highest courage displayed under circumstances the most trying.”
However, the news of Charles’ death was premature. It was not always possible to keep track of who was dead, wounded or captured in the confusion of battle. On 16th April the Mercury again reported:
“The many friends of Dr and Mrs Pemberton Peake will be pleased to learn that there was an error in the message Mrs Peake received on Saturday announcing the death of her son. Lieut C B P Peake was not killed in action but seriously wounded, as the following telegram received today from Lichfield shows:-‘Regret my wire of the 14th inst reporting Lieut C B P Peake killed in action, was sent in error. Lieut C B P Peake now reported admitted to No 1 Red Cross Hospital, Le Touquet, suffering from shell wounds right leg and left wrist, severe.’
While we rejoice that the first intimation was incorrect, there will be much sympathy with the family in their present anxiety, and an earnest hope that further news will record his satisfactory progress.”
Charles’ injuries were indeed severe. He underwent 17 operations on his badly wounded leg and was no longer capable of active service. He must have needed a lot of nursing care, which is perhaps why on 12th September 1918 The Times announced his engagement to Kathleen Jephcott, a Candian nurse. The engagement ended shortly afterwards and Kathleen returned to Toronto in October 1918.
Charles completed his BA at Magdalen College, Oxford, in 1921. He was a member of the Cocoa Tree Club (64 St James Street, London). In 1922 he joined the British diplomatic service and was appointed 3rd secretary – the start of a brilliant career. In 1933 he went to Paris as the first embassy secretary, transferring in 1935 to the News Department of the Foreign Office. In 1941 he accompanied Lord Halifax, then ambassador to Washington, as his right hand. In 1942 he became British representative of de Gaulle’s National Committee in London. From 1944 to 1945 he served as political advisor to the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Forces. At the end of the war Charles was appointed Consul General in Tangier and in May 1946 as British Ambassador in Belgrade. He was made Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1948. Finally in 1956 Charles became HM Ambassador Extraordinary, Belgrade and Plenipotentiary in Athens.
In 1930 Charles married Catherine Marie Knight (1904-1992) and they had a child, Simon Jeremy Brinsley Peake (1930-2009) who was born in Berne. Whilst in England the Pemberton Peakes lived at The Garden House, Beaufort Close, Reigate. By 1958 they lived at Beaumont House, Beamont Street, Marylebone. Charles died on 10th April 1958 and was buried at All Saints Kirby Underdale, Yorkshire, on 12th April.
Lily Harriet Mary Peake was born at 18 Highcross Street on 5th June 1891 and baptised on 16th August at Osmaston-by-Ashbourne in Derbyshire. She attended Wyggeston Girls’ School until the age of 18. Headmistress Miss Heron described Lily as “capable of a very responsible post. She has tact, judgement and initiative and knows how to manage others without friction.” Lily was 5’6” tall, weighed 9 stone 12lbs and wore glasses. She had poor teeth, fair hair and brown eyes. After leaving school she spent two years managing a large doctor’s practice in Birmingham before moving to Devon in 1914, where she spent another two years working in Public Health for Devon County Council. Early in 1915 The Wyggeston Girls’ Gazette reported that “Lily Peake has a post as Clerk-Dispenser at a Hospital in Barnstaple.”
From July 1917 to July 1918 Lily worked as a dispenser at Falmouth Military Hospital. During this time Lily applied to become an officer with the WRNS. She underwent training – which was cut short by six days due to influenza – and a very thorough and harsh review. She was judged to be “more fit to run a Reformatory or Servants’ Registry….too self assertive, and not a lady,” and a “person of mediocre ability.” Nevertheless her application was conditionally approved. Lily began on probation as an Assistant Principal with the Womens Royal Naval Service on 23rd October 1918 at Chatham at a salary of £120 per year.
Due to her previous experience as a clerk and a dispenser, Lily was put in charge of three hostels and was described as having shown a great interest in the ratings in her charge. She was thought to be a “good sort” by officers with good organising capacity but poor business capacity. She could turn her hand to anything and was always willing. Despite having fainted at her first operation, one assessor described Lily: “Was awfully good, saved Cottrill’s life. Cottrill had haemorrhage from ulcer. Peake did everything in hours. Very good bustling about in overall…..Very good at office work, businesslike but lacking in authority.” Her services were also “invaluable during the influenza epidemic as she [was] a trained nurse.” She was soon judged to be worthy of promotion, to the position of Principal.
In April Lily’s role was made redundant due to the cessation of hostilities. She received a letter of notice at her residence in Watts Avenue, Rochester and served until 24th May 1919.
Before leaving the WRNS Lily found work as a Matron in a civilian hospital, beginning on 6th June 1919. However she does not appear to have stayed in this role for very long. Lily’s parents had moved to Chelea Cottage, St Helen’s on the Isle of Wight by 1920, accompanied by Lily who threw herself into village life, in particular taking a very active part in the Women’s Institute. On 11th August 1921 Lily married farmer Jonathan Christmas Hosford (1872-1961), who was twenty years her senior, at St Helen’s village church. As a result of Lily being so well liked in the village, the wedding was very well attended and the village was decorated with bunting. Lily’s father was “unable to get home” (though he did send a congratulatory telegram and a cheque) and so Lily was accompanied by her brother Charles and given away by her mother. She wore a cream crepe de chine dress with a lace underdress and a black hat with black ostrich feathers arranged around the brim. Lily and Jonathan had met during the war years when Lily served under her future husband in the WRNS.
Lily and Jonathan settled in Horsham, where in 1930, aged 39, Lily gave birth to their daughter Sara. Lily was very active in the Women’s Institute, judging jam and needlework and giving talks across Sussex. In 1939 they lived at Old Park, Kerves Lane, Horsham. Jonathan died in 1961 while they were living at 31 Hillside. Lily moved into a nursing home in Aylesbury, where she died on 14th November 1984.