- A.N. Other
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- RAN Ships
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- June 2013 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
One of the founding members of the Naval Historical Society has passed over the bar and this fitting obituary by Paul Cosgrave was recently published in the Blue Mountains Gazette. A considerable number of naval volumes from Peter’s extensive library were donated to the Society.
Peter Churchill, who has died peacefully aged 91 , said ‘I’m very fortunate to have had the most wonderful life.’ A respected Blackheath resident, Peter was born in Reading, England, to a distinguished military family and set his heart early on becoming a naval engineer.
Surviving German bombs during training in Plymouth, he went to sea for the first time in 1943 in HMS Renown, which had already taken part in pursuits of the Bismarck and Graf Spee. In Renown he brought another Churchill, Winston, across the North Atlantic from Halifax following the allied leader’s consultations with President Roosevelt. Changing his name to Smith for the voyage enabled him to drink for nothing on Churchill’s wardroom bar account, he recalled mischievously.
His civilian engineering career, working on rocket engines with Armstrong Siddeley and De Havilland, brought him to Australia to install ground equipment at Woomera for the Black Knight rocket tests. He took to Australian life with huge enthusiasm, living in Sydney and working on various engineering design projects until moving to Blackheath.
In the late 1970s, with Lew Lind, he founded the Naval Historical Society of which he was made a life member. Joining the Naval Officers’ Club in 1983 he soon became its secretary for a record 19 years, editing its newsletter.
The untimely passing in 2005 of his second wife, Robyn, whom he described as the love of his life during a marriage of 29 years, saddened him greatly but never prevented him from living his life to the full. His adolescent interests in tennis and piano playing gave way to many writing and biographical compilations, and he very much enjoyed his engagement with Blackheath and Double Bay Probus Clubs.
History was always a great fulfilment for him and he thoroughly documented his own life in a detailed memoir. At his 90th birthday guests read a personal letter from his old Dartmouth Naval College friend, the Duke of Edinburgh.
Each year, Peter made his own birthday cake and hand-made party invitations, cutting the cake with his ceremonial sword. On his last day, visiting friends described him as ‘bright as a button’ and his words to them indicated deeper insights and readiness for his next voyage. Active until his final weeks, when he was overtaken by illness, Peter is survived by his two sons, Jonathan and Jeremy.