Banbury Constituency Labour Party

Denis Petherbridge’s Eulogy

Denis died in May 2013. Amongst his many other activities and interests he was a member of Banbury Labour Party for many years, and  a very enthusiastic campaigner in elections.

This eulogy was read out at his funeral on 17 May at St John’s Church in Banbury.

Denis’ life started in Oxfordhire and ended there almost exactly 94 years later.  When he left school the plan was to follow his father into the bank – but the war presented a welcome distraction to a young man unable to thrill to the joys of banking.  And in many ways the war defined his life.  He was posted to Singapore weeks before it fell to the Japanese and spent the rest of the war languishing in Changi POW camp.  Denis did not dwell on that period with bitterness.  If pressed he might embark on an anecdote which recognised that his captors were as much prisoners of the system as he was and he emerged from his ordeal a life-long worker for peace.  However what had been a budding friendship with a young woman before his incarceration became a link to the life he had left behind and when he returned home it was to wed  his penfriend Susie to whom he remained happily married for almost sixty years until her death.

Back in civvy street he worked  in a book-shop – an environment he found much more congenial than that of the bank.  And during this period he and Susie had four children – Michael and Jeanette followed by the twins Annie and Laurence.  A small inheritance funded a new venture when they moved closer to Susie’s roots in Ireland.  There they ran a little books and general store for several  years – but Denis proved that balance sheets still held no fascination for him and the business was singularly unsuccessful with many of the accounts ‘settled’ in the form of chickens for the pot or a bag of spuds.  For a while they struggled on with Susie running the shop and Denis returning to work in a bookshop in Dublin and cycling the fifty plus miles each way to spend week-ends with his family.   His diary for this period is very poignant – lunch was a mars bar divided to last for two days – and the library was where he managed to keep up to date with the news.  It eventually became obvious that an alternative solution was required so Denis decided to retrain as a teacher – but this necessitated him moving back to England since a lack of Gaelic meant he could neither train nor teach in Ireland.   Another period of enforced exile followed while he attended Worcester Training College during term time and returned  for the holidays.  Many years later he spoke of the sadness he felt at being parted from his family and the feeling that the best part of his life was over – he was nearly forty and he was convinced it was all downhill from there.  Reminiscing about this some fifty years later never failed to amuse him.

Teaching took Denis and his family back to England where he spent a short time in Wiltshire –  long enough to add  Denis Jnr and Edmond to the family  before returning to his beloved Oxfordshire for his ‘declining’  half century!  His life in Banbury involved him in a myriad of activities including church, politics, charity work, international club, carers association, and, latterly U3A.    His Catholicism was a fundamental part of his life.  As a young intellectual he, like so many of his contemporaries, flirted with Communism but he was drawn towards his young bride’s faith and ended up converting a few years after they were married.  His faith remained a comfort to him through many difficult times including the loss of his two younger children.

Another abiding passion in his life was writing – and he was a published poet and novelist as well as a frequent contributor to many magazines and newspapers.   He will be remembered by many as the ninety-year old man cycling out of his way to collect his weekly shopping from the Co-op – because he believed that every action had significance.

For most of his life Denis was charitably involved with the Third World and he turned his sadness at the loss of Susie to good effect by gifting a well in her name to a small Indian community.

He tried always to live his life in line with his two favourite proverbs – the Irish one that ‘it is in the shelter of each other that people live’.  And the Chinese one that ‘it is better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness’.

He will be missed by his many friends, by his four surviving children and his son-in-law Les, by his four grandchildren, Abbie, Katie, Brian and David, and by his great grandchildren Charlotte and Ella.

If anybody else has memories of Denis they want to share or a photograph, get in touch.

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