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12331122 Peter 1904-1995

Gerard Leigh - always known as "Peter" - was born on 8 September 1904 in Chepstow, the middle son of Charles Leigh Clay and Margaret Press.  Named after his Godfather Gerard A. Clay, he was educated at Eton (1918-1923), and in his last year was Victor Ludorum.

He was married at 27 on 1 October 1931 in Hereford Cathedral to Drusilla Madeline Foster, then 23.  They had a son :-

Jeremy Peter Foster who was born on 26 July 1932.

Peter was a Coal exporter.

He signed up on 29 November 1939, and was commissioned into the 2nd Royal Gloucestershire Hussars - Royal Armoured Corps. He served in "F" Squadron when captured at the battle of Bir El Gubi, Libya.


Extract from 'THE BROKEN SWASTIKA" by Willy Trebich; Leo Cooper Ltd., 1973; pp 83 & 84. 
 
CHAPTER VII - PRISONER OF THE ITALIANS.

There were over one hundred officers among the prisoners, and twelve of us were picked and put into a truck with a guard.
We had no idea why we were picked or where we were going. The most senior among us was a Tank Colonel called Lister and there was a Padre; the rest were junior officers like myself.

The truck drove off amid clouds of dust, we were all in good spirits as we climbed up the escarpment out of Derna and enjoyed the view of the town.    Later we drove through the lush cultivated lands of Cyrenaica, where the Italians had worked agricultural wonders in pre-war days. Then we arrived in Benghazi.

We were ordered off the trucks and marched along the quayside towards a passenger steamer, a delightful vessel which reminded me of a Channel steamer in happier and less eventful days. Alongside it was a grubby cargo boat onto which several hundred British other ranks were being herded. They looked thoroughly fed up and dispirited - at least, until Clay arrived.

Clay was an old Etonian and an officer in the Gloucester Hussars, he was an individualist even by Desert Rat standards. He had none of the regalia of his rank, but was dressed in a golf jacket, a pink shirt into which was tucked a yellow scarf, a pair of green corduroys and a very expensive pair of suede boots. v attention was first attracted by the tumult which surrounded him, tumult from which he seemed insulated by a private atmosphere like the calm in the centre of a hurricane. He was walking very slowly as if he were taking an afternoon stroll along the Croisette at Cannes. Three Italian soldiers had rifles aimed at the small of his back and every now and then gave him a tentative push. In front of him another Italian, a sergeant, repeatedly raised his arms then

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jerked them towards the ground, palms open, in a gesture of expostulation,
'Ma, come non capisce ? Idiota ! Avanti, aventi.'
["But how do you not understand? Idiot! Come on, come on."]

Clay looked at the sergeant with a bland expression, his brows slightly furrowed as if he were trying to understand an inarticulate child. When he was about fifty yards away from us Clay stopped and waved to us. Now an officer appeared and it was evident that he was reprimanding the N.C.O. for letting things get out of hand. After a while he turned to Clay and with an imperious gesture, like a traffic cop who has just come on duty, he waved him on: but Clay was not ready yet. He looked at the Italian officer and gavc him a beaming smile. This took the Italian by surprise, but he recovered his composure and once more drew his hand across his chest and onwards in the direction of the ships, the gesture ending with a flick of the fingers. Clay bowed and smiled again but he did not move.

By this time we were watching the scene more anxiously. It was a comedy that could easily turn into tragedy. The soldiers had their guns pointed at Clay and the officer's face was getting darker. One of the guards raised his gun butt foremost and shook it threateningly in Clay's face, and he moved very slowly forward, brushing the gun aside. By the time he reached the gang plank there must have been twenty Italians escorting him, including the officer.

Everyone's eyes were on him, the twelve British officers. the Italians and the hundreds of British prisoners who had been standing so dispiritedly on the quayside until Clay arrived. Now, with splendid theatricality, he turned and raised his arm, over his head.  He looked exactly like those photographs of famous people boarding a famous transatlantic liner.

'You know' he said 'I don't think there is anything to worry about. The way they carry on I think they must be terrified of us'.

It may not have been the best exit line in the world, but it got a terrific cheer. Suddenly the prisoners were no longer sorry for themselves.

Aboard the steamer the Captain insisted on shaking each one of us by the hand. It was a strange experience and we felt like guests rather than prisoners. We called ourselves the Lucky Twelve and felt sorry for those who had been left behind.

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Peter spent the rest of the war as a PoW, in Italian & German camps - No. 159, Oflag XII-B, Hadamar, Hessen 

Peter was Lord of the Manor of Brockhampton; J.P. from 1946, High Sheriff, Herefordshire, 1950, and Deputy Lieutenant for Herefordshire, 1953.  He lived at Brockhampton Cottage, Hereford.

Peter died at Brockhampton on 31 July 1995.

 

Drusilla Madeline Foster.

Drusilla was born on 30 August 1908 in Bournemouth, the daughter of Captain Cuthbert Wellesley Foster of Hadley Bourne, Barnet, and Boston, USA.  She died on 3 December 1961 in Brockhampton at the age of 53.

 

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