Early Life & Travels

Peter was born on the 28th January 1950 in Limavady, Co. Londonderry, Northern Ireland.  His mother Evelyn (Nee Johnston) was the daughter of an Irish farmer and businessman who was to found Ulster Creameries, which would eventually become Northern Foods.  As a youngster, Peter often visited the Ice Cream Factory which was an important part of the business.  And of his childhood.  His father, Frank, was – like his own father before him – an engineering officer in the Royal Air Force.  He retired as a Wing Commander with a wide range of qualifications and an OBE. Peter was at Buckingham Palace to see Her Majesty the Queen pin it onto his chest.  Peter’s early years, like those of his younger brothers Michael and Simon, were peripatetic.  By the time he was six, he had lived at half a dozen RAF stations in Ireland and England including Ballykelly, Melksham, Royston, Bassingbourne, Princes Risborough (where his first memories began), Bomber Command at High Wycombe, and Bracknell.

When Peter was six, the family was posted to RAF Bruggen in Germany, staying in digs in Holland until a Married Quarter became available.  By this time, he had attended a number of RAF schools run on the camps.  At Bruggen two things happened which made a lasting impression.  First, Peter was involved in an accident when his arm went through a glass door, severing a major artery and very nearly killing him.  Only the quick-thinking of his teachers, the prompt actions of a German Ambulance driver and the expertise of the staff at Wegberg hospital saved first his life and then his arm.  He returned briefly to the RAF school, but soon he was off to boarding school at Gloucester House, the preparatory school for Portora Royal in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, one of the six Royal schools of Ulster established by Royal Charter in 1608.  Following in the footsteps of famous alumni including playwrights Oscar Wilde and Samuel Beckett, and poet Henry Francis Lyte who wrote hymns such as Abide With Me and Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven. As well as a range of cousins, family friends and young men destined to be socially and politically important in Ireland and beyond, Peter’s contemporaries included Gerald Grosvenor, soon to become the Duke of Westminster.