09 Jul 2024

When love goes the distance

Peter and Rose Collyer crop.jpg

The Southern Cross | July 2024

Ahead of their 70th wedding anniversary on July 24, Peter and Rosemarie Collyer talk about their journey to Australia, the life they built here, and their secret to a devoted and enduring partnership.

Framed photographs of treasured family members look out at Peter and Rosemarie (Rose) Collyer as they move about the Dover Gardens home they’ve shared for decades.

Happy snaps of great grandchildren and grandchildren grace walls, tabletops and cabinets. Family means everything to these two.

“We raised six children in this home,” says 93-year-old Peter.

“Rose and I have lived a very happy life and we’re still doing well; thanks be to God.”

Peter was born in North London on Pentecost Sunday in 1931. He was raised in South London and met Rosemarie Bassett while they were serving in the parish’s Legion of Mary.

Rose was born in India and brought up there, under the [British] Raj, until she was 18.

“My childhood was very happy,” she says.

“I had a twin sister and five brothers. We went to a convent school and lived day-to-day without thinking about the future; we were just happy.

“When India was partitioned and became independent, life was not the same as it was under the British rule.

“So my parents packed up and went to London. That’s where we met.”

Was it love at first sight?

“It was for me,” Peter says.

“We courted and when I asked her to marry me after 15 months, Rose was shocked. She looked at me and said, ‘I don’t want to change my name and I can’t cook. I’ve also just been offered a commission by the Women’s Royal Air Force’.”

While Rose didn’t commit to a ‘yes’ at that point, they continued courting.

“We found an engagement ring about six months after she rejected me.” Peter laughs.

“When I asked her parents if I could have Rose’s hand in marriage, her mother threw her arms around me. I thought that was a good sign.”

Rose smiles. “She really liked you.”

At 94, dementia plagues Rose’s immediate memory but her recollections of their wedding day are sharp.

“I was 24,” she says. “It was a lovely day.”

The nuptials were held on Saturday July 24 at Our Lady of the Annunciation, Addiscombe, London.

The ceremony was conducted by Reverend Fr John McKenna, the parish priest who initially introduced them.

Black and white photographs captured on the day are full of joy. Rose was a vision in a flowing three-tier white lace dress, with a coronet of orange blossom and a long veil framing her beaming face.

“The whole day was marvellous,” Peter says.

“I was stunned that she’d agreed to marry me.”

Rose’s twin sister Gladys was matron of honour, while Frank Tierney was best man, and a troupe of nieces and nephews completed the entourage; five tiny bridesmaids in pink taffeta and three dapper young pages in white silk shirts.

After their honeymoon in Newquay, Cornwall, the newlyweds lived in a house above Rosemarie’s parents for the first seven years of their marriage.

“It was after World War II and housing was in very short supply because so many had been destroyed,” Peter recalls.

“We didn’t have any money anyway. It took seven years to save a deposit for our own home which we lived in for about three and a half years before we came here to Adelaide.”

The Collyer clan migrated to Australia with their (then) five children in 1964, sailing from Southampton on the MV Castel Felice on December 11 and arriving on January 10 1965.

“We were 10 pound Poms,” Peter says.

“We settled in quickly. Both of us had family here already and that makes all the difference.”

Rose says her first impression of Australia was ‘where are all the people?’

Since then they have touched many lives.

After raising six children, Rose studied a Bachelor of Education with a Diploma of Teaching and taught at South Australian primary schools for 21 years.

“I loved teaching. I love children and they were very responsive to me.”

Rose was also a member of the Parish Pastoral Council and often helped with childrens’ liturgy during Mass on Sundays.

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