John Robert Peryer
2nd Lieutenant, London Regiment
John Robert Peryer was born in Camberwell on September 3rd 1891 to George J. Peryer and Sarah Ann Peryer. His father was a cigar maker and journeyman and his mother was the daughter of a local baker and sub postmaster. During this time, the family lived at 77 Bellenden Rd, a short distance away from Bellenden Road School where John was first educated. After showing good potential, John was awarded at scholarship to attend Alleyn's School in September 1910. John was awarded this fee exemption for the whole of his school career and consistently maintained a high standard of work. This saw him receive two prizes in 1913, one for Physics and the other for the Canon Carver Junior French Prize. During his time at the school, John showed a particular talent for learning languages which would later be put to good use during his military career. As well as excelling in his academic studies, John was also a member of the Alleyn's Combined Cadet Force where he earned the rank of Lance Corporal.
With such a desire to succeed, John was naturally favoured by his teachers. A year after joining Alleyn's, he was first in his form and was labelled as an 'exceptional boy' in his 1911 End of Term Report. His work and conduct were always regarded as 'excellent' and he was known by all as an intelligent and hardworking individual. By 1916, John had matriculated for the University of London with distinction and looked to continue his academic studies. However, with the First World War showing no sign of being the short war that many had imagined, John delayed his pursuit of further education in favour of signing up to the war effort and carrying out his duty. After being found fit for service, he joined the 16th Battalion London Regiment (Queen's Westminster Rifles) as a Private on June 16th 1916, at the age of 17. Given John's background with the CCF and his ability to speak both French and German, he quickly proved himself to be a reliable soldier, capable of leading men in battle. As a result, he was promoted to Lance Corporal and later to Corporal in 1917. After just a few months in his new role, John had made enough of an impression on his Commanding Officers to be recommended for Officer Cadet Training. He completed this training in September 1917 and received the rank of 2nd Lieutenant at 19 years old. After gaining his commission, John was posted to 21st Battalion (1st Surrey Rifles) and received orders to go overseas to the Western Front. After arriving in France with the battalion, he was transferred again, this time to 4th Battalion (Royal Fusiliers) who were in desperate need of recruits to replace their losses.
During his time overseas, John served in Belgium in the Langemark-Poelkapelle region as a platoon commander. Serving in this area clearly displayed the harsh realities of trench warfare and men were often expected to carry out their duties and go into battle across what John referred to as a 'sea of mud'. In addition to dealing with horrible weather conditions, men also had to deal with the common pests of the front-line such as lice and rats. After the end of the war, John recalled the rats as being a particular due to their tendency to eat his chocolate overnight. In 1918, John received more infantry training before re-joining 4th Battalion near Amiens, France shortly before the launch of the German Spring Offensive. This offensive was intended to turn the tide of the war and create a breakthrough that would allow the German Army to triumph. When the attack was launched the Allies were originally taken by surprise at the ferocity and scale of the attack but they were quick to recover and quickly set to organising a strong defence that would keep the Germans from advancing. With John being bilingual, his skill set was instantly utilised as part of this task and he acted as an intelligence officer during operations, liaising with the French and British Military Command. The skills that John had originally developed at Alleyn's were put to good use throughout the rest of the campaign and this was recognised when he was Mentioned in Dispatches in April 1919 and recommended for the Military Cross for his intelligence work. In addition to these British honours, John also received the Croix de Guerre (Cross of War), a military decoration awarded by France to servicemen who distinguished themselves by acts of heroism when in combat with enemy forces.
After a month of fierce fighting on the Western Front, the battle started to take its toll on John who became unwell in April 1918 as a result of 'Trench Fever'. He was sent to a British Red Cross Hospital in Rouen before being sent back to England after his condition showed no sign of improving. After arriving in England, he was sent to recover at a military hospital for officers at Somerville College, Oxford. John remained in Oxford until June 1918 when his condition began to steadily improve. By September, he was fit enough to join his regiment again overseas and he returned to France with his original battalion, the 21st (First Surrey Rifles). At this point, the Allies had successfully survived the onslaught of the German Spring Offensive and had begun the task of forcing the German Army back through France and Belgium with the help of the Americans who had recently arrived on the Western Front. 21st Battalion spent the remainder of the year pushing the Germans back further through France, engaging in only a few minor clashes along the way. In October, John and his regiment took part in the repatriation parade in Lille before heading back towards the front-line near Belgium.
After the end of war, John returned to England and was officially discharged from the Army in April 1919. He quickly returned to his studies and completed his education at the London University in 1923, gaining a Bachelor of Science degree with honours in Mathematics as well as Teaching Diploma. Shortly after receiving his degree, John married Harriet Marie Raxworthy, an 'old girl' of James Allen Girls School. The two lived together in Cheshire where John taught at Lymm Grammar School before moving to Worthing where John became Senior Mathematics Master at Worthing High School for Boys. As well as teaching, John was actively involved in his local community and was passionate about spreading a positive message to young people everywhere. This saw him become involved in the International Friendship League, bringing together young people from across Europe to promote unity, friendship and understanding. During this time, he also became one of the leaders of Worthing's anti-fascist movement.
John continued to teach at Worthing High School for Boys until his retirement in 1961. He died at the age of 92 on the 8th April 1989.
In 1983, he recorded an oral history interview which reflected on his personal war experience, and this has been included in a project run by West Sussex County Council Library Service called 'Military Voices Past and Present'. 'Military Voices Past and Present' is an oral history project which compares the experiences and sacrifices made by Great War combatants with those made by modern day veterans. In the 1980s Peter Baker made oral history recordings with 32 veterans of WW1 and John Robert Peryer (known as Robert) was one of those interviewed. These interviews form the basis of this project by West Sussex County Council Library Service.
From 2017 new web pages from West Sussex County Council Library Service will present audio clips from these interviews while a book of the interviews will be available through all West Sussex Libraries. Robert Peryer's full interview can be listened to in person at West Sussex Record Office and also Worthing Library.