Peg Simmonds obituary

Other lives: Teacher who never lost her love of travelling around the world

My aunt Peg Simmonds, who has died aged 104, was a teacher who survived two pandemics – the 1918 flu and Covid-19 – as well as a childhood diphtheria epidemic and two world wars.

Peg led a fit and active life; in the 1930s she cycled alone from Romford, Essex, to the West Country and in later years travelled independently to Zanzibar, China (aged 89) and Canada (aged 90).

Born in Romford and christened Margery, but known as Peg from babyhood, she was the eldest of five children of Florence (nee Miller) and Robert McChlery. Her father owned McChlery’s butcher’s shop in Romford market. The deaths of her two brothers, aged three and nine, in the 1929 diphtheria epidemic, which spared Peg and her sisters, Olive and Gwendolen (my mother), marked the family profoundly.

Peg intended to become a nurse after leaving Romford county high school but was a year too young to begin. Her decision to fill the time by working in a nursery changed her direction completely and she decided to train as a teacher. After finishing top of her year at Bishop Otter College (now the University of Chichester) in 1937 she began teaching at Havering Road school, Romford.

She spent much of her career teaching at schools in Essex, in Chelmsford, Billericay, Romford and Saffron Walden. In 1958 she joined William Wesley primary school, Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire, rising to become deputy headteacher before retirement in 1972. Her aim was always for every child to leave her classroom able to read; she listened to children reading whenever she could, often two at a time – a good reader on one side, and one needing more support on the other. She also regularly produced wonderful school plays.

A lifelong pacifist, Peg was a member of the Peace Pledge Union before and during the second world war and travelled around Europe to attend meetings. She met John Simmonds when he was handing out leaflets for the union in Romford and they married in 1942. John was a conscientious objector. After the war, they ran a smallholding in White Roding, Essex, employing two German ex-PoWs.

They later settled in the house they built in Ashdon near Saffron Walden and had two children, Dodie and Paul.

In the early 60s, John wrote a business game that taught port management, which he subsequently took to demonstrate in ports around the world, including in Greece, Egypt, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Tanzania and Thailand. Peg accompanied him, using her free time to explore new things.

She never lost her interest in other people, and many benefited from her practical help as well as her love of laughter. A mere hip fracture did not prevent Peg from being the star guest at my wedding in 2013, aged 96.

John died in 1989. Peg is survived by Dodie and Paul, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Catherine Palmer

The GuardianTramp

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