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When love goes the distance


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.

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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.

The happy couple on the day of their wedding at Our Lady of the Annunciation in London, July 24 1954.

The happy couple on the day of their wedding at Our Lady of the Annunciation in London, July 24 1954.

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.

After retiring from a long career as a credit manager, including serving on the SA State Council of the AICM (Australian Institute of Credit Management) where he was SA state president, Peter was a devoted Meals on Wheels driver for two decades.

He was also a parish pastoral visitor responsible for more than 20 households, taking Communion to people who were unable to get to Mass due to illness or disability. Rose and Peter were also readers and Eucharistic ministers at Mass at Holy Spirit Catholic Church at Seacombe Gardens, now part of St Ann’s parish.

Their proudest achievement is their children: Charles, Fran, Marianne, Christine, Catherine and Jacqueline. The talented bunch of academics, professors, teachers and medical professionals work across the globe.

“Marianne, Christine and Fran were educated at St Aloysius College, Charles at Christian Brothers College, and the eldest children attended state schools and Stella Maris Parish School for their primary education.”

The couple is grateful for a family that gets on so well together.

“There are no disruptions, and if they quarrel at all it’s over very quickly,” Peter says. “When I look at what my children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are doing now, I think Australia did quite well out of 10 pound Poms.”

This month, family members and friends will fly in from various corners of the nation to attend an afternoon tea to celebrate Peter and Rose’s 70th anniversary. After seven decades of love, connection and devotion, there’s certainly plenty on which to reflect.

“What’s the key to a successful marriage for 70 years, darling?” Peter asks.

“We don’t quarrel,” Rose says. “Not ever. I’m very lucky that he won’t argue. If I get angry about something he walks out into the garden.”

Peter smiles. “We are so grateful that we’ve had such a good life, and everything has worked out so well,” he says.

“The Lord has really been very kind to us. He has helped us both at crucial junctions in our life when big decisions need to be made.”

Peter gently squeezes his wife’s hand.

“Rose has been a marvellous wife for 70 years,” Peter says. “Just wonderful.”

Parishes will celebrate significant anniversaries on September 15. Contact your parish for more information.



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