Peter: A true gentleman with a passion for life on the rugby pitch
PUBLISHED: 08:53 04 January 2019 | UPDATED: 08:54 04 January 2019
Peter Josling had been a stalwart on the field and off it for Diss Rugby Club. And meeting and marrying him 'was like a little miracle', says wife Sandra
“He was a true gentleman – and a gentle man. When I came up at weekends, I listened to what people were saying, and I never heard a bad word about him. Never, ever. And that was before they really knew I was with him.”
Sandra Josling’s talking about late husband Peter – a former Diss estate agent, valued member of the town’s rugby club, and known by many friends and acquaintances simply as Jos.
She says meeting and marrying Peter “was like a little miracle, really”. They met at her birthday party, after both had been widowed.
Sandra had known his brother John for years. They’d lived next-door to each other – well, next-door if we ignore a field in between.
Sandra and Peter had lost their respective partners in the same year: 1994. When John and his wife came to one of Sandra’s summer birthday parties in Bedfordshire, on the Hertfordshire border, they took Peter along with them. The die was cast.
“He just turned up. I’m sure it was my sister-in-law’s idea. When you get to a certain age, you think you’re never going to find anybody again. Everybody you look at seems old!” laughs Sandra.
“But we got on so well that I was coming up here one weekend (the Norfolk-Suffolk borderlands) and he was going down there one weekend.” They married in 1998 and, soon after, made their home in their adored East Anglia.
Peter developed vascular dementia in recent years. He had to go into a care home in the autumn, and was there for about three months before his death at 78.
Peter Josling was born in Hertfordshire in 1940 and at 11 followed his brother to St Albans School, a leading independent. “That’s where he started his rugby, really,” says Sandra.
“He liked his schooldays. He talked about them all the time. I think he used to do quite well in all school sport, but his real love was rugby – right from the start.”
It seems St Albans had a cadet force. “They had to polish uniforms and boots, and learn to take guns apart and put them back together. He used to talk about that a lot.” There were many parades, too – often focused on the cathedral.
When Peter left, he decided that because his brother didn’t want to go to university, he wouldn’t go either. He sought to join the Fleet Air Arm (part of the Royal Navy) and wasn’t that far away from doing so – progressing to the latter stages of a long and challenging selection process, but not quite seeing the dream come true.
“He used to love maps, so he worked for Ordnance Survey, and that involved moving all over the country, renewing the maps. He loved that. He could sit here, at whatever age he was, and look at maps.”
Later, Peter commuted to London and worked for a developer-cum-estate agent, finding land for business premises. “Then they asked him if he was prepared to go to Norfolk, where there was a lot of development going on.”
That was in the 1960s. The role involved finding sites that could be built on, and keeping an eye on projects once work had started. “To start with he lived in a flat more or less opposite where Morrisons is in Diss. After a while he decided he’d try to find a pub; find some company.
“The Young Farmers had a ‘do’ on and he asked if anyone knew where he could get into rugby. They said ‘Go and see this gentleman over there’.
“He (the man) asked some questions and said ‘Be outside…’ what I presume was a little hut in those days… ‘and be ready to play on Saturday’! So his rugby career started there – and, of course, you get to know everyone if you’re part of a rugby club.”
Sandra thinks Peter, fleet of foot, played as a winger most of the time.
He later opened his own estate agency in Diss and ran it with wife June, whom he’d met after making the move to East Anglia. They had daughters Sue and Sophie.
The business was small, but did well. They called it a day, though, when banks started getting involved in estate agency, scenting the potential and bringing extra competition. June became ill with cancer, too, and they sold up.
Peter cared for his wife – making deliveries for firm TNT and, as a self-employed worker, being able to choose his hours to suit.
When Sandra met Peter, it was a few years after he’d hung up his rugby boots.
“He wanted to go on to 50 and packed up just before. He was annoyed about it. He said he couldn’t run and swerve quickly enough. And he also had a bit of a painful hip on one side, so decided he really ought to pack up before things went wrong.
“He couldn’t even go and watch for two or three years because he was so upset he’d had to pack it in. After that, he watched everything and anything that was going, and he spent a lot of time fundraising.”
Facilities certainly have improved. During part of Peter’s early rugby career with Diss, players used to have a bath in a converted stable behind the Saracens Head pub. “They’re tough people, these rugby players!”
So: when Peter and Sandra got together after that birthday party, they’d more or less alternate where they spent Saturdays and Sundays: Bedfordshire one weekend, East Anglia the next.
“In the end it became not feasible. I was working, and you usually catch up with things at weekends, don’t you? So he decided he would come down to live. But he really didn’t like it down there.”
Why? Well, Peter was doing TNT deliveries down south. What with the congested M25, and the roads into and around London, trips could take an age and it wasn’t really economical.
“And with him having lived in Norfolk, I don’t blame him for not liking it down there! If I’d known how beautiful Norfolk was, I’d have moved there long before.”
After marrying Sandra managed to sell up the following year and in the September they left for East Anglia – a return for him, a fresh start for her. They looked at quite a lot of potential homes before plumping for a cottage at Brockdish.
Peter had spent most of his life in the Diss area, and at one time been a governor of Roydon Primary School. After giving up rugby he began playing bowls for Hoxne. Sandra later took it up, too.
When Peter became quite ill with dementia, they moved to a bungalow nearer to Norwich and closer to the hospital.
“It’s such a cruel thing, vascular dementia,” says Sandra, who believes her husband’s physical downturn began years ago, when he likely contracted severe food poisoning in Cyprus and was taken badly ill on the plane home.
“He lost a stone and a half in a week with sweating. After that he had pneumonia, and later a little heart attack – over weeks and weeks. After that, I did notice a difference.”
Peter was a parish councillor and, a couple of years later, suffered a small stroke when he got up to speak at a meeting. Five or six years ago he was officially diagnosed.
“He’s certainly in a better place now. He would have hated being the man he was (towards the end).”
Peter’s funeral was held at GreenAcres Colney, near Norwich, in the days before Christmas. The rugby club held a minute’s silence the week before, at a Saturday game.
“The funeral was lovely, with two great tributes: one from John Farrer, about rugby and the laughs they had, and one from Peter Mills − one of his longest friends and landlord in Diss − also about good old days and the laughs they had. Lots of people there and lovely to see them all. He would have been proud.”