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Peter Stephenson Rhodes 1919 – 2009


Peter Rhodes was born in New Moston in north-east Manchester in 1919. He was educated at Rock Ferry High School, Birkenhead and Liverpool University where he read architecture, without much enthusiasm he admitted, before joining the practice of Clarke & Sons. Almost immediately he was conscripted into the army where his facility with trigonometry, slide rule, seven figure logarithms and surveying paraphernalia placed him in the 41st Survey Training Regiment, Royal Artillery. He was now 959103 Gunner Rhodes PS. After basic training he was posted to the 155th Field Regiment RA and embarked on the SS Strathmore in March 1941 destined for India and then on to Port Swettenham (now Port Kelang), Malaya.

He was captured by the Japanese following the fighting retreat to Singapore and marched off to the notorious Changi Jail. The harrowing nightmare of this period, an experience that shaped the rest of his life, is related in his book To Japan to Lay a Ghost, published in 1998. The brutal and sadistic regime, first on the docks in Singapore and later in the coal mines of Orio in Japan, left an indelible mark. He once dug his own grave and, reduced to 5 stones 2 pounds, barely survived the war. His characteristic tenacity pulled him through.

He had long decided during his incarceration that he wished to abandon architecture to train as a civil engineer but despite government promises to provide university training to all men returning to civvy street, his “grateful” government denied him this opportunity and he had to return to Clarke & Sons. He reacted typically and after 4 years of night school gained his M.I.Struct. E. in 1950: three years later he moved to Northern Ireland. His career from then on was as a structural engineer in the architects’ branch of the Ministry of Finance with a particular responsibility for the stability of historic buildings but during the IRA bombing campaign in the 70s and 80s his skills and judgement were in increasing demand as advisor on the many damaged structures throughout the province. He ended his career, aged 65, as Chief Structural Engineer for Northern Ireland in 1984. It is also worth recording that he led the introduction of metrication there.

Two years after his arrival in Northern Ireland he became a founder member of the Belfast Geologists’ Society and was elected a Fellow of the Geological Society of London in 1957. He remained a vigorous member of the Belfast society up to 1973. During that time he was President in 1964/5 and Treasurer from 1966/68 and featured regularly on the summer and winter programmes, introducing radical elements such as field sketching and panorama drawing to the programme. He also authored an impressively practical geological guide, The Antrim Coast Road, assisted in the detailed geology by Professor J K Charlesworth of Queen’s University, Belfast. Geology in Northern Ireland has lost a truly remarkable man.

He was predeceased by his wife Dea (Dorothy) and is survived by his daughter Janet.

Philip Doughty.