Tribute in Remembrance of Peter Stiff - 08/09/1933 ‒ 27/04/2016
by Francis Stiff
The Stiff Report has been a Peter Stiff feature on the Galago website which many of our readers looked forward to reading.
Sadly, this will be the last Stiff report, and as our last report it will be a glimpse into the life of Peter Stiff.
Peter was born in London in 1933. He was the youngest child of a middle class family. His father was Robert James Stiff (who died at the age of 73 of lung cancer) and his Mother was Elsie-May (born Percival) died at the age of 89 of natural causes.
Peter had two older brothers, the eldest, (Ron) Ronald Arthur, (born on the 11 October 1924 and Died 6th March 1997 of Parkinson’s Disease) and his second brother, (Tony) Anthony James, (born on the 03/04/1931 and died on the 9th August 2011 of Cancer).
Growing up Peter’s father operated a coach that made a useful living running people for coastal outings, races and sports meetings. The depression hit and his Dad sold the coach and took a job as a bus driver.
Peter remembered with much fondness his Dad’s Singer car that they used most weekends, when his old man wasn’t working, to drive down to Hastings at the seaside, which was about 50 miles from where they lived in Shortlands, Bromley, Kent. His Mum used to pack a picnic lunch, and at times they were fortunate enough to go for a fish and chips lunch at a restaurant in Hasting — which incidentally is still there — called The Sea Gull. It was usually plaice, which were caught locally the same morning, by the local fisherman, and chips with mushy peas. It was during these outings that Peter’s dad took his sons out to sea, taught them how to catch, scale and clean fish, and hence his love for the sea! Peter enjoyed life with his family.
After the Munich crisis in 1938 when Prime Minister Chamberlain had met Adolf Hitler in Munich and returned to announce optimistically that it was ‘Peace in our time’. Few people believed him and not waiting for a call up, most men in the extended family of the Stiffs volunteered for the forces, some to the RAF and some to the Army. His uncle Len, who was a News of the World all England Table Tennis Champion joined the elite Kings Royal Rifle Corps and after training was dispatched to the Middle East. Peter’s cousin on his mother’s side, Stan Percival was already a territorial soldier with London’s Honorable Artillery Company.
On September 1, 1939, Hitler invaded Poland from the west. Two days later, France and Britain declared war on Germany and World War II began. Peter’s dads much beloved Singer car was put on blocks, as there was no petrol for privately owned vehicles!
That year his parents had one major Christmas party at their Shortlands house to which all the extended family were invited. Everyone came except for Len and Stan who were already in the Forces. It proved to be the last of such events.
Peter’s eldest brother, Ron, was called up in the Army and both Peter and Tony were absolutely delighted and proud of their big brother going to fight for King and Country!
Ron was assigned to The King’s Royal Hussars where he trained as a gunner in a Cromwell Tank and deployed to the war. Ron was good at what he did and received several awards. Unfortunately on the 27th September 1944 Ron’s tank was hit by enemy fire and he was severely burned an evacuated. After many months in hospital Ron recovered with his one regret being not able to be one of the first tanks off the ship on the D-Day landings. Coincidentally, many years later Peter’s son Bob also joined the British Armed Forces and he was also posted to the King’s Royal Hussars!
Peter and Tony continued living with their parents in London, but the escalating war saw more and more Mothers and children evacuated to the country side as most bombings were aimed at London and surrounding areas. Peter remembered how, one night, during the Blitz his father called him and Tony to come outside so they could see London burning. This was a sight which he would never forget — the flames were so intense that it lit up the sky as if it was daytime!
The bombing raids were endless and most nights the family spent in an Anderson Shelter in their garden for protection. Peter recalled how he and Tony used to exit the shelter first thing in the morning and run around the neighbourhood to see which houses were hit during the night.
Shortly after that, Peter’s family home was hit one night while they were asleep and Peter got buried alive under the rubble! This should have been traumatic for any child, but not for Peter, he actually slept throughout the whole ordeal and only woke up when he was being dug out by distressed family and neighbours!
Women with young children who were in danger of German bombings - London, Coventry, Birmingham, Portsmouth etc, were evacuated as it seemed to be the only solution to keep them safe. Peter recalled how when at school, German aero-planes would fly low over the schools and shoot at the children at play during breaks.
Peter’s Dad decided it had become too dangerous for his family to stay on in London and his Mum took Tony and Peter to Brixham out in the country-side.
Peter remembers one day when he and Tony were on a hill overlooking the sea, they saw an aero-plane come in very low over the sea. They thought it was an Allied plane, but as it came closer they recognised the German Swastika painted on the wings. They immediately ducked for cover behind a rock wall. There was an evacuated oil tanker lying in the bay and the Germans bombed the tanker which exploded into huge flames!
Years later Peter tried to find out what exactly happened, but there were so many stories about this particular tanker that it seems the only two eyewitnesses to this incident were Peter and his brother Tony.
During the war every abled man and woman who could help were called up! Rations became the normality as everything that could be used was taken for the war effort. Food became a scarcity as even the fisherman in the village had been called up to fight for their country. Many Belgium refugees fled to Briton and many of these took over the fishing fleet at Brixham.
The children used to wait for the Belguim fisherman to return to the dock with their catch and then they would grab as many fish as their little hands could hold and run for their lives with their ‘catch of the day!’ The policemen on duty turned a blind eye to this as they resented the Belgium fishermen taking over the jobs of their own countrymen, who were out in Europe fighting for their Freedom.
Peter’s Dad who stayed behind in London as a bus driver was one of the few men who would drive in the middle of the night, dodging bombs, to pick up and carry workers home from London to the suburbs where they lived. He, himself, in what he was doing for the war effort made him a hero — not only in the eyes of his family but also in the eyes of all the men and women whose lives he took in his hands to get them home safely every day or night.
Life eventually returned to normal when peace was declared on May 8, 1945.
Ron joined the Prudential Insurance Company and Tony and Peter continued their schooling. Tony went on to making wooden furniture, as he was extremely talented with his hands and won many a prize for his outstanding woodwork.
Peter always had a love for writing and he entered into a country-wide essay writing competition which he won. His prize was a week’s holiday in Blackpool!
Peter finished school and at the age of 14 joined Cook’s Travels and started work as a junior clerk. Work was scarce and everyone who had a job stuck to it because if you did leave, chances were that you wouldn’t get another job.
By the time Peter was 18 years old and although content to have a job and an income to help the family, Peter was never satisfied with what he was doing. He always felt that there was more to life than sitting in an office all day long checking figures — there had to be more to life! He did the same as all young men of his age, meet for a pint in the pub and chatted up the girls.
He was never a great sportsman and wasn’t very fond of football, so instead of going to the games, he learned how to ballroom dance and every Friday and Saturday night he went to the dance halls!
After work one day when walking to Victoria Station, Peter saw a poster outside Rhodesia House asking for young men with a craving for adventure to join the British South Africa Police (BSAP) in Rhodesia. It spoke of an exciting life in the African bush — the wildlife — the sunshine and everything that would make any young man’s heart race with excitement!
This fascinated Peter and he walked into the office to be greeted by a very smart officer behind a desk. Peter told him he saw the poster and was just inquiring what this was all about? The Officer introduced him to a second immaculate Officer who asked Peter to take a seat. By the time the officer had finished explaining to Peter what this was all about, he had signed up to join the BSAP. Now he only had to go home and get the approval of and signatures of his parents!
Peter’s mother was horrified at the thought of her youngest son leaving home and going thousands of miles to join the Police Force in an unknown country. If she had her way Peter would never have been able to leave England, but fortunately his father saw the enthusiasm in his son’s eyes and signed the forms.
It was on 13 December 1951 and a very foggy morning when Peter’s dad drove him all the way down to South Hampton so he could board the Arundel Castle and set sail for Cape Town, docking on 26 December, 1951.
Little did he know then that this decision would change his life forever, that joining the BSAP would not only fulfill the adventurous spirit in him, but it would also allow him to leave behind a worldwide legacy as the person who wrote not only about the history of the brave men and women, both black and white, who fought in the southern African wars, but also the demise of white rule in southern Africa!
Peter remembered that as the ship took sail, the emotion of the big bands playing heart rendering songs like “Auld Lang Syne”, “When will we meet again” and other familiar songs — songs that brought tears to even the toughest of men!
He also remembered that for the first time in his life he could have two eggs, bacon, sausage and toast at breakfast on board. He was so used to rations and was absolutely astounded at the amount of food he was served! One morning they were served sardines and no-one knew how to debone and eat them. Peter knew only to well as this was one of the tricks his father had taught him on their fishing trips as a young boy. Soon he was showing everyone how to debone their sardines and became the man who saved the moment!
A Sergeant at Cape Town Docks met Peter and the rest of the recruits and from there they were taken to the railway station where they caught the train to Salisbury, Rhodesia. It was a long journey because the steam train had to stop at every station to reload water and coal on a non-stop basis. But, this in itself was an adventure!
Once in depot everything changed. Their hair came off and all the new recruits sported their crew-cut hairstyles. Training started. The days were filled with commands and exercise as well as hours of learning the law, how to assemble and load a gun, how to shoot, and then there was the all-new challenge of horse riding. On the application form it had stated that all men applying to enlist should be able to ride and shoot — neither of which Peter had ever done before! No wonder he was initially told by his drill instructor: “Stiff, you look like a sack of shit on a horse!” Peter had to work extra hard to get approval from his instructor so that he could excel and pass at the end of the course.
Peter discovered that on Sunday mornings, the recruits who went to church were excused from stable duty and grooming the horses. Stiff being Stiff decided one Sunday to ask permission to attend church. Once in town, he decided to skip the church service and go for breakfast at Meikles’s Hotel. This was absolutely fabulous and when he returned to base camp, all the hard work had been done and he had the afternoon off with the rest of the recruits.
Thinking this was a good thing he told one of his mates and the two of them went to their regular ‘church’ service every Sunday. Soon, the other recruits started to smell a rat, knowing that Peter wasn’t the church going person he made out to be! More and more recruits suddenly became very religious and started going to ‘church’ on a Sunday morning.
As more and more recruits became more and more religious, the Staff Sergeant became more and more suspicious of what was going on and followed them to ‘church’ without their knowledge. As soon as they all had ordered their Sunday morning breakfast the Sergeant walked in and marched them all back to camp! Needless to say this didn’t go without punishment and their Sunday duties returned to normal!
After Peter graduated he was posted to Norton. He loved his job and enjoyed the challenges of being a policeman. As a district policeman he was posted across Rhodesia, as was one horse called Jinx, which seemed to follow him around to wherever he was stationed! This was a weird coincidence as all the horses were also posted randomly around the country, but Peter always seemed to end up with Jinx!
He loved to chat about the times spent on horseback on a daily basis – sometimes being bored with the long, long distances they had to cover. He talked about how to try and get the time to pass quicker he often rode facing backwards, sideways and tried all sorts of tricks on the horse.
Peter enjoyed investigations and had a reputation of not giving up once he had taken on a case. He found the local people very friendly and co-operative and he often spent times in the kraals of the people in the Tribal Trust Lands. Often eating with the chief in his hut - home cooked meals of meat, Sudza (mealie meal cooked in a certain way) and sipping their sometimes obnoxious, home brew! He was always given a hut to sleep in which was quite an experience in itself!
He enjoyed his life in the BSAP and sought promotion as soon as he could which he achieved, and at the age of 20 when he wrote his Sergeant’s exam and became the youngest Sergeant in the BSAP.
His writing skills were also recognised by the BSAP as well, with one of his first jobs after being promoted to Sergeant was to write the BSAP Instruction Manual. This one of course, did not carry his name!
Peter was posted across Rhodesia and picked up valuable experience as he went along. One of his commissions was “In-Depot Training” of new recruits! He did this, but was never a happy teacher. He always had that attitude that those who can does and those who can’t teach! He loved prosecuting, solving cases and commanding various stations in the districts throughout Rhodesia.
At 26 Peter returned to London on leave and got married. He took his new bride back home with him to Rhodesia. They had four children – all born Rhodesians. They are Timothy Peter Charles, Robert Mark, Sally Louise and Penelope Marion. All his children grew up to be extremely successful in their own rights.
The border war that started in 1962 was beginning to heat up in Rhodesia and Peter had to deal with the increase of riots across the country. He also knew that the government was not letting the population of Rhodesia know exactly how bad the infiltration of ZANLA and ZIPRA had become.
Security Forces had become involved and as he was nearing 20 years of service in the BSAP, it meant he was entitled to retire. By this time he had reached the rank of Superintendent. Peter was 38 years old and felt retiring was the right thing to do as he wanted a future which he could control and had the urge to write a book to let the people of Rhodesia know what was happening!
He approached one of his best mates, Ted Mallon, who was slightly older and one rank higher than him, with the idea of retiring and starting up a security company. It did not take too much persuasion and then Peter, and just afterwards, Ted retired from the BSAP. They started Safeguard Security, which incidentally is still the largest security company in Zimbabwe. Ted’s children now run the company as Ted Mallon sadly passed away last year (2015).
The company was extremely successful and no-one wanted for anything. With that Peter’s kids stopped respecting the value of money, so he decided that they should earn their pocket money and started another successful business, The T-Bone Disco which his kids worked in on a part time basis. This was a major success with the youngsters of Rhodesia and parents felt comfortable with their kids going there, as they knew there was always adult supervision.
Peter wrote his first book “The Rain Goddess” which was first published by Jacaranda Press in 1973 and by New English Library in 1976. He wrote it as fiction, but it was based on fact, as at that time he couldn’t write it as a factual account as he had signed the official secrets act.
I was working for New English Library (NEL) as their PRO at the time and that’s when I first met Peter. This book was causing quite a stir and NEL wanted to have this book promoted in South Africa. It turned out to be a best seller in South Africa and also sold many copies throughout the world. It was even translated into Afrikaans in 1978. This book has always been a best seller and some 40 years later, is still a best seller and in print.
Although he was happy with what he had accomplishment he realized once people started asking when his next book is coming out that he couldn’t be a one-book author! He was approached by a German doctor – Manfred Forster - requesting a meeting. He told Peter about his trip from Germany to Rhodesia, travelling through war-torn Angola to bring his pet lion, Tommy, back to Africa to set him free. Peter was immediately interested and “Tommy Goes Home” was born - first published by Jacaranda Press in October, 1977. Peter and I crossed the length and breadth of Rhodesia and South Africa promoting and selling his latest book which was very well received and is also still in print.
Peter then started working on his third book, “The Road to Armageddon” that dealt with the Jedburgs in the Second World War. Although this book was fiction it was also based on fact. He started writing this book in 1978 and finished it while living in England, but it was only published in 1980 when he returned to South Africa.
Peter recognised the winds of change were blowing at a rapid pace and he decided the best would be if he took his family back to England as it would not be safe for them to stay on in a communist country under the regime of Robert Mugabe.
He sold his shares in Safeguard Security, as well as his house in millionaire’s row in Borrowdale, for a snippet of what it was worth and started dealing in antiques as a means of getting money out of the country. Mostly everything had to go. He returned to England at the end of 1978. As his relationship with his now ex-wife did not improve he decided to move back to South Africa - he knew that Africa had got under his skin and that he had to return to this wonderful land.
Peter and I kept in touch throughout this time and planned on starting a publishing company when he returns as we both loved and knew everything one needs to know about the book business.
So as soon as Peter arrived back in South Africa we started what was to be the beginning of the well-known Galago Publishing (Pty) Ltd. – The Home of South Africa’s Best Selling Books. Galago was started in a Bachelor flat in Hillbrow in 1980!
Peter also shared in the responsibility of my 3 children, Jaco, (who passed away in 2008 from a heart attack) and my two daughters, Jo-Ann Francis and Madelain Rita, who are both very successful in their careers.
So, we instantly became an extended family, with 7 children between us!
The investigating cop in Peter always urged him to find out the truth of what was happening in southern Africa and he continued writing non-fiction books on the various wars – researching, writing and letting everyone know the truth of what happened in the past.
All Peter Stiff books were blockbusters and it
is true to say that little of the history of the Rhodesian bush war would
have been published had it not been for Peter Stiff and Galago Publishing.
THE SILENT WAR – 1999- 1994 - The
history of the South African Recces.
"...if you’ve got one you can’t be without the other two!’ "I believe Peter Stiff’s trilogy is one of the best accounts of the border war"
Stiff’s TAMING THE LANDMINE was a blockbuster and is still referred to as the oracle in dealing with the exploration of Landmines in warfare.
Peter wrote 11 books in total. He was finishing off another book at the time of his passing and we are planning to publish this book in 2017. More information about this book will be advertised on our website as soon as it is ready for publication.
Peter was not well for quite some time but that didn’t stop him from writing and researching material for an additional two books which he had planned for publishing in 2017, unfortunately these were only in the research process, and therefore will never see the light of day!
Peter’s condition rapidly worsened during the early months of 2016 when he
was hospitalised several times and also had to have a pace-maker fitted.
We will always remember you Peter Stiff – Rest in Peace!
PS. I am happy to report that Peter was always a giver and that his pace-maker was donated and it is now helping someone else’s heart beating!
Galago successfully published over 100 bestselling books and is still running and telling the true stories of what happened in southern Africa’s wars.