Tributes have been paid to World War Two veteran Ken Peryer, who has died aged 96.
Mr Peryer was from Pulborough, and had recently been living at Glen Arun nursing home at Horsham.
Granddaughter Emmie Pedley said: “Remarkably, although widowed in 2013, Ken and his wife Maisie had been married for 73 years! Their story is an interesting one, with romance, bravery and more than a handful of coincidences:
“They were sweethearts from the ages of 17 and 18, with their birthdays just one day apart (though he was one year older). They courted in West Chiltington, where Maisie lived with her family. He used to recall cycling to the village from Pulborough to meet her.
“However, World War II broke out before they had chance to marry and Ken enlisted at the age of 20. His first operation was the Dunkirk evacuation, in which he suffered serious gunshot wounds to the head and leg. While on leave the couple were able to marry at Chanctonbury registry office. He was 22. She always recalled that he said ‘If I don’t marry you now, I may never get the chance’.”
Mr Peryer had only limited time at home with his new spouse, and was sent to the Middle East just two days later, where he was captured and taken Prisoner of War in Italy.
Emmie said: “He spent almost two years at a POW camp at Sulmona in southern Italy before he and a group orchestrated their escape into the Italian countryside. Maisie received telegrams from the War Office which must have left her petrified she would never see him again.
“The soldiers survived by travelling under the cover of darkness, bedding down during the day in farm buildings before heading off again in the evenings. It took three months for Ken to make his way north where he was ‘picked up’, as he always recalled, by Allied Forces. At his interrogation - full of lice and in need of a good wash - he was fearful he may have fallen once again into the wrong hands but by a turn of luck the Canadian soldiers who found him had been stationed in West Chiltington! From here they helped him get a telegram to Maisie that he’d be returning home soon. She used to say: ‘The bus turned at the top of the hill and I couldn’t see anyone get off of it, but then I saw him as he passed by the kitchen window.’”
Ken served for more than nine years in total and after his time in the Army he took up a position as a postman in Pulborough, which he did until his retirement. During their long marriage the couple moved from West Chiltington to Pulborough, always remaining local to their West Sussex roots and were regulars on the lawn bowls circuit.
Emmie said: “They had one son, Rod, my father who sadly passed away with cancer in 2012.
“I think what is so remarkable is the unfaltering way they loved each other, from the early days, through the war, enduring years apart from each other; as devoted parents and then grandparents; finally bravely facing Maisie’s failing sight and debilitating Alzheimer’s together.
“Ken was her main carer right up until her death in 2013 - setting an example to us all. He suffered a massive stroke a year to the day that she died, from which he did not recover. For a man who had walked a mile every day and enjoyed gardening as well as a busy social life, he sadly passed away with ‘frailty of old age’ just before Christmas. He did however get to meet his 6 month old great grandson before he died.”