Major Peter Darling (1925-2021): ‘a life of apparent contrasts’
A veteran of the elite Royal Marine Commandos was also a prominent businessman at a well-known china, crystal and antiques shop.
Major Peter Darling, who served nearly 30 years in the Marines, ran Bluck’s on Front Street with his brother, Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Darling, a former Commanding Officer of the then-Bermuda Regiment.
Major Darling’s career took him to flashpoints around the world, including the Suez Crisis.
But he was also an expert in antiques and Bermuda silver at the business his father had owned since 1942 and which closed in 2019.
His family said this week that Major Darling led “a life of apparent contrasts”.
They said: “He was a career military man who later came to believe war was futile; born into an era of accepted inequality, he was also a lifelong practitioner of diversity and inclusion well before it had a name.
“Born in Egypt in 1925 into a military family, he arrived in Bermuda aged three. His brother, Michael, and sister, Elizabeth, were subsequently born in Bermuda to parents Leslie and Betty Darling.”
A military thread ran through Major Darling’s life.
He was sent to boarding school in England aged only seven but was brought home in 1940, just after the outbreak of the Second World War, aboard the liner SS Orduna.
It set off from Liverpool just before the German blitz of the city began and took a northerly route as the lone passenger ship in a small convoy.
He and another boy were put to work to paint the lifeboats.
The convoy came under attack only three days after departure.
The Royal Gazette reported Major Darling’s harrowing recollections of the voyage in 1998.
Major Darling said: “Somewhere near Iceland one sunny afternoon, I heard a dull explosion and looked up and saw a small merchantman on fire and sinking.
“Within minutes two more merchantmen met a similar fate – in about eight to ten minutes, three had been torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat … we zigzagged as fast as we could go all the way to Bermuda.”
His family said the experience marked him for life.
The young Peter joined the Royal Marines after he left school and trained as a Commando, qualifying in 1943.
Major Darling’s role in the elite rapid response fighting force took him all over the world.
He returned to the UK and was posted to the Royal Navy port of Plymouth, which was targeted nightly by German bombers.
One bomb landed 100 yards from his quarters but failed to explode.
Major Darling was based on HMS Glasgow at Trincomalee in Ceylon, now Sri Lanka, for two years after the war.
He watched the beaten Japanese army march down from Malaya while in the country.
Major Darling served on HMS Eagle during the Suez Crisis.
After he qualified as a signals officer, he served in 40 and 42 Commandos and served in Malaya, Hong Kong, Singapore, Brunei, Aden and Borneo.
His service included the Brunei Revolt.
Brunei, now a sovereign state in South East Asia, gained independence from the UK in 1984.
But it was a British protectorate in 1962 when an insurgency broke out in the wealthy kingdom on Borneo’s northern coast.
Fighting was sparked by a move by the ruling Sultan, Omar Ali Saifuddien III, to gain independence through a merger with the Federation of Malaya.
One veteran recalled on the Royal Marines Historical Society’s Facebook page that Major Darling was nicknamed “Daddy Darling” during the crisis, for his kindness to other soldiers.
As well as being a qualified Commando, he earned his parachute wings and was chief Signals officer for the Royal Marines for three years.
He also represented the Royal Marines in cricket as captain and played at Lord’s and also played field hockey.
Major Darling retired in January 1971 and enjoyed working with his parents and brother at Bluck’s.
His family said he was able to connect with people on all levels and spoke up for women’s rights.
The family said: “He believed that if more women were in power, there would be less fighting and fewer wars. He was 90 years old at the time.”
Major Darling was vice-president of the Chamber of Commerce, chairman of the SPCA, and volunteered with Meals on Wheels into his 90s.
He was a keen tennis player and golfer as well as a gardener and orchid grower.
He married Joan in Malta in 1949 and the couple’s four daughters were born in Malaysia and England.
He married Sally in Bermuda in 1981 and became stepfather to her three children. She was by his side when he died this month.
As well as Sally, he is survived by brother Michael, sister Elizabeth Budge, his daughters Amanda Outerbridge, Penny Harben, Gill Scott and Robin Mayor and stepchildren Laura Page, Sarah Connell and Charles Cooper, as well as 22 grandchildren and 14 great- grandchildren.
· Peter Henry Darling, a Royal Marines veteran, was born on February 5, 1925. He died on December 13, 2021, aged 96.