When Dick Perceval’s journals were found in 1998, there was no easy way to find out more about him. I had no access to the internet at that point, and even if I had, the internet was in its infancy, and services like Google or Ancestry websites were not available.
When I first searched for him online I was looking for John Perceval, as I did not realise that he was known as Dick. When I finally searched for Dick Perceval, I found a link to an exhibition at Bletchley Park in 2008, called Moving the Mail which included a collection of letters between Dick and Sorina. For further information about these letters click here.
Once I had decided to use the journals as source material, I needed to get permission from Dick’s family. I knew that his sister Diana had two children and that both of them had children, and I knew the names of those children as Dick mentioned them in his journals. When searching one day, I came across this news story about the death of Diana’s son David Cooke - https://www.doncasterfreepress.co.uk/news/doncaster-baronet-and-member-nobility-dies-82-after-long-illness-54520
A search for information about the family house, Wheatley Hall, led me to a website about the village of Arksey, and this detailed history of David Cooke’s family - http://arkvillhistory.blogspot.com/search/label/Cooke%20Family%20History
I wrote to the website owner to ask her if she had any contact details for David’s daughters, as she mentioned on the site that one of them had been at David's funeral. She did have contact details and was kind enough to put us in touch. With great trepidation, I wrote to a complete stranger to tell her that I had found her great uncle’s journals. In her reply, she said
"I always wondered what had happened to his journals, and assumed they had been destroyed when he died. I can't imagine how they ended up on the street--although that would have been around the time of his final illness, a move into nursing care, and his death. Thank you for finding them, and saving them. Uncle Dick was an extraordinary man. The opportunity to learn more about his earlier life would be a real gift. I am sitting here a little stunned--in quite a mess of tears-- at the possibility. I would, of course, be happy to discuss this with you--and I would love to be able to read these."
We met on Skype, and for the first time I heard about what Dick Perceval was like from someone other than him, and she had a much higher opinion of him than he had of himself. She told me about a wonderful man, full of fascinating stories with a great love of fun. She sent me some photographs of him and Sheila.
My search for further information led me to the British Library to look for some of his journalism. I knew that he had worked for Colour Magazine, in which he had published what I believe to be his only published piece of fiction.
Dick also worked for a newspaper called the European Herald, writing a regular column called London Letters. Here is one of them – I’m particularly delighted that he is making a case for state funding of the arts.
Here is an article that he wrote about the German artist Walter Hippel, which includes the picture of Frau Sorina E.
When he left the European Herald to take up his job in Singapore with the Singapore Free Press, the editor of the European Herald wrote this article about Dick, which was accompanied by the cartoon by Lizzi Pisk (see above).
Whilst searching for evidence of his work in Singapore, I came across this picture which formed part of a centre page spread titled How The Free Press is Produced.
Looking back through the paperwork that was found with the journals, I realised that I had found a name for someone who Dick always referred to as ‘Putzi’. ‘Putzi’ was the daughter of a woman called Gina Brennan, who Dick met in 1934 and fell deeply in love with. Gina was American and returned to the States, and Dick’s attentions returned to Sorina, but he often mentioned in his journals how strongly he felt for Gina, and how he felt that he should have married her. Gina married someone else, and her daughter Putzi moved to London in the 1960s and became a regular visitor at Dick and Sheila’s. Putzi viewed them as surrogate parents. Once I had a name for her, I then found an address and wrote to her, explaining that I had found Dick’s journals. I heard nothing for a few weeks, as the address was an old one, but my letter was forwarded and one day I received a call from ‘Putzi’. She very kindly invited me to lunch one afternoon and her fondness and admiration for both Dick and Sheila were evident. That afternoon she handed me a collection of love letters that Dick had sent to her mother from 1935 – 1952. The style of writing in these letters is very similar to his journal writing, which makes me think that Dick was always writing his journal with another reader in mind. These letters were an incredible gift to receive.