Coe “Peter”

`Peter’ Coe was born Percy Newbold Coe in Kingston, Surrey, in 1919, the eldest child of Violet (née Newbold) and Percy Coe Sr.

Percy Coe had a younger brother, Peter, who died in infancy in 1928, which prompted Percy to take on his deceased brother’s first name as a dedication.  `Peter’ stuck thereafter. 

By the account of his son, Sebastian (Lord) Coe, the former Tory politician and athlete, Peter Coe joined the Communist Party when he lived in East end of London during the 1930s.

Peter married Marie P M Drappier in Fulham County in late 1941, with whom he had one child.

Peter was a competitive club cyclist, something which served him well when he twice escaped as a prisoner of war in the Second World War. To all intents and purposes, he was considered missing for 18 months and was even believed to have perished at sea.

Having trained originally as a mechanical engineer, he was serving in the Merchant Navy when his ship was torpedoed in the Atlantic, going down with only five men, including him, surviving out of more than two hundred on board. Picked up by a German destroyer, Coe was taken to La Rochelle and sent by train to a POW camp in Germany. He escaped but was recaptured; then he escaped again, this time with a Canadian fellow prisoner, by jumping off a moving train. They walked across France by night, sleeping by day, and then over the Pyrenees into neutral but fascist Spain which interned Peter for six months.

His wartime experiences would have a profound impact on his future life. Peter remarried Tina Angela Lal in Kensington in late 1954. Angela, as she was known, was half-Indian, daughter of an English ballerina, Vera (née Swan), and a Punjabi father, Sardari Lal. Angela and Peter had four children, including Seb Coe, who was born at Chiswick, London, in September 1956. 

Peter Coe had become a design engineer and obtained a good position working in this capacity for George Butler & Co, founded in Sheffield more than three centuries ago to produce quality cutlery.

It appears that Peter’s political views were largely unchanged from his youth until the mid to late 1960s, when he shifted to becoming a clear Labour supporter.  It is probable that his promotion to Production Director at Butlers was decisive but it was also in Sheffield that, when his son, Seb, showed skill at running, Peter set about teaching himself everything there was to know about it from a scientific and practical point of view, in the process becoming a highly skilled and admired coach over the net twenty years.

According to his son, Peter Coe kept his respect for and understanding of trade unions even when he had become Production Manager at Butler & Co. Of course, some of the union officials he dealt with in  Sheffield would certainly have been Communists.

Peter Coe died on 9th August 2008, aged 88; his wife, Angela (who was always a radical Liberal), died in London, in 2005, aged 75.

Sources: Interview with Seb Coe on BBC 5 `Live Tonight’ 13th November 2013; Daily Telegraph 2008; Running My Life – The Autobiography By Seb Coe

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