Captain Peter Digby
By James Findlay 19 September 2019
The 24th of October 2019 JellyFishTree collectable book auction will feature part of the collection of the avid Boer War book collector, Peter Digby. Peter has sadly had to relocate to a care facility. He is physically well, but his estate has had to be finalised. JellyFishTree has be commissioned to auction off the vast majority of his library over several auctions.
I have known Peter for well over 30 years. When I was in my early twenties, it was Peter who encouraged me to join him at a Volks Book Auction in Pretoria. The area was a bit like Marshalltown is today, bustling with people and teeming with traffic. I specifically remember noticing a brothel across the road on the second floor opposite the auction gallery. I had to wear a jacket to the auction at Peter’s insistence. The contrast did not go unnoticed.
The erudite Edward Bernardi entertained us for the night with his dry sense of humour and eager gavel. “To the rose amongst the thorns” he would knock a book down to a fashionably dressed lady at the back. Peter’s clasped program would dart up sporadically as he jostled to secure a book for his study. I never bid, but watched in awe at this other world that had apparently been going on for as long as the written word.
From the first time I handled the travel greats such as Le Vaillant, Burchell, Cornwallis Harris and the like, I was hooked. Books became my vice and now all these years later it’s an honour to return the favour to my mentor.
It has been sad to see Peter not remembering certain details anymore. He has always been an archive of useful information. “It’s what happens” he might have said, “We never really own the books James, but are custodians for the next generation of bibliophiles”.
The following biography on Peter Digby was compiled by Lt. Col. J.B.R. Findlay, MMM, JCD.
Peter Digby was educated at King Edward VII School, Houghton, Johannesburg, and completed a Batchelor of Arts degree majoring in English and History at the Witwatersrand University, Johannesburg. He then started his career as a teacher at Pretoria Boys High School and, after 40 plus years at the school, retired as head of the English department at the school. While at the school he formed the school ‘Pipes and Drums’ band, which has become widely known throughout the country, as well as initiating the school museum collection. He was also a driving force in the establishment of a museum at his old school.
Peter’s passion has always been South African military history as well as collecting military medals. His collection of Anglo-Boer War medals is regarded as one of the best in the world. He researched and wrote numerous articles on various military incidents and personalities. This resulted in him being asked to write the history of the South African forces in France in World War 1 and he produced a major reference work titled “Pyramids and Poppies”. His collection of military reference books was an absolute treasure trove and a significant source of information for him and fellow militaria collectors. He was also a major contributor to the ‘Piping Society of South Africa’ (bagpipes!) and various bands. He was commissioned as an officer in the South African Defence Force (1983) and attained the rank of Captain. He was decorated with the Military Meritorious Medal and the John Chard Decoration as well as awarded other service medals.
One of Peter’s major achievements has been the collection of Transvaal Scottish Regiment memorabilia over many decades which is now housed in Sir Thomas Cullinan’s old house, “The View”, in Parktown. This is a magnificent collection of uniforms, medals, badges, photographs, diaries, books and numerous souvenirs from the many events that the Transvaal Scottish have participated in. He was an amazing curator who managed to find many rare items to enhance the collection. His knowledge of South African military history is phenomenal and his expertise and opinions are valued by many militaria enthusiasts throughout the world.
Lt. Col. J.B.R. Findlay, MMM, JCD.