I’ve just learned that Peter’s close friend Eric Drew passed away at the end of 2017. He was the last link we had with Peter, the person who probably knew him best of all and who we’d hoped could tell us the most likely reason for his disappearance. Eric often mentioned the theory he had that Peter could have tripped and hit his head while running down a boulder field as he liked to do. He talked about the triclunies on his boots that could have tripped him and left him unconscious up in the hills. But when we retraced the likely route Peter would have taken in September 1954 and spoke to the crofter who had helped search for him, we concluded that had that been the case, he would have been found. Willie said there were shepherds up on the hills with dogs on days in all weathers so some trace of him would have been found. So we discounted that theory. It’s a grim fact that bodies do eventually turn up.
Eric had kept the receipt from the Glasgow boot repairers who had fixed up Peter’s climbing boots for that last Friday when he hitched a lift to Glencoe after work. When we visited him two summers ago he showed us the tag that he had acquired amongst the few personal effects at Peter’s lodgings in Knightswood. He also told us that he’d tracked down the man who drove Peter to Glencoe that Friday evening ‘a passing man with a van’ but couldn’t remember who he was. We were very happy to have met and talked to him that afternoon two years ago. May he rest in peace.
There’s been a long hiatus in posts about Peter, largely because daily life and commitments have deprived us of the time we need to search for further clues about his disappearance. Since a woman contacted me last year with information about her mother’s friendship with Peter in Glasgow before he disappeared, we have been intending to search the Kew records office for further clues as to what might have happened. Two pieces of information have come to light that are significant: one is that the lady who worked in the office in Glasgow with Peter remembers MI5 combing the place after he went missing. From what I’ve been able to ascertain, this is not routine. So it would imply that there were suspicious circumstances surrounding his disappearance and perhaps fears that valuable documents or information might have gone too. Of course this is just speculation on our part, but the second piece of information also adds intrigue to the story. Peter was a young man of 29 when he vanished, but one of his possessions that he left behind was an expensive Oyster Perpetual Rolex watch. His friend Eric told he us he had the same model. Just this week I was told that it was customary for the military and special services to be issued with these watches. I would love to know more. Another reason I wanted to update this blog is that it’s still getting visitors nearly every day, so I’m hoping that somebody who reads this may be able to tell us more about the issue of Rolex watches to MoD personnel at that time, or about the YARD project in the 1950s and whether the information on it is now declassified.
Just this last week lady has been in touch to say she’s been searching for information about Peter’s disappearance for many years. She says her mother worked at Yarrows Admiralty Research Department in Glasgow in the 1950s and that the pair were close. She has never forgotten him. She was most likely the ‘lassie crying in the office’ that Eric Drew referred to when he returned to work to hear the news that Peter was missing in September 1954. He was surprised, as he didn’t think she and Peter were particularly close. I will post an update soon, after I have spoken with her daughter to find out more. It seems that even after more than sixty years, the dust of Peter’s presence has never quite settled. He clearly touched many lives and has left so many people apart from his family wondering what became of him.
Two weeks ago I saw that someone from Canada had found my blog using the search term “Shelagh Begg”. Is there someone who knows the family reading this who can tell us anything about Peter? We’d so love to hear from anyone who remembers anything.
A couple of weeks ago, my cousin Sandra, daughter of the last remaining Uncle on the Ayre side of the family got in touch to tell me she had been to see her father, and they had been talking about Peter Begg and his strange disappearance from Glencoe in September 1954. He had remembered that Peter had been learning Russian in the late 1940s. We have always considered that Peter may have connections there and that his disappearance may have been related to that.
As yet we have still not been able to establish what he was doing during the war. We know that he was serving aboard the Neritina in the Merchant Navy from a photo from 1949. The Neritina was built in Glasgow in 1943 and sailed from Loch Ewe to Murmansk in 1944 as part of the Arctic convoy delivering oil to Russia
Aboard the Neritina en route to Russia
This was a dangerous voyage for the merchant seamen as the ships were vulnerable to attack from U boats, but they were given a warm welcome by the Russians in Murmansk. The social club for allied forces in the town’s main square was a place where Russians apparently mixed fairly freely with sailors. We don’t yet know if Peter was part of one of these convoys, but the revelation that he was learning the language adds a whole new slant to the theories surrounding his disappearance. We will continue our search.
It’s been a month now since the programme, a drama documentary, was broadcast on Radio Four. I thought it would be interesting to write about how we went about making the programme and about the reaction it’s received.
The programme was a culmination of a year’s worth of research by me and my cousin Bev as we talked to the various people who remembered Peter or had known him. I worked with a great script writer Richard Monks who has written a lot of radio and TV drama. We met and discussed the Peter Begg story and I began sending him information and interviews and gradually we decided on a format on how to marry the facts with the fiction. We realised that nobody really knew what Peter was like. Eric’s description of his friend as ‘the life and soul of the party’ did not match others’, who described him as a loner. With so little to go on, it was hard for Richard to write the character, but in the end we agreed that he would provide Peter’s voice as a kind of narration and commentary on the facts, thoughts and opinions of those involved in the case. Depending on which theory we chose to believe as to why he disappeared, I thought ‘Peter’ could play with us, the audience a bit, tantalise us as to what he was really like and what might really have happened. And at other times he could sound regretful and sad for all the grief he caused to those left behind, as well as perhaps appear keen to put his family and his upbringing with a strong mother behind him by disappearing.
Richard wrote three versions of the script, adding a little back story about Peter’s time during the war, based on what we imagined he might have witnessed if he’d served in the Navy.
I wanted a Liverpudlian actor to be the voice of Peter, someone who understood the nuances of accent and how Peter would have sounded in the 1950s as someone who was upwardly mobile, keen to shed their working class Liverpool roots and spread their wings.
I approached Paul McGann, who as luck would have it, lives near to the BBC in Bristol, and he agreed to take the role. We met for coffee at the Clifton Lido one hot afternoon and chatted. He was really up for playing the part, having really engaged with the story. He is also really interested in family history and had traced one seafaring relative of his own to the Titanic. He came into our studio at the BBC at the end of August to read the part.
I asked my cousins, Diane and Bev to be there. Bev couldn’t make it, but Diane came and sat in on the recording. Peter was her uncle after all, and importantly, the programme had led to me getting in touch and meeting her for the first time. That meeting and the friendship that has resulted is part of the story.
Hearing Paul read the monologue Richard had written, lifting those words off the page and bringing the voice of Peter to life literally gave me goosebumps. He was fantastic. All that was left now was to mix his narration with the sound, music and interviews I’d been recording for months.
The result went into 45 minutes of Afternoon Drama on Friday 2nd September, 62 years to the day that Peter set out from Glasgow on his last journey towards whatever fate or direction awaited him. His empty tent was reported five days later.
The programme got a massive response. Listeners got in touch to say how much they’d been riveted by the story. Some had gone back and listened twice. One man started emailing me from near Perth asking to see case notes from the time, asking whether a forensic search had ever been carried out at the landlady’s address, what Peter’s relationship had been with her. He was so persistent and intriguing that I ended up ringing him to find out what his motives were. Turns out he was merely an interested party who was trying to make sense of some of the most baffling parts of the story. We chatted for about twenty minutes during which time he managed to almost convince me that Peter may have been murdered. “There’s a reason that there’s no body. Think of the Moors murders” and “Nobody staging their own disappearance would leave £40,000, even out of guilt”.
His theory is plausible. Maybe there is more to Peter’s story than meets the eye. This is why it’s important that we keep trying to track down any paperwork that might still be out there in the archives that will tell us where he was during the war and what he was doing. The Scottish Daily Record picked up on the story and ran a double page article
MAGGIE’S HUNT FOR TRUTH ABOUT MISSING MAN
I’m still hoping that someone who read this might come forward with information. Meanwhile I’m in contact with the town archivist of the tiny place on Vancouver Island in Canada where we discovered Yarrows set up a second Admiralty Research Department in the 1950s. Could Peter have disappeared to Canada with the girlfriend his mother didn’t approve of to work for the same company ? Watch this space…