Derek Rawlings (1925-2014)

Derek joined the Sussex Record Society in 1982, became Chairman of its Council in 1991, and on his retirement from that in 2001 served as a Vice-President until his death. He remained active until ill-health caused him to curtail his many activities.

Son of a chartered accountant and of a half-French mother, he attended St. Paul’s School in London, but joined the Navy during the war as an ordinary seaman at the age of 17. Being recognised as officer material, he was sent for training (including to Edinburgh University), and was commissioned on his 18th birthday and put in charge of a tank landing craft in Falmouth Harbour. In this capacity he took part in the Normandy landings, before moving on to mine-sweepers (where he became adept at dealing with mines by firing at them). His alias (to some) of ‘James’ was a kind of naval job-description. He remained in the R.N. Volunteer Reserve until 1960.

While at Falmouth Derek met his wife of 65 years, Hylda, who was then working as a librarian in Boots store, and they were married in London in 1949. Hylda was later to write a lightly-disguised account of their Naval courtship in The Ship of Truth (Mary Hunt (a nom-de-plume), Hamilton & Co. 1999), with impressive recall of dialogue, etc. Their long partnership extended to their interest in local history, and Hylda, who survives him, was very much a part of all that he did.

Derek worked for some years at the Bank of England, progressing from clerk to Deputy Head of the Exchange Control Department, and taking retirement when the function was abolished by Mrs. Thatcher. The couple lived first at Hatch End, but moved to Danehill in 1961, where Hylda initially, and Derek after his retirement, speedily became enthused with local history in association with the late Philip Lucas and others – leading to the formation of the Danehill Parish Historical Society in 1972 and active involvement in the publication of its excellent magazine. Derek was to contribute over thirty articles to this between 1979 and 2003 on a wide range of subjects, though his own particular interests lay with footpaths and maps, and he built up a collection of some 3,000 photographs.

Historical research was very much encouraged within the Society, and led to Derek’s 25-year connection with the East Sussex Record Office and its Friends organisation (of which he was Treasurer 1980-8, briefly Secretary, and then Chairman 1990-2004). It was these connections which first led him to become involved with archive publishing and the Sussex Record Society, where his financial expertise was valuable, and where he ably guided the Society through one of the most successful and productive periods in its history.

Derek was indefatigable in his enthusiasms, and generously shared his time and expertise with others. He was Chairman of Danehill Parish Council for some years, Treasurer of the Pony Club, and was active with Danehill church and the Conservative Party. A major feature in both his and Hylda’s lives were the two donkeys (personalities in their own rights) which they kept for over thirty years.

Besides Hylda, Derek is survived by his daughter Léonie, son-in-law Peter, and two granddaughters.

Roger Davey