Peter Mercer was taken into care when he was seven years old and kept away from his family by nuns who ill-treated him and mocked him as a Gypsy. When he had saved a little money, he was conscripted into the army, then he served as a regular soldier with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. He was awarded medals for his service in the Suez Canal and in Cyprus. Peter was Tri-Service Boxing Champion for three years in a row.
As he was able to read and write, he led the struggle for regular stopping places and founded his own organisation, the East Anglian Gypsy Council, with John Day and Dave Day c.1970. Joining the National Gypsy Education Council, he was elected to many offices and served a number of terms as Chairperson; he ran the NGEC as a federation of Roma NGOs, including the Romany Guild, the Southern and Northern Gypsy Councils, the Romani Rights Association and his own EAGC. He attended a number of World Romani Congresses, starting with the Second in 1978 and was elected to the IRU Praesidium at the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth World Romani Congresses.
In 1980, he led delegations that led to the final securing of the right to education for nomadic children in the 1981 Education Act. In 1989, he was the main witness who secured the legal recognition of Gypsies as an ethnic group, in the case of CRE v. Dutton. During this period, he was appointed an Educational Welfare Officer by Peterborough City Council which gave him a salary from which he could live.
He served four years as President of the NGEC but split from it in 1994, alongside Sylvia Dunn when it was re-named the Gypsy Council. EAGC, joined the National Federation of Gypsy Liason Groups, of which he became President in 2005. He was awarded an MBE (Member of the Order of the British Empire), by the government in 2000.
In old age he continued to attend as many consultations as he could and, wearing all his medals, took part in the annual Romani, Gypsy and Travellers veteran’ wreath-laying ceremony organised by the Romani and Traveller Family Association on Remembrance Day (11th November). Hundreds of people mourned at his funeral.