1. BIRTH AND CHILDHOOD
I was born in Swanage in Dorset on 4 August 1907. It was a Sunday evening, and the bells of the parish church were ringing as I came into the world. My father was the rector and the Rectory was a beautiful old house in a lovely garden. Of this home I remember nothing. for we moved from Swanage when I was a year old. I gather my father was not entirely happy there, and he stayed only three years. Apparently not all the parishioners shared the evangelical outlook of the parish at that time, and my father was sensitive—as most of us are—to criticism. In many ways it must have been a delightful place to live, but no man can be happy if he feels his work is not going well.
I was baptized at three weeks old, [August 27th 1907 at Swanage] and given the one Christian name Martin. Having only a single name has meant that all my adult life I have signed it in full and the two names together have become almost hyphenated in people's minds. The name Martin was chosen as a link with St. Martin's, Birmingham, where my father had been a curate. It was in Birmingham that he met my mother, for when he was ordained it was to St Jude's in that city, to serve under the reverend T.G. Watton. My mother was one of the six daughters of the Vicarage, and as she took a full part in the life of the parish it was not unnatural that she should follow the example of her elder sister and marry the curate. But my grandfather insisted on financial stability before he would allow the marriage, so it was a long engagement.
I was the youngest of five children. My eldest brother, Victor, who was killed in the First World War, and my only sister Winnie were born in New Cross, where my father had charge of St. Michael's, a daughter church of St. James', Hatcham. My two other brothers, Stanley and Howard, were born at Tulse Hill, where my father was instituted as the first Vicar of St. Matthias in 1900.
I believe my father was immensely happy in his ministry in South London, as he had been in Birmingham. He worked long hours in pastoral visiting and was an excellent preacher. Not technically a scholar, he nevertheless kept his reading up-to-date and prepared his sermons with great care. All this is very much to his credit, for he had left school before his fourteenth birthday and for nine years worked on his father's farm. However, he used his leisure well and became involved in evangelistic work in the village of Locking, near Weston-super-mare. His entry into the ministry was by way of a brief spell in the newly founded Church Army and less than two years at St. Aidan's College, Birkenhead. I often wonder what he would have done if he had had the advantages which I have had.
The move to Swanage had been at the express wish of the previous Rector, the Rev. W. A. Wilson, who died after a long and painful illness. He was an earnest evangelical, whose two brothers became well known in the Church, one as Bishop of Chelmsford, the other as Vicar of Christ Church, Gypsy Hill and a Simeon Trustee. His youngest brother, C. E. Wilson, was my father's life-long friend They looked back to great days when they worked happily as fellow curates in Hatcham under E. J. Kennedy, a striking personality, six foot four in his socks, and a forthright preacher. Kennedy and another curate. G E Allison Weeks, were my godfathers.
When the opportunity came of an exchange of livings with the Vicar of St John's, Tunbridge Wells, my father jumped at it. The three years at Swanage had by no means been lost. The quite capacious church had to be enlarged during my father's incumbency to cater for the large crowds of summer visitors. Swanage was a fashionable place for holidays of the middle class, without any of the entertainments which abounded in more popular resorts. It can be surmised that almost all the visitors would be churchgoers, and the C.S.S.M. drew very large crowds of children. I am told that I was taken to a service before I was a month old! The parish magazine of the time reflects considerable renewal of spiritual life, and a Mission conducted by Captain Stanley of the Church Army was greatly blessed.
Apart from two occasions when I have visited Swanage for a few hours, I really know nothing of it. Tunbridge Wells was to see a more settled ministry of seventeen years, and here was my real home.
The place in which one grows up from the age of one to eighteen is bound to influence the rest of one's life. St. John's Vicarage was a large grey stone building with a beautiful garden. The front of the house was on Amhurst Road, a quiet area, while the garden backed on to St. John's Road which became, during the seventeen years we were there, a very busy main road. Today the spot where the Vicarage stood is a church car park, the church hall stands on what used to be our vegetable garden, and a new vicarage occupies part of our tennis lawn. There is still an ample garden, which gives some idea of the size of our estate in the old days. I had never known anything else and grew up taking it all for granted. By present day standards the house was enormous, and in addition to the family of seven there were two resident maids. A laundry woman came in once a week to do the washing. The garden was looked after by Raizie, who seemed to be practically full time. He was supplied by a gardening firm to whom my father paid £25 a year. The tennis lawn and rose lawn were kept mown, the herbaceous border and the beds round the house were always well stocked, and was the large vegetable garden. I think the head of the firm, Mr Adams, must have regarded the upkeep of the Vicarage grounds as part of his service to the Church.
This garden was my playground, and as I was so much younger than the rest of the family, a lot of my time was spent alone. My earliest recollection was of being photographed by Miss Jennie Mutton, a very suitable name as she was Australian. Few people possessed cameras in those days, and Miss Mutton's hobby was quite an excitement. She was the niece and companion of Mrs Paxton, a widow who lived in a beautiful house on the other
side of St John's Road from us. The garden was most beautifully kept, and included a peach house. Mrs Paxton kept a carriage and pair, and of course a coachman, so must have been very well off.
The other big house across the road from us (they have both gone the way of the old Vicarage) was where the Murdochs lived, and the middle of the three sons, Dick, was just my age, and a good friend. We played together a great deal, and put on entertainments. This became his profession in later life, and the name of Richard Murdoch is known the world over. He has contributed his quota of laughter to the world as a comedian. On the rare occasions I have met him since he went down from Cambridge I have found him a pleasant companion and we have talked nineteen to the dozen of our happy childhood days.
Two improvements were made to the house while we were there: one of the bedrooms was given French windows and a balcony, which would have been the only way of escape from that floor in the event of fire; and part of a very large room was partitioned off to make a bathroom. Luxuries like central heating, or even electric light, were unheard of.
I grew up taking for granted that the enormous house and garden were the natural thing, and that the money for their upkeep was there as a matter of course. In fact the stipend of the living was good—two-thirds of it drawn from the pew-rents—but all expenses came out of the vicar's pocket.
It did not strike me as incongruous at the time, but looking back I am appalled by the thought that between Mrs Paxton's and the Murdochs' , there was a row of cottages which could only be described as slums. They were virtually under the shadow of the church, but I greatly wonder if there was any real contact with the occupants. Thank God that they - and there were others in the parish - have long since been demolished, as have the grand houses and gardens which flanked them. Other large houses, where in pre-First War days there might have lived one elderly lady with two or three servants, are now all turned into flats. During our time in Tunbridge Wells, while of course my father and his curate ministered to all and sundry, our childhood friends were all from those who went to preparatory, and later public, schools. How different has been the upbringing of our own children! There are not the extremes of poverty and wealth, and surely this is to the good. I believe that Christian people today should learn, if they have not already done so, 'to live simply, that others may simply live'.
When one lives for a long time in one place, one tends to fix dates by the annual summer holiday. My earliest memories are of a holiday in August 1911 when I was four, when my father did the locum at Locking, his birthplace. We almost always took holidays in this way, and I continued the tradition later myself, and am prepared to defend it. For no expense one gets another family's house, garden, books and toys, and the taking of Sunday duty is a small return to give. During the month my father wrote reminiscences of his boyhood which have been a useful source to me in preparing to lecture on Locking a Hundred Years Ago. I also recall being taken by my mother to Richard's Castle in Shropshire, where her father was Rector, and to which they had moved from Birmingham. The Rectory had a lovely garden, and part of the glebe was farmed. My grandfather had a coachman, Haines, who also helped in other ways. I remember a picnic in the hay field at hay-making time. When I was still quite small, my father lost his voice, presumably the result of stress, and was ordered to spend the winter at Falmouth. The rest of the family were at school, but I went with my parents to Cornwall on that occasion. I remember little of it, except that the Cornish Riviera Express travelled non-stop from Paddington to Plymouth.
Life must have been quite pleasant for me in those early days. I was four and a half years younger than my next brother, so naturally was left a good deal to amuse myself. I saw a lot of my mother who gave me my first lessons in the midst of her supervising of the cooking and housework. She also was very busy, not only with her family, but in the parish. I often went with her to the shops to buy large quantities of materials for the Working Party which met weekly to prepare for the C.M.S. Sale. I remember also the At Home days, alternate Tuesdays, when my mother presided in the drawing room and received callers. These were almost all women, all of the same social class, and were returning calls that had been made by my father or mother. I remember her Mothers' Meeting, and working party for the C.M.S. Sale and the 'At Home' days on alternate Tuesdays when people dropped in for afternoon tea. This was a bit formal, and the correct etiquette for the leaving of visiting cards was observed, and at this distance of time it all seems slightly ridiculous. My part in the 'At Home' days was to enjoy some of the cakes that were left over.
My father seemed more remote and was undoubtedly very busy. I grew up with the knowledge that a clergyman's life meant hard work. My earliest spiritual teaching was from my mother, and I cannot remember a time when I did not go to church. In those class-conscious days Sunday Schools were for working-class children, but to her great credit my mother felt a responsibility for children who were left out, and she ran a class in the Vicarage on Sunday afternoons. It must have been quite well attended, for I recall carrying chairs from all over the house to provide enough seating. Most of those who came were girls, and I am sure my own behaviour left much to be desired. Sometimes after tea on Sundays we would sing hymns, standing round the piano while my mother played. I do not remember any special religious impressions at that time, but I am sure the regular teaching and the worship in church, particularly the liturgical service with its full-orbed presentation of Christian truth, made an impact.
I was probably about six when I started going for lessons to a Miss Catesby Smythe who instructed me in the three Rs along with her nephew Alan who was a bit older. We read a good deal of the Bible and I clearly remember being stumped by the word "disciples." Miss Smythe was a devout lady who I am sure prayed for her young pupil. I later came to know that she had very narrow views, but it is often people who are known as the "lunatic fringe" who are the keenest. How hard it is to strike the right balance, and how rarely do we find a "sane saint" - the title of Handley Moule's biography of Charles Simeon.
The Great War broke out on my seventh birthday. Many soldiers were billeted in the town and the Byng Hall, our magnificent parish hall, was requisitioned. The parish rented an empty shop in which to run a canteen for the troops. The strict sabbatarianism of the day would not allow any kind of buying or selling on Sunday. The solution was to open as usual on Sunday, but to serve everything free! Needless to say, more came on Sundays than any other day of the week. No doubt the canteen kept young men out of mischief, but I think something more was accomplished through this piece of genuine Christian service. Many of the men who went out to France never came back, but at that age the full horror of war did not strike me. Like all other boys at that time I played at being soldiers, and toy soldiers were my favourite indoor hobby. At one time I pooled all my soldiers with Laurence Dyer's collection. He was our doctor's son and we played for hours on the floor of his playroom. Another great friend at this time was Dick Murdoch, but the two friendships were quite distinct: Laurence and Dick only knew each other distantly.
My first school was Stanley House in Queen's Road. It had been very successfully run by two sisters, the Misses Griffiths, but they had retired before I started there at the beginning of the War. Stanley and Howard had both been there and had gone on to other good schools. In my time it was run by Mrs Chambers and was, I think, running down. Its chief advantage was that the person we called the "young" Miss Griffiths still taught at the school, and in her old-fashioned way gave us a thorough grounding. She was quite a character and regaled us with stories of the time when she had been a governess in the family of a Russian 'prince'. Much later, when I was faced with taking Latin in the Common Entrance on a very poor knowledge of the language, it was Miss Griffiths who was brought in to give me special coaching. She certainly knew her stuff. I do not think Mrs Chambers taught very much but she took prayers every day. I rather think she lacked imagination in this as I seem to remember the daily recurrence of phrases like "the author of peace and lover of concord."
We were only about a dozen boys, including one Belgian refugee. There was at least one boy who boarded at the school, Gipps by name, and besides Dicky Murdoch my other friend was Alistair Ramsay, son of the postmaster. We used to go for walks and play on the common from 12 to 1 each day, or occasionally would play football or cricket. Physical drill, as P.E. was then called, was looked after by one of the attendants from the local swimming baths. I rather think the school closed when I was about 8 ½ soon after I left in 1915.
I went on to Skinners' School, a large secondary school which had been founded some thirty years before by the Skinners' Company who had also been the founders, in 1553, of Tonbridge School. Skinners' was the school favoured by the local tradesmen, being, in those class-ridden days, socially superior to Board Schools, but by no means in the same bracket as Preparatory and Public Schools. Some of my father's parishioners expressed shock at the Vicar's son being sent to mix with boys who did not belong to the professional class! My three brothers had all been to prep schools, Victor and Stanley to St Lawrence College Junior School as boarders, and Howard to Rose Hill in Tunbridge Wells. For me it was a broadening experience, and if I sometimes wish I had been sent to a prep school it is not for any reason of class snobbery. The one thing I envy is the grounding in Classics which I never had, and which is such a foundation for many other studies. So much of my education has been trying to catch up on what eluded me earlier.
The fees at Skinners' were £3 a term up to the age of twelve, and then £4. A certain number of boys came on scholarships from the elementary schools. The school was changing in character while I was there. At first there were quite a large number of boarders, enough to form one of the four Houses. These gradually dwindled. Another House, called Wield, consisted entirely of boys who came in from the country. They were known as the train boys, and some of them left five or ten minutes early in order to catch the only convenient train. The Tunbridge Wells boys were divided into East and West. I was an undistinguished member of West House. I made some quite good friends, notably Jenkins, son of a photographer, Charlton, whose father was a florist, Moat, son of an optician, and Smith of the coal-merchant's family. Towards the end of my time my great friend was Frank Gilder, a boarder whose mother kept a gown shop in Bond Street. Together we founded the School Swimming Club.
The Headmaster of Skinners, the Rev. F. G. Knott, quite a strong disciplinarian. He had been there from the school's beginning. He took each form in Divinity, and was regarded as rather modernistic in his views on the Bible. Certain things he taught us about the Bible are with me still. He always took prayers each day, at which we sang a hymn from a special book of 42 hymns which we carried in our pockets. Mine practically fell to pieces. I would think the characteristic of school prayers was non-participation. I seem to remember a school service once a term, on All Saints Day, Ash Wednesday and Ascension Day each year, at which "Freddie" Knot always gave a talk, but what he said I have no idea. I do know that the tone of the school was not particularly good. I do not think I took any harm by going to Skinners', though it did mean that I had one set of friends in the term time and another in the holidays.
I started in the 1st form under Miss Daish, but thanks to the grounding given me by Miss Griffiths, at the end of the first full week I was so easily top that I was caused to go up into the 2nd, under Miss Jones. Both these lowest forms had mistresses, the only two women teachers in the school except for the art teacher. No-one could ever teach me to draw or paint, but Miss Britain came nearer to it than anyone. She made no apparent effort to keep order, but by her enthusiasm and desire to impart what she had, she had everyone's respect. That, it seems to me, is what counts in a teacher.
I did pretty well in most subjects and was frequently top in the weekly lists. I think my progress up the school was more or less a year in each form, though that was by no means the regular pattern, till I reached the Upper Fourth, after five and a half years, by which time I had become quite keen on science, both Physics and Chemistry, and Dr. Midwood taught me about all I can remember of these subjects even today. Science became a hobby of mine and I once caused an explosion in the Vicarage which could have had most serious consequences, but by the mercy of God I was spared even a scratch. At one time I was very keen on Geography, taught by a Mr Pitkin. My last form master was an Irishman, Preston, who was a History specialist. A man named Grierson, something of a Mr Chips, taught Maths throughout the school. He had been at one of the Scottish Public Schools, and hated softness. He could lose his temper, box a boy's ear, and then be very sorry. The master who taught French had a glass eye and was known as "Bung-eye." He had two sons at the school who both won scholarships to Tonbridge.
Games were very much voluntary and played only on the free afternoons, Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. There was an obligation to watch school matches. I played some football and cricket, but never with much success, and occasionally entered for some event in the sports.
What I do know is that I gave too much time to swimming, which became the great passion of my life.
I soon changed over to swimming, which was not an official school activity. I had learned to swim in the baths at Weston-super-Mare when we were on holiday in 1916. My father gave me a season ticket to the Baths which cost £1 for a whole year. I was spending every half-holiday and part of every evening at the baths in Tunbridge Wells, indoor in winter and open air in summer. It was my one sporting passion. Towards the end of my time at Skinners, with the co-operation of a senior boy named Gilder and one of the masters, we started a school Swimming Club and I got my colours for water-polo.
Before this my activities were with the town Swimming Club which I joined as a Junior, and in my first season I succeeded in winning a number of events in swimming, diving and plunging. I was in the display team which put on a diving show for the spectators at water-polo matches. To be told by an expert judge that I had gained maximum points for a perfect plain dive off the high board was a moment of boyish pride. I was chosen to be one of a small team who entertained the people as a curtain-raiser to the water-polo matches which took place regularly. It is easy to see that all this swimming activity interfered with my homework and would account for my slipping performance in class. On hot summer days I would spend hours at the open air baths, and in the winter almost as long at the indoor. I got a certificate for swimming a mile. Even in church on Sunday I would sometimes be mentally swimming down the aisle! From starting at, or near, the top in the weekly class lists, I began to fall back towards the lower end. I think I partly outgrew my strength, and used to get very tired, but this is perhaps to make excuses for the slackness which set in. No one seemed to care much, and it was probably a good thing when the time came for me to leave Skinners' and go to Tonbridge.
I had somehow managed to get a scholarship to cover the fees at Skinners' when I was about 12, but I failed to get one of those offered for Skinners' boys to Tonbridge.
But I must trace a little more of my life during the Skinners' years. In 1915 we were on holiday at Hove and for the first time, apart from my involuntary participation at Swanage, I encountered the C.S.S.M. Owing to war conditions, services were not allowed on the beach, but otherwise the usual activities took place. i remember entering a bible clock competition.
The following year we went to Weston-super-mare and here again was the C.S.S.M., come to Weston because the East coast was closed to them. The services were run by Mr. Parry Jennings and his son Eric, who later was ordained and was well known in evangelical circles. Here I remember actually winning a prize for an object, a model made of plasticine, sand and blue paper of the house on the rock and the house on the sand, but little else has remained with me. the services were held on the Glentworth Sands, now the Marine Lake, and if wet in Holy Trinity Parish Room, an old corrugated iron structure. Our lodgings were on the first floor of one of the houses in Madeira Cove. I cannot remember which as they were all so similar, each with its stone balcony.
The holiday was shared with my uncle and aunt, Eddie and Winnie Boughton. Aunt Winnie was my mother's youngest sister. Uncle Eddie tried to make the holiday go with a swing for his two children, George and Peggy, and myself (My brothers and my sister were all older). We played a lot of cricket on the sands, stood and watched the concert parties, and I learned to swim in the Knightstone Baths. But for my parents I believe it was a wretched time. My eldest brother Victor had been killed in May of that year. He was on active service as a despatch-rider, stationed at Dover Castle, and actually met his death in Dover when he was called out in the night during a raid, and had a head-on crash with a lorry on the hill leading to the Castle. He died in hospital before my father could reach Dover, just the day before his 19th birthday. It was a terrible blow to my parents and I think it was a mistake to join forces with anyone for the holiday that year when their nerves were shattered. I do not remember Victor at all well. He was the most gifted of our family, a good athlete and very much respected at his school, St Lawrence, Ramsgate. This I learned from Joe Church who was there with him. He had a most impressive military funeral.
The war dragged on and in 1917 we went to a cottage at Cowden only about nine miles from home. My father went off from there for a part of the time on a cycling tour with Stanley and Howard. I think they eventually landed up with Uncle Joe at Locking. My mother and I enjoyed Cowden, and had Alistair Ramsay to stay as company for me. We both had bicycles. Country life was quite a novelty and I remember fetching the milk from a farm in a can. Skimmed milk was almost given away, a halfpenny for a big jug full. That same year, in September, I joined the Dyers for a fortnight at Bexhill. Laurence and I were good friends, though we sometimes quarrelled. He was at a very exclusive prep. school at Eastbourne, St Cyprian's. Strangely enough, the war going on just across the Channel did not seem to affect us very much.
Martin's sermon when he was 10 years old. From his Mother's hand-bag. (Note in Emily's hand)
John 3.16 We have here the greatest sacrifice ever recorded in the history of any country. God sent His one precious Son down to die instead of us. Just think of that, dear brethren. We, sinners guilty of unbearable punishment saved by the precious life of the one person who so loved us that He could not see us perish.
In Abraham's old age he had his first son, and think what a joy it must have been to him to have a son after such a long time of waiting. But when Isaac was no more than 10 years old Abraham was told by God to sacrifice his only son to prove his love to God. How unhappy the old man must have been. An angel stopped him from sacrificing the boy, but this was not so with God. He sacrificed His Son, but the Son was not unwilling, in fact he was doing what nobody could do; he was saving the whole world from sin and death.
In the latter part of the text we have a message that even the youngest can understand. "Whosoever believeth in Him shall have everlasting life." We must not think that the next world is going to be like this, death coming at any moment; it will be for ever. What this means we cannot tell. "For ever" sounds to us impossible. But if you do not believe this you have no faith, and if you have no faith instead of everlasting life, it will be everlasting damnation.
Leaving the dreary risk of it, let us return to what the text says. Every Sunday we say the Creed, perhaps we do not realise what a solemn part of the service it is, but we confess to believe all. I wonder how many of us really believe what we are saying. I am sure there are very few in this church, I hope there are none, who just repeat the Creed without any meaning. If we are doing this we are telling a deliberate lie, but on the other hand, if we are saying it with real meaning, we deserve the reward promised in our text.
I urge you all, if you have not done it, to mark the passage from which my text is taken in your Bible, as you may often find it a comfort when feeling depressed.
And now to God the Father etc.
In 1918 and 1919 my father did a locum at Chilcompton in Somerset. The family were dispersed a bit by then, Winnie a land girl I think, and I chiefly remember going for cycle rides over the Mendips with my father. This was my introduction to Wells, Cheddar and Glastonbury which I now know so well. Once in Glastonbury Church I surreptitiously bought for a penny a leaflet called 'A Boy's Prayers'. I think it was a very "high church" production, but it made me think. Every little influence counts in the end. At Chilcompton Vicarage there was a lovely garden, and I think it was quite a good holiday, both years, though it may have been a bit lonely for my mother. I used to go to the swimming baths in Midsomer Norton.
In 1920 the family holiday was a locum in Chislehurst where I cannot remember that there was much to do. I found swimming at Beckenham, and I remember going with my mother to Olympia for a Boy Scout Jamboree, and to a play in London with Winnie. I left Chislehurst to go to a camp of Skinners boys with Mr. Pitkin at Pevensey Bay. This was my first experience of sleeping under canvas and, through not knowing how to keep warm, I got catarrh very badly. This has been a nuisance all my life. I quite enjoyed the camp, but it had no spiritual aim: it was merely a holiday. The next year, when I had just left Skinners, we went to Turners Hill in Sussex. Here, besides cycle rides with my father, I played a lot of cricket with the village boys.
A great friend of these days was Pat Daly whom I got to know through Laurence Dyer. They had been together at St Cyprian's Eastbourne, and then Lawrence went to St Laurence and Pat to Radley. Dick Murdoch was at Charterhouse. With Pat I spent a lot of time in the holidays just listening to jazz records or strolling about the town, having coffee at one or other of the cafes. (Pat had always plenty of money.) In the summer we were somewhat better occupied playing cricket in our garden. We used to have endless Test Matches, going through the whole of the England and Australian sides. 1921 was the year when Australia won every match and their team included Bardsley, McCarthy, Gregory, Mailey, with Armstrong as Captain. Pat was always the Australians, and he always won! I was never much good at cricket, but I enjoyed the fun. Cricket Week in Tunbridge Wells was a big event and I used to go whenever possible. I still have a feeling of loyalty to Kent.
In the Christmas holidays there were a good many parties, mostly dances. For a short time I went to dancing classes at a girls' school, and I was the only boy there. I cannot imagine why I was sent except perhaps that I was rather uncouth and my mother thought it might improve me manners. When I went to dances it was nearly all fox-trot or waltz which one could do without much instruction. I never enjoyed these affairs very much as I was a shy boy and rather awkward. Some were quite big affairs, in the Pump Room or the King Charles Parish Room, which must have cost the hostesses a fortune. Others were in private houses with a gramophone for the music. Mrs Dyer enjoyed putting on parties for about ten couples, and these were more homely affairs. Even so I preferred the old fashioned party with games and especially charades. Every Christmas Day at one time I went to evening dinner with the Dyers - my second Christmas dinner of the day! - and Laurence, Pat and I put on a play to entertain the grown ups. I also did a lot of acting with Dicky Murdoch who already showed signs of promise. Among other things we joined in entertaining the Mothers' Meeting Annual Tea in the Byng Hall. One year Dick did a sort of conjuring show, and when one or two tricks went wrong he was able to turn it into a joke and got great laughs.
I too was keen on conjuring and taught myself a certain amount of sleight of hand. With a holiday acquaintance, Crawford Rutherford, I put on a show in one of the rooms of the Byng Hall to which the children of the neighbourhood came. They were rather rowdy, and it ended in a bit of a riot, but some of the tricks mystified them. My other hobby at this time was chemistry, which I did at a sink outside the bathroom. I once stupidly lit a gas which was coming mainly out of a delivery tube attached to a flask. It was hydrogen, and of course when it combined with the oxygen in the air it exploded. That I was not hit by the broken glass of the flask must be regarded as a great mercy, if not a miracle.
My brother Stanley once rebuked me by saying: "All you think about is conjuring, chemistry and the tin whistle, and they are all nonsense!" I did enjoy the tin whistle, but it was a pity I did not spend some of the time practising the piano. For years I had lessons with Miss Osborne, and my failure to practise must have driven them nearly mad. I was sent for a short time to a Mr Mabbott, music master at Skinners, but even with him I did not do much better. I am really sorry about this for I should dearly love to be able to play better. All I can manage really is the sort of four part hymn tune type of music, partly read and partly by ear, and always transposing three or more sharps into flats! My singing voice as a treble was not very good and when I took one of the principal parts in an operetta at Skinners, "The Idea", some of the boys made scathing remarks.
I was of course regular at church, from the time I was about 12 going in the evening as well I would sometimes be stirred by my father's evangelistic sermons, and I was a member of the Scripture Union, but it all meant very little. About this time my mother took me to a series of children's mission services taken by George Goodman, but it made no lasting impression. Looking back I wonder if I had the faintest conception of what the gospel is all about. I rather think my idea of Christianity was a mixture of being good and saying prayers. I often omitted to do the latter. Bible reading became almost non-existent. It was a great tragedy that some time before my 14th birthday I was pitchforked into taking a Sunday School class of infants. There was no help with preparation and I simply told Bible stories without any idea of a syllabus of consecutive teaching. Anyhow, my heart was not in it, and I think it was a great mistake to expect me to do it.
I got into Tonbridge by passing the Common Entrance. Alistair Ramsay and I were both thought to be weak in Latin and Maths so we went to two bluestocking ladies who coached us - rather well, I think. We took the exam at Tonbridge, staying for lunch with the day boys. In the Latin paper I made a silly mistake. I knew the word "parvolus" as meaning "very little" and put it as the superlative of parvus, which should of course have been "minimus." The boy sitting next to me, also from Skinners, had the same mistake. We were both interviewed next day and I suppose it was established that he had "cribbed" from me. Anyhow he did not pass.
Leaving Skinners was no great hardship. I had been happy enough there, but at that age one does not develop sentimental attachments to a place. There was no chance of ever becoming a praeposter as these were all boys who had stayed on to the age of 17 or 18. Apart from swimming I had not achieved any great success. I was too young for the O.T.C., though towards the end of my time an unofficial junior branch was formed, known as the 2nd platoon. We had to buy our own uniforms. On one occasion I was part of a guard of honour to some royal personage and stood beside the red carpet just where the carriage door opened for her to alight from the train. She had come to open a new wing at the Homeopathic Hospital. I am sure the school did not miss me. I had to go back the next term to collect a prize for "excellent work" which was given for having acquired ten "stars," given a quarter at a time throughout the year. I had once before gained a "star" prize. Stripes were given for bad conduct, and somehow I never got a stripe in all my time there. I had occasional detentions, mostly I think for poor work in Maths. If I ever had the chance to go back to Skinners to preach I should certainly want to take it.