Martin Parsons autobiography
2. YOUTH AND CONVERSION
Starting at Tonbridge in September 1921 was quite a landmark in my life. The school was originally founded by Sir Andrew Judd for the boys of Tonbridge merchants and still those who came from a radius of 15 miles paid lower fees as 'foundationers.' But in the mean time it had become one of the best of the Public Schools, with about 400 of the total of 490 boarders. Day boys were there at a disadvantage and were unpopular as a whole, being resented as intruders. Probably they were mostly sons of the less well off and there was a lot of snobbery. School House boys were not allowed to be seen talking to a Day Boy. In addition to such disadvantages it was undoubtedly the case that neither of the two Day Boy houses in my day were very good at games. We did have some quite good scholars. [I may have been oversensitive, but I did feel this very much. It was also true that at that time the Day Boy House I was in (DB. 'b') was not any good at games and we lost a rugger House Match 108-nil!]
For all the drawbacks I believe that it was right for me to be a day boy, and this in spite of the fact that all the rest of the family had been boarders: Victor and Stanley at St Lawrence, Winnie at St Mary's Hall and Howard at St Edmund's Canterbury. Stanley left St Lawrence when the school moved to Chester, away from the bombing, and finished as a day boy at Tonbridge. He and I were both in Day Boys 'b' which consisted of those who lived South of the Medway, about half of them coming from Tunbridge Wells. Day Boys 'a' was composed mostly of Tonbridge boys, with a few coming from Sevenoaks. Soon after I left, the Day Boy Houses were given names, Welldon and Smythe. Welldon was Headmaster 1843-1875, and Smythe was a grandson of Sir Andrew Judd, the founder. [This must have helped to bridge the gap between boarders and day boys.]
Getting to school from Tunbridge Wells was a bit of a scramble, but I reduced it to a fine art. By leaving home at 8.05 I caught the 8.18 train with seconds to spare. I met the same boys at the same spot each morning and we knew exactly if and when we had to run. It was nearly all down hill. We travelled only with boys of our own degree of seniority. At last one was promoted to the "senior carriage." New boys were called novi, and even a single new boy was a novi, not a novus. Novis were commanded to go into the senior carriage on two occasions, once to take an oral exam on the folklore of the school, and once to sing a solo. This was usually on the homeward journey. When my turn came to sing I was simply not able to get out a single note. I got away with reading a hymn from my school copy of the English Hymnal (used in Chapel) which I happened to have with my other books. This was emphatically not an act of piety, but an easy way out, which the seniors were generous enough to pass. I am bound to say there was no serious bullying.
It was a rush to get up to the School in time for chapel at 8.45. Before the school day started, l had walked nearly two miles and had to face the same again in the evening with the Tunbridge Wells end mainly uphill. It was a long and tiring day, with homework to be faced when I got home [at about 6.30]. I was often too tired to undress and just flopped on the bed to wake at about 10.30 and get undressed. Nor was there much comfort during the day. Day boys quarters were deplorably bad. We were housed in a beautiful old house called Old Judde, but the rooms were bare except for games lockers and a few benches. Her we spent the odd minutes in between lunch and games, and games and afternoon school. Washing facilities were very few. The conditions would not be tolerated in a state school today.
The buildings and grounds of the School were, of course, lovely. The chapel was a structure of grand proportions, comfortably seating all the boys and staff. Morning chapel lasted about 10 minutes, and on Saturdays there was a music practice for another half hour. Here 'Tommy' Wood, Mus. Doc., nearly blind and loved by all, inspired and enthused many with a sense of what is good and bad in music. As a Tunbridge Wells day boy I did not go to Sunday Chapel, so cannot make any comment on sermons. [but occasionally would hear a preacher criticized on Monday morning. Having preached in a few Public School chapels myself since, I realize that it is a critical audience.] Once a year there was a full weekday service with a sermon usually by an Old Tonbridgian. Big School was an impressive hall, large enough to seat the whole school as well as visitors. It was used for concerts and plays, and on Skinners Day and any other occasions when the Headmaster wanted to address the school. Some of the form rooms were extremely old-fashioned, others quite modern and light. There were science labs, library, a gymnasium, tuck shop - called the grubber - fives court, squash courts and racquets court. Beyond stretched the lovely turf of the Head, where 1st XI played, and the other grounds known as Master's. Rugger grounds were partly away from the school, the Fifty, where the 1st XV played, the New, and some other inferior fields some way off called Baths. These were beside the swimming baths which were fed from the Medway.
I think the House, rather than the Form, was the real unit of school life. My house-master, was O. P. Churchyard, a kindly and tolerant soul, perhaps a little slack in discipline. From him I learned the importance of not fussing. A favourite saying of his was: 'How often have I urged you not to fuss?' But if everyone were like him I dare say the world's work would never quite get done! I liked him, and I think he liked me [and when I became head of the House in my last year I had reason to know that he liked me.]
A great deal of power was in the hands of the Praes. They organised the daily exercise, which was usually a cross country run if one was not playing rugger. They took P.T. in the middle of each of the four mornings when there was not a Corps parade. They took roll call and enforced discipline. They were allowed to beat, which I think now was not a good plan, for them or anyone else. There was a strictly enforced etiquette for Novis: no hands in pockets, no coloured socks and so on. There was virtually no fagging in the Day Boys Houses. Our colours were chocolate and cerise which we wore as stripes on our caps in winter and as straw hat bands in summer. We wore navy blue or other dark suits, white collars and black ties. Praes were allowed striped collars and grey bags and wore straw hats all the year round, carrying umbrellas in hot weather. You never progressed even a few yards from one form room to another without putting on your cap or hat. All these things were a part of life which one accepted as normal.
I started in the lower Fourth with a master named Morris, and nicknamed Meshak. I was horrified to find that I had to choose one of the following pairs of subjects: Latin and Greek, Latin and German, German and Chemistry. Not wanting to give up Chemistry, I opted for the third choice. All that term the chemistry was very easy for me as I had done it all at Skinners. The other boys used to get me to explain things to them. But my father, quite rightly, thought I should not give up Latin, and so the following term I switched to Latin and German. The fair knowledge of German I got while at school has been useful to me since.
My progress up the school is of no special interest. In those days forms did not move up en bloc at the end of a year, but individuals were treated on their merits. Thus I spent two terms in the Lower IV, one in the Upper IV with O.P. Churchyard, two in the Lower V and four in the Middle V with a man called Knowles. His pleasant manner, at times a little caustic, left its impression on me and I did reasonably well at languages. It was about that time that the School Certificate was introduced into Tonbridge and when the Modern Middle V took it as a form I believe I was the only one who passed. I got credits in English, French and Maths. For Maths we were graded in Sets so the Forms were all mixed up for that subject. I gave it up after getting School Cert., and spent the time working for the Cambridge Previous, or Little-Go. I think my work would have been better if I had not got so desperately tired and been unable to concentrate on prep. When I got into the Upper V, I was really doing work over again with the others, who had to retake School Cert, so I was moved up into the Modern VI for my last term. We spent most of the time writing French and German proses. The only prizes I got a Tonbridge were for as essay and twice for reading. I also got a prize for conducting the winning choir in the inter-House music competitions. [We did in fact win the House shield for music, which was some compensation for our lack of prowess at games. Games were, of course, compulsory every day. I did get my house-scarf for rugger, but my chief contribution was obviously to be swimming.]
Every boy in the school was in the O.T.C. We did two terms in the recruits and then joined our House Platoon. The basic training was pretty good. There were two parades a week, one in uniform and one in mufti, wearing belt and frog for the bayonet. We all had own rifle and bayonet kept in its proper place in the armoury. We Day Boys who lived in Tunbridge Wells were at a disadvantage as, if we came in uniform - which we had to - we had nothing to change into for the rest of the day. I rather think we must have brought a suitcase with our ordinary clothes, but I cannot remember much about this. At a certain stage we were drafted into the Preliminary N.C.O. course and after that became lance-corporal. At about that stage we did Certificate "A" in two parts, practical and theoretical. I managed to pass with fairly good marks. By this time I think I was a Section Commander. Eventually I became a sergeant and Platoon Commander. We had some good field days, sometimes with a number of schools taking part. A few boys rose to become Under-Officers. In the First World War, which ended only three years before I entered Tonbridge, boys left school at 18 with Cert "A" and a bit of experience, and in an incredibly short time were 2nd Lieutenants leading their platoons in the firing line. The chances of survival were not very great.
I went to O.T.C. camp three times, in 1923, '24 and '25. This always began the day after the whole school had been to Lord's for the Clifton - Tonbridge match. We went to each of the three sites where camps were held for schools in the South: Tidworth Pennings, Tidworth Park (these on Salisbury Plain), and Mitchet near Aldershot. Parades and military exercises were pretty strenuous, but from about 4 o'clock we were free for the rest of the day. My birthday always fell in the period of camp and I entertained my friends at the NAAFI. Indeed without this extra food we should have been hungry as the last meal provided was quite early. In spare time we played a lot of "cricket" with a tent mallet for a bat, and had good fun. There were quite good concerts organised by the padres in the evenings. At Mitchet there was a lake for swimming, and I had to act as a picket on one occasion to prevent anyone going in at a dangerous place. I was chosen because I was the school swimming champion, though the duties could just as easily have been performed by a non-swimmer!
Swimming was my chief contribution to the sports side of the school. I did get my House Scarf for rugger in my second year when we did quite well to lose only by 12 - 8 to School House A. The previous year, when I was not in the team, we had lost 108 - 0, an event which led to the merciful rule that if one side led by 30 points at half time the match should proceed no further. We did a lot of cross country running and in my last year I was No 1 in the House team for the "Cross". But I had had the flu just before and really should not have entered: I was finished after about half a mile. I might have expected to finish among the first twenty. We started to play hockey during my time at Tonbridge, and this I greatly enjoyed. I played cricket, but never well, though I was in the House team in my last year. I quite enjoyed an occasional game of Fives.
There was nobody to take a serious interest in swimming, and if I had been coached I could have done much better. During my four years I won nine cups. Every year I won the "Two lengths on back," nobody ever coming anywhere near me! In 1922 I broke the school record by 1/5 second. I always did well in diving events, winning the high dive at least once, and the running headers once. I won the points cup in 1923, lost it to a boy named Grandidge in 1924, and won it again in 1925. Grandidge was good at the 7 lengths (over ¼ mile) and the 4 lengths, but in 19254 I beat him in the 4 lengths. I swam the first length free style (trudgeon), the next 2 ¾ on my back, keeping him just in view. I knew he could not sprint, so I turned over to sprint home the last 20 yards or so, encouraged by the roaring cheers of my supporters. That sort of experience stays with one throughout life. Another was the applause when I surfaced after a good dive: I knew by the clapping that I had won. In my last year the judges could not decide between a boy called Long and myself in the high dive. After several extra dives they gave it to him, partly, I was told, because I had taken the running headers from him. Modesty does not prevent my saying that we were both pretty good! I am sorry to see that Long, who was a good all-rounder, died in 1935.
My friends were mainly within the House. At first there was Alistair Ramsay who came with me from Skinners. I liked also a boy named Tom Davis, a very clever youth in the Classical Sixth. He had a brilliant career in Colonial Service but was killed in a crash in 1948. I soon got friendly with Dick Berry, son of a Tunbridge Wells lawyer, and when he was head of our House I became a Prae, though I was not yet 17. The following term I was left as the only Prae, so I became Head of the House. The other Day Boy House had T.L. Rowan who became one of the best known O.T.s, hockey international, secretary to Winston Churchill, and finally knighted. My own Praes in Day Boy b were not very effective. Tom Davies was the complete scholar, a bit absent minded. C.R.A. Linton was an excellent musician, no good at games. I liked him, but he was easy going. Chalmers and Mortlock were quite undistinguished. Harper, of whom I saw something in the holidays, became a Prae during the year. My real headache was Clementson, rather brainless but the best all-round athlete in the House. He was a bully with no sympathy for my policy of running the House on fairness and encouragement. He became head of the House after I left, for two years I believe, and I guess it was a bit of a reign of terror. He became a farmer and mushroom grower, and died in 1951.
Holidays brought the usual occupations with Pat Daly, Laurence Dyer and Dick Murdoch. In the summer of 1922 my father did the locum at Highley in the Severn Valley. it was not very exciting, but the squire's family asked us to tennis and there was some boating, as well as the usual cycling, and a day trip to Shrewsbury.
The Easter holiday on 1923 proved to be a landmark in my life. There was to be in Tunbridge Wells a Campaign for boys, run by A.T. Houghton, curate of Holy Trinity, and a similar event for girls, run I think by Doris Candy and others. This looked to me to be something rather exciting, and as one of the workers, Commander E.D. Panter, was staying with us there was no question of my not going. Spiritually I was at this time really seeking. I had been confirmed at school [Nov 23rd 1922 at Tonbridge School; First Communion Nov 26th 1922 at St John's, Tunbridge Wells; Signed W.H. Parsons - from a Baptism/Confirmation card] after very poor preparation from my house master, and though I wanted to be a Christian I had no clear grasp of the gospel. This was not because I had not heard it constantly in my father's preaching. About the time of my Confirmation there was a Church Army mission in our parish and this also made quite an impression on me. But I had never really seen young men who were fired with zeal for the gospel, and this was what the Holiday Campaign was to show me.
The opening meeting was on Sunday afternoon, 15 April, at the Tetley's house in Garden Road. A. T. Houghton led the meeting, his brother Stanley, who was later in China and died in an internment camp I believe, played the hymns and choruses. The speaker was Bryan Green, a young man of 22. His youth and intense earnestness impressed me as much as his actual message. He spoke about Peter 'beginning to sink', and used it to illustrate how easily we sink into sin. [Every point he made was like a knockout blow. At the end] He announced that he would speak next morning on the second part of the verse: 'Lord, save me.' The message was certainly for me, and if there is one day that is for me a spiritual birthday, I believe it is that Sunday afternoon. Subsequent meetings each morning were all a help, and the games and sports each afternoon introduced me to a new conception of Christianity. I particularly remember a picnic at a bungalow at Ashurst followed by a meeting at which Stanley Houghton spoke about practical matters of Christian living.
[I could not wait till next day. I saw what I had always known, but somehow it had never 'clicked', that I needed Christ as my Saviour, and there and then I trusted my life to him. There was no 'counselling'. I did not tell anyone what had happened. But undoubtedly something began that day.]
[I felt that those young men were real in their faith and full of zeal to pass it on and to live it out.] I managed to get quite a number of Tonbridge boys along: Berry, Ramsay, Moss, and even Pat Daly and Dick Murdoch. Some were, I think, impressed, but none became identified with the Crusader Class which started after the Campaign. Some of the boys who came were no doubt Christians already; I think of Jack Collins, whose father was reputedly a millionaire, and who was at Eton; and Philip Ashby, an Uppinghamian who is still practising as a doctor (and a Christian) in Tunbridge Wells.
I sometimes wonder what would have happened if I had gone back to a boarding school after those holidays. As it was, the Crusader Class every Sunday afternoon was a tremendous stimulus. Mr Oliver who led it became my hero as well as my teacher, and in the end my dear friend. He was Secretary of the Nile Mission Press and a really fine speaker. We were a small class, but personally I received a grounding in spiritual things which to this day is the basis of my Christian faith. Nor was it only what he said. We went often to his house for prayer, and at table tennis, parties, and hilarious meal times, we saw a man, and a whole family, whose life was centred on Christ. Mr. Oliver was a scratch golfer and keen on all sports. Mrs Oliver had a great sense of humour. Eric, their only son, was a cripple who triumphed wonderfully over his severe disability. The three girls were all good fun, and I grew to be like one of the family. Eric died when we were at Blackheath and I took the funeral. I have since taken part in the funerals of both Mr and Mrs. Oliver, [a real 'mother in Israel']. There are few like them. In the Preface to my book, The Call to Holiness, I referred to my debt to them.
Being a definite Christian certainly made a great difference to my life at school, ]though I was a very timid witness]. I got a certain amount of ragging as there were few boys who shared my stand. When I was Head of the House I tried not to favour boys who came to Crusaders. but to be scrupulously fair to all. I tried to join in everything that was going, as for instance a ragtime band which we got up to play at the House Supper at the end of term. I was known to be fairly human. Once I sent the whole house for a very long cross-country run because they had been slack about exercise in the previous week. But as soon as they had started I changed into games clothes and within two minutes had set off to run in the opposite direction so as to meet them and run back with them. [I think it helped to cement loyalty.] I took a great interest in the music competitions, and our House won the shield in my last year when I was conducting the choir, and also sang a solo. I did want to stand well in the eyes of the House, both from a natural desire to succeed and also because I hoped to get as many as possible along to Crusaders.
It was, however, in the school holidays that the change in my way of life became even more evident. I did not deliberately drop my former friends, but we saw less of each other as our interest were growing apart. For one thing. under the influence of Bryan Green I gave up such things as going to the cinema and to dances. I do not think I was really convinced about this, but it was the done thing at that time to regard such pursuits as 'worldly', and I fell in with the new friends I was making. I did not feel deprived because I was finding new happiness in Christian work. [I am glad such taboos are not now imposed, but I sometimes wonder if we do not need a new wave of moral earnestness in today's situation.]
August 1923 saw me at St. Leonards-on-Sea for the C.S.S.M. I was just 16 and was a member of the fairly large party of boys. mostly Highbury Crusaders, who formed the nucleus of the activities. Bryan Green's father Mr. Hubert Green was the nominal leader, but Bryan was virtually in charge. From my point of view it was a terrific experience. I got a firm grasp of the doctrine of assurance; I did a lot of recruiting for the meetings, which I found needed a lot of courage; and I met many fine Christian young men and boys. Among these was K.G. Bevan who was soon to be ordained as curate of Holy Trinity, Tunbridge Wells, and Laurie Sheath who became one of my great friends. The greatest influence of all was Bryan Green, and it was as a result of a very short talk with him, [as we sat watching tennis,] that I came to be quite sure I should be ordained. That "call" I have never had any reason to doubt. I remember attending the C.S.S.M. reunion in London in September, and I think it was that same year that I went the next day to the Wembley Exhibition.
The following Christmas holidays I went to the winter Sports 'Camp' at Kanderstag, paid for by Mr Franklin .I learned to skate quite well, and did little else, Comparatively few of the campers did any skiing. Here I got to know Bishop Taylor Smith, Clarence Foster, Reggie Mannering, Jack Warren, Fred Pickering and many others. Good as the meetings were, I think it was the example of such fine men which helped me most. Another boy and I were instrumental in starting a prayer meeting at the camp. Among those who attended was Wilfred Robbins, later to become one of my best friends [at Cambridge and after.] The camp was in the Hotel Schweizerhof, and we slept three in a room. I was with two boys who were not particularly Christian, one from St Lawrence and the other from Bruton. There was a girls' camp in another hotel and we joined together for some of the meetings. I remember that we broke the journey home at Berne and saw the Swiss parliament building. The sea was very rough both ways and I was horribly sick.
It was probably about Easter 1924 that I gave my first address. One Sunday evening I went with my father to visit the meeting run by the Church Army Sister in the Byng Hall after church. Quite out of the blue he suggested to Sister Wales that she should invite me to speak one evening. She booked me there and then for the following Sunday. I prepared a talk on "Ye must be born again." I knew nothing about preparing addresses, and I expect it was a bit rambling. But I knew what I was after, and Sister's comment was: 'Very clear, very definite'. [It seems to me that clarity and definiteness are needed in the pulpit today.] I was pretty nervous, but I am glad I took the plunge and agreed to do it. I might not have consented so gladly if I had not heard a sermon, on the evening Sister invited me, by W.P. Cartwright of the London City Mission which inspired me very much.
By this time I was singing bass in the church choir. I had a good voice and could read a part tolerably well. It seems to me now that the choir was very much detached from the life of the parish. The music was of a high standard, the organist, Cuthbert Cronk, being an excellent musician. For weekday services in Lent we had an unofficial choir in which I also sang, and I sometimes read a lesson too. The first church service I actually took was at the mission church Hawkenbury [belonging to St. Peter's parish.] I preached from two texts in Psalm 130, verses 3 and 7. [I am sure it was not a great sermon but I reasoned of man's inability to stand before his Maker, and of the plenteous redemption which God has provided in Christ.] It was a gospel message. Mr. Oliver came with me on that occasion and afterwards [as we left to walk home he took my arm and] said: 'The Lord helped you tonight, brother. And if an older man may offer some advice, don't be afraid to stick to your simplicity.' It was good advice and I have tried to follow it. Perhaps this is because I have not the brains to be anything but simple. But I have proved that straightforward Bible preaching attracts people to come, and helps them when they are there.
In the summer of 1924 I again went to the C.S.S.M. at St. Leonards, this time as a junior worker. There were two leaders, Jack Laker and John Menzies. Neither was of the calibre of Bryan Green, but we had good meetings, and I gained a lot of experience. I was asked to take the S.U., and to speak on a Bible object, and to speak at an evening open air meeting. Most of the workers, junior workers and boys in the house party were again from Highbury Crusaders. That September the C.S.S.M. Reunion was held for the first time at the Central Hall, Westminster and I went. It was a great experience to be one of 2,500 people all of one mind. The talks impressed me greatly, and I can remember some still, though I am not sure which year each occurred. One was about Gideon: his Clear Call, Courageous Confession, Chosen Company and Certain Conquest. Another year I heard Lindsay Glegg for the first time.
At Easter 1925 I went to a house party at Canford School. Quite a lot of the boys were at St Lawrence. Officers included Willie Berry and Percy Brazier and others whom I got to know well later. I think the leaders thought I was older than I really was, and at 17 ½ I was an officer in charge of a dormitory. One of the boys was a son of Mr Carpenter. who was later to be my "boss" for a few weeks in Warsaw. [The house party was run by the Rev. (later Prebendary) Colin Kerr and 'Pa' Salmon.]
As I was to go up to Cambridge the following autumn I had to go there to take the 'Little-go.' I regret to say I failed the Latin so had to go again in the summer term. I enjoyed the trips up to Cambridge and met some of those who later became my friends. On my way up the first time I took part in a Church Army training weekend [and was introduced, along with many students from Oxford and Cambridge, to aggressive methods of evangelism]. Most of those attending were from Oxford and Cambridge. As an example of training by doing I think it was excellent. Each of us had to speak in Hyde Park, fish people in to the lantern services, speak to down and outs, as well as listen to talks on how to prepare addresses and so on. Among those I met there were Graham Brown, then Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Fred Pickering, L.F.E. Wilkinson and E.B. Bull, all Queens' men, and C.K. Sansbury who became a bishop. [It is small wonder that in Hyde Park the leader cut me short by starting up a chorus. I learned that in the open air the links in the chain of one's argument needed to be melted down and made into bullets!] On my second visit to Cambridge I was told by another Tonbridgian that my name had gone up on the board as a School Prae. So I had half a term in that position. The only real difference it made was that I had to read lessons in chapel. On the one Sunday morning I read - the only Sunday service I ever attended - the preacher was Costley White, then Master of Westminster School. His subject was gambling. Did this influence me to preach on the same subject at Monkton Combe a quarter of a century later?
I was just 18 when I left school and was truly sorry to leave. I had enjoyed my position as Head of the House and I knew that O.P. Churchyard, my house-master, had confidence in my leadership. During the interval in the end of term concert we strolled together in the quad and he told me I had been a success. [One treasures such moments, for by nature I have tended to suffer from an inferiority complex.] I had indeed achieved very little academically or in games, apart from great success in swimming and the odd prizes for singing and conducting, essays and reading which I have already mentioned. But I had learned to deal with people and, apparently, to be firm in discipline without resorting to bullying. I could have wished to stay on an extra year so as to be Second Prae, with Rowan as Head of the School, but I was 18, had a place at Queens' College, Cambridge, and my father was about to leave Tunbridge Wells for Tiverton.
That summer my sister Winnie was married at St John's to Cecil Poppleton, and we had the reception in the garden. He turned out to be a rotter, and in a little over three years I had to witness the serving of a summons on him in a public bar where I identified him to the solicitor's clerk. I was in the court at the divorce proceedings which lasted a very few minutes. Poppleton was not in court and there was no defence. It was a sad time for Winnie. I used to stay with them sometimes on my way to and from Cambridge.
My father did a locum at Sandown in 1925, and I went to join them after O.T.C. camp, and was a worker at the Shanklin C.S.S.M. [Speaking to children in the open air, and trying to help individuals to a personal faith in Christ, is the best possible training for almost any future sphere.] We had two boys, whose parents were abroad, staying with us, and they came to the services and activities too. In the previous Easter holidays I had looked after them in lodgings in Tunbridge Wells, and they seemed to respond to the gospel. After we went to Tiverton we lost touch with them. I am sure I ought to have followed them up more assiduously. The Shanklin C.S.S.M. was small, but I think useful. The leader was Gordon Martin, who went to China, and one of the workers was Douglas Harrison who, after service on the staff at Wycliffe, became Archdeacon of Sheffield and later Dean of Bristol.
[I sometimes wonder what would have happened to my Christian life if I had not been a day boy with the weekly contact with Crusaders. Preparation for Confirmation was fairly formal, without any spiritual challenge. Of the four ordained men on the staff only one, an anglocatholic, seemed to show any keenness. There was nothing like the Christian Unions which now flourish in most schools. Perhaps it was a special providence of God in keeping me close to Crusaders that saved me from falling away.]
In September 1925 we were getting ready for the move to Tiverton, Devon. My father was given a very generous leaving present, and preached his farewell at the Harvest Festival. For me the change of home came at the right time, just at the transition from school to university.
I did not go to Tiverton till the Christmas vac., but stayed on in Tunbridge Wells with the Miss Crossfields in Boyne Park. One of the three sisters had always been kind to me and gave me £1 for my birthday every year. She was killed when a bomb destroyed their house in the war. During my last weeks in Tunbridge Wells I fell in with a group of very keen Christians who held open air meetings near the Five Ways. I used to go as often as I could, [and usually gave a short address.] The time given to prayer and preparation beforehand was a great blessing. I do not know who the leader was, but he was white hot as an evangelist and undoubtedly influenced the direction of my life. I went up to Cambridge full of zeal to be used in the service of God.
Two other Tunbridge Wells Crusaders were to come up with me: R. E. D. (Neddy) Clark, St Lawrence and Johns, [later to make a name as a scientist and a Christian writer,] and J. B. (Jack) Collins, Eton and Trinity, [who rowed in the Cambridge boat for three years, and at 6 ft. 7 ins. was probably the tallest man in the University. He served, after ordination, in a number of parishes. and as an Army Chaplain during the War]. Another who was already up at Cambridge, in his second year as a medical student, was Philip Ashby [who, apart from war service, has given his life as a doctor in Tunbridge Wells. I have always had a profound regard for the sincerity and consistency of his Christian life. Like the Oliver family, to whom we both, I suspect, owed much, he lives it out in daily life]. But Cambridge opened up a whole new area of friendships and of experience, and October 1925 is a convenient point at which to start a new chapter of my reminiscences.