am an ancient and obscure East End clergyman, aged 84, living
in the country, one of those whom a leading ecclesiastic in the diocese
to which I have come described as “Another of these Returned Empties.”
was for 31 years the Vicar of St John the Evangelist, Isle of Dogs, after
25 years at St Augustine’s, Stepney, under Harry and Dick Wilson,
“the Hoppers’ Parson,” except for the first world war.
At the little church where I still help, I asked a boy of thirteen how
he liked “The Young Christian’s Progress” (which I was
reading to them) and his answer was “It’s better than Dick
words are bound to be sketchy because I kept no notes, and dates (beyond
1066) were never my mark. So here goes . . . . .
year seems notable chiefly for the evacuation of our 300 children from
our Church School, mostly to Swindon, where they were royally treated
by all the various parish priests. As we went there a boy next to me was
thrilled at the sight of a “funny horse with handlebars on his head.”
It was a nerve-racking day as arrangements were by no means complete for
their housing, and it was 11 pm before I found the last home. However,
early letters were very cheering, one of the first saying “I have
been a bridesmaid, made my confession and received Holy Communion.”
During all their stay everything possible was done for them by the Head
Mistress, Miss M Webb, Mrs Burrowes and their willing helpers. I
think the most wonderful thing of that year was the change in people.
Some whom I had thought unfriendly – if not even hostile –
began saying “Good morning, Father”; but long before the end
of the war it was much more wonderful and heartening as well.
Sunday at the 11 o’clock Mass the Church was nearly full and about
200 children. Just about the time of the Consecration, there was the sound
of firing and several women rushed in to fetch their children. The Churchwarden
came up and asked what he should do, and the result was one child left.
And then I remember not long after – rows of people kneeling to
receive Holy Communion at the 8 o’clock Mass, whilst the bombs were
falling and their limbs trembling but not a sound of dismay.
night in (I think) October we were a merry party of some 16 at supper
in the Clergy House, when a land mine quietly descended and flattened
out seven streets, killing one person. Sadlers Park shelter full of babes-in-arms
and people up to 94 years of age was badly bombed and we had to provide
shelter in the Hall and Men’s Club, both not blacked out. In the
Club Nurse Kate Wallbank, who recently died in the Hostel of God, did
heroic work with the worst wounded, with the aid of one candle. In the
Hall four other nurses, with four more candles, helped with the less serious
and the rest of the staff made tea from 10 pm until 7am. At intervals
we had prayers, hymns and songs. I thought I was capable of dealing with
hysterics and asked a boy to bring me brandy or sal volatile. He responded
with a bottle which, fortunately, I tasted – it was Dettol! As I
stood in Manchester Road directing the Air Wardens to the Hall, two of
them helped along an old man, aged 90, totally blind. “Hello Tom,”
I said “how are you.” “You saved my life,” was
the answer. Some years before I had given his wife who had since died,
a very thick tea-cosy. He had taken to wearing it in bed in the attic
and when the roof fell, he was unhurt. A few weeks later The Times
had a short leading article advising the use of tea-cosies. Better than
a night-cap because if large they would combine the purposes of a pillow
and ear shield from the noise of the guns as well as act as a head-warmer
and a protection from shrapnel. Nurse
C Gowans was attending a very bad case and the women offered two hens,
a child came to tell me his dog had laid 7 eggs in the hall.
(that noblest of priests, RIP) went round to ask the school for some food
for 20 and receiving demur said he would send 50 round for dinner and
did so. A
policeman I knew was asked to subscribe to a Spitfire fund and replied
“No thanks, I’ve married one.” It
was I think at this time that the News Chronicle representative came down
about an offer of West End homes and published a picture “Are we
downhearted?” showing me asking a lot of them about it and I receiving
the unanimous answer “we don’t want to leave our homes.”
I couldn’t get a tin hat, but Nurse Edith Gowans saw one in an area
in Kensington growing geraniums. It had a large hole made by shrapnel
and was very rusty. However, Messrs Dunn mended, cleaned and painted and
refitted it and it did good service and still hangs in my room. About
this time one of my old boys sent me a rhyme fastened on the wall of Government
House of the Red Cross at Melbourne.
thanks for the socks, they fit,
One for a helmet, one for a mit,
Thank the Lord you are doing your bit,
But why on earth don’t you learn to knit.”
to November 15th was the Battle of Britain and for 70 days we were practically
continually bombed. The German wireless were always telling us they would
get our bridge. One night when the Island was a ring of fire I saw Winston
Churchill watching in a car (an incident never reported), the first time
I had seen him since that wonderful day in Sidney Street. About
this time, our congregations at Benediction in the evening increased considerably.
It is true I was the proud possessor of a crystal set and always read
out the news. The Battle went on and by the end of the year some 200 of
our communicants had moved away, but a trusty band persevered. My household
(except Father Hickin and Miss Tabor who stuck like postage stamps) including
the dog and cat had moved to Cornwall and now consisted of the bombed
out and anyone who wanted company. Miss H Booth gave Miss Tabor shelter
all through the war. Our first Vicar got the Power House built to pump
water out of the Island. One morning a woman said “Did they get
the PH?” “Yes” “What – the Power House?”
“No, the Public House.” I went to see an evacuee and asked
a local, “Does this road lead to ------- village?” “Ah,”
was the answer, “you be asking summat. It do in peace time, but
I bain’t going to tell ‘ee where it leads to now.”
one from a prison camp in Germany:-
of the depths we call to Thee, Our Lord
Out of the depths of our captivity,
And in the prison house a Light is lit,
Thou com’st to us and we all come to Thee;
A simple army biscuit, dregs of wine,
A rough Cross fashioned from two strips of wood,
A drop of water from a khaki flask,
Thy presence and behold Thy flesh and blood.”
battle the Rum Quay was set on fire and many teetotallers seemed drunk,
and people were not getting away. The PLA lent me a car and driver and
we went to the Town Hall to find it closed as an air raid was on and the
sentry refused me admittance. But when I said “I want to see the
Town Clerk by order of the Privy Seal,” he saluted and took me in.
The result was not only a car load of provisions, but that evening 7 buses
to take away the bombed out.
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must first say a word about some of the Saints: Father
Asher. As a deacon I met him at Ely in 1893 and suggested him coming (he
was a priest) to Stepney. He came and for over 50 years was the best friend
God ever gave me. I often abused him but there was always forgiveness
waiting. He passionately loved his Church and his people. I stood with
him and watched St Augustine’s burn on December 27th, 1940. All
he said was, “The Lord gave and the Lord hath taken away –
Blessed be the Name of the Lord.” The next day I took him to the
train to go with him to Guildford – his home – and never shall
I forget his face (understanding still) when I closed the door and said
I was not coming. If on October 12th 1946, all the trumpets did not sound
for him on the other side there was something wrong with the trumpets.
Lury. On the feast of Circumcision after saying Mass he died suddenly.
He had been Vicar of St Peter’s, Limehouse. With him the Mass, the
Confessional, Our Lady and the Bible always came first.
Hickin. He was my fellow priest for 25 years, the dockers and sailors
parson. He died in the Hostel of God on the feast of St Chad – his
patron. His whole life was one of self sacrifice to his Master. Everybody
died June 2nd, 1941. For 18 years server, church warden and school keeper.
He never missed his daily Mass. And so to finish I cannot withhold my
tribute of love and thankfulness to Father Thomas OSB and Father Archer
now of St Phillips, Stepney, who both so long bore with me and helped
me so loyally.
so to 1941
enemy liked Holy Days and it was on St Joseph’s Day, March 19th,
that they sent a 500 HE bomb into my sitting room. It entirely destroyed
the Clergy House, finished off the School, took off the North roof of
the Church for the third time, blew out the West window for the fifth
time and generally made a mess of us. Again we were at supper and before
“the afters” (rice pudding) I suggested adjourning to the
shelter. But one boy wished me to help him put out an incendiary. Having
done that and intending to have “a quick one” in my room,
he heard another and whilst that was being put out the bomb came. Salvage
was quite too amazing! First and foremost our precious Relic of the Blood
of St James (the honour of finding fell to a server, George Green), then
the Monstrance, very battered, found by the City of London ARP Squad,
my Mother’s engagement ring and £40 in notes, 50 yards from
the safe they were in (found by Bertie Garner, another server), my office-book,
a lot of Father Hickin’s notes of value and some of mine (well,
I ask you!). Two hens (all we had) and the kitchen plaster image of Our
Lady (unchipped and Mr Harry Wright our Churchwarden and best pal of all
in need found it). Doris Warren found a fork, which we all shared for
breakfast. Two of my “cosies” (a good omen for the summer),
Miss Sheppard’s appeal cards (a work of love for many years), the
Bible St Augustine’s gave me when I went to France, a bottle of
beer (it’s gone now), and the “Lest we forget” roll
of the dead. In the same room where two safes were blown to pieces, a
bottle of Walsingham water was unbroken. I lost my eyeglasses and wired
to Sammy Newman at Colchester, who replied “coming tomorrow as wife
and I thought you wanted a new pair,” and what anyone else couldn’t
do, Mr A Davidson, the People’s Warden always did. I had a custom
after Mass of biking up to the Council School to see the bombed out and
one morning found a rope barring my way. So I pushed the machine under
to hear, “Eh, you can’t do that,” and was told an unexploded
bomb had fallen in the area. So I went to look at it and after a bit went
down and stood on it. The Head Warden arrived and fortunately soon after
the removal squad, who agreed with me that there was no bomb, but only
a piece of masonry fallen from above. I was just as skeered as usual but
common sense prevailed.
1943 “Time, please”
the large number of direct hits our loss of life was extraordinarily small.
Inside our door was a little picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour
which had touched the original at Rome, and the same picture was put up
in most of our dug-outs and shelters. We very much missed our annual Pilgrimage
to Walsingham, but tried to make up for it by holding a Spiritual Pilgrimage.
I had a
wonderful trip on the Thames when Mr J Rothwell, in charge of photography
in the Ministry of Food, brought down Mr R Curthoys, a distinguished Australian
journalist, and Inspector Brownfield, River Police, took us in his launch.
You may be sure Mr Curthoys heard all about our need of fats, soap, etc.
Font was being repaired, I was shown a new piece of marble, the centre
one of the inscription to Father Stack (it was a memorial to him) with
“One Faith” on it. I asked about the other two pieces, which
were quite unreadable, and was told they were not covered by War Damage.
So we were to do without “One Lord” or “One Baptism.”
Naturally two more pieces of marble were ordered. And I had thoughts of
applying for a faculty to prevent pigeons nesting in the roof.
So I can
only add that it has often been said how wonderfully well the East Enders
behaved in the war. True, but also true that of them all those in the
Isle of Dogs behaved best.
“Time! Gentlemen, please.”
We had the last Flying Rocket
PPS – “What? Well, anyway, we have always claimed we did.”
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