The Chateau de Bagnac

The Chateau de Bagnac lies just to the east of the N147 road to Poitiers, about three of four miles north of Bellac. You can just see the chateau from the road, if you know what to look for – but most people drive past, unaware of it.

Highly romantic in style, it was built only in the mid-19th cetury – though on the site of a very much earler structure. It was occupied until around 1947, when the present owner (still alive in, I am told, Bordeaux) abandoned it, allowing it to decay and collapse because, it is said, she so much hated her chidhood there. I don’t know how much truth there may be in that story, but it is what I have been told.

To get close to it (but because of its perilous state one does not want to get too close) you have to take some narrow and unpaved lanes, which may or may not be private property. It is sad indeed to see it, especially as you can imagine its glory days. (There are many images on Google, of how it once was and how it now is.)


Now here is my plan:

We would go out to the Chateau in the dead of a moonlit night, set up sound equipment through which to play Ravel’s La Valse, imaging a great party taking place in its grand ballroom. And then I would read aloud this great poem — much beloved by my mother, who adored the poetry of Walter de la Mere (1873-1956) and who taught English Literature in high school.

The Listeners

“Is there anybody there?” said the Traveller,
Knocking on the moonlit door;
And his horse in the silence champed the grass
Of the forest’s ferny floor;
And a bird flew up out of the turret,
Above the Traveller’s head:
And he smote upon the door again a second time;
“Is there anybody there?” he said.
But no one descended to the Traveller;
No head from the leaf-fringed sill
Leaned over and looked into his grey eyes,
Where he stood perplexed and still.
But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:
Stood thronging the faint moonbeams on the dark stair,
That goes down to the empty hall,
Hearkening in an air stirred and shaken
By the lonely Traveller’s call.
And he felt in his heart their strangeness,
Their stillness answering his cry,
While his horse moved, cropping the dark turf,
‘Neath the starred and leafy sky;
For he suddenly smote on the door, even
Louder, and lifted his head:–
“Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,” he said.
Never the least stir made the listeners,
Though every word he spake
Fell echoing through the shadowiness of the still house
From the one man left awake:
Ay, they heard his foot upon the stirrup,
And the sound of iron on stone,
And how the silence surged softly backward,
When the plunging hoofs were gone.

Well, that’s my plan which I have dreamed over many years of carrying out – but somehow I doubt that I will ever actually do it!

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“Death and To-Morrow”

Here in France I am reading this extraordinary book by Peter de Polnay, published in London in 1942. It gives a wry, sad, fascinating and amusing account of the German invasion of France in 1940 and of subsequent life in Paris under the heel of the Wehrmacht.

The writer recounts a meeting with a French friend at the Trocadéro in the Fall of 1940. The French friend says: “The average Frenchman knows nothing about England … Two countries whose interest, life and future were so completely interwoven and none of them took the trouble to know the other. All I should know about England as an educated Frenchman is the positively anti-English tendency of late nineteenth-century literature and the translated works of Oscar Wilde … For some obscure reason, since the last war England’s immense sacrifice of over one million lives” [of whom, as the very moving memorial in Notre Dame in Paris says, the greater number sleep in French soil] “had been passed over. The English never bothered to mention it. The French, despite their large seaboard, are an inland nation. They never appreciated, because they didn’t understand it, the English Navy’s effort in he last war and, of course, England didn’t trouble to point it out. You know, and I know, that Churchill has always been a loyal friend of France, a lover of France, but now the Boche is going to tell the people that England is run by the monster Churchill and the City of London and they’re going to believe him. Yet our only salvation is English victory…. Thus spoke the Frenchman.”


It reminds me of a remark, yesterday, by a friend: after the third and final American Presidential Election debate he said that he was  now leaning towards “Making American Great Britain Again”.

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Notre Dame de Royan

Last week we went for a couple of days by the sea, following a route that has long been familiar to us – crossing the Vienne river, then through Angouleme and miles of vineyard-covered hills to the eponymous Cognac and Saintes, and so to Royan.

Capital of the “Côte de beauté”, the city is located in Charente-Maritime at the mouth of the Gironde Estuary, the largest estuary in Europe. Royan has five sandy beaches, a marina, and a fishing port. It is a very popular seaside resort for the French. We first visited it in 1968, and we have been there on several occasions since then.

During World War II, two German fortresses defended the Gironde Estuary: Gironde Mündung Nord (north, at Royan) and Gironde Mündung Süd (south, at La Pointe de Grave). These constituted one of the Atlantic “pockets”, including a large U-boat base, which the Germans held on to grimly, well after the liberation of the rest of France. In the early hours of January 5, 1945, a force of about 350 Royal Air Force heavy bombers, at the request of SHAEF which had been told that nobody was left in Royan but Germans and collaborators, bombed Royan out of existence in two raids.

Then, Allied operations, against the German forces on Île d’Oléron and at the mouth of the Gironde River, began with a general naval bombardment on April 15, 1945, some 10 months after D-Day. For five days, the American naval task force assisted the French ground forces with naval bombardment and aerial reconnaissance in the assault on Royan and the Pointe de Grave area. American B-17 Flying Fortress and B-24 Liberator aircraft carried out aerial bombing missions, including extensive and pioneering use of napalm, finishing the destruction of Royan on January 5.

The first bombing raids killed over 1,000 civilians and only 23 German soldiers. When the Americans returned later and used napalm, they destroyed the entire city and killed another 1,700 civilians.

Apparently, there was a Free French commander with the U.S. Seventh Army outside Royan, who was not informed until too late. The message was in French and the American signalman could not understand it. It took four hours to get it translated.


The destruction of Royan was almost total; and it included the former neo-Gothic parish church. It was decided to rebuild it as a building of bigger size and with an architecture both ambitious and spectacular, inspired by the aesthetics of large Gothic cathedrals.

The church of Notre-Dame of Royan is considered as one of the leading works of contemporary architecture. Built in three years and finished in 1958, it is constructed completely of concrete. The church was classified as a historical monument in 1988. The dimensions are: a nave in ellipse, 45 metres long by 22 metres wide (148 ft × 72 ft) which can hold approximately 2000 persons, flanked by an ambulatory and by a surrounding aisle situated three metres below ground level. This aisle is lit by stained glass rhomboid panels depicting the Stations of the Cross. The structure of the building consists of an alternation of elements in reinforced concrete (Lafaille system, named for the engineer Bernard Lafaille who created the process) alternating with immense covering windows 500 square metres (5,380 sq ft), the work of the stained glass maker Henri Martin-Granel.

The total effect is stunning, overwhelming and glorious. The architectural transcription of the mystery of faith is particularly successful in this masterpiece by Guillaume Gillet. He died in 1987 and is buried there. The great and tall church stands at the highest point in the city and is visible everywhere. At the harbor and on the beaches, its unmistakable silhouette can be seen through the masts of sailboats. With its own appearance as a ship, studded with enamel-work, this immense building provides a contemporary expression of the search for spirituality in religious architecture.


The design reflects the hill on which the church is built. The main entrance is located at the top; and from there the stairs lead down, across the full breadth of the building, into the nave. The window behind the altar appears in all its beauty; and light that enters through the side windows gives a soft light and a feeling of quiet contemplation.

After the Second World War, nearly 4,000 churches in France were severely damaged. Within the financial limits available, the reconstruction of churches resulted in an abundance of original forms, facilitated by new construction techniques and the progress of industrialization. These achievements benefited from research on thin shells in concrete and pre-stressed structures.

Unfortunately, the original construction was done too quickly in the interests of economy; and the concrete is now rapidly degrading. The building, which was never finished, suffered from the aggressive salty marine air; and considerable work has still to be done to ensure its survival. Thus an association for the defense of the Church of Royan was created in 2008 to raise awareness and organize the protection of the edifice.The restoration work – to cost € 3,785,638 — began in 2013 and is expected to take four or more years to complete – during which time, sadly, the church is closed to the public.

The great organ was installed in 1964. It is considered by the organists and the music lovers an exceptional instrument. This is the first example of large sixteen foot hammered tin pipes built since the 18th century. At the entrance of the church, a sign tells us that “The organ in this church, wonderful realization of the master organ builder Robert Boisseau of Poitiers, has 47 ranks.” I have heard it on several occasions, most memorably when I attended a concert for organ and trumpet – an unforgettable experience in those glorious acoustics.

In January 2014 the organ was completely disassembled, to be restored in a specialized workshop in Béthines in the department of Vienne. It will be replaced when the four or five years of church restoration have been completed.


There is a footnote: I have a special interest in another church, far from Royan, but which is more or less contemporary with it. In 1956 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother laid the foundation stone for the new parish church of St George, Stevenage — one of the New Towns built around London after World War Two to replace bomb-damaged housing and to alleviate congestion. Consecrated by the Bishop of St Albans on Advent Sunday, 1960, in the presence again of the Queen Mother, it was, and still remains, the largest parish church built in England since that war.

stevenage_st_andrew_st_george241013_5 Its architect was Lord Mottistone, of the firm of Seely & Paget; and it is a miracle of concrete parabolic arches and glass. Just three years after its consecration I became its priest-in-charge and then, subsequently, Rector of the parish until 1974. During that time we too had concerns about the structural integrity of the building – there having been several reported collapses elsewhere involving “high alumina” cement. But, in fact, all was well.

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The Good Olde Days

Times have changed
And we’ve often rewound the clock
Since the Puritans got a shock
When they landed on Plymouth Rock.
If today
Any shock they should try to stem
‘Stead of landing on Plymouth Rock,
Plymouth Rock would land on them.

— Cole Porter

My last parish, before I left England, was set in an unnerved and dispirited community. The city had grown exponentially with the Industrial Revolution in the middle of the 19th century, becoming the home of a great railway works where fine state-of-the-art steam locomotives were built and  repaired, and carriages were constructed – all this under the magisterial inspiration of the great Victorian engineer Ismbard Kingdom Brunel. There was great pride in the engineering involved, in the skills of coppersmiths, boiler-makers, wheel turners and in the craftsmanship of carriage-builders and fitters; and the parish – founded around 1840 in the center of the city to serve its growing population – shared fully in that pride.


Ismbard Kingdom Brunel

When I went to the parish in 1973 that spirit of pride and optimism had all but vanished. In its heyday the railway had employed some 20,000 there. But now that number was down to less than 2,000. Great industrial workshops stood empty, and the future was, at best, uncertain. Meanwhile, the city center was being redeveloped so that it was no longer recognizable or comfortable for those who had lived their whole lives in that city. And that redevelopment had involved the closure and demolition of the church of another parish.

My parish there was one of the great Anglo-Catholic parishes that had been founded to serve the people in such burgeoning cities. I do not use that word “great” lightly. The parish produced an enormous numbers of vocations to the Anglican priesthood and to the religious life; and many of her sons had gone to serve in missions in Africa, India, Korea and beyond. To read a list of those priests who had served the parish over the years was to encounter numerous known names of those who were theologians, missionaries, hymn-writers, religious. In the inter-war years one needed a ticket in order to gain admittance to the Christmas Midnight Mass, and such tickets were available only in the confessional!

The late Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman, said that it was the greatest parish in the Church of England and that, whenever he had hesitations about that august body, he would return to the parish in order to have his faith in it restored.


Sir John Betjeman

But he had made that comment some thirty years before my arrival there, by which time things had changed profoundly. I have a photograph of the parish staff, taken in the 1930s – showing a staff of twelve priests. I had only three assistant priests, and that number was reduced in my time. And of course the clergy house had closed. The parish convent (with some twenty sisters of the Community of St Mary the Virgin) had likewise closed in the early 1970s.

And then there was the insistence, on the part of the diocese, that the center of the city should become an “area of ecumenical experiment”. The proposal was essentially absent of any ecclesiological and theological principal. At one point it included a plan for an “ecumenical bishop” for the whole city – it being supposed that a “bishop” is a sort of middle manager who could, for instance, ensure the effective deployment of clergy (regardless of denomination), but devoid of all and any sacramental significance.

Of course, an Anglo-Catholic parish – aware of its history and the nature of its witness, as we were – could have no part in such nonsense, even though we were continually harrassed about it by the diocese. More importantly, we were conscious of our own ecumenical agenda, at the very heart of which was the prayer and yearning for reunion with Rome, however far off in time that might be; and we would do nothing to jeopardize it.

A small, hopefully explanatory, interjection at this point. Note that I wrote “re-union with Rome”. I have referred to the parish as being Anglo-Catholic; but, in fact, it belonged to that historic and heroic English witness known as Anglo-Papalism. The central theme of Anglo-Papalism is that, in the 16th century, two Provinces of the Catholic Church (Canterbury and York, a matter of direct concern only to the English) were torn, violently and against their own desire, from union with the Holy See and that it is essential that that rupture should be restored and healed immediately. The suffering that such commitment entailed for Anglo-Catholics and Anglo-Papalists was very far from being merely notional. They were harassed by their bishops, by Protestant rabbles who interrupted their worship; a number of priests were sent to prison for infringing the Public Worship Regulation Act, under the terms of which the saintly Bishop of Lincoln, Edward King (who had been vice-principal of the seminary where I was later trained), was tried before a court (as recently as 1890) for such “criminal” acts as making the sign of Cross in the air with his hand and for allowing the singing of a Latin hymn known as Agnus Dei during the Eucharist. Note that the exclusion of Agnus Dei from the Anglican liturgy was the work of one Thomas Cranmer – of whom I shall have more to say below. Meanwhile, inspired and driven by their incarnational faith, such priests labored in slum parishes, established religious communities, founded such devotional societies as the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament, the Guild of All Souls, the Society of the Holy Cross and many others. All of which renders ludicrous the remark of the former Ordinary of the Ordinariate of the Chair of St Peter, Monsignor Jeffrey Steenson, that the Assize Sermon and the Catholic Revival that was born from it had much more significance and effect on the western side of the Atlantic than on the eastern side.

[For more on this, see The Messenger of the Catholic League — Centenary Number 295, August-October 2013.]

By the early 1970s the parish was a shadow of its former self – reduced in congregational size,  bewildered and confused, feeling itself and its tradition to be under threat. Thus, understandably, the reaction was to cling firmly to the past, to the glory days; and to resist any and every suggestion of change whether parochial or civic. The parish was not, in fact, without resources, but there was no readiness to consider adaptation or renewal. Any hint of a suggestion that the assets of the parish – its various churches and other buildings, and its financial resources – could be usefully redeployed was anathema.

A young, very able priest (an American, as it happened) on the parish staff at that time observed that “here, G.O.D. stands for the Good Olde Days”. And there was indeed much grace and glory to look back upon with thanksgiving. As John Betjeman put it:

Yet, under the Travers baroque, in a limewashed whiteness, / The fiddle-back vestments a-glitter with morning rays,  /  Our Lady’s image, in multiple-candled brightness, /  The bells and banners — those were the waking days /  When Faith was taught and fanned to a golden blaze.

The fact that we were then in the midst of liturgical renewal and trial rites, however, enabled us to do two things.

First, we freed at long last from the servitude to Cranmerian liturgy which was legally enforceable because the Book of Common Prayer and its mandated use was itself a part of an Act of Parliament – a liturgy which had been planted and grown in the toxic soil of Cranmer’s 42 Articles (later refined into the 39 Articles of Religion, attached to the Prayer Book, to which all Church of England clergy were required to give solemn assent).


Thomas Cranmer

Toxic? Yes: the Articles formally denied Transubstantiation and the Real Presence, while the invocation of saints and prayers for the departed were absolutely forbidden, and the authority of the Bishop of Rome repudiated. And these Articles were regularly used by the bishops to outlaw the reservation of the Blessed Sacrament and such devotions as Benediction. Cranmer was – under the influence of Luther, Calvin, Peter Martyr, Martin Bucer—a Protestant, a heretic, an apostate.

Second, we were freed from any distracting obligation to run a liturgical museum. Instead we could focus once again upon God, rather than upon the Good Old Days. I fear that the Ordinariate Missal (including such anomalous absurdities as the Eizabethanized text of Eucharistic Prayer II of the Novus Ordo) constitutes merely a Cranmer liturgical theme park. I suspect that any enthusiasm for, or interest in, such a thing will wane quite quickly; and, meanwhile, the number of disenchanted Anglicans left in the Canterbury allegiance but still seeking Elizabethan liturgy is in rapid decline.

Cranmer was, of course, born into the golden age of English; and his use of the language was undeniably deft and lovely. But there is, also undeniably, a difference of five centuries between us; and the circumstances of the Church’s mission has changed radically in that time.

Certainly we still need a sacral language for liturgy – but there is no intrinsic reason why this should not be contemporary and, as Cranmer himself said, “understanded of the people”.

Late in 1979 I was appointed pastor of a parish in the Episcopal Church of the USA. Since our immigration formalities and moving arrangements took some time to complete, the parish was in the care of an interim pastor. He wrote to me to ask what he might do to prepare for my arrival and to smooth my path in assuming my new role there. I asked him to do just one thing: to introduce immediately the Rite Two (modern language) liturgy of the 1979 American Book of Common Prayer. I have never had reason to regret that decision, and it served us well in the transition into the Catholic Church through the Pastoral Provision and its Book of Divine Worship. In making that pilgrimage we entered joyfully into full communion with the Church, where, for most our days and for our childen’s children, the liturgical tradition of Cranmer will not be our way of worship.

Cardinal Sarah has recently advocated a return to the practice of celebrating the Mass versus apsidem; and he has encountered considerable hostility.Writing in his blog just a few days ago, the incomparable Fr John Hunwicke says: “My analysis is that the problem lies not so much in the Ordinary Form as such. This debate has made that very clear: fury has been stoked by the prospect of seeing the OF done versus apsidem. Some time ago, it was reported that Bishop Fellay, having witnessed a celebration of the OF done according to Tradition, commented that the Great Archbishop himself would not have objected to that. The point at issue is what used to be called the Reform of the Reform ……..  I would prefer to talk critically about a monoculture of the OF, by which I would mean the OF done as it is in hundreds of churches; versus populum; Holy Communion received ambulando; trite music; a preponderance of the vernacular; the widespread use of large numbers of ‘Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion”; the pseudo-hippolytan trattoria in trastevere Eucharistic Prayer at Sunday Mass.

Fr Hunwicke again: in many places, “the Mass might be an OF Mass with features that distinguish it from the monoculture … perhaps versus apsidem … a well worked out, well expressed and orthodox sermon … the liturgy partly in Latin … scripturally and dogmatically orthodox hymns from the sound old Anglo-Catholic English Hymnal … Holy Communion reverently administered and reverently received … great fogs of incense …” Yes, partly in Latin because that is necessitated by much liturgical music – but also because Cardinal Law (who had himself opened the door of the Pastoral Provision to us) urged us to say the Pater Noster, a least, in the language of the Universal Church.

Well, Ta-Da, brothers and sisters! That is almost exactly (apart from the inclusion of the Collect for Purity and the Prayer of Humble Access) what we had at St Mary the Virgin, Arlington, until the end of 2012. And I can conceive of no cogent reason why we should return to the Cranmerian “Good Olde Days” nor, indeed, to the extreme rubrical fussiness of which no less an authority than Fr Adrian Fortescue himself complained.

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I’m not a tourist: I’m a mobile citizen

Or, as John Wesley once put it: “The world is my parish”.

Anyway, that’s what it said on the back of a complimentary map of Paris, provided for us by our citizenM hotel.



And this is the screen that greeted us on arrival in our hotel room at Charles de Gaulle Airport, Paris, the other day.

citizenM hotels are, as they will tell you, “luxury hotels for the wise, not the wealthy”. The concept is new, fascinating and unique; and you can learn more by going to their web-site: They are wonderful, convenient and very comfortable. And once you become a citizen, as I am, you qualify for discounted rates.

So I am “Citizen Allan”. But my passport says that I am a citizen of Les Etats Unis, and my birth certificate says that I was born in the United Kingdom, while – of the greatest significance — my baptism certificate says that I am a subject of Christ the King.

So what, in all these interlocked and (at least potentially) conflicting circumstances, is one to understand and how to express one’s patriotism. “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” James Boswell tells us that Dr. Samuel Johnson made this famous pronouncement on the evening of April 7, 1775. But, apart from this date, he doesn’t provide any context for how the remark arose. For what it is worth, I believe that Johnson was a Jacobite at heart, and a non-juror; and, if so, this may have some bearing on the matter. But we don’t really know for sure what was on Johnson’s mind at the time. However, Boswell assures us that Johnson was not indicting patriotism in general, only false patriotism. Surely Nurse Edith Cavell (an Anglo-Catholic, by the way, whose father was an Anglican priest) who was shot one hundred and one years ago this week by the Germans in for saving the lives of soldiers from both sides without discrimination and in helping some 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium, would have agreed when she said that “Patriotism is not enough”.

That is certainly true for the Christian, the stranger and pilgrim in this world, whose true citizenship is in heaven. In this current Presidential Election season I have become very tired – no, weary and exhausted by the word “government”. The Government will govern and will do this and that or has governed and has done this and that. It will redefine marriage; it has denied the God-given right to life for millions; it has created grievously insupportable burdens for future generations; it has ruined true education; it is threatening to deny any vestige of a place for faith and the free exercise of religion in our common life. And all this is hidden behind the fraudulent fig-leaf  of “democracy”  — to understand the true nature of which, as Winston Churchill once remarked, you have only to spend five minutes talking to the average voter. Or you could read Erik Ritter von Kuehnelt von Leddihn’s magisterial book Liberty or Equality: you cannot have them both. The author also of the Portland Declaration, he was a dear friend and a delightful house guest.

I do not want to be governed. I want total subsidiarity in decision-making. I want it to be acknowledged that families have absolute priority over the state in such matters as education. I want  — as the Lord God, the Creator and Giver of Life intended — to be a member of a family, rather than a “citizen”. I want no government to put anything at all between me and my Heavenly Father. I want to swear earthly allegiance to whomsoever God himself has placed at the Head of State.

To celebrate the 90th birthday of Queen Elizabeth II a book has been published, entitled The Servant Queen and the King She Serves. Now: try substituting the word “President”  or  “Chairman”, “Commissar” or “Fuehrer” for the title “Queen”. H’mm.


Signed: citizenM Allan

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October Memories

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.” So wrote a distant cousin of mine, Lucy Maude Montgomery, in Anne of Green Gables. Indeed; and the beginning of October always brings back memories à la recherche du temps perdu. (Well, forgive me: I am writing this in France – and I tend to forget what a profound effect my first boss, Canon Methuen Clarke who was a huge fan of Proust, had on me more than fifty years ago.)

The memories of which I write are quite disconnected – and doubtless of very little interest to anyone but me, in which case I apologize for wasting your time and I invite you to move on quickly to better things.

The first memory concerns the tiny village of Water Newton, set so peacefully on the banks of the River Nene in Huntingdonshire. My father took us there on summer


St Remigius, Water Newton

vacations several times in the early 1950s. Apart from the village itself, there were lovely places to visit quite near. A short walk across fields took us to Castor, a small country town whose very name reveals its Roman origins. And here, where Hereward the Wake led local resistance in the 11th century to the Norman Conquest, is the glory of Peterborough Cathedral  — where the mortal remains of Queen Catherine of Aragon, first wife of King Henry VIII, still lie, and where in 1960, I was ordained to the ministry of the Church of England.

Remigius baptizes Clovis

What (if you are still with me), you may well be asking has this to do with October? My dear late sister – whose birthday falls in October, incidentally — and I learned to fish in the river at Water Newton, and we spent idyllic evenings together until sunset by the gently flowing Nene. But here’s the October thing. Close by the river, thus providing a backdrop to our angling hours, is the ancient village parish church. It is dedicated to St Remigius, Bishop of Rheims who converted Clovis I, King of the Franks, in 496 AD – the only church in England uniquely so dedicated – whose feast day is October 1.

And now, in what follows, the alliteration and assonance are entirely coincidental: Remigius, Rheims – and now REME, the acronym for the British Army’s Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. When, in the summer of 1953, I underwent a preliminary medical exam and interview prior to my military servive, I was asked in which regiment or corps I would prefer to serve. I said that I would like to be in the Royal Artillery, largely because my Uncle Allan had served in it and had been killed in Belgium in June 1917 (all but a century ago now) and because my father had fought in the Canadian Royal Artillery in that same “Great” (dreadful) War. (He served in the Second World War, with distiction, as a chaplain in the Royal Air Force.)

Notwithstanding my expressed preference in this matter, my call-up papers when they came summoned me in September 1953 to report to REME. I could not have been less suited, by education, skills or temperament. It was not surprising: it was standing joke that if one’s civilian life had been as a bricklayer one would be deployed to the Catering Corps (and the Intelligence Corps was an oxymoron).

But, in the event, it all worked out well. After two weeks of basic training, I was sent to the REME unit at Honiton in Devon where potential commissioned officers were selected and prepared for Officer Cadet School. All that led, in due course, to Mons Officer Cadet School and to commissioning by Her Majesty as a (very junior) officer in the British Army. But that’s another story and another time.

View of Honiton high street

View of Honiton High Street

What, meanwhile, of October? I arrived at Honiton – a lovely place, in beautiful Devon — towards the end of September. I have many memories of it (among them, one of an evening at a local pub playing a drinking game called Cardinal Puff and watching a Sergeant Major who could remove crown tops from beer bottles with his teeth). But I also have a vivid recollection of October 1 that year. On that day, the entire unit marched, with bands playing and flags flying, from the barracks outside the town to the parish church in the center – because it was “REME Day”, commemorating the foundation of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers on October 1, 1942.

So: “The end of the summer is not the end of the world. Here’s to October…” as A.A. Milne (1882–1956) said, perhaps to Winnie the Pooh, in A Word for Autumn.


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A “footnote”, as it were, to the entry that follows it below

I spent this last weekend in the Vineyard where, with lamentation and bitter weeping, Rachel was mourning her children, because they are not. [c.f. Jer.31:15]. As on several previous occasions, I was privileged to be serving as spiritual director (soul friend, to use the medieval terminology) at a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat, for women and men who had had an encounter with the impenetrable and terrifying darkness of death through the procuring of abortions. Rachel is devastated, mentally and physically, carrying an insupportable burden of guilt, sorrow and despair. If anyone thinks that it could be otherwise, then they must be deluded by the devil or be immensely insensitive, cruel and cynical. But there is hope; we have a loving Father who calls us by name, enfolds in his arms, and heals us of all our sin and sorrow. If you know of anyone, young or old, who strruggles with this devastation, tell them about the Rachel’s Vineyard ministry.

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