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George Edward Iceton’s story Sylvia’s father

Dad on the Morritts
Recorded by Sylvia, Swinstead, 31.7.14

Grace Morritt is the wife of Major Henry Morritt. He came to Rokeby in 1890, I think it was. It was very complicated because Henry’s brother was killed in South Africa. The death tax was to pay and unfortunately before that another one had died so that was two died in three years and Morritts couldn’t afford to live at the Hall at that time, so they didn’t come until about 1919. But Major Morritt was wounded in the Boer War, and his brother, and he took the prisoners over to Bermuda. And on the way back something happened and he was poorly and they put hot water metals on his feet and caused damage. He never walked properly again. So when the second War came on he couldn’t go back to the army, even though he was a major. He bought a big Riviera car with a massive back, like a 7-seater or 9-seater. He took this car to the war and used to drive to the front line and put the stretchers on the back and took them to hospital. He did this as a civilian.

He painted my picture when I was about 13 in 1933. He couldn’t afford to go to the Hall and so they let the Hall and the farm to Ben Irvins from Scotland. When we went there the farm was covered with black cows with the white belly, Scotch cattle.

Dad’s story: Childhood to gardens
Reminiscenses recorded in 2014 by Sylvia

My first memory
Mum and I had been to Mortham Towers, across the Greta, and the two old people (the Yorks) had died and we laid them out, and we were walking back to the Cottage, West Lodge, and the lightning was bouncing on the fence, steel fence, all the way up. It was a very fine metal mesh, to keep the rabbits out of Rokeby. They had lovely gardens and at that time of year, it was overrun by rabbits. So I can’t tell you whether I was 5 or seven. That is my first memory of being at West Lodge. I don’t remember Whorlton. I was born there and only a baby then. The Yorks only had a small place, a flat in The Tower at Mortham. It was all part of the farm at the time. He had been a solicitor in Barnard Castle. They are buried in Rokeby Church.
Serving Teas
We got two bell tents from the Army and we got a little patch of land on the way down to the Meeting of the waters. We put in steps to climb over the ditch to this bit of land and we had two bell tents, one to cook in and one to serve in. The following year we got a hut so that we could cook in the hut and the two bell tents to serve in. And the next year we had the hut and we got a marquee, a big marquee. People were encouraged to go to the Meeting of the Waters then and there was a lovely walk on the road side from Abbey Bridge, right down on the riverside, then a bit across the road, and came down to Meeting of the Waters; only a walk, no cars or anything like that. There was one time, I can’t remember the year at all, but we had nine Bee Line buses, one Sunday night from Hartlepool, and only enough room for four buses from the Tea House to West Lodge, but they were parked up the road almost to Bowes View.
We got the marquee and then we got a bigger hut and turned the little hut into a lavatory, ladies and gents at either end, not flush toilets, a bucket with a piece of wood on top! Most houses were like that then, no toilets, a chamber pot; 1930ish. One morning we started at 5.30am because there was an eclipse and I think it was at 6am. To see it properly you had to go nearly to Scotch Corner, to Gilling Bank, and at the top you could see right down to the east of the Penines.
In the field that we had there was a massive chestnut tree, and we were going to build a tea house. Someone from Bowes built it. It is a house now, but we used it as a tea house. In the meantime we used the Dairy Bridge as another tea house and my cousin, Lovice, used to run that one. There is a window in Dairy Bridge House that goes out over the river. I have seen trees come down the River Greta. Trees! And suddenly they get across the rocks and block it and then you get a flood. Of course, the estate used to shift them, pull them round and let them go further down. When the Morrits had the farm, which we had later, that was the dairy. They used to take the milk down to the dairy and back to the Hall. And we converted it to a tea house. Before that it was a gamekeeper’s house. There were seven gamekeepers on the estate at one time.
We were well noticed throughout the North East for the teas. Mam made all the cakes. There were sandwiches of all descriptions and one of the favourite sandwiches – we used to get boxes of cress… fish used to come in boxes. People used to buy herring in boxes from the fishmonger, and The Gardens used to put the soil in and grow mustard and cress on the top. We used to get a box of mustard and a box of cress and you mixed it, and they were beautiful sandwiches and people used to come from all over for them! We put tomatoes in the sandwiches, sometimes beef, anything that was on the market at that time. We bought the bread from Barnard Castle from Collies, in sandwich loaves which I don’t think you ever see now, square, and two foot long. We used to cut them up into slices.
I used to help with everything, make the sandwiches, serve on… I was very popular with them, being only young. One of the favourite cakes was a butterfly cake with the wings, a cake cut in two, with butter cream, and the wings put on. Dead easy! But another real favourite was the coconut cake, in an egg cup, plenty of butter around the egg cup, turn upside down in the coconut, cherry on the top. They used to go down massive. Mam had worked in the Hall with all the cooks in the Hall. She had a good idea of what to do. We were very popular. As I said nine Bee Line buses, of course the driver got a free tea! We needed a lot of sandwich loaves, about 6 on a Friday. The best days for serving teas were Saturday and Sunday.
Barnard Castle School had Wednesday afternoon off and Saturday afternoon off and the parents used to go round on a Wednesday, pick the bairns up and bring them out to us – a good feed and then take them back again.
I won a scholarship for Barnard Castle School, and was paid for. You had to sit an exam to get into the school. They brought the prices down, £24 a term I think it was. Mam paid for me. My first school was next door to Rokeby Church. There were two class rooms. Boys and Girls toilets outside. The teacher lived just across the road at the Vicarage. But, my mam got really upset, the school teacher, Mrs Kirkbride – not a good teacher by any means. It wasn’t a good school, Mrs Kirkbride and two girl teachers, every time they went out, her husband walked 10 yards in front of her. Mam would see them come along the road and she would be so angry. In those days there was an heir, no heiresses. He took everything and the man walked 10 yards in front of his wife, and she was a teacher. They used to walk down through the woods to Bowes View and then cross the road into Barnard Castle. Mam had become a nurse. It took a long time, first in Bishop Auckland and then to Leeds, both General and Infirmary in Leeds. I was taken away from the school when I was seven, and went Frosterley School where my grandma lived.
Mam had gone to Frosterley School, a good school, and I was there from 7 – 9 years old, then they brought the prices down at Barnard Castle School and I sat the exam. But I went to the dentist for seven weeks at 9 years old because you had to have your teeth done before you could go to the school! I was absolutely mad, because for an extraction you had an injection, but drilling the teeth in those days was by a foot pedal, up and down, beside you, and a great big wheel with a cord on went up and twisted the top and a lead down to where the needle is.
In the Prep School, the Headmaster of the Prep was a maths teacher, the girl used to teach French in the main school and a couple more. I did French from 9 and Latin. I couldn’t see the point of that (Latin). It was a good school. They used to go to College from there. I once saw a boy fall from the staircase. That was naughty. It was part of the school, fooling around they were and he fell over the balcony.
In Winter they used to do 9-12 every day and then off till 4pm. As a day boy it was mad for me. I used to ride my bicycle there every day 5 miles there and back, first by fairy cycle! Later on when I was about 13, dad bought me an acetylene light, nearly as big as the bike, a wonderful light compared with the battery lights we used to use in those days. I got this light and it was a chemistry lesson. I went up to the labs and the teacher said we will have a Bunsen burner lit. So I lit it and was accused of having cigarettes, and told to go to the Headmaster. I stood there for about three quarters of an hour and got 5 belts. I had matches for the light, but no cigarettes. They wouldn’t believe me. Pull your shirt up to see if you had any books, and then five lashes. There were a lot of things done as a deterrent. It was a ploy to ask for the Bunsen burner to be lit, to see if you had cigarettes.
The Gardens
We lived in West Lodge until I was ten and a half, then they made Dad a butler and we moved into the Coach House. Then when the Morritts moved out of the Hall into where the agent lived at Bowes View, we moved into The Gardens. Someone from Newcastle had The Gardens, Hill and Company had the Gardens and they just robbed it. By that time we had packed the tea house up and dad did the farm and mam the Nursery.
Major Morritt painted my portrait when I was 13. He had been poorly and I don’t know what was the matter with him, but my mam cured him. She looked after him. It wasn’t from the First World War, he was barely in it. He was in the Boer War. And the poor fellow, took some prisoners to Bermuda, South Africa, and he caught something. I don’t know what it was, and they thought he had died on the ship coming back home, and the nurses/aid people stuffed tin plates, not hot water bottles then, on his feet and did away with all the nerves on the soles of his feet. So in the first World War, he wasn’t allowed in really. But he got two cars, a Riviera was one, and he used to put a stretcher across the back of the car. He used to drive the car into no-man’s land, then drive them back to the hospital. Mam pulled him round and he wanted to do something for mam and painted a picture of me at 13 years old. It was so boring, every Wednesday afternoon, when it was half day from school, sports really. It was in the top of the house in a studio. I used to go fishing with him, too. He loved fishing, absolutely mad, but because of his bad feet, he was dead scared of going. There were certain pools that he loved, one at Mortham(?) and one not far from the tea house. I used to go with him at 13. He was only 17 stone, so what I would have done if he fell in, I don’t know.
I think it is the book Rokeby that has the legend of a cave in the big cliff at Morton Bridge (Mortham?), where he loved to fish. I spent hours looking for this cave, but it was just in the book, I think. Not Sir Walter Scott’s cave, not far from Dairy Bridge on the Greta, that is there, but this was another cave. Walter Scott had a really stupid table in there. He had a seat in for writing, but the table was made of canes cut in half and laid across the top of the table and the bench. Very uncomfortable and I don’t know how he managed to write on it. He wrote his book in there, so they say, anyway. I used to take people to see the cave. Years later some lads threw the table and seat into the river.
Dad used to work in the Hall, doing odd jobs, then they sent him away to train to be a butler, in Cliff Hall, near Piercebridge. Dad served in the First World War. Major Morritt was a great soldier friend to anyone who had been in the Army, and they got on very well. Dad was in the cricket team, the football team and we had a cup for the mile race, but I don’t know where it is. It started in the field next to the Morritt Arms at Greta Bridge, over the style, through the Hall gates and then up the drive to the front of the Hall, and Dad had to do this twice to do the mile. And dad won it and we had a cup for donkey’s years. That’s three things I really miss, the cup and a pair of portrait photos of dad with his gun belt around his shoulder and mam in her nurses uniform. We have mam’s picture, but I don’t know where dad’s is.

Dad on his father’s war

In the First World War my dad was in the Royal Engineers, and in those days they supplied the troops in the Line, just like the RAC (Royal Army Service Corp) did in my day. They used to take a wagon load of food in through the night, dump it, put a load of casualties on, take them back and maybe do two trips a night. He had two horses in front of the cart and the shells were bursting all the time. It must have been terrible. The enemy knew where the tracks were and just lined the tracks. All right if you got through but if a shell comes over you’ve had it. It’s all gone. He must have had a terrible war. He did his full 8 years, including the War.

After the War, I was to go to Burma, but because I had done so many years abroad, it was taken to Parliament and they squashed it and I couldn’t go.

Dad was mentioned in Dispatches. He must have had a terrible time. Take the summer time, the nights are very short, even in France, and he had to get these loaded up, take it through and then bring a load of casualties back, and maybe do it twice. He was all over in France. He was in the 18th Battallion.

Mam used to write to him in the War, and it was expected she would marry him, but I don’t know if she had found somebody else, but after the War, he got in touch with the Matron and she said she wanted to see Mam’s birth certificate. On the certificate mam was Jeanette, though she was known as Janet. She was christened as Janet, but the recorder put it down wrong. The Matron went mad about the name for some reason, and took dad’s side. They got married just after the War.

Dad’s story: from Cyprus to Palestine
Recorded by Sylvia 15.4.14, Swinstead

After having the wound in my knee, I was taken to England the day before Dunkirk.

We went out from the Suez Canal on destroyers to the port in Cyprus. The navy lads got the wind up. If they are in dock and the planes came over they were static, but if they were at sea they could do a bit of zig zagging and the planes have got to catch them. We tried to get our stuff off the ship and they were just throwing it in the water. We had to get divers to dive in the water and get them. It was all a trick, I think, in a sense, but by rights they wanted to get away while it was still dark. They just throwed everything, kit bags and all, over the edge into the water. They didn’t try to get it on the beach or anything. Ha ha. Not waterproof just packed ready for the ship! It was supposed to be taken on the trucks and away.

We got there and went into Nicosia and spent a day in the Headquarters of the Sherwood Foresters. Honestly, the coal was painted white, to be clean! They had been in action but this was just part of the cleanliness of the regiment. We went to a little fishing village and we camped in an orchard, with rows of bushes like olives, and the sea was beautiful. But it was full of jelly fish with a sting on the top! Talk about bitten, they swelled up like mad. Ha ha I was about 20 at the time. We were there for quite a long time and it was beautiful. A few shops, cafes and we could go down on a night. We could write home, but it took a very long time, 9 weeks on the ship.

From there we went right into the middle of Cyprus and it was partially desert but they had one or two water holes and the poor horses and donkeys used to go round and round on the pump. They had shutters on so they probably didn’t know what they were doing, but I was really sorry for them, the poor things and they were all over this desert, but we had fresh water and that was something.

I borrowed a bike a couple or three times and we had two gallon red petrol cans and also two gallon water cans painted white. I had one of these water cans and I found a brewery and took two gallons back. The lads went mad. So I had to do the same thing the next night. Haha haha. I was a bit fortunate at that time because there was a bit of a motor cycle trial going on and I was supposed to be in training for it, but honestly I couldn’t compete. There was a Captain Black, so wide you could hardly see the bike, but by, he could hold it. On a motorbike if you get on a slope you need a bit of weight and I had no weight at all. We had fun!

I don’t know why it was, I was properly MT (Multi-Transport) at that time, and a fitter. Before we left England I had been away on a course and I came back as a driver-mechanic. I had a round disc like a bronze driving wheel. That was a mark of promotion and I was showing this off nicely when the Platoon Sergeant Major started putting on the cloth bugle badge. I was told it was too much like his so I had to take it off. I didn’t bother.

It was in Cyprus. I had spent weeks training to go to Buckingham Palace to get my MM medal, but they bombed the palace before I could get there, so that was out. I don’t know why it was, but we got to a stage when I wouldn’t sign my name in the pay book, using the MM. And they wouldn’t give me it. I think the Major had something going on there. I got no pay for three weeks. We didn’t get much money because they took off for your blanket and brasso and all the rest. I lost three weeks pay, because I wouldn’t sign the MM after my name. I can’t remember why, but they had upset me over something. I had got the medal, but I wouldn’t sign it. After the War, the medal came in the post.

In England, after we got off the beaches and more settled down and the invasion had gone then we started a dance band, and they were in demand. I used to drive the band all over the place and unfortunately we lost some instruments in France, but we had two or three troop melody boys and they were in one of the famous dance bands in Durham, before the war. A band of 10. I had a great big laundry van, no bonnet, just straight down the front and as high as a room. A beautiful van. We had a drummer, pianist, and Frankie Annie used to play the accordion and the saxophone and my boss in the MT was a professional saxophone player.

In Cyprus we got nits in our hair. In the next village to us we weren’t allowed in because the women used to get syphilis in the winter and then in the heat of the summer it died off. So we got nits in our hair and we shaved all our hair off. We got called out to do a dance in Nicosia, capital of Cyprus. We went on down there and kept our hats on all night. Ha ha ha. It was a wonderful night, mind. So I drove the band around in Cyprus. We basically had the same band in Cyprus as in England, with a few changes.

No fighting in Cyprus, but we were training all the time. There was a bit of destruction in Cyprus, even then, they were wanting to split it. The Turks wanted Cyprus. Another of these countries where the British held the boot, held the title, and the people just worked with us, but we were there to control it. Iraq at that time was controlled by the Air Force, that’s why the Air Force Regiment came in so they could be on the ground. Most of that was done by spotter plane. We went from Cyprus to Palestine.

George Edward Iceton
From the gardens to War: France, Belgium and Cyprus
Recorded by Sylvia 15.4.14 at Swinstead
1938 and The Gardens
After the War we were in The Gardens, having moved from the Coach House, which is at the bottom of the stable yard, where the Stephensons lived. I was ten and a half when Brian was born and we moved to the Coach House, 1931/2. Dad was butler till about 1938 and that is when we took over The Gardens. When the Hills from Newcastle lived there, there were seven greenhouses and fires with piped heating and when we took over there was one greenhouse and one fire. It went fairly well pre-War, Brian was catching up with me. We served fruit and veg to some hotels: Scotch Corner, Morritt Arms, the Unicorn in Bowes, Bowes Moor, and one in Brough. We used to do a lot of the farms, taking fruit and veg to them. We started this business as soon as we went in The Gardens. I was 18. I also ran a private hire car, using my car, a big Austin 16 with an Austin 12 chassis. I can’t remember where the money came from, maybe hire purchase. Mam had made money with the teas business but she paid for mine and Brian’s schooling. Bobby Errington bought it for us at Barney, a wagon driver. He used to take cattle to the market. And we were doing quite well then, the pig trade. We were breeding pigs and we were selling them off at about 20 weeks to the bacon factory, they used to come and collect them.

A story about a pig… Steven had left school and just started working for an electrician. Dad gave me a sow and we took her to the boar and back. She had 19 piglets and they only had 12 breasts, so he had to keep changing them over so they all got a feed. We sat with them night after night and reared them, 18 survived and we got £72 for them. £3 a piece was a lot of money then.

We started on shorthorns, because they were dads breed, like the ones in the picture. They only had a horn that curved round.

The first years of World War II
In 1939 I joined up: joined up on the Thursday night, called up on the Friday and war on the Sunday. We went to France and only had a few days leave back in England, so I didn’t really come home at all during the war. I was in hospital in Belgium for 6 weeks, after Dunkirk and I got a letter from my boss, Major Jeffries, that if I wasn’t back within a few days, I wouldn’t get back, and they wanted me back. He was the Colonel then. I thought that was great. If I go back as the Colonel’s driver it meant becoming a sergeant, but the poor fellow came to us as a Lieutenant in 1938 and made a temporary captain. In 1939 he was made Second in Command on exercises and then of course before Dunkirk and after Arras, we lost the Colonel and Jeffries was made Colonel on the field and I thought that would have held, Colonel on the field, but he got back to England and was superseded quite a bit, so he was made Second in Command, which upset me a bit because if he had been Colonel, I would have been sergeant! Ha Ha.
1940: The MM medal and France
I got the MM medal when I got the knee injury. The CO said, You are wounded Iceton, you can’t go back. I had given my message over and got our tanks back to do some fighting for us and I was walking away from him and maybe limped. It wasn’t bad, although it was down to the bone, so he put me in the back of a Daimler, a scout car, and they took me to Belgium, to hospital. And the funny thing was we went past a roundabout and in it was the Cenotaph from one of the big battles in the First World War. Dad knew it very well. Anyway we went back into Belgium and the following morning I was asleep on the stretcher. I had left everything in my truck and I had only what I was standing in. The following morning I got up and walked down to the town, and they’d all gone. There were no people there, and I walked into this chemist shop and took myself a toothbrush and shaving brush, a razor. But there was nobody to pay.

Motorbike message and the 5th Army
While we were in Belgium, the Italian headquarters were in a very big house. I settled my major in the Duchesses room. Silver hair brushes just left there. I was going off to get a meal for myself. He was still tramping around putting the lads right, you know, and I was tramping around looking for some food. It was time for the toilet so I went round to the toilets and the lads were still digging the trench in the field with a board across when they had finished. So I used a tree! Policeman came across, What’s your name? Iceton. Come and see me in the morning, 9am. I think my boss must have got to know about this because at night he said Can you ride a motorbike, Iceton. So I said, Yes. The Major said: I have a message to go to the 2nd Battalion which is the other side of Brussels. So I borrowed a bike from George Little, from Barnard Castle, and I put the message in my pocket.

It was main road really, so I got on the road and it was absolutely solid with people coming out. One side, absolutely solid. So I was all right going because my side was clear. I thought, champion, and was really enjoying myself on this bike. Then a car came down, a big black car, and it never stopped, and I was in the ditch. I had to fish the bike out of the ditch. Five times that happened with five black cars. I thought that’s a bit rotten, but thought its people trying to make up. I delivered my message and got his reply and came back again, which again I had to be on the wrong side of the road because it was still blocked. This time I was going the same way, but the side I should have been on was blocked, prams, push chairs, horse and carts. People trying to get away from Brussels. I don’t know where they were going. Anyway I got back and I told them about these cars, and they said Oh it’s the German 5th Army. They were the people who were to take over the running of Belgium. It was all arranged. We knew nothing about it. These people just came down – and put me off the road!

Marching to Arras
The following morning we started back into France to do this attack. The Germans by now had got to Boulogne. They cut through France and found a gap in the Belgium line and waltzed through to Boulogne. And so we were cut off. Churchill thought, yes we’ll put two divisions down and we’ll go across this line and cut them off. General de Gaul, France, went two days only – wanting to make a name for himself. He got knocked back. Finally instead of being two Divisions we had two Battalions the 8th and 6th Battalions to do the Arras attack.

The poor lads in three days marched 85 miles across country, because they couldn’t get on the roads. They were absolutely blocked, and we had to drive across country. I was picking people up in my truck, trying to keep up with the major but he was way in front of me. The truck was so full at one stage, when I met my sergeant – he had been my sergeant, Jackie Chat in Barnard Castle. He was really crippled, poor soul, so I put him in my seat, told him how to put it in bottom gear and tried to walk beside him. Put your clutch in now, put your brake on. Aye, it was absolutely packed, and I lost my temper a little bit because two of the ack ack lads travelling with us with two bren guns in the back of the truck started firing at a plane that was miles off in the sky. They might have seen the flashes from the gun, but the bullets were getting nowhere. So I went mad, and they stopped. Nearly five miles the lads did. They were supposed to be marching, but this was across fields. We worked down to De Bassey by the canal and thought we could make a stand there. We didn’t. The lads formed up at De Bassey and the Colonel, Major Jeffries and I, we went off to a Canadian battle field in the First World War. It was marvellous. The trenches they had dug had grassed over. It was really beautiful. We could see right down the valley. We stopped there and that’s where the lads were supposed to make their way, but we couldn’t get any trucks to work on the uneven ground, so the lads had to march. We were supposed to be a motorised division.

They eventually got there about 11 o’clock at night, but the major and I had gone off further down the road and we saw a farm house. It was empty. It was ideal to stop in, so I went out and milked the cows that hadn’t been milked for two days, had a look in the kitchen. They had just walked away, lots of food in, porridge, meal, potatoes, carrots and I made a stew and fed a tank gun just across the road and we fed anyone around and the Major got himself a couple of carriers down and he went and surveyed the route we were to take the next day. We were supposed to start at half past ten in the morning, but the lads hadn’t got there ‘till 11 at night, then they had to feed and all that, so it was put back to half past twelve, but nobody told the tank people. They went off at half past ten. We never saw the tanks. They had gone. They had done a lot of damage, we found out later, but we should have gone together. Daft as it seems, the tanks were still on the Belgium radio and we were back in France, so we couldn’t communicate with them. The Commander of the tanks stood waving at us, and the Germans shot him. His tank had broken down and he was trying to tell us he had arrived. But he was dead.

One in ‘C’ Company a big corporal, big Charlie Cooper had his rifle going up and down and this was a signal. The number of jerks told you how many were up there and he was dancing, so I went back to see what was going on. The roads in France were very narrow with a ditch on one side or a bank. You couldn’t turn around. Anyway, I backed right up and got down there to see what was going on. I said What’s the matter, what are you signalling? And he turned round and I could see the white of his teeth, his cheek had gone completely. We put him in the truck and whipped him straight back. He’d been signalling he had been hit. Not a very pleasant sight. Anyway I took him back and I dropped him off and went back, and tried to catch them up again and I took another couple back. I got the MM at this time for bringing these lads back, under fire.

Arresting German prisoners
Then I got a message to say I’d got to take the LAD (Local Aid Detachment) people to come forward, because we were getting a few injuries, so I set off and I was leading them and then they dropped off to pick people up and I saw this shell go across the road just in front of me, it bounced on the road in front of me. Afterwards, they told me that when I got under the wagon there was one behind. There was three, but there was no way I could get off the road. I had to drive right past my major and find another road to turn round, until I was coming back the other side of the valley. There was a railway embankment. They often have a hole in the road so they can get cattle and so on though, and I got up to this hole in the embankment. There was a truck there, with a, I think it was an anti-tank gun, with seven blokes. I jumped out and shouted at them and asked what they were doing and so on. Saw they were Germans. But I didn’t take my rifle with me. So I had to go back to get my rifle – I had to turn my back on them to get it. I got my rifle and made a point of putting a round in, but I didn’t put the bayonet on. I went up to them and shoved my rifle around a bit, and they put their hands up straightaway, no bother. The tanks had scared the wits out of them. So I marched them back. Of course then I had to turn the truck around, and keep my rifle out of the window. Oh dear me. Anyway they walked on and I got myself turned round and I followed them down, and I handed them over to ‘C’ Company.

The Germans had fired at their own earlier on, because a lot of prisoners had been marched down this road and they were sat down waiting to be taken down to our lines and the Germans came over and dive bombed them. They thought they were dive bombing us.

Then by that time it was starting to get a bit dusk and I finally found my Major, well I didn’t find him. The LAD vehicle parked up. It was a crossroads with a house and I had used a bit to park on. They had parked there, and I had to park down this other side. I am looking for my boss again and they told me he was putting hand grenades into the tanks, which is a marvellous thing for a bloke to do. Oh dear. He had to climb up, open the top and drop a grenade in. That was the type of bloke he was. German tanks left behind. Our tanks, we couldn’t get in touch with them, as I said, they were coming back and turning down to the right and shooting away and we thought they were our tanks coming in. We didn’t know they were Germans, until on the other side from the house up the lane, a lot of the Daimler cars were parked up and they just had Bren guns and they were firing at them, but every time it went dark, he would set fire to one of these and make it light again. I had to creep down and I got across the road and couldn’t see my Major at all. And my truck was there and I went to tell the Colonel, Miller. You’re wounded Iceton. You can’t go back. But I left everything, all my gear. I just had what I was standing up in.

Before these tanks changed over from ours to theirs, we went out into no man’s land and picked up a lot of people there, some of the tank people as well. We whipped them back. The LAD wagon, 15 cwt, with big red crosses on it all the way round. But the Germans still set fire to it no bother. It was lucky, because I had been parked there, and then had to go around this corner. This was May 1940.

I was in hospital 6 weeks. You were allowed 6 weeks in hospital and after that you were sent back to base. You weren’t taken back to the Battalion any more. I reported back to base on the coast in Dorset where we had two men and five busts. I had to collect dummies from London and put them in the trenches, so the Germans would think we had manned the trenches. We were dead lucky they didn’t invade us. There were the underground people, very secret, we didn’t know about them, secret Home Guard.

We were in England for a while because when we left the beach we went in about 10/20 miles and formed a mobile unit, all civilian troops, hardly any army troops, all civilian commandeered and we found a motor cycle battalion. If there was an invasion, we could be split anyway on the beach. Like a second line. The Home Guard were front line – dispensable you might say. If they lived they lived. First line of defence on the beach, but it never happened fortunately.

Then we went off right round the South African Coast, stopped in Durban for five days, then up to Suez Canal. 9 weeks on a ship. We thought we were going straight up to the desert, but the tanks didn’t go up and we didn’t. We went to Cyprus and were there 6 months. There was a lot of waiting in war and a lot of the time you were still under fire, long range, not rifle fire.

After I came back from Sicily I met mam, Mary. I was in hospital 14 months at that stretch. The first time was a little scratch on my knee and this time was a broken leg. The only foreign plane I saw in Sicily, it got me. The American found his way soon to the capital and
had a victory celebration parade through this capital, and we were fighting like mad. The 8th and 9th Battalion got mauled under Privisoli Bridge and we were fighting across country taking the Germans on, the Americans should have caught up with. We had just arrived back from the middle of Sicily, got back down to where this bridge was and into the field where we were all preparing for the attack that night, when this plane came over, and stopped me through the night. And that was me out for 14 months. I was very disappointed because the lads had a rough time, no doubt about it, but they had to fight their way through to pretty well the north of Sicily and they had a month or five weeks resting in a seaside resort.

Dad on the Blightys

I was two days in the hospital, then they sent me a stretcher and fastened me on. You’ve got a blighty. At that time they only took stretcher cases, so I couldn’t get out and went down to the ship. So I was a blighty coming back. In Cyprus, when I got back to Tripoli, but before I got there, I don’t know if you have looked up the side of a ship, but the docks are 5-10 feet above the water, so in Cyprus they took us out on the barge right underneath the ship and you looked up and it is a massive thing when you look up. They dropped a cable down with four ropes on it and I am on a wooden stretcher with the four corners tied on and hauled up. All casualties were taken like this as they couldn’t get the ship in. It took a long time and apparently I was eight days before I got to the hospital at Tripoli.

Then 8 months stretching the leg on a splint. They put a steel pin through, and you are on a pulley with sand bags on. And apparently I was 8 months like this, trying to get it back in line. They reckon I was 10 inches short. I was 14 months in Tripoli in all.

My Uncle More and his blighty business!

After 14 months in Tripoli, we came back to England and landed in Liverpool on Christmas Eve. All the nurses had vanished, just one old girl about 50. I don’t know what happened exactly but the bloke next to me, we were sat on the bed and dangling our feet, first time out of our splints. The bloke across the road, I don’t know what he did but I just saw his left leg go from the splint from the joint in the opposite direction. So I shouted at the poor old girl and she came down and she started crying. She was on her own. I never saw him any more.

1944 I had a week in Liverpool and on New Year’s Eve they moved us to Manchester, then back to Sedgefield into the Asylam at Winterton. Every Asylam had a hospital at that time. From there I was sent to a rehabilitation centre at Halifax. The RSM there had been my RSM in the DLI consequently straightaway I was put my shoes on marched down to a dance in Halifax. But I couldn’t get away with it. The shoes were very heavy. Walking back about 11pm and I followed this girl back all the way from Halifax right up to… I couldn’t run at that stage. That was Mary. The next day in the Lance Corporal’s Mess, I was talking to the girl Betty, and she shouted Mary. They must have been talking. The rest is history.

I was running over the moors later on. I got upset because they wouldn’t send me back to War. I went to the Rehabilitation Centre again. I was a fitter then and downgraded physically, the DLI didn’t want to know me. I joined REME. They wanted to send me to Burma. I went down to Aldershot to start a new workshop, to go to Burma, then dad got hold of it and told the MP and it went to Parliament. I didn’t go. REME eventually sent me to Raby Castle. I had a big car park. From the gardens to the trees, a very big car park and I looked after the cars. Raby Castle was a storage place at that time.

In 1945 I was demobbed with a wife and son and went back to Rokeby with them.


God knocks off

God knocks off

by Richard Rice-Oxley

One Spring Sunday morning clergy all over the country had a shock. Arriving at their churches for morning worship, they found a note on the door which read: ’Sorry, can’t make it to the service this morning- God.’ No reason was given, so the clergy started to ask around for an explanation.

Some people had heard that God had got company. Apparently St Peter was waiting at the pearly gates for a delegation from Virgin Galactic, who were seeking the franchise for jet tours to heaven. As a result, God, not knowing what time they would arrive, was unable to commit to coming to church that morning.

Others thought that it was because of the weather. In the West it was cold and wet. Apparently God was fed up with turning out in the rain. In the East the sun was shining, and people in those parts had heard that God liked a spin in his Godmobile on Sunday.
Other people were convinced that God had gone shopping. They had heard that he was so busy answering people’s prayers from Monday to Saturday that he reckoned he only had Sunday left to make his weekly visit to Tesco. Others thought that God really preferred a Car Boot sale or Sunday Market, where he could pick up harps for the heavenly choir at bargain prices.

Others thought that God was getting interested in sport. The cricket season was starting, and it was rumoured that God fancied himself as a demon bowler .Or maybe God was supporting a charity event. God is known to be a keen backer of charities, so perhaps he had decided to get himself sponsored and take part.

Some of the people questioned took a different tack. They said the reason that God had sent his apologies that morning was that he didn’t enjoy the experience. They had heard that churches were always cold, the congregations unfriendly, the music tedious, and the ministers inaudible. In fact they were amazed that God had stuck it for so long. They themselves wouldn’t be seen dead in church on Sundays. Funerals left them cold, they only went to Christenings to ‘wet the baby’s head’ afterwards, and to weddings to look at the hats.

Returning despondently to their churches, the clergy got another shock. As they approached, they heard the sound of laughter, and found another note on the door which said: ‘Only joking! Of course I’m coming this morning. My time with all of you each week is always the first thing in my diary. Love, God.’

Student Holiday in Greece by Richard

Holiday in Greece 1964
Extracts from Richard’s diary
transcribed October 2015

Tuesday 4 August
5pm Caught train to Corinth – beautiful ride along Corinthian Gulf. Arrived Corinth 8pm, slept out on beach.

Wednesday 5th
Morning bathe. Bus to old Corinth. Looked around museum and the site. Set off to climb Acrocorinth c.3.25pm. Magnificent panorama from the top (picture). Arrived at bottom again c.6.15pm. Set off for a beach which turned out to be 45 mins away! Had a swim and arrived back at old Corinth c.8.15. Each of us bought and drank on the spot a pint of milk. Had been offered a place to sleep for the night and had lunch and supper here. Father a real comic. Son learning English – David and I helped him with his exercises in the evening. Slept on patch of concrete in garden – not a very good night as hip bones rather sore from previous nights. Also cacophony from dog (yowling, crunching bone), mule, cock (which crew at midnight).

Friday 7th
Tried hitching – only Vic successful. Caught 11.30 bus for Epidauraus. Looked over theatre which terrific, and ruins of temple of Asclepius, which are very extensive. After lunch, caught bus for Poros – very bad road, unmade in parts and twisty. Bus stopped half way for driver and occupants to refresh themselves! Later splendid view of coast, as we climb down from the hills. Poros on an island – very photogenic. We went to one of its three beaches and had a bathe. A friendly boatman showed us a place to sleep. Wood in plenty since building site, also water from an ice making plant. We had an enormous supper: soup, luncheon meat, boiled eggs, peaches and finished with chocolate. Kipped by the sea again.

Sunday 9 August – Athens
Went to temple of Olympian Zeus, then to theatre of Dionysus. On to a small hillock overlooking the old Agora. Visited the reconstructed Stoa of Attalus, the Agora and the Hephaistion. Had a rest over a lemon drink (very expensive) 21 drachmas – David’s round, poor chap! We then visited the Acropolis which was wonderful (though overrun with other tourists). Had supper at the same restaurant as for lunch – expensive meal including our first taste of ouzo which was not pleasant.

Monday 10 August
Went to New Phaleron, where a sandy beach. Water incredibly warm – rather like a warm bath at the edge. Then back to Piraeus where we boarded our boat Hesperus, which was absolutely crammed. We secured deck sleeping space with difficulty, ate our food, and a little later had some drinks in the bar. These had an unfortunate effect on me in the night and I moved my sleeping kit to the side of the boat.

Tuesday 11th
6.30am entered Heraklion Harbour, had breakfast in cafe, then made our way by bus to Florida a nearby beach (2 drachmas to get in). Deserted when we arrived, it quickly filled up and some Greeks pinched our sunshade (or part of it) and talked non stop, much to my discomfort. The wind got up and blew sand all over everything. Later still very windy, lit a fire which blew all over the place. We had managed to get some oil and cooked what was meant to be fried eggs, but turned out as omelettes.

Wednesday 12
Discussion as to possibility of going to Mikonos. Made enquiries at the tourist office where we were told they had one very good boat, the Hesperus!! Caught bus for Cnossus, spent two hours looking over it, frescos tremendous (picture). Back to Florida beach where we collected wood for a fire. David and Vic’s combined ingenuity produced a useful support for a pan, fried eggs successful this time.

Friday 14th
Journey to Anoigha, very pleasant – hills and plains covered with vines and olive trees. We climbed up into the hills, and when we arrived at Anoigha were in some doubt as to whether we had reached journey’s end. Luckily we immediately found an old man who spoke English. Funny old boy escorted me down the village street, first to a bread shop and then to restaurant. We (Vic and I) decided to eat there, then went for a walk and took a look at surrounding hills, then back, secured sleeping place on a roof (no room in the hotel). Had our meal c.6.45 – omelette, salad, bread, wine, all for 12.50 drachmas – wonderful value, and the first of three marvellous potato omelettes.

Saturday 15
Woke c.4.40am. Set out to climb Mt Ida just before 6am. Nearly 6 hours later we reached the plain of Nida, which we should have reached in 3 hours. (Picture) The water there was lovely and we drank our fill and ate our lunch – bread, cheese and eggs. Seemed to get on the wrong side of a shepherd for scaring his sheep. Set off to climb Ida range, saw a large cave on the way (apparently a cave of Zeus), then hard climbing for the brow of a hill, but did not have time to reach it. Very difficult coming down – scree and thistles, eventually back at plain of Nida c.30.30pm, met very nice Cretan girl who spoke English and was studying at a London Secretarial College. She gave us bread and meat. circa 3.45pm set out to walk back to Anoigha, by the road we should have used coming. Walked very fast for the first hour, thereafter less quickly but kept going well, despite an ailment on my part to which the depleted pages of this note book bear witness! Finally reached Anoigha at 7.25pm, after walking about eleven and a half out of thirteen and a half hours, all completely whacked.

Sunday 16
Had lunch at same restaurant as before – yet another fine omelette. We were charged nothing for a plate of grapes. We then sat and relaxed until the small square suddenly produced people from all sides. Soon a marriage procession approached and while the bride and groom were being wed musicians took their seats and there was dancing. When the bride and groom appeared from the church, they were made to join in the dancing.

Monday 17th
Another bathe, huge waves, terrific hammering, very good supper on beach. People living in nearby hut presented us with a bowl of delicious tomatoes. Terribly windy. We seek sheltered kipping ground in dunes.

Wednesday 19th
Wood difficult to get, tried at cafe which had provided some before, but they found it rather a joke this time! Arrived back at fire to find eggy bread being cooked by a Greek girl (editor’s comment Who was she!)

Friday 21st
Arrived Piraeus c.7am after good night’s kip on the boat. Took tube to Omonia Square, then walked to Mrs Nathan’s near Constitution Square. Went up on Acropolis again and took lots of scopes. Had lunch in Taverna, then rest on Mrs Nathan’s roof. Had a shower – much needed. Took a trolley bus to museum, looked around ‘till nearly 6pm. (Wonderful gold cups.) Trolley bus back to Constitution Square, bought food for supper and ate it on roof. American girl told us that Beethoven’s 9th Symphony going to be performed in Theatre of Herodes. Tried to get seats but only 150 drachma seats left. Sat on Acropolis (the rock is very hard) for one and a half hours listening to the Symphony. Managed to get a view of Theatre at the end which superb. King Constantine and fiancèe present. went to taverna for eats and retsina – Greek music – back to Mrs Nathan’s c.12.30pm. Remarkable coincidence – one Keble man had just finished, another was due to start in October and we were current students, all at the same college on the same roof in Athens.

Saturday 22nd
Off to Stadium. King arrived and waved as each block clapped him in turn, then terrific parade – massed bands followed by sports clubs of Athens, rowers with oars, sailors with boat, boxers with gloves on, etc., then numerous flags, finally black out and lone runner entered with blazing torch. He handed it to the King who lit a plinth, then Greek dancing. Tremendous spectacle.

Monday 24th
Arrived at Itea c.10.45am. All got lifts, David and I together, dropped at crossroads. After c.half an hour, got hair-raising lift in cart and motorbike. Great fun. (Very hand on backside at times.) Reached Delphi c.12.25. Superb view over towards Itea. Looked over site during which we met Vic. Had dinner at same place as lunch. Went to look for kipping place and met lively bunch of Englishmen and one Australian.

Tuesday 25th
Arose 6.05am. Washed in fountain near Kastalia. Breakfast of yoghurt and honey, etc. Went back to take more scopes of Delphi, then out on to the road. In Patras waited for Angellica which arrived c.1am, slept on deck.

Wednesday 26th
Woke c.10am and found boat in Ithaca Harbour which very beautiful. Spent day sunbathing. Sea a gorgeous blue. Arrived at Corfu 3.30pm. Went to nearby place for bathe. Kipped behind planks of wood on dockside.

Thursday 27th
Boat left Corfu 9.30am, another day of sunbathing, arrived Brindisi 4.15pm.

What a fantastic holiday!

Me and my Dad by Sylvia

Me and my Dad
Sylvia Rice-Oxley (Nee Iceton) born 1948

In those days, in the 50s and early 60s, we lived on the A66 half way between Scotch Corner and Brough, on a big corner where there was many and accident. I remember a butter lorry coming off the road and we had half a barrel of butter which lasted for ages! Dad had helped at the accident.

About a mile up the road was Rokeby Church, not far from Barnard Castle. My older brother and I and later on, our younger sister, walked from home to Sunday School in the Church, led by our elderly vicar. I don’t remember much about the Sunday School except for an argument with a friend about who was the oldest! But I do remember a Harvest Festival when I stood next to my Dad in a packed church singing the traditional Harvest hymns. My brother was standing next to the organ pulling the arm which worked the bellows, up and down, up and down throughout the music. Dad had a warm tenor voice and I remember being proud of standing next to him and trying to keep up with the hymns.

One of my earliest memories is at a Christmas Party put on by the community for local children, and there seemed to be lots of them, mainly offspring of farmers and farmhands. I was maybe three or four years old and sitting with my mam in the big school room. Dad had gone to school there as a boy. I don’t remember the tea or the games, but at subsequent parties we played spin the plate when one child spun the plate and called out a name. Then that child had to run to catch the plate before it fell. Another game at Harvesttime was catching apples in the mouth hanging from a long line and seeing which child could catch theirs first. Sometimes the apples would be put in a bucket of water and each child tried to catch one in their mouth, hand behind their backs.

Sitting next to my mother in the old School Room there was suddenly the loud sound of the old school bell being rung and the door in the corner being opened. A large figure dressed in a red suit with a black belt, a bushy white beard and a sack over his back appeared. He proceeded to ring the bell loudly and walked to the other side of the Hall. Childrens’ names were called out and each child went and received a gift from the figure. When my name was called I wouldn’t go because I was scared. My mother kept pushing my forward and telling me to go, but I still wouldn’t go. then she pulled me to her and said” Go on. It’s only your dad dressed up! I wasn’t sure I believed her but gingerly crept towards the figure in red sitting down with his bag open and full of presents. He smiled and me and I looked and looked. I took the present and ran back to mam, still not sure as to the identity of this strange figure.

Me and my Dad
by Sylvia Rice-Oxley
In those days, in the 50s and early 60s, we lived on the A66 half way between Scotch Corner and Brough, on a big corner where there was many and accident. I remember a butter lorry coming off the road and we had half a barrel of butter which lasted for ages! Dad had helped at the accident.

About a mile up the road was Rokeby Church, not far from Barnard Castle. My older brother and I and later on, our younger sister, walked from home to Sunday School in the Church, led by our elderly vicar. I don’t remember much about the Sunday School except for an argument with a friend about who was the oldest! But I do remember a Harvest Festival when I stood next to my Dad in a packed church singing the traditional Harvest hymns. My brother was standing next to the organ pulling the arm which worked the bellows, up and down, up and down throughout the music. Dad had a warm tenor voice and I remember being proud of standing next to him and trying to keep up with the hymns.

One of my earliest memories is at a Christmas Party put on by the community for local children, and there seemed to be lots of them, mainly offspring of farmers and farmhands. I was maybe three or four years old and sitting with my mam in the big school room. Dad had gone to school there as a boy. I don’t remember the tea or the games, but at subsequent parties we played spin the plate when one child spun the plate and called out a name. Then that child had to run to catch the plate before it fell. Another game at Harvesttime was catching apples in the mouth hanging from a long line and seeing which child could catch theirs first. Sometimes the apples would be put in a bucket of water and each child tried to catch a bobbing apple in their mouth, hands behind their backs.

Sitting next to my mother in the old School Room there was suddenly the loud sound of the old school handbell being rung and the door in the corner being opened. A large figure dressed in a red suit with a black belt, a bushy white beard and a sack over his back appeared. He proceeded to ring the bell loudly and walked to the other side of the Hall. Childrens’ names were called out and each child went and received a gift from the figure. When my name was called I wouldn’t go because I was scared. My mother kept pushing me forward and telling me to go, but I still wouldn’t go. then she pulled me to her and said” Go on. It’s only your dad dressed up! I wasn’t sure I believed her but gingerly crept towards the figure in red, sitting down with his bag open full of presents. He smiled at me and I looked and looked. I took the present and ran back to mam, still not sure as to the identity of this strange figure.

Roots and Shoots

Roots and Shoots
Revd Richard Rice-Oxley
April 2016

Let us begin with a tree. A tree needs roots, roots that go deep enough to feed the tree with nutrients, and to enable it to stand in the face of a storm. But it also needs shoots, first of all branches that spread and grow, and then leaves, blossom and fruit, that tell us what sort of tree it is, and express its life and beauty. The tree is a parable of the human life. We need roots that receive nourishment for our minds and spirits, roots that will keep us inwardly secure when life’s trials batter us. These roots grow through receiving love and affirmation, support and care. Where this is lacking, our inner being can wither and die. For the Christian, the greatest affirmation, and so the greatest support for our human roots, is to know ourselves loved by God. But we also need the shoots. Life is not just about stability through receiving. It is also about adventure, and new life, about reaching out and going on, about showing to others the fruit of our rootedness. Again, for the Christian, the shoots symbolise the call to venture out, to experiment, to do good, to offer love, and show how a rooted personality can spread sunshine and hope in a dark world.

Esther de Waal expresses well the importance of these two life dimensions If I stand still without moving on I am in danger of becoming static, of failing to grow, possibly even of fossilizing. If I journey on without remaining still in my innermost being I am in danger of becoming a wanderer, someone who is endlessly searching. (Living with Contradiction pages 62-3.)

In the Gospels, roots and shoots are expressed primarily by two words – abide and follow. In John’s Gospel and letters, the word abide is commonly used to express the rootedness which comes from belonging to Christ. In John 15, the writer uses the image of a plant, the vine, the express the vital importance of being rooted in Christ. And he links this with the shoots. It is only as we are rooted and abide in him that the branches will bear fruit (verses 4-5).

In the Synoptic Gospels there is more emphasis on movement and growth. This is often expressed by the words of Jesus Follow me. The call of the first disciples, Andrew, Peter, James and John, was a challenge to a radical change of life, an invitation to adventure, an opportunity for the shoots to spread, blossom and grow. The early disciples set out on a journey to an unknown destination, a roller-coaster ride of great highs, with miracles and amazing teaching, and lows of rejection by the religious authorities. The shoots of their discipleship were given an opportunity to grow when Jesus sent them out to act as they had seen him acting – preaching, teaching, and casting out demons. These shoots flourished with greater scope and confidence after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as recorded in the book of Acts.

This same model of roots and shoots can be applied more widely. Churches need to embrace it. We need our churches to be firmly rooted – secure and confident in biblical doctrine and practice, valuing prayer, eucharistic worship, and the wisdom of past generations. But these same churches need also to develop shoots, growing, developing and experimenting, open to new forms of group life, following Christ’s lead into new areas of ministry and mission. The Fresh Expressions movement has tapped into this vision. But my contention is that every church, while maintaining its rootedness and stability should be seeking its own expression of ministry and mission, in order to be faithful to a Christ who constantly says Follow me. Esther de Waal’s warning about the individual could apply equally to churches. A church whose sole emphasis is on stability, the importance of orthodoxy and of doing things the way they have always been done, is in danger of fossilizing. The church which spends its whole time striving to be up-to-date, and where no one has a clue what is coming next, can feel confusing and lacking in direction and purpose.

A church’s liturgy needs the same double dynamic. As Anglicans we have a rich heritage in the Book of Common Prayer. Its sense of the sovereignty and majesty of God is expressed in language which points clearly to the rootedness of our life in Christ. Modern liturgies, with their greater variety of both thought and expression enable the Church to also express the shoots – new and varied approaches to the Eucharist, a Service of the Word, and the Occasional Offices. It is not a case of either or, but both and. While most churches, rightly in my view, major on the modern, it is good to have on occasion the rootedness, the solemnity and tradition, which the Book of Common Prayer provides.

Church music, too, needs both roots and shoots. Time was when the English Hymnal or Hymns Ancient and Modern ( Ancient and Moribund as it was sometimes disrespectfully called) were the only hymn books open to the adult Anglican worshipper. Of course, these collections contained a great variety, translations of ancient texts, the great George Herbert, Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley, to name but a few composers. But they all took a traditional metric form. Then in the 1960s came Sydney Carter. He was followed by an outpouring of new worship songs, many associated with charismatic renewal. The shoots have continued to flourish with a vast amount of choice on offer. The chants of Taize, the new words set to Scottish folk tunes by John Bell and Graham Maule of the Iona Community and the World Praise Collections assembled from the Worldwide Church, have all enriched the worship of God’s people. However, we should never think that any of this new music can replace the traditional hymn, or indeed Cathedral chant, psalm and hymnody, which increasing numbers of people are coming to appreciate.

Finally,there is the church building. Most Anglican churches except the very modern, proclaim their very rootedness by their construction. They are built of solid stone or brick. Many have towers, which seem to say We serve a God who is dependable and stands the test of time. The truths we proclaim are permanent. Though society may change, our God is unchanging. Once inside, the visitor finds solid pillars and fixed pews. The font is fixed at the back of church and the pulpit and the altar at the front. Rootedness is well served by such a building. But if it is to be faithful to the Christ who commands to his disciples both to abide and to follow, the building should reflect our double dynamic. In general, there is not a lot that can be done about the structure – unless it succumbs to fire, as happened to Eastwood Church where I served my curacy. But maybe it is time to join some churches in a radical rethink of the interior. If the structure is stressing roots, maybe the interior should major on shoots. So perhaps most if not all of the fixed pews could be removed. Different parts of the church could be opened up to the community – for play groups, youth, mid-week cafe, etc. A few rural churches double as the local Post Office! The worship area, in addition to lectern, pulpit and altar could embrace colour (banners), movement (liturgical dance and drama), and a mixture of music. Whatever is done should be an attempt to express a dynamic, adventurous, outward-looking God, served by a dynamic, adventurous and outward-looking people.

To sum up: I believe the image of a trees roots and shoots provides a helpful model of flourishing. Individuals, churches, liturgy, music and church buildings all need this double dynamic which is presented to us in the biblical challenge to abide in and to follow Christ. The summons is the title of an Iona hymns by John Bell and Graham Maule. Throughout there is a fusion of abiding and following. Here is the last verse:
Lord your summons echoes true
when you but call my name.
Let me turn and follow you
and never be the same.
In your company I’ll go
where your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grow
in you, and you in me.

This essay has been developed from an original idea by Barack Obama.

Atheism or Christian faith

Atheism or Christian faith

by Richard Rice-Oxley

Which is more likely?

1. EITHER the material universe created itself out of nothing
OR the universe was created by God, an uncreated, non-material and eternal being.

2. EITHER in a purely material world, good and evil are not absolutes but judged to be one or the other by human beings
OR good and evil are distinct and real, light and darkness, and human good and evil are likewise moral realities independent of human judgment.

3. EITHER the theory of evolution is a sufficient explanation of human life as we know it
OR the theory of evolution needs to be set within a wider perspective, that of God’s creation. In particular the reality of disinterested human love, or altruism, can be explained as a reflection of the nature of a living God.

4. EITHER we cannot be sure of the intrinsic value of each human being – their value is dependent upon human judgment
OR every human being is made in the image of God, and therefore has intrinsic value.

5. EITHER belief in rational thought is a matter of faith, since reason is not necessarily the result of a self-generating universe
OR belief in rational thought flows from belief in a Creator who has created reason as part of his creation plan.

6. EITHER belief in the supernatural, including the practice of prayer to a deity or deities, which seems to be universal to all human cultures is a fantasy and animals who apparently show no such awareness are therefore nearer the truth than humans
OR the universal practice of prayer by human beings corresponds to a reality. There is a God and human beings are responding to One who exists.

7. EITHER the vast output of magnificent art, architecture and music, which has been inspired by religious belief, is based on a fantasy, since there is no reality to warrant it
OR these magnificent works are truly inspired. God has given the gifts which has enabled them and each displays something of his nature.

8. EITHER Jesus Christ, whose moral teaching is widely regarded as among the most profound and challenging the world has ever received, was deluded in his belief (a) that he was the Son of God, (b) that his death on the cross would reconcile us to God and (c) that he would be raised to life on the third day after his death
OR Jesus Christ’s teaching flowed naturally from his identity as Son of God, Saviour of the world, and the conqueror of both sin and death through his resurrection.

9. EITHER the first Christians were deluded in their belief that (a) Jesus Christ had risen from the dead (b) that the miracles they performed were done in his name (c) that the lives they saw changed were changed by God
OR the Jesus revolution was real!

10. EITHER there is no God, or God is a monster who doesn’t care for his suffering children
OR there is a loving a compassionate God revealed to us by Jesus Christ. This God showed his compassion when he allowed his Son to be assaulted by the dark forces of evil on the cross. He feels the pain of every sufferer, and prompts the action of those who relieve that pain. Christ’s resurrection shows us that evil will finally be defeated and all shall be well one day.
Which is preferable?

11. EITHER there is no life beyond this life: we are on the road to nowhere
OR this life is a preparation for the life to come.

12. EITHER there is no ultimate redress for the abused and no ultimate judgment for the abuser and wrongs that are not righted in this life remain beyond the hope of change
OR beyond this life there is judgment by an absolutely just God and every human being must given an account of their life to God. Innocent sufferers in this world can be welcomed into a place of bliss in the life to come.

The story behind The Jesus Story

I began writing songs in the early 1970s, soon after I was ordained as a Church of England minister, as an expression of my faith.

My first appointment was to be curate in Eastwood parish.  This was a spiritually uplifting time, and in the spring and summer of 1972 I was inspired by God to write a number of songs.  One of them was The Sea of Galilee. I found myself playing on my guitar two chords, and was fascinated with them. As I played them over and over again, they suggested the sea.  Composing a song about Jesus’s Stilling of the Storm just followed on naturally.  This photo of The Sea of Galilee was taken by Sylvia as part of  her pre-ordination  training in 2008.

Galilee boat

In 1973, I became Youth Adviser for The Church Missionary Society (now The Church Mission Society) and was based at the Headquarters in Waterloo Road, London. The setting of The Beatitudes was composed during a group trip to Taize, a monastic community in the south of France which attracts young people from all over the world.  The community emphasises both social action and personal holiness, a combination we find in these words of Jesus.  Originally set to the New English Bible version, the current translation is now largely my own attempt to convey the meaning of the original.

Dayspring was written in 1977 for a song competition connected with a big youth event at St David’s in Wales.  I didn’t win, but the song has remained a favourite, and has often been sung in parishes I have served.

sunset gallilee

Whilst we were at the Church of St Matthew and St Luke, Darlington, I recorded all the songs I had written up to that point with the help of Simeon Hope. Some of the songs were sung in aid of a Charity. In 2008, the songs were kindly transferred from cassette to CD by Antoine Robinson.

The idea of collecting together songs I had written about the Life of Jesus came towards the end of 2010. Soon afterwards I had a dream in which someone was singing a pop song. When I woke up, I got my guitar and played the tune I had heard in my dream. I changed the words to Hosanna, as I needed a song to cover Palm Sunday!

In March 2011, I joined forces with the kids from the local Primary School in Aldbrough, East Yorkshire, one of the parishes where Sylvia was serving as minister. I was retired by this time, but helping in the Benefice. We made a CD, recorded in Aldbrough Church, which had 18 songs from The Jesus Story. The whole musical contains 24 songs, of which 18 were chosen to be sung at the performances in Corby Glen and Swayfield, Lincolnshire in 2015.

At the end of 2011, I composed Here is Love for Christmas which was sung by the Choir of the Aldbrough Benefice Churches. This is perhaps my favourite of all the songs. In 2012 I set about filling in the gaps in the narrative and wrote some new songs, for example the Healing of the Ten Men and Peter’s Denial.

I compose to the guitar and do not write down music.  I was helped in this by Julian Watson who kindly transcribed the musical between August 2012 and April 2013.  For a year I tried hard to get The Jesus Story published or performed, helped by Sylvia.   But despite a lot of effort (and prayer!) nothing happened.  Then in the summer of 2014 Sue Glover and Janet Roberts agreed to take on the project.  They did all the choral arrangements between them and produced the score.  They also recruited the choir and band members from the local area.   We had generous financial support from my friend Vic Wood who had been encouraging us during the difficult period.

The musical, which includes a linking narration, received its first performances on Friday April 17th in Swayfield Village Hall and Sunday April 19th in Corby Glen Church Street Rooms under the direction of Janet Roberts. Sue Glover produced all the publicity. The performances were received with great enthusiasm, scrumptious refreshments enjoyed, and we thank God.

Classical Notes

Richard’s Classical Notes

I like music – lots of different kinds of music – including pop, jazz, folk, musicals and even the occasional little old country and western song. I also love Church music, hymns and choruses which I have lived with and enjoyed most of my life, but apart from this it is classical music which has enriched my life most. Classical music, or incidents connected with it, have also given me some of my most inspiring and amusing moments. So, here are my classical notes!


I begin with an experience in the home I grew up in, No.9 Blyth Grove, Worksop. My Dad was a great classical music fan, and he amassed a good collection of LPs of the greats, Beethoven, Mozart and Brahms. He would listen to his records, mainly in the sitting room, but he had a speaker put into the dining room so that records playing on his precious ‘black box’ record player could be relayed through. One of his records was of the Brahms Violin Concerto. At first I couldn’t get to grips with it. The violin part sounded like a cacophony of discordant scratching. But because I was often in the dining room when dad was playing his records, I heard it several times. Suddenly, one day something happened – the discordant scratching became to me a beautiful melody. What a revelation! It showed me that beautiful music does not always reveal its delights at once. It is a lesson I have never forgotten.


My love of music was fostered at my senior school, Worksop College. I joined the Chapel Choir and enjoyed much classical Church music especially singing part of Haydn’s Creation and How Lovely are Thy Dwellings from Brahms’ German Requiem. At the age of 15 I was cast as Little Buttercup in Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore. The reason was that before my voice broke, I was threatening to leave the Choir and was persuaded to stay on as an alto, since they had fewer practices. The result was that as my voice got lower I retained my top voice and gradually acquired a mellow tone, just right for the part of Buttercup. Unfortunately my physique was all wrong. At one point in the operetta Buttercup is described as a ‘plump and pleasing person’. Despite wearing a corset with lots of padding I was still nearly 6ft tall and as skinny as a rake!

I had also started having violin lessons with a private teacher. This enabled me to play in the School Orchestra, a position for which I was actually not well fitted. The chief music teacher, Mr Martin, once made a joke at my expense outside the music school, hailing me with the words ‘Hoy Yehudi’. This was an ironic reference to Yehudi Menuhin, the outstanding violin virtuoso of the 1950s. I remember sitting in the orchestra behind Mr Thoday, the Biology teacher. He was an excellent violin player. On one occasion I managed to hear a pleasant sound by moving my bow up and down soundlessly while listening to the sweet notes of Mr Thoday’s violin in front of me. My practising the violin at home drove my two younger brothers to distraction. Eventually they forced a showdown – my violin against Elvis Presley’s ‘Hound Dog’ played on the record player at full volume. After a while it became clear it was no contest – my violin playing was much more raucous and ear splitting that Elvis. My brothers had to concede defeat!

It was at school that I had another special musical experience. The music school had a number of small rooms, which could be used for individual lessons, or for listening to music on a record player. On one occasion I was listening on my own to Bruch’s Violin Concerto, a beautiful romantic piece. There is one phrase, never repeated, whose beauty completely captivated me. It was a magical moment I have never forgotten.

Mr Martin used to take us for musical appreciation classes. One piece I remember him talking about was the Romeo and Juliet Overture by Tchaikovsky. He explained how the composer had chosen his melodies to express the different elements of Shakespeare’s tragedy – for instance, the bitter disputes between the Montague and Capulet families, the poignant love of Romeo and Juliet, a lovely flowing melody, the appearance of the dignified friar, and what he called pot boiling music to link the various sections together. Mr Martin was opening up another area of classical music, in which music is used to illuminate human drama. I have always enjoyed listening to this piece ever since.


Monday was C.C.F. (Combined Cadet Force) day. I didn’t enjoy it. But the holiday trips were a different matter. One year we travelled to France for what was called arduous training, mostly hiking in the foothills of the Alps. On the way home we stayed in Paris. A friend suggested we should go to an opera at the Paris Opera House. I think we must have heard Verdi’s Rigoletto, because I can vaguely remember my Dad indicating he had had rather too much opera after I played the record of Rigoletto constantly on my return home! We were dressed in our army kit, and perhaps didn’t smell too good after a week’s hiking in the hills. It was touch and go whether we would be allowed in. Eventually the manager took pity on us and speaking to the lift attendant, who was to escort us up to the fifth floor, pointed at us and said par excéption, indicating that the Paris Opera House had never before entertained such scruffy patrons! It was boiling hot up there, and one of us took off a jumper and the other his shoes. I recall hearing a member of the audience nearby referring disparagingly to les américains! We didn’t put him right about our nationality!


It was about this time that I started to buy records. I bought the recording of Zara Nelsova playing Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, largely on the strength of hearing his Ninth Symphony. This Concerto has remained a firm favourite ever since, and my CD of Rostropovich’s performance still gets a regular outing. It is a wonderful piece of music! I also enjoyed Bach’s Double Violin Concerto, played by David and Igor Oistrakh, and Brahms’ Second Piano Concerto which provided a tuneful background for my pre-university studies.


At Oxford my violin playing was not much in evidence, although for a while I was a member of the Holywell Orchestra. The great attraction of this Orchestra was that no audition was required. If I had had to attend one it is unlikely I would have been allowed to play more than a couple of bars before receiving ignominious rejection. The only thing I remember about playing in the Orchestra is that, when sitting at twelfth desk of the second violins in a run through of Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony, I managed about twelve notes as the final allegro rattled through!

My violin did provide a couple of amusing incidents. One day I was cycling along with it under my arm, when my bike missed a stroke and deposited both my violin and me in the road. As people came up to see how I was, for once in my life I managed the perfect bon mot: Don’t mind me, what about the violin? On another occasion I was hitching home carrying my violin. I was picked up by a lorry whose driver found great amusement from confessing some unspecified fraud You’re on the fiddle – I’m on the fiddle. Ho Ho.

Two of my friends, David and Vic, were both musical. They used to play duets, mainly Mozart as I remember, on David’s piano. That piano provided another amusing episode. Vic hid a block of cheese in it, unknown to David, and it gradually got riper and riper. Poor David was driven to distraction. He just couldn’t work out where the smell was coming from. He found it eventually and got his own back by hiding it in Vic’s room.

In 1964, the three of us went on a wonderful holiday to Greece. In Athens we heard about a performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, which was due to be put on in an open air theatre in the city. The tickets were far too expensive for us students, so we sat on the bare rock of the Acropolis for one and a half hours. At least we could hear this glorious music even if we couldn’t see much. Apparently, King Constantine and his fiancée were among the audience.

In the car

Many years later, I was listening to the last (choral) movement of this Symphony and was so moved that I found myself filling up and had to stop the car as I couldn’t see to drive! It is amazing to think that this immensely uplifting and inspiring music was written by a man so deaf that he had to be turned round to see the applause of those attending its first performance.

Another experience of listening to music in the car is rather less serious. It goes back to the time when there were still petrol pump attendants who filled your tank for you, probably in the 1970s. I was listening to Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, the most exciting moment for me is when the composer brings back the majestic opening theme at the end of the First Movement. This point in the Symphony came just as I was pulling up at a filling station. Leaping from the car, I greeted the attendant who was approaching me with his hose with the words Listen to this – it’s one of the most exciting moments in music. History does not record whether he became a Schubert fan from that time on but I can’t say I am convinced of it!


On leaving Oxford, I went to Tanzania as a volunteer teacher at Chidya Boys’ School. Classical music was not particularly in evidence although I could pick up the lunch time concert from South Africa on my radio. The dining hall had a few records including some of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. My most powerful memory is of a time when I was staying at Ndanda, a Roman Catholic Boys’ School about 30 miles from Chidya. I was there to mark exam papers, a tedious business at the best of times and extremely tiring in the heat. It was towards evening and suddenly I heard a familiar sound wafted on the still tropical air. I left my exam papers and followed the sound to a hall where boys were watching a film. I have no idea what the film was about, but the sound track was belting out the most magnificent notes of Brahms’ Second Symphony – a wonderful tonic to a weary exam marker.

Back home

There are several musical occasions whose dates I can’t remember, but I think they must have been in the 1960s or early 1970s. One evening I attended a concert with my Dad at my old school Worksop College. It took place in the Chapel in which I had sung so often. The work was Haydn’s Nelson Mass, a setting which had I believe been recently rediscovered after years of neglect. The opening kyrie is a powerful piece with a soaring soprano solo. My Dad and I were quite blown away by the impact.

Dad’s parents, my Granny and Grandpa, lived in Ipswich and we often went there on holiday. One day we went to a performance of Handel’s Messiah in my Grandparents’ Church. All went well until we came to The trumpet shall sound, which features a solo bass and a solo trumpet. The trumpet was being played by a young lad who was clearly very nervous. His rendition was all over the place. The bass was an older man and he manfully kept his part going despite the distraction of the wayward trumpet. I am afraid to say that we found it rather amusing.

Many years later, I sang in a do-it-yourself performance of the Messiah at St Nicholas Hornsea where I was vicar. You practise the piece in the afternoon and perform it in the evening. I had sung tenor back in the 1970s and so took on the tenor part. Unfortunately I hadn’t kept up regular singing of the tenor high notes and so, carried away by the music, I sang far too loudly and seriously strained my voice. I am a bit more careful of it now.

The Bach Choir

When working in London in the 1970s I was privileged to sing in the Bach Choir under the direction of (now Sir) David Willcocks. Attending an audition with Mr Willcocks, I was asked whether I was tenor or bass. When I confessed that I was uncertain, he asked me to sing a few notes and immediately declared me to be a tenor. Most choirs have more difficulty in getting tenors than basses and probably that’s the reason I got in! The Choir provided many memorable moments, and it was wonderful to sing Bach’s St Matthew Passion in the Festival Hall and Family Carols in the Albert Hall. One of these last occasions was televised, and I found I was the odd man out – the only one to bob their head from side to side to the music! Sylvia tells me that she was able to point me out to her parents as the one moving his head. I was pleased that my Mum and Sylvia came to see one of these performances. The quality of the Choir was amazing, and I was just carried along by some superb singers. There was a chap in the tenors called Freddy Steyn. I just made sure I stood next to Freddy and followed his lead and I had no fear of going wrong!

One thing that David Willcocks was a stickler for was intonation. I remember one occasion when he suddenly stopped the practice with the words There is a soprano singing flat. Out of about 40 sopranos there was just one who was out of tune and he could hear her! If he had worked out who she was, I am afraid she would almost certainly have got the order of the boot.

I used to tag along with a group who went for a meal after the practice. I was usually very much on the edge of the conversation, but one evening I got a word in. One of the ladies suddenly said I feel a wreck. To which I replied Never mind Dorothy, remember that wrecks sometimes contain treasure! Another time in the summer I was invited to a picnic. I think it was in one of the group’s garden. For some reason, I took my specs off and one of the girls managed almost a compliment. You know, Richard, without your specs on you’re really quite good looking. Note to the reader, my wife thinks I am quite good looking even with my specs on. Incidentally, I came a bit of a cropper about this time when courting Sylvia. We were attending a concert together, and wishing to impress, I confidently told her what to expect for the first piece. When it started, I had to whisper Sorry I got that one wrong. For the second piece, I did the same, and was wrong again. They say that pride comes before a fall, and after the third time of getting it wrong, I suppose I gave up!

Although the Bach Choir sang sacred music nearly all the time, I remember only one occasion when I had what I would call a spiritual experience. The Choir used to practise on Monday evenings in Westminster Cathedral Hall. One evening we were practising the Sanctus from Bach’s B Minor Mass. Suddenly I felt as if I was being lifted up to the ceiling, almost an anticipation of being lifted towards heaven. It happened just once and never in a performance, but it is something I won’t forget. I believe that Bach’s music is a powerful argument in support of the existence of God. Bach wrote that music should be for the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul. And it isn’t just his sacred music. There is for instance the majesty of his organ music, the tender tunefulness of the Air on a G string, and the exuberance of his violin concertos which I find a real tonic. Michael Ball, the former Bishop of Jarrow not the singer, once declared They’ll only play Bach in heaven. This was an exaggeration, no doubt, but you can see where he is coming from.


Another moving occasion, during my time of living in London, was attending a performance of Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius which tells the story of a man’s journey through death to Purgatory (Elgar was a Roman Catholic). This followed shortly after the death of Charles Tett, a stirling worker for the Church Mission Society, the mission society I was working for at the time. I just seemed to identify Charles with the subject of the Oratorio and that made it particularly moving.

Chamber Music

Classical music provides such a variety of sounds – from the majestic splendour of a full orchestra playing symphonies or concertos to the intimacy of chamber music or a piano or violin playing a sonata. Some of my favourite music is small scale. Both Mozart and Brahms have given us clarinet quintets of melting tenderness, Schubert’s C Major String Quintet has a sublime slow movement. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata never fails to bring me pleasure.

In fact it was a small scale piece that gave me a magical moment quite recently. Not all of the musical occasions I have attended with Sylvia have been a great success. We went to a concert in a large church and were confronted with a double orchestra. The fire power of the brass section in Wagner’s Overture to the Meistersingers left us almost literally blown away! But we had a much more pleasant experience when attending a concert given by a piano trio (piano, violin and cello) at Wassand Hall. Wassand Hall is owned by Rupert and Catherine Russell who attend Goxhill Church, where Sylvia was in-charge. We went to several concerts there and enjoyed them all. On our final visit the group played the Second Piano Trio by Mendelssohn. One movement in particular gave me that wonderful magical feeling that comes all too rarely even when listening to great music.


Since coming to live in Swinstead, most of my listening to classical music is when I am washing up or ironing. I have lots of variety since my own purchases have been supplemented by CDs from my dear Dad’s collection and also quite a few given to me as presents by my brothers Patrick and Andrew.

When we visit Kathleen she sometimes plays the piano for us. Over the last few years we have enjoyed pieces by Beethoven, Debussy, Tchaikovsky and Schubert. I have joined Stamford Choral, a local Choir, and sing first bass. Last April we sang music by Dvorak and Elgar in Peterborough Cathedral. Sylvia, Kathleen, Neil and David sat in the front row of the audience and were most appreciative of the performance. Recently we sang in a presentation to commemorate the Centenary of the start of World War I on August 4th, 1914. Having missed the final practice, owing to a slight bump with the car, I was pleased to manage the event itself. The Choir sang Elgar’s setting of Lawrence Binyon’s poem entitled For the Fallen. This includes the familiar words They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old… Despite being rather crammed together, under an awning on Stamford’s Broad Street, the Choir performed admirably, and I think our rendition was much appreciated.

This year we are due to perform Mendelssohn’s Elijah with the Leamington Bach Choir. It is a lovely work and I am looking forward very much to singing it with the Choir in Peterborough Cathedral.

And finally … an article in the Daily Telegraph last year headed Bach appears to egg them on reported that according to findings by the University of Bristol hens entered their nest boxes l59% more frequently when music was playing in them (no paltry increase)! Also the hens clearly preferred Beethoven and Bach to pop band One Direction. It’s good to know that our feathered friends, like me, enjoy their classical notes.

Richard Rice-Oxley
March 2015

The Jesus Story

The Jesus Story is a musical journey, written by the Rev. Richard Rice-Oxley, through the birth, life ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The choral arrangements have been made by Sue Glover and Janet Roberts.

The 24 original songs are all based on the New Testament, are in different styles, and take a varied approach. Some are a straight retelling of the Biblical narrative; others offer an insight into the meaning of key events, such as Christmas, Good Friday and Easter Day.

The songs are suitable for soloist, duet and chorus (choir and congregation or audience).

Richard hopes that his musical may be widely used by churches and schools.

The Jesus Story – summary of the songs

  1. Dayspring (Based on Zechariah’s prophecy of the coming of Jesus)
  2. Come and worship (Christmas)
  3. See his light (Christmas)
  4. Sleep tight (Christmas)
  5. Here is love (Christmas)
  6. The Baptism (Jesus is baptised by John the Baptist)
  7. What sort of Saviour? (Temptation in the wilderness)
  8. The Beatitudes (Jesus’ teaching)
  9. The Prodigal Son (Jesus’ teaching)
  10. The Sea of Galilee (Miracles of Jesus)
  11. The healing of the ten men (Miracles of Jesus)
  12. Come to me (Words of comfort)
  13. Hosanna (Palm Sunday)
  14. The Last Supper (Institution of Holy Communion)
  15. Peace (Words at the Last Supper)
  16. The moon shines (Gethsemane)
  17. Peter’s denial
  18. Lord, what have they done? (Good Friday)
  19. Blood on his hands (Good Friday)
  20. God has spoken (Easter Day)
  21. Hallelujah (Easter Day)
  22. Face to face (The ascended Christ)
  23. We see Christ (Summary)
  24. Follow, follow (The call to mission)

A selection of eighteen of the songs have been performed by a local choir formed from various churches in South Lincolnshire, under the leadership of Janet Roberts. Recordings made at one of the performances, together with narrative text, are available on this website: Listen to The Jesus Story.

Vocal scores with three-part harmony musical arrangements for the songs are available as pdf downloads from this website: Perform The Jesus Story.