To most boys coming from my background, religion was a means to an end rather than an end in itself. It was an entrée into the Scouting Movement, which, was church affiliated, offered bun fights and picnics’ in lieu of TV On cold wet winter evenings, apart from the Cubs and Scouts, there was the CCC, Children’s Christian Circle. Held in a barren church hall with rows and rows of hard chairs, we sat to be entertained by missionaries, back from all corners of the world, with lantern slides of people in strange lands with even stranger habits, such as having wooden plates in their lower lips or fingernails which seemed to go on for ever and clearly made life a plague. If we were enticed beyond the attraction of the eccentric, it could only have been by something cheap and innocuous like a glass of orange squash at half-time, Missionary Societies were hard up. Our church had had a change of vicar, the new one hailed from Ireland, that place off Wales where music hall artists came from.
The night which changed my religious outlook was totally unheralded. It was the usual CCC night, wet, cold and dank, with little heating and the regular crescendo of noise. We were awaiting the arrival of the speaker and the vicar to introduce him. I was cocked up comfortably on the back legs of my chair, my feet on the rails of the one in front, chatting happily,. The new vicar appeared. He looked round, and started to walk down the centre aisle surveying the rabble. I took little notice of him – was just aware of his presence, so did not recognise Nemesis when it arrived. My first intimation was when I disappeared over the back of my chair to hit the floor with a thump. When he had approached, the vicar had asked, “Would you do that at home?” – indicating the feet on the rails and the tipped up chair. Truthful to the point of being, in the eyes of the vicar, impertinent and unrepentant, I had said I would, which was true, at which instant the vicar’s fist struck and struck hard. What followed that evening was a blur but in spite of the combined efforts of my mother, and Miss Batley, my Sunday school teacher, I ended my association with our church. I was sorry. I loved church on Sunday, listening to the bobs, doubles and trebles being rung by the full peal. I was a bugler, drummer and patrol leader in the Scouts, I would miss the fun of it all.. In spite of the ‘turning the other cheek’ bit, Miss Batley was hammering on about, I believed that Christianity’s preaching of ‘love thy neighbour’ should start at source and not be interpreted as a thump in the chest. “Enough already!” It was worse than I had anticipated. By not attending church parades I was then chucked out of the church Troop, I was a pariah – I was unacceptable, by inference unclean! For a while I mooched about on Sundays with my heathen friends, but Mother finally put her foot down and demanded that I must attend church, any church, so I and the heathens inaugurated the Religious Round
The Religious Round It shows the cohesion we had as a group, told to attend; the others decided to accompany me. We would turn up at a meeting, it might have been Sunday School or a church service. At each new venue, the greetings we got were amazing. To find a small group of boys, aged about eleven, turning up on the doorstep, un-coerced, was probably unheard of. We, in turn, found it amazing, that so many sects could preach the same message in so many different ways. On one occasion, we went up some stairs to a scruffy loft, where the chap in charge was an ex-Canadian Mounted Policeman we all knew. He, as usual, was in the Mounty dress uniform, green-khaki trousers with a yellow stripe down the sides of the legs, polished riding boots and a blue jacket with chain-mail epaulettes but for once no wide-brimmed hat – incongruous, to say the least. We always attended for a few weeks, reading and discussing the handouts on our way home. Whether we learned much I cannot say, but I think many of the protracted arguments with Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses on the front doorstep in later life might show that some of the teaching had been absorbed, along with growing scepticism, agnosticism and general apathy, leading to atheism.
We went out of our way to sample all we could; the one we liked best was the Salvation Army. They sat us in the front pew, opposite the roaring brass, and it was fantastic. There was an atmosphere almost akin to hysteria that was infectious. Looking back in retrospect, it was the street corner service transferred indoors. Of all the religious groups I have come in contact with, I believe they are among the most selfless, and their contribution to the lot of the stranded serviceman was invaluable in its intrinsic if not religious sense, and I will always be grateful. Presumably now the cardboard-city dwellers are the recipients of their care as we were during the war.