Memories from author Bernard Ashley

We were so pleased to receive the following from author Bernard Ashley.

I went to Wesley Hall as a boy in the war and after. With my father Alfred, my mother Vera, and my younger brother Michael we normally went to the Sunday evening services. The church had a circuit minister but we didn’t see him too often; in any case, our favourite minister was the lay preacher Jim Priest. He had great warmth and a good sense of humour. If he’d ever preached hell and damnation he’d have had a twinkle in his eye saying ‘Not really.’ I remeber one Christmas morning service when we talked to Mr Priest before it began about our Christmas presents – and I was wearing one of mine, a yellow short-sleeved pullover. I was so proud when it was mentioned in the prayers of thanks.

The organ was played by Miss Rush, an elderly woman hunched over the keyboard and pedalling away. At some services a young man called Ernest Pocknell played his violin. I belonged to the cubs, and Ernie’s fiancée Barbara was Baloo, assistant to Akela.

Ernie was called up into Bomber Command, and he didn’t return from a raid over Germany. We all hoped he’s been taken prisoner-of-war, but sadly, he’d been killed. I had started to learn the violin on a borrowed instrument, and after a while I was asked if I would like to have Ernie’s. I gratefully accepted, and from time to time played a few scratchy notes at services, but I wasn’t nearly as good as Ernie had been. I kept a violin for years, and eventually gave it to Eaglesfield School for a boy to learn on there.

Having visited our house for tea one Sunday – and noting how brother Michael and I got on together – Ernie wrote in my autograph book, ‘Little birds in their nests should agree,’ He was a dear, gently, man. I would love to know how Barbara fared later.

I went through cubs and scouts – the regular meetings, district competitions, the two-week camps (real camping) and the camp fire nights in Wesley Hall, sitting round a false fire of sticks, crinkly red paper and a light bulb. The highlights of these were the camp fire ‘items’ – recitations, songs, and sketches. from time to time – I’m not sure it is was annually – we performed a Gang Show on the rigged-up stage in the hall. My love of theatre stemmed partly from performing in these.

Wesley Hall and my family gave me a very happy childhood, despite the war. When my father changed his occupation in my early teens we moved to the Medway towns where I tried to pick things up. But it wasn’t the same. There was no skipper like Stan.

I feel so grateful for the spirit and the friendship I had as a child in the Wesley Hall community – and I pay tribute to the people who carry on that precious tradition.

Bernard Ashley


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