Chapter 2 War time to Eaton Bray

Created by patrick 13 years ago
I know that my father touched the hearts of very many people – for a period of well over 68 years. why, “over 68 years”? Because... It was 68 years ago – that Peter Graham, a raw recruit to the RAF, met and touched the heart of the 15 year old Sylvia Patteson. His years in the RAF were, thankfully, well after the Battle of Britain, but for Spitfire pilots the war remained an occupation that meant family, and betrothed, lived in constant fear that the most recent sortie might be one of no return. This duly happened in September 1944 but Peter, missing in action, was safe in Stalag Luft 1 In St Sampson's Church York – both clergy fathers must have rejoiced greatly in celebrating a marriage of their second born children - a love that shone out so brightly against the very dark backdrop of the war. My father's career might have been very different, if he had kept his promise to not “become a bloody parson...” The context some might know – his father was a priest, his brother became a priest, his sister married a priest, her father was a priest, her sister married a priest... people expected my siblings and I to be born wearing dog collars. The doctor had advised against any more children – I snuck through the closing gate at a mere 10lbs. Thanks, mum, and sorry for being so big. I came out preaching at Eaton Bray, Dad's first parish as vicar. We children remember the vicarage most fondly, indeed recently we all sang to Peter, and a wider family group, a song dedicated to that apparently idyllic place. In 1955 it was far from idyllic for Sylvia as the new Vicar's wife – a huge unheatable Victorian house that was designed to need at least three servants; ...the duties of a priest's wife, which are very many, a live-in mother who liked to open windows on freezing days, a nearly 3 acre garden with an ice hockey pitch sized lake that was just asking for children to come drown in... and a fourth child on the way Eaton Bray life included many days where Peter sat at the bottom of the back drive collecting cash from the passing villagers to go towards building a new village hall – a project that lit Peter with a passion, the passion of someone who would forever champion the common sense of using the Church, and its buildings, for empowering a wider community. One great aspect of this passion as far as his youngest children were concerned was probably the annual holding of the village fete in our very large, lawned garden. Having the “ball target game” set up gave us the thrill, on the day before, that you might expect as a child coming across a fairground ride with free admission. At the fete my brother Tony once won the “bowling for the pig” contest – I was a bit jealous of him for winning something strange called a pig... but too young to think about a huge supply of sausages. Pleasures were largely outdoor or the train set in the loft... Cricket as a family affair was bucolic splendour, six and out if you belted it into the lake... We remember with mixed feelings the harsh winter of 62/63 – when at one Sunday service the snow was so deep no one else could get to the church. Dad was the celebrating priest, Michael was the acolyte, Tony and Rachel were the choir, and my mother and 6 year old self the congregation... The igloo we built on the lawn lasted until April. Holidays with Dad were frequently to Matterdale in the Lake District, where his parents had retired, and sometimes to Devon where Uncle Alan and Sylvia's mother... having moved from Eaton Bray vicarage, said thank you for calling, These holidays always involved messing about with water. He would think nothing of diverting a small stream to power some stick and twine water mills, nor of damming a medium sized river to create a temporary swimming pool. I loved it. The Lake district also involved climbing fells and following the Wainwright guides, but his ardent desire, to drag those of us who had to take 2 steps to his one, up Helvellyn, had me constantly shouting for a diversion to Hallin Fell “the most beautiful view over Ulswater for the least effort”. On these Lakeland walks another famed aspect of Peter's notion of fairness came to the fore – he would typically have purchased some minor refreshment to sustain us on these arduous climbs. Dividing, for example, two Mars bars amongst five people became a speciality of his mathematical mind and penknife wielding skills... For some reason we never really questioned, then, why we didn't just have a whole one each, but penury was perhaps an accurate rationale for this, - we certainly were not well off at Eaton Bray, so Peter was very grateful when offered the living of the much wealthier multi-church parish of Harpenden in Hertfordshire