Church & History

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World War II

The student of English church history in suburban London before the war, will have to do his research for himself in the pages of the Record. There was so much going on in those days before television killed home entertainment that there would only be room enough to recount it in a volume much larger than this. There were Grand Variety Entertainments, Mid-Lent whist drives, outings to Pangbourne and Oxford via Fr Lury’s home town of Reading, where, amid great excitement, he pointed out the very house where he was born. The re-founding of Our Lady’s Shrine at Walsingham found hearts at St Mary’s anxious to make a Pilgrimage, and several charabancs were hired on Whit Monday 1938 for the solemn dedication of the completed shrine church. They set off at 7.00am and arrived at 11.30am, the cost being all of 8/-! History does not recount at what time they returned.

War Memorial at St Mary's

War Memorial at St Mary's

Gifts continued to come to the Parish Church, and those with talents were encouraged to use them. Mr Pearce was a wizard with wood, and to him we owe the fine Paschal candlestick that he contrived to make out of an old bed-post that had been rescued from a house in Yorkshire. Fr Johnson could write after 11 years in the parish that he and his people had accomplished the following: they had built the Mission Church of the Holy Spirit, and the Mission House, they had two halls albeit rather temporary ones, they had partly paid for the new church and furnished it completely, they had paid a great deal towards the Vicarage, they had also laid out the church garden. All this had cost £30,000.00 in addition to the usual running costs of a church, and to gifts to good works outside the parish.

But ……. With irony that he could not have imagined, Fr Johnson welcomed in the year 1939 with the words: ‘May this year 1939 bring to us all the peace of God. 1938 had its bitter days when many hearts were shaken and fear enveloped them. But they passed and a new star of hope arose. So at the beginning of this year let us enter it with real confidence ……. ]. But it was not to be. War was declared in September. Numbers of the Record grow fewer, as the fighting dragged on, and confidence gave place to dogged perseverance. Prayer was offered in St Mary’s for those in peril on land, sea and air. But Kenton lost many sons and daughters, and the offering of the unending Sacrifice was made often for the dead, fallen far from home and loved ones. At this time Fr Harding came to the parish as a Deacon, in 1941. He was to stay throughout the war years and long after, until he took the living of St Alban with St Patrick, Birmingham. That he stayed so long was a great blessing for Fr Johnson, for as the storm clouds of war rolled back they revealed a different world, even in Kenton. It would not be unfair to say that Fr Johnson never really came to terms with the new world around him. He worked on, undiminished in his powers, preaching, teaching, but always with many a nostalgic glance over his shoulder to the days of the building up of the parish. Sister Catherine was still with him, he had good assistant Priests and fine Churchwardens, an organist he could rely on and many faithful helpers, but, as one reads his monthly letters, one senses that he feels something has gone from his life. Perhaps it was the stimulus of creating for the Lord, of planning, building, endowing, things at which he was acknowledged master. But time and time again his letters and articles in the Record are reminiscences of pre-war Kenton.