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Two Rooms And A View: 67 - Breaking The Law For A Good Cause

...During one evening service and a rather long sermon by a visiting preacher, the organ refused to start for the last hymn. Investigation found the two organ blowers quietly playing cards behind the organ. They were so engrossed in their activity, they hadn't noticed the warning light that indicated pumping was required. They didn't get a another chance and were deleted from the Duty List...

Robert Owen tells of pumping the church organ to earn a little pocket money.

In 1947, St Andrew's Presbyterian Church was a very active church with a strong congregation , several of whom came from Scotland. It was very ably led by the Rev W. A. Rodgers who we called the "Rev". When he was away at St Margaret's Church, a retired minister called Rev Jenkins-Jones often deputised.

In addition to a thriving B.B. Company, the church had Girl Guides, Brownies, senior and junior Youth Clubs, a badminton club and several strong women's organisations. A busy calendar of events included a very well-known Sale of Work, a Burns Night, Harvest Festival, Christmas and Easter activities as well as regular whist and beetle drives.

The Church itself was fairly sparse. It consisted of a large hall with an ante-room at each end. Portable form seating was used for the congregation and there was no pipe organ, fixed pulpit or vestry.

However, in 1948, history repeated itself when the Laygate Presbyterian Church again influenced the development of St Andrew's. The Laygate Church had been closed during the war, when parts of it were used as a police station and later as Mason's Shoe Factory.

The Church, however, still contained a large functional pipe organ, and this, along with a redundant pulpit and vestry from the closed Tyne Dock Congregational Church, were transferred to St Andrew's. An ante-room wall was knocked down, the Church Hall extended and the new organ, pulpit and vestry were fitted. The effect was amazing - it had turned a hall into a Church.

The arrival of this new pipe organ also indirectly provided a new source of pocket money for me and several other members of the B.B. Company. In order to function, the organ required a supply of compressed air. This was obtained by manual pumping, using a lever behind the organ and out of sight of the congregation.

As it was a fatiguing job, an Organ Blowers' Duty List was constructed of B.B. members with an incentive payment of 2/- (10p) per duty. This was a very welcome addition to my pocket money, and even more acceptable should my partner not appear, when I would be paid double.

The organist and choirmaster at the time was another Bob Charlton. He served St Andrew's faithfully for many, many years and although much respected by the congregation, he was feared by my colleagues.

During one evening service and a rather long sermon by a visiting preacher, the organ refused to start for the last hymn. Investigation found the two organ blowers quietly playing cards behind the organ. They were so engrossed in their activity, they hadn't noticed the warning light that indicated pumping was required. They didn't get a another chance and were deleted from the Duty List.

In addition to Bill Barron, the two other officers who ran the 18th Company were the minister, Rev Rodgers, and Norman Graham. All three devoted a massive amount of time to the Company and it was unbelievable to comprehend that they also had full-time jobs.

One example of the sterling work Bill and Norman carried out for the Company was evidenced by the annual visit of Prince Edward Youth Club's Concert Party, who came every spring to help to raise funds for our summer camp.

The church hall had only a small stage that was inadequate for such an event. This was until a small team led by Norman, worked on Monday and Tuesday evenings to extend the stage and mount curtains for the Wednesday night performance. On Thursday and Friday evenings, the same team would work to dismantle the extended stage and curtains and prepare the church organ for the Sunday service.

A typical Company Parade Night consisted of a short religious service, inspection of uniform and shoes, about twenty minutes' Squad Drill, and about forty minutes P.T. and team games. The evening closed with announcements for the following week and a benediction.

Norman had the difficult task of teaching us the discipline of Squad Drill. Allegedly, the echo of his loud, commanding voice ordering, "Tallest on the right, shortest on the left, in single file - FALL IN!" can still be heard around the junction of Talbot and Brownlow Road, at about 8 pm on a Friday night!
Norman also used his carpenter skills to make the company an adjustable vaulting box. This added variety to the evening's activities, but embarrassment when it had to be stored in the gents' toilet.

Every November the B.B. had a week nationally devoted to fund raising, known as B.B. Week. During this period, everybody in the Company was issued with a special authorisation card to collect donations from family and friends. We were not allowed to collect from people we did not know.
Many lads in the Company had large families and many friends. They collected a great deal of money. With only a small family and few friends, I unfortunately collected very little.

The following year, I was determined to do better. I sought out a new but unwanted photo frame, bought a book of raffle tickets and without telling my mother, went up to the posh houses in King George Road selling tickets in aid of the B.B. I made pounds, even if a number of people told me where to go, and others bought tickets but said I was breaking the law!

Bill Barron doesn't know yet where that large amount of money on my B.B. card came from!

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