It was a warm summer afternoon, school had finished and Mr. Gates our Headmaster who was also Choir Master at St. Mary’s, paused on his way home to speak with me. “Stubbings” he said, “How would you like to sing in the church choir?” “Yes please”, I replied. “Then come along to choir practice at the school Thursday evening 7.30 sharp”. “Yes Sir, thank you very much”, and I scampered indoors to give my mother the good news.
We sang at Matins and Evensong throughout the year. Anthems were also rehearsed which were sung on special occasions. Carols at Christmas were very nice but my favourite time was Easter when the hymns were so bright and joyful. We sang at Harvest Festival when the church was packed and one year we had supper in the barn at Vicarage Farm. Choir exchange was very enjoyable. We sang in the churches at Milton, Hartlip and Ospringe; they in turn would come to our church.
An annual choir outing to Margate for the day was thoroughly enjoyed, but the highlight for me had to be the Diocesan Choir Festival at Canterbury Cathedral. Choirs from around the Diocese met and sang together in the Cathedral. This was always held in late spring or summer so we were able to change our clothes in the cloisters. Once the ‘Red Dean’ came by and passed the time of day. He was given the name ‘Red Dean’ by the media because of his sympathy towards the Communists. I think his name was Johnson.
We rehearsed in the afternoon. We only wore our cassock for this. The many voices of the massed choirs rang through the lofty building. This was followed by a break when Mr. Gates took us into Burgate to a restaurant for a scrumptious tea! Then back to the cloisters where we donned our freshly laundered surplice and Eton collar. The Cathedral was packed but we only saw the congregation as we walked in procession to our seats beyond the screen on the chancel steps.
My favourite choral piece was the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. How we sang. I thought our lungs would burst! But how proud we were to be part of the history of this great and glorious Cathedral.
Thus started four years’ happy association with St. Mary’s. At that time there were between 12 and 20 boys in the choir, some from Barrow Green but mostly from Conyer or its surrounding area. Mervyn Hyson and Fred Austin sang Alto. The bass and tenor section, apart from Mr. Gates and Vernon Page were also from the Conyer area. Ruth Edwards was our charming organist, while the Rev. Purser recently returned from Rangoon in Burma was our Vicar. Many of his sermons began, “When I was in Burma”. This became a catch-phrase among the choir boys.