Memories and reflections on Canterbury from Dennis Woodward, honorary grandfather of the Choir family

Finding the still, small voice

I remember and treasure the affection and concern that the enlarged choir family showed to their oldest member during the Canterbury week.

My car stood idle as I was adopted by a Choir Mum and Dad, along with their daughter, who not only drove me everywhere and it was a lot of driving during the week but at the same time gave me their warm interest and good company which I enjoyed so much.

Wherever we had our picnic each day my old bones were not allowed to seek their rest on sand or hard turf, but wer given a portable chair, which mysteriously always came to hand at the appropriate moment. The words, “All right, Dennis?” came frequently to my ears and they meant more than a friendly cliché. I was spoilt with kindness and I loved it!

At Westgate-on-Sea I was comfortably at home in the Ursuline College where I had a prefects room; an e-mail from her mum, wishing her well in her A-Levels, still hung pinned to the wardrobes side. I related especially to the institutional oak furniture which, like myself, was well-worn and at ease in the room.

Every morning I fought a losing battle with the basins hot tap which stubbornly refused to allow anything more than a warm trickle to pass! But I still went downstairs with light tread and a carefree heart, not just for breakfast but to be back in the family, all forty of them! What a treat it was to start every morning in the company of this very special group.

Dover Castle

The happy and successful daily excursions were a tribute to Dicks imaginitive aptitude and expertise in planning. The secret tunnels below Dover Castle were a revealation to us all, the stark realism of the Command Headquarters and hospital conveying us, through sight, sound and touch, suddenly face-to-face with the events and conditions of the distant years of World War II.

It was different in the Museum of Flying at RAF Manston because we all knew of Spitfires, Hurricanes, the Few and the Battle of Britain. But it was nonetheless dramatic and revealing with photographs, flying kits and even aircraft to stimulate our imaginations. For me it was emotional too; I left the museum with eyes moistened by memories of my own flying days and of my friends who paid the price of war.

Rob Gower admires the loco
that hauled us to Dungeness

My outstanding memory of our excursions was the trip to Dungeness on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. The diminutive carriages were no place for claustrophobia as we rattled and jolted, knee to knee, for many a mile. I enjoyed the journey but I could not say as much for my back!

Dungeness was an expanse of dreary, desolate flatness, with odd-shaped, blackened dwellings dotted here and there. The words The ends of the Earth came to mind and this must be one of them, I thought. A choirman offered the apt comment: “A suitable place to live if you cant get on with the neighbours!” and I added inwardly “and dont come on the train if thats the case”.

The old lighthouse at the end of the line was a friendlier place. It still reflected the human warmth of those who had served there for so many years; the steps were worn by the tread of their feet. Despite my years, I made it to the top and yet nobody seemed surprised to see me there. “All right, Dennis?”

I have, of course, kept the best until last. My most moving memories are of the Choir in Canterbury Cathedral. I was not, in fact, really comfortable there: it was too busy, too much pointed at and talked about. Although some may have found sermons in stones, I wondered whether the still, small voice could be heard amongst the many tongues spoken.

But the Quire was different. Here was a church within a church, here was peace within grandeur: here was that voice for those who listened. It was entirely enclosed, with iron gates in each wall except to the East, where the Altar stood. At the beginning of each service the spotless whites of the Choir could be seen as the procession made its quiet passage over worn stones, passing finally through the Pulpitum to join the congregation. The Band of Brothers had arrived.

They assembled and stood motionless facing West, waiting to return, one side after the other, the bow of greeting from the Vice Dean, before turning as a whole to make reverence to the Cross. Then straight into the singing and they were magnificent! Every day they worked and rehearsed to produce, when the time came, a performance that reached the heights of excellence and was often close to perfection. We were so proud of them!

The Choir of Romsey Abbey dominated with their presence the Quire of Canterbury Cathedral and filled it with the glory of their music.