First Spirit (June): Good morning. I want to tell you about Bill.
Bill was one of the finest people I ever knew. Didn’t know him for very long but I’ll start at the beginning.
The time is at the beginning of the Second World War round the London dock area, down by the river, sort of. My friend Liz and I, before it got too dark used to go for a bit of a walk.
We were getting on in years as you know by now, and the area we walked in was pretty quiet; it was more or less deserted. I guess the big warehouses had moved further up the river or something, so the grass had begun to come back in odd places and it could be quite pleasant walking. Few other folks were around, and there was one road where we used to go, that had a big warehouse in it. It was still used.
To this day I have my doubts what it was used for, ‘cause it always seemed to be young people - men and women. They’d be there for a short time and then they’d be gone. Never saw any uniforms. Don’t know what it was all about, but some of them became a bit friendly like, because next door there was a small warehouse. It had a big double door with one of these little doors in it. You know the sort I mean. Well one night outside this little door, was Bill. Bill was one of these chaps who wore his collar back to front. Don’t know what denomination he was.
Now Liz, and I weren’t churchgoers. Well, indirectly we were, we used to go and listen to them practising the singing and that sort of thing, but somehow the rest of it never appealed to us, so we were all for skirting round this fellow. But he said “Good evening ladies” to us... even that was a bit of a shock, to be called a lady… so being polite we answered him, and he said he had one or two friends inside and they were going to have a cuppa, would we like to join them?
Well we thought this is a bit of all right, a free cup of tea, so in we go. There were a few others there, just in one corner of this small warehouse. It was all swept clean and tidy like so we just sat, well in a bit of a circle I suppose and Bill, he would say to us... that night it was us, ‘cause we were sort of new… “Well ladies, what have you been doing today? Tell us a little about yourselves”.
So I’m not shy in coming forward you know, so I told him a bit about Liz and I, and how we used to sell flowers, but now we were more or less sort of, char ladies I guess you’d call us. And he’d get other people to talk too, and then he’d talk.
He started by saying, “Any of you go to church?” Gee we nearly all went out the door right then, but we sort of muttered… “No, no we didn’t go”, and blimy, you’d never guess what he said. He says, “I don’t blame you”. Well it was a bit of a shock, ‘cause he said that though he himself was a man that was allowed to preach in the church, he felt that somehow things were going wrong, because people like us weren’t coming in. So he had decided that he would come to us, and if we cared to we could come along once a week to this little warehouse ... “Bring a friend if you feel like it”, he says, “And we’ll just talk”.
Well that night he just talked about being friends and that, and caring for each other, and helping each other. So that was all right and we thought we’d come back.
Well these talks went on for some months, and we called it Saint Barnabus. “We were going to St. Barnabus”, we’d say and you might wonder why it had that name, but there was an old caretaker there... cor could he growl, and his name was Barney. He kept the place clean, and underneath it all he was a real good sort, but moan, he moaned from the moment we got there ‘till the moment we left - if he could get a word in edgeways. But you know what… I think it was because he liked us to tease him, and we’d say “Oh hang on there Barney”, and some of us would put our arm around him and give him a bit of a hug, and he’d grizzle and growl; and that’s why we called it St. Barnabus after Barney, ‘cause he was a real character.
The minister feller, we only knew him as Bill; we don’t know what church he belonged to or where it was, how old he was, anything about him, he was just there,
It got that we made the place look quite nice. Liz and I would go to the markets where they knew us and we’d get all the flowers what were broken and that they couldn’t sell, and we’d do them up fine and take them along and decorate the place up, and as I said before Barney kept it clean. We found some material, it was pretty old, but we made it into a cloth to cover the table and those of us who could spare a cushion from home took it along, so it began to be a second home to most of us, and all the time Bill was there to listen to our troubles, and really to talk about God.
He did it in such a.... for want of a better word, sneaky way that we’d hardly realised what he was doing, but he was teaching us what the churches ought to teach us, and that was the brotherhood of man, and blimy that sort of went down a bit hard at the time ‘cause we were at war, bombing the life out of each other by this time… but he said that we weren’t to be bitter in our hearts against our enemies, because the biggest percentage of them weren’t enemies anyway. They were just simple people like us and when it was all over, there was to be no bitterness.
He’d say, “Do you understand, love one another, but in the meantime look after each other here, forget self, because if you want to advance and someday see God, that’s what you’ve got to do.”
Then we started asking him a bit about this. “How could all the different people of different colours and different types, good and bad, and lovely and beautiful, and you know all the mixture that there is.... how could they all get to see God?”
And then he started talking about various, I think he said stages, but he also said that the man called Jesus referred to them, as mansions. In other words different houses, so that as you got better you went to a better house. He said that was putting it rather simply but he thought that initially, it might be what we would understand best.
In the meantime these young people I’m speaking about, (from the warehouse next door), well some of them would come in and just listen to him, and when they went he would ask God to bless them, and he was very serious like with those young people. I’ve wondered since if some of those were going over to Europe. I guess you understand what I’m getting at. I’m not sure, but I think that’s what it might have been.
As time passed the raids got worse and some of us didn’t come along. You never knew what happened, to those that didn’t come of our old friends, but one of them was Liz. One day she just didn’t get past an air raid. There was a bomb that had her name on it.
But having talked to Bill like I did, I didn’t feel as bad as I might have ‘cause I thought, “Liz is here but I just can’t see her I guess”… and Bill said that that was right, and because Liz and I were good pals, she wouldn’t be far away. But after a time she’d move on, and find another house I guess.
And then came the night that I went along to St. Barnabus and got to the end of the road… Oh cor blimy, you know what, there was nothing there but a hole! It had all gone! Nothing! And the warehouse next door had gone too!
I hung round for a while, but Barney didn’t come, and neither was Bill ever there again.
They told me, (that’s the warden chaps that had sealed off the road so I couldn’t get right up there), that the bombing had happened about half an hour before and that’s when Bill would have been there, and I guess Barney too, and some of the others.
So at that stage I turned round and went home and sat and thought and prayed for those people and you know, I felt they were with me. I couldn’t see them but I felt good. I thought, “Well you’re on your way, perhaps to the first or second house and you’re O.K.”, and though I often thought of them, Barney, Liz, and Bill - Bill in particular - I guess he’s in one of the best houses… because if ever a man made people feel good and made an old rumpety building into a church, he did.
Because it wasn’t the building, it was Bill, and the people that were in it that made it. It brought a lot of joy and a lot of knowledge, to quite a number of people.
Well, that is all folks.
So for now... ’Bye.
Second spirit: This is Alan.
Well my friends, that will be all for this morning.
May God bless you.
The source of this material is Ken Hanson of Waiheke Island, New Zealand, whose Cockney wife is the Medium.
Ken passed to the Higher Life in August, 2009.
Back to the list of talks