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JOHN TYRRELL (Sh. 55-59) – Tom Brown’s Schooldays

Allhallows in my time and probably depending upon which House one was in, could be a little like "Tom Brown's Schooldays"...agony and ecstasy.


As a Junior Commoner there was hardly a moment to oneself, day and night, for a couple of years. One was forever rushing to the next compulsory happening, and the way there was littered with possible failings causing one to await a House Prefect's beating that night.  Sentences would often be passed down at breakfast so ruining the rest of the day! "Tyrrell, I'll see you tonight" was code for "you will take a beating at bedtime". Sometimes such "bed-times" would come, dormitory prayers said, lights-out, and no promised beating! One had escaped. Then, as one drifted off to sleep, on would come the lights. "Tyrrell, out of bed and touch the bottom bar".


There was just one pretty sure place of sanctuary in those years, the school chapel. As long as one passed the House Prefect's shoe-shine inspection at the Chapel door (a beating risk) one could relax, every morning Monday to Saturday, twice on Sundays. No-one could "get you" once you were in your pew, it was a safer place than your bed!


At the Sunday evening Chapel service, we often had a visiting preacher. More often than not they would be the kind of priest depicted in a "Whitehall Farce" and have us trying to stifle the giggles; it was best to be seated behind a pillar. One particular Sunday evening the preacher was the Vicar of Newton Poppleford. The name itself was enough to start us off!  As we left the Chapel that particular evening (I could point out to you to-day the exact spot where I had reached on my way out at the end of the service) a very definite voice, audible or in my head, I can't be sure which, said, "I want YOU to do that". I casually replied, "Do what?", back came the answer, "preach". One of the things I feared most was public speaking, even asking a question in class. This was ridiculous but in the following days I could not shake it. "Pop" Longridge, the wonderful school chaplain, drove me to the sea front in Seaton, away from school, to talk it all through. The result was that we felt this to be genuine and I didn't have a lot of choice in the matter!


I wasn't the academically brightest in the school, not many of us were back in those days. VAL Hill had referred to most of us, affectionately, as "Blockheads". When I went to his study to say the compulsory "farewell" on leaving the school, referring to the possibility of Ordination he said, "stick at it", I could tell by the way he’d said it that he didn't hold out much hope for this blockhead.


Apart from not being very bright I was not all that "good" either. One of several escapades that could have had me expelled follows. I'll limit the list to one.


Someone, whom I shall not name (but if he's reading this I'd love to be back in touch) had a Lambretta scooter hidden in the bushes alongside the school drive. One dark night we climbed down the fire escape from a dormitory, mounted the scooter and headed for the Cobb at Lyme Regis. Moored in the harbour was a very powerful launch belonging to my accomplice’s father. We boarded, fired up the engine that sounded like a Spitfire's Merlin and headed out to sea. Observing that the sea state was worsening and realising (blockheads) that we had no destination in mind, we did an about turn and, undetected return to the relative safety of our beds.


I did "stick at it" and after some home coaching and 4 years at Durham University, I was ordained in Edinburgh, aged 23, just 7 years after leaving Allhallows. I spent an exciting 3 years ministering, mainly at night, to the "unattached teenagers" of Edinburgh's West End, supported and encouraged by Leslie "Larry" Barr (Allhallows staff 1952-1962) and his wife, Joan, nee Metherall, an Allhallows House Matron. Larry was then on the staff of Fettes Academy in Edinburgh.


Whether the midnight escapade with the boat in Lyme Regis was a foretaste of my future I don't know but after Edinburgh I joined the Royal Navy as an RN Chaplain. My ships took me all over the world and I met many OHs along the way. I formed many relationships in the Far East and on leaving the Navy joined the staff of Hong Kong Cathedral and later planted a new church on the island.


So, this blockhead has now been "preaching" as he was told to do for over 55 years "sticking at it". VAL Hill would be surprised, and I hope, pleased.