Onward Christian Socialist
By Terry Wynn
"Take my life and let it be
Consecrated, Lord to Thee;
Take my moments and my days,
Let them flow in ceaseless praise."
Francis Ridley Havergal (1836-79)
A POTTED AUTOBIOGRAPHY
The subject that politicians love to talk about or write about more than any other is themselves. I am no different, therefore, this is a pleasure to write.
Dad was Ernie Wynn, and I'm still known as Ernie Wynn's lad in Platt Bridge, the village where I was born, 2˝ miles from Wigan. At fifteen he decided the pit was not for him and ran away to join the Army. At fifteen and a bit he left the Army when his mother came to take him back to the pit. At eighteen he went back and joined the Royal Horse Artillery (or the Royal Arse Hortillary, as I once said in a sermon I was preaching). Here he learned his love of horses, which qualified him to be a bookie's runner when he retired.
Back in civvy street, he worked in the building trade, before being called up in l939. Dunkirk and D-Day then figured on his itinerary before he was demobbed, became a bus driver and worked for Lancashire United Transport until he retired, then smoked himself to death. At his funeral, the British Legion draped his coffin with the Union flag. He was an old soldier to the end.
He was a bit of a womaniser, so I am told, loved his drink but wasn't a drunkard, and would not know what to do if he went into a church, but he was a great dad and I loved him.
He got Lily Hitchen pregnant and they married and had Derek my elder brother. My lasting memory of her will always be her impeccable handwriting which composed hundreds of letters to me while I was at sea. My early memories are of mam and dad continually falling out and home life not being particularly pleasant until we went for our one-week's holiday to Middleton Tower Holiday Camp each summer. My mother's mother lived with us and I suppose the week away was the break they needed. When grandma died, when I was about thirteen, dad then showed a lot of affection to mam and I don't remember many rows after that.
The years as a factory lass took their toll, along with a host of worries, and she died at the age of sixty-three. Life had not been kind to her. The only advice I can remember her giving to me was never get involved in politics or religion. Sorry, Mam! She didn't go to church either, but felt it necessary to send me to the Methodist Sunday School across the road.
I hated it, especially "Walking Days" or the annual Procession of Witness when the churches parade through the streets of the village. Once I was big enough and bold enough to say, "I've had enough of this", I stopped going, probably when I was ten-years-old. Even today I can empathize with any kid whose mates are standing on the pavement as the procession goes past. The Walking Days of Lancashire are great events, and I wouldn't discourage them, especially if they are truly a public demonstration of one's faith but for lads who are forced to join in, they have my sympathy (actually that begs the question, why are the girls not embarrassed?).
Both of my parents never lived to see my achievements. I know they would have been immensely proud to have an MEP. as a son, or even a Methodist local preacher.
I had failed my 11+ twice but passed a 13+ for Leigh Technical College. At sixteen years of age, I got eight 'O' levels and their pride was beyond belief at that achievement. We were a typical two-up two-down terraced house family and they knew the value of education for working-class children.
That picture has been painted to illustrate that I didn't come from a churchgoing background. My mother used to say the only time Dad prayed was at Dunkirk, to which he would retort they were prayers for her and Derek.
Arthur Lawrence, Jim Corbett and Winston Cottle were senior members of the Methodist Church in Platt Bridge. One night when I was fifteen, they came to our house. They had just amalgamated two Sunday Schools and were going round asking young people, who had years before attended, if they would consider going back. Now imagine this, asking a fifteen-year-old to go to Sunday School. They had already asked several others who had said yes, and this class would be like a youth club discussion group (I didn't go to youth clubs so I wouldn't know).
This was l96l when the bulge generation were there in abundance, so they had plenty to go at. Looking back, I can only imagine the reason I said yes to them was because Mam and Dad were present and they were being extremely polite to these three wise men. Anyway, if I went, it was like having their consciences salved.
I did go, along with a dozen others, and it was okay. At the same time a couple of other things happened. Those youngsters aged fifteen through to twenty-five, who did go to the Methodist Church, met on Sunday evenings after church in the Manse at what was known as "Sunday Night at Eight". One particular evening they had a guest speaker named Keith Maklin. Keith Maklin was a local preacher, but more importantly was a Rugby League journalist, a TV commentator and fronted the BBC's Rugby League programme on Saturdays. I was asked to go by Wilf Metcalf and Alan Ward, two lads I knew from school. I couldn’t resist, I was a Rugby League fanatic and still am.
The place was full and there was plenty of talent, including Doris, my future wife. It was great, plenty of fun, laughs, chat and all in all a good feeling. I continued to go and actually began to go to church before the meeting. I enjoyed lively hymns and Ray Hawthorn, the Minister, had a good understanding of young people.
The Church then started a Youth Club which was to become one of the most successful institutions any young person could have been associated with. Les Rudd, the leader, put up with a lot, but for many years that Youth Club was the focal point for many young people.
On reflection, I can see that I felt comfortable in all the above situations. I was a working-class lad in a working-class environment. I saw that Les Rudd, Ray Hawthorn and the three wise men and others had something about them that made them do the things they did. I saw good people, I saw a family atmosphere and I saw enjoyment in life.
The bulge generation was leaving school together in l962. I was desperate for a job. My mother, as mentioned above, had been a factory lass, was now unfit to work and child allowance had stopped when I was fifteen. I couldn't get work so I joined the Merchant Navy, then I got my 'O' level results - eight passes - and spent the next three years living in digs in Liverpool while I attended Riversdale College. I only got home at weekends and began to meet new people from all over the world.
Later in life I was asked why I never took 'A' levels. Simply because no one guided me in that direction, apart from which I was now a burden on a one-wage income household and had to get a job. I can remember saying to Mr. Kelly, my Irish landlord, about a missed opportunity of not going to university to which he replied, "What is a university after all? It's a gathering of heads from all over, sharing their experiences - you're going to the best university there is - you're going to see the world and experience many things and meet many people." He was right.
My connection with the Church and Youth Club may have made me feel good, but I wasn't sure whether I believed in God. The Gideons' Bible we had been given at Leigh Technical College came in handy but it didn't answer some fundamental questions.
I had always been fascinated with astronomy, read lots of library books as a kid on the subject and on many occasions I had scared myself witless when trying to envisage infinity. The realization that a seventy-year lifespan was nothing when put in the context of infinity, that I had been born, would live and die and that would be it. I tried to put the thoughts to one side because it was a disturbing experience when my stomach would tighten along with the rest of my nervous system.
It was during one such disturbing evening, when I was about nineteen, that something happened. I didn't know whether I believed in God up to that moment, but ever since then I've had no doubts. As I tossed and turned, a voice from within me, but not my voice, nor anything audible, simply and softly said something like, "Steady up, lad, take it easy; the best human minds in the world can't figure it out and neither can you. The human brain isn't big enough to comprehend infinity or creation. You don't have to worry, you don't have to be frightened, just trust me and things will be okay."
A terrific feeling of peacefulness came over me, I felt relieved and I knew that I had experienced something special. It had never happened before, nor has it happened since. Make of it what you will, call me what you will, all I know is that my stomach-churning fears quickly disappeared and I haven't been scared since.
Having slept on the experience, what was I to do? I hadn't been a confirmed Christian up to then and I didn't really know what to do. So I did nothing, except bask in my contentment. I knew what I wanted to say, but hadn't the guts because of the fear of ridicule, of being labelled a crank who hears voices in his head. Consequently, it was years before I had the courage to tell anyone what had happened. Can you imagine next morning, "Hello, Mam, God spoke to me last night"; "What are they doing to you at that Youth Club?". Or telling the group at College; "Is it only Senior Service you've been smoking, Terry, or what?"
Many years later I read, or heard on the radio, that thousands of people have similar experiences and consequently tell no one for similar reasons to mine. Interestingly John McCarthy, one of the Beirut hostages, wrote of a similar feeling of peacefulness in "Some Other Rainbow", the book about his ordeal.
The learning began after that. At sea, I had plenty of time to read. At first the New English Bible, initially the New Testament then the Old Testament and the Apocrypha. The NEB was the key to turning incomprehensible biblical texts into understandable English; it was the first step. Since then, other translations have appeared, the best of which is still the Good News Bible for its simplicity and ability to be understood.
At sea you get a chance to see the wonders of the World in all their splendour and to realize what a beautiful world we live in. A star-filled sky, a moonlit sea, countless sunsets, the northern lights, etc., etc., etc. It is also at sea that there are long periods of being on one’s own, having the opportunity to reflect on life and having time to think things through.
Many seafarers, probably the vast majority, will tell you that they are religious - they may not go to church, but their experiences at sea tell them that there is something much greater than ourselves and that God is real. It's not only with the beauty of creation that you get these feelings. When you are in the middle of a hurricane or a cyclone, when you see and feel tens of thousands of tons of steel being thrown about and damaged, it's then that you witness the power of the elements and know how powerless individuals are in such circumstances.
The religious experiences of the astronauts must be similar. You only have to fly in a plane and look down to see how small and insignificant individuals are in context to the world and the universe. To view the Earth from space is indeed awe inspiring for some. Let me just digress a moment to illustrate how it's not just seafarers and astronauts who feel like this.
One of the most unforgettable people I ever met was a real live "Crocodile Dundee" character called Lloyd Wilmot. I had been in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, the last great wilderness in Africa. Lloyd had been flying me around in his small Cesna plane, accompanying me to village "Cotlas," i.e. meetings, and interpreting the local languages into English. One evening, as we sat in the pitch black of the jungle, the only light coming from a wood fire, we got chatting about him. His father had been a famous crocodile hunter and Lloyd followed in his footsteps except that he took risks that no one else would. Someone else was telling me how he would walk into a pride of lions to lie with them just to show off.
He was born and bred in the bush, brought up with indigenous Botswana and reckoned he was better than anyone else at most things, especially hunting crocodile.
His father meant a lot to him and he was greatly affected by his death - bitten by a snake he was then driven on an eight-hour journey to the nearest antidote, during which his eye was put out as a branch of a tree hit him in the dark in the open-top Land Rover. You can imagine what he must have looked like when Lloyd had to identify the body.
He said that sometime after this his ex-wife gave him Catherine Marshall's book, "Beyond Ourselves". It is the story of a woman whose husband dies and how her faith sustained her. Sometime after, in the bush, at night, he said, "I had a spiritual experience; knowing there was a presence in my tent, I fell on my knees and prayed and I've been committed to God since then." He no longer kills animals, but makes his living in the Delta with photographic safaris. He was and still is, a guy who spends a lot of time alone, getting the opportunity to bask in the splendour of God's Creation.
Now back to mundane things, this potted autobiography.
At home, as the years passed, the once thriving Methodist Church eventually closed due to a variety of reasons. Doris and I, now married, moved to a new house a few miles away and to some extent drifted away from the church, in that we stopped being regular churchgoers for a while. Eventually we began attending Hindley Green Methodist Church and have been members there ever since.
I left the Merchant Navy when I was twenty-eight. I worked as a Works Engineer, an Engineer Surveyor, Shipyard Manager and a Training Advisor in the Shipbuilding Industry Training Board. The Thatcher government, in its wisdom, ravaged the training industry, closed the Training Boards and made me redundant. Not for long, as I then continued my working life in a proper job as a “Training Executive" in the private sector shipbuilding and ship-repair industry. It was a fancy title but a good job.
Where did the politics figure in all of this? The sixties were a political period and the young people I knew had at least a passing interest. "That Was The Week That Was", was the best programme on TV and the Profumo scandal was topical. One of the Youth Club members was, however, fanatical. It was Alan McPherson and it's him I have to thank for getting me interested. I can remember sitting in his brother's house for the results of the elections in l964 and 1966. The problem was, however, how did one join the Labour Party? Don't forget I was living in digs in Liverpool, only getting home at weekends. There was nothing - nothing to encourage me to join. At eighteen years of age, I knew that if I became a member of Platt Bridge Labour Club, then there was a tenuous link with the Labour Party, so I became a member.
When I was at sea, I had the political pages of the Guardian sent to me. I was engrossed in current affairs, yet when I was on leave I couldn't find anyone to get me into the Party, daft as it may sound but it was true. It wasn't until the Westhoughton by-election in l973 when George Catchpole, a full-time Party worker, put a leaflet through our letter box. I almost pulled him in demanding that I became a member and insisting that I help in the by-election. Had I not been on leave at this time, I'm sure the chance would have passed me by once again. George Harrison, the local Party secretary, came round and I eventually joined.
I loved the work in the local Party, becoming Branch Secretary after I left the Merchant Navy, and eventually I became a local councillor in 1979 (on the day Margaret Thatcher came to power) on Wigan Metropolitan Borough Council, winning the seat from a Conservative and I stayed there for eleven years.
In Church I became critical of preachers as I sat in the pew, often bored. One Sunday the Minister asked for volunteers to be local preachers, at which Doris elbowed me in the ribs and in effect said, "Put your money where your mouth is, if you can do any better." I offered my services to Mr. Robertshaw, the Minister and in l978 began as an auxiliary local preacher without any training whatsoever.
Formal studies followed years later and I was recognised as a fully-accredited local preacher in l989, a few weeks after I was elected to the European Parliament. This latter event had taken place in a mass of publicity and involved a six-figure electorate. The former occurred in the little Methodist Chapel in Bickershaw, near Wigan, with a small congregation, yet it gave me the greater satisfaction of the two achievements.
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