The article by Phil Underwood concerning Farnborough Church Choir struck my own memory chords because I was one of the boys mentioned, viz. Dennis Kimber.  However, due to a children’s home mix-up, in which I had been placed at the age of 3, 4, or 5, I had been given the name of a half-brother.  Not until I started work at 15 was the mix-up discovered, giving me the trauma of changing identity to my real name of Denis Elliott. 

Mother had married a second time, but had died in my early years. At about the age of 7 or 8, I was placed with foster parents in Orpington and joined the choir of All Saints soon afterwards.  Then shortly before age 10, I was transferred to Mr and Mrs Sims who were foster parents living in Gladstone Road.  I immediately joined the choir of St. Giles.  Having got that explanation off my chest I’ll return to Phil’s more interesting article.

By the time I joined in the Spring of 1934 he had progressed to head singer.  I think the modern title is Head Chorister.  His lovely and strong voice kept well into teen years and it was a treat to hear him sing solo.  Phil eventually left around 16 years of age, at which time Tom Shelton and Harry Beverly had left too.  Other boys joined though, including Sid Picket, Reg Pattenden, Norman and Stanley Wearns (twins) plus 2 or 3 others whose names I cannot recall, all of whom were about a year younger than I.   So the choir was always being ‘topped up’ with new faces (and voices).

Harry Beverly, I remember, once had Arther Crandley and I involved, reluctantly, in a fight.  Arther had ‘borrowed’ or ‘pinched’ my own bible for a lark. It was a treasured Christmas present from a neighbour.  I demanded it back but he refused to give it, so Harry decided that the dispute be settled by a scrap behind the church after choir practice.  In the centre of a ring of boys, the contest began, but in truth, at the age of 10 neither of us had a clue and just flailed away until both out of breath and nearly in tears.  But I got my bible back and Arther and I became the best of chums.  Typical of boys!  Nearly 70 years later, I still have that bible.

Returning to Harry, I was saddened to learn of his demise, which I gather was earlier this year.

Phil mentioned the choir outings, which were always looked forward to, fun events.  It was probably in 1936 that we were treated to an extra outing.  It was to Chatham Naval Yards on their ‘open day’, to see the huge battleships and other vessels moored there at the time.  Rather cleverly, by means of tiny lights and ship models, we were given a mock-up display of the famous ‘Battle of Jutland’.  We had been taken in private cars.  Along with 4 or 5 other boys I was in one driven by a retired Lt. Col.   On our return we kept goading him to go faster until we reached the dizzy speed of 60. Cor! 

Sad to realise that some of those mighty vessels would have been sunk in the war. Those who remember me as a quiet lad will be surprised to learn that Mr. Atkinson once slapped me over an insolent remark I’d made, proving that he wasn’t so deaf as some of us thought!  I was then 14½ and my voice had given first signs of breaking so it was time to leave.

Tom Shelton had left the Sims family but I still had boyhood company in the form of Billy Lindsey, who joined us about 1936 and, as with Tom and I, also joined the choir.

So what happened in later years, which of course included WW2?  Tom joined the Army (and possibly Harry too), Phil the RAF and Sid the Royal Navy.  So all three H.M. Forces were represented.

I too, like Phil, joined the RAF.  After a couple of years in Orpington ATC Squadron I was called up in late 1942.  Pilot training in the then Southern Rhodesia followed and various postings took me further and further East until eventually I found myself flying American Liberator aircraft on missions in the Far East against Japanese targets.  I was then just 20.        
My first overseas tour lasted nearly 3½ years and on return to the U.K. I was given a desk job as a rest from flying duties.  Later I joined Coastal Command and was again sent overseas to fly Maritime Lancasters and Shackletons until in 1957 I eventually ’hung up my wings’ as a Flt. Lt. having flown nearly 4,000 hours.  I’d just reached the ripe old age of 33! 

After the war Billy did a 5 year stint in the Army and left with the rank of Sergeant.  A word about Reg Patterson:  in 1949 he started up a dance band and needed a car in which to get about.  I’d bought a 1934 Ford 8 earlier on and knowing that I was heading overseas again I sold it to Reg.  I wonder what became of it?

Denis Elliott (originally published c 2002)

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