The Old Philologians Association
Rt. Rev. Michael Henley's Speech
Old Philologians - Annual Dinner 19th November 2008 - The RAF Club Piccadilly
After Dinner Speech by The Rt. Rev. Michael Henley
Mr President, fellow Old Philologians, Lady Guests
This is an unexpected honour to be allowed to address you tonight. Perhaps Sir Brian has run out of other ideas because you will certainly not get such an erudite talk as you had last year and nor may I say such an innovative view of our old school.
Memories for us all are different and I think I have been invited to share mine with you and also some glimpses into my subsequent life and career. I can only hope I meet such a requirement.
The school we are told in Ted McNeal's wonderful chronicles of the life and times of St Marylebone Grammar School, and what a debt we owe him in keeping alive the image and history of our school, was to provide candidates for the Ministry, the Marine, and Mathematics (mechanics). I achieved the first two with some distinction - becoming a Rear Admiral and subsequently a Bishop. The third was a disaster - it took poor old Reg Willis two attempts to get me an 'O' level Maths.
The only school record that I possess is that I have probably bought more Old Philologian ties than any other member. I'll come back to the reason shortly. I was wearing one in deepest Perthshire when I was asked what it was - stupidly I said an OP tie - I was then asked which house I was in. Beeching (please note Sir Brian) I said, to which the old codger replied "I don't remember a Mr Beeching House at Eton. At that point I decided that the old chap was not only partially hard of hearing but also partially sighted. The Old Etonian tie is a very dark blue with a small silver stripe. Perhaps a little like the prefects' tie was at SMGS
The reason I bought so many O.P. ties is that in my part of Scotland they are neutral. When I didn't have to wear a dog collar, my Diocese was firmly in Black Watch country so to appear in a naval tie would not have been acceptable or particularly popular.
My association with St Andrews goes back to 1969 when the then Bishop head-hunted me to become Chaplain of St Andrews University and we have had a home there for over thirty years. Being a member of the Royal & Ancient Golf Club I think the Old Course there is the best in the world, as close to heaven as you can get, although one bunker on the 14th is rightly and aptly named HELL.
It reminds me that a heavenly golf match takes place every week between God and Moses. A week or so past Moses had the honour and drove a decent ball straight up the fairway on the 400 yard hole. When God drove, a mighty wind caught the ball carrying it nearly 300 yards on the carry, where in mid-flight it was caught by a large crow who flew over the green and dropped the ball onto it. There the ball caught a down slope and rolled into the hole for a hole-in-one. Moses turned to God and said "Stop playing around! We are playing this game seriously"
My life has been dominated by Christian Ministry. As a precocious 16 year old, I said to Kenneth Crook I wanted to be ordained, he said I had as much chance of being ordained as he had of becoming Prime Minister. Graciously, years later, when I met him, sadly in a wheel chair at our celebration at the Zoo, and I was then Archdeacon and Chaplain to the Fleet, he said "you've surprised me!!!".
I had the enormous privilege of serving in the Royal Navy for 28 years at sea and ashore and adored it - as you will hear later I have been a lucky man. The nickname amongst others for a Chaplain is "Bish" and sometimes "Sin Bosun" - and whilst at sea on a Sunday I would visit all ships in the squadron to hold early morning communion. I can remember on one morning with rough seas, being transferred by Jackstay, which is a sort of Bosun's Chair, and being hauled across by rope when, on arrival, I was greeted with "Being a Bishop - couldn't you have walked across?"
As I said it brings great privileges but also stresses. I was promoted slightly early to become the Senior Naval Chaplain in Scotland & Northern Ireland, which meant I didn't go to the Falklands with my peer group. But notifying people of their son or husband's death alone is something I never want to repeat. Also experiencing something of the tragedy and dangerous difficulties of the Irish Troubles was a very searing experience.
But I have to say to you tonight, whenever you hear of a death in Afghanistan or Iraq a human being is involved and so his or her family. Things have improved a little since my days in advising the families. I would commend to you a very worthwhile charity "Help for Heroes".
However I ended my naval career as Chaplain to the Fleet, being appointed a Companion of the Bath and having created a new appointment as Director General Naval Chaplaincy Service, which cemented its future.
I then retired and thought I had hung up my boots forever, only to discover within two years I had been nominated and subsequently elected as Bishop of St Andrews , Dunkeld and Dunblane. Just think of signing that on a cheque!
The downside of becoming a Bishop I discovered that thereafter I spent the majority of my time on Health & Safety issues and Child Protection matters!!
As Chaplain of the Fleet I went from Sydney to San Diego and as a Bishop from Scandinavia to San Paolo in Brazil. What a privilege!
But to come back to my roots which is why we are here tonight. My mother, who would be described today as a single parent, made huge sacrifices to send me to our school, sacrifices that I only comprehended later in life.
I was a wimp but the school gave me opportunities - thanks particularly to Ted McNeal and Wilf Finbow. Wilf let me run the line as a touch judge and Ted appointed me as the umpire of the 1st XI. Colin Bosley also contributed to that phase in my life. Sadly I have to say that I have never umpired a cricket match since but, having played rugby for the Royal Navy in the Far East Fleet, I subsequently became a referee for the Royal Navy Referees Society, Kent Society & Midland Scottish Societies. So once again the concept learnt at our school of making a contribution to society lived on.
I do have vivid memories of so much and so many masters but I can't on this occasion not refer to Forest Green. For someone with my background, year after year it just opened up new opportunities and outlooks. Today, I am quite sure it would be written off, as it was then, as incorrect PC - but thank God it lives on.
I enjoyed "Squad" and cooking over the concrete trough, and for so many years, subsequently I introduced similar ideas into youth camps on the Isle of Wight.
There is much I should have said BUT ....
May we raise our glasses in a two-fold toast :- Firstly
"To our Masters" and then "To the Memory of Our School"