John’s Talk at the Old Lawrentians Reunion, Sydney

St Lawrence College, Ramsgate

John and Valerie attended the Old Lawrentian Reunion in Sydney on 24 October. John Barrow is an alumni of St Lawrence College, Ramsgate, Kent which has been established as a “public school” ever since it was founded. John gives an account of an influential Master – the Rev. Martin Martin-Harvey who was most kind to young John Barrow.

The much loved Rev. Martin Harvey.

(Talk given by John Barrow at OL Reunion, Sydney on 24 October)

I want to just speak about the Rev. Martin Harvey who – fortunately – was my House-master in Tower. He was like a surrogate father to me while I was attending school and an inspiration. He was a master of absolute generosity and compassion and a beautiful person. To me he was an Icon. I would just like to share this story about him and what he did for me long after I had left school.

I was working in Germany, at the time, when my father died. When I returned to England I picked up the phone and called Rev. Martin Harvey. The first thing he said was, “Don’t worry I will be at the funeral” – I didn’t even have to ask him. He conducted the service and was very kind to me and my mother.

I stepped outside on my way to the loo, for a pee – when I saw my father’s coffin coming out of the side door – which I thought had been cremated. I immediately asked, “What are you doing with my father’s coffin? I thought he had just been cremated?”

“Oh no, sir – we don’t burn the coffin we use it again.”

“Look,“ I said, “I paid ninety quid for that coffin! You will bring that money back to me with my father’s ashes, do you understand?”

“Yes, Sir.” He said with a stiff upper lip.

Well, he did turn up with the ninety quid and a little brown paper parcel.

So I rang Martin again, and thanked him for his kind service but added I have a bit of a problem. To which he asked, “What is your problem?”

My father was a lawyer in which he made a codicil to his will that he wanted his ashes cast in the middle of the English Channel where he could keep an eye on the French!

Martin Harvey said, “Oh really, how interesting, come down to the college and we shall take a boat and cast his ashes into the water.”

Rev. Martin Martin-Harvey joined the RNVR on 15 March 1940. Here, he is seen coming aboard HMS Sirius, and shaking hands with the Captain. John Barrow recalls that Rev. Martin-Harvey was on HMS Ark Royal aircraft carrier when she was sunk in the Mediterranean. He (Martin) received a DSC – Distinguished Service Cross for his bravery at that time

So I caught an early train from Victoria Station, and just as the train was leaving, a drop dead gorgeous young lady sat opposite me. She crossed her legs, uncrossed her legs and then crossed her legs and smiled at me. We became quite chatty. After a while I suggested we take a spot of breakfast in the dining car. So we toddled off to the dining car. And again for some reason I will never be able to put words to, I picked up the brown paper parcel with my father inside and tucked it under my arm, leaving everything else in the cabin.

She was sitting there and me sitting opposite – next to the window and there was Daddy on the table. With female curiosity she turned around and said, “That must be very precious, what have you got in that brown paper parcel.” And I said, “The ashes of my Father.” Upon which she said, “Christ, you meet some strange people on British Railway, these days.” And she took off … … that was the last I saw of her.

I eventually arrived at Ramsgate, nobody else alighted from the train. In those days you had a little green ticket which I gave to the ticket collector and he asked, “You Mr. John Barrow?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “Here ye are, these are the Rev. Martin Harvey’s car keys.” and as he handed me the bunch of keys he added, “That’s his 4 point 2 Jaguar car over there, you be careful with it won’t ye?”

The ticket collector, also added Martin Harvey said, “Go down to the Truro Court, hotel, check-in and then go to the college and have morning tea.”

So, I went to the Truro Court, I was only going to stay over-night and wanted to pay my bill. “Oh no,” said the girl, “No problems, the college has already paid.” I was overwhelmed.

I enjoyed meeting Martin at the college in his study and after lunch we climbed into his car, with him all dressed in his robes and travelled to Broadstairs. There to find an old seamen, hat, pipe and all waiting for us. So we climbed in, with the Martin all dressed in his robes and we head out to sea, chug, chug, chug … out towards the Goodwin Sands.

“Stop!” says Martin Harvey; “We can get on with it now!” and began saying a prayer.

I remember it was the Lord’s prayer and we were next to a sort of in whirl pool. He instructed me to begin casting my father’s ashes in the water. “I am no sailor, but every time I tried to throw the ashes into the water the bloody stuff would blow back onto my duffel coat.

Martin Harvey said, (and the only time I have ever heard him swear) “Barrow can’t you tell which way the bloody wind is blowing, throw the box into the water and let’s go home.”

So, I dropped it into the water, and it is fair to say that “One half of my father resides in the English Channel and the other half is in “Lawrence Dry Cleaners.”

John Barrow (right) at the OL Reunion, 2011