The chorister and the Scout leader

The choir stalls of a church, with a blurry human figure walking by in the background.
Empty choir stalls in the redundant church of St Lawrence, Evesham.

After my talk at Evesham Library on Friday, as part of Evesham Festival of Words, I went for a walk around the town. I’d never visited Evesham before, and I became rather fond of its Georgian frontages along the main road. I took a side street and found myself surrounded by timber-framed buildings. By accident, I  ended up walking through a Norman gatehouse and out into a space that contained not one but two very old churches, very close together.

I have never in all my days seen two churches standing that closely together before. Apparently, no one knows why St Lawrence’s and All Saints were built there, about fifty feet apart. All Saints still functions as a parish church, but St Lawrence’s is redundant, cared for by the Churches Preservation Trust.

I happily wandered round both churches, and in All Saints, I saw the plaques which are in every church around the country – to the locals who died in war.  One of them records the death of a man in the First World War who had once been a chorister in the church, and another brass plaque commemorates a man who had been a Scout leader before being sent off to war.

The reminders of what these men had contributed to their home town before life changed for them forever are in some ways what humanises them and reminds us of what was lost. Not just names, but people who had been part of a community and whose early deaths left a space behind them.

In The Captain and the Cavalry Trooper, Jack becomes friends with Bryn Pritchard, who before he joined the army, was a choir master in his local chapel. It was only after I’d given Bryn his backstory that I realised I was drawing on some of my own family’s history. My great-grandad was a choir master at his local Methodist church (he was very proud to have staged Handel’s Messiah), and his son – my grandad – had been a lay preacher on the Methodist circuit before the Second World War broke out. I was looking through some papers and photographs not long ago and found the circuit list for 1939. My grandad had put asterisks by his name, and a line through them one by one as he marked the services off.

But before the end of 1939, the lines stop. And this would have been when my grandad went voluntarily into the army – no more preaching for him on the Methodist circuit. At least, not until 1946 once he came safely home.

In the universe that The Captain and the Cavalry Trooper inhabits, there was a chapel missing its choir master. And in the real world, in Evesham, there was a space in the choir stalls.