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23 Jan 2024
updated 23 Jan 2024

The Rev. Alfred John Townend

Born and brought up in Manchester, [my father] had intended, as he was very fond of riding, to go into the cavalry, but after leaving Trinity College, Cambridge, he changed his mind and became an Army Chaplain.

He was a very eloquent preacher; his sermons almost invariably extempore, and he was very much beloved for he was sympathetic and most understanding.

But he also delighted in all sorts of earthly doings and this of course made him a wonderful companion. Football was a specially favoured pastime and going to the theatre another.

I vividly remember his giving me a joyous week by taking me six times to see Sir Henry Irving in a number of plays, one of them "The Only Way" over which I was drenched in tears.

At that time my father was the chaplain at Hilsea Barracks a few miles away from Southsea where we lived and very close to the Portsmouth theatre. These days twelve seats in the stalls would be very costly, but in those it was seven shillings [35 pence] a time for the two of us. Mother alas was an invalid then and unable to be with us, but enjoyed hearing our enthusiastic accounts.

I, then aged seventeen, became a hero-worshipper and yearned to reward Sir Henry with a gift, so my ever-indulgent father gave me a gold half-sovereign [50 pence] and told me to go ahead, which I did. Armed with a large bunch of flowers and an enthusiastic note, I left them at Sir Henry's hotel.

Almost immediately came a reply in his own handwriting. He told me I had made his room a sweet garden and had given him great pleasure in hearing that my father and I had gone so often to see him act.

Sadly, that letter was destroyed when [my] flat was bombed during a German air-raid in the 1940 blitz.