A couple of days ago I was held up in traffic whilst a group of school children boarded their ‘bus to take them to school camp. On the pavement beside the ‘bus was a great pile of rucksacks, bags, tennis racquets, a net of balls and so on.
As I was sitting, patiently waiting to move off, I was reminded of the time I went to school camp back in June1953 when I was eleven years old.
I was living just outside Birmingham in the industrial Midlands, at which time it was a smoky, dirty place with factories belching out the foul-smelling residue of their activities. There were ironworks with their furnaces and gas works where the gas supply for the area was stored, not to mention domestic fires polluting the air. Not a nice place for kids in which to grow up, you will agree, I am sure.
So, every summer just before the end of our final term, the top class of our junior school went to camp located near the Wyre Forest in Worcestershire. This was a really magical place for children such as myself who lived all their lives in the grime of industry.
We travelled in a coach but our luggage consisted not of rucksacks but suitcases. These were often quite small so there was not much room for “additional extras” – not that we had much in those days!!
When we arrived at the camp site we were separated into two groups – boys and girls! The accommodation was a wooden hut in which were beds – but no mattresses! This was all part of the “fun”!. After our first meal we all gathered in a large barn and proceeded to make palliasses for mattresses and pillows. I think by the time we’d finished stuffing our mattresses there was more straw on the floor and in our hair than in the covers! It was at this stage that I realised that we were going to have to rough it somewhat!
During the daytime we would go on rambles, drawing and identifying flowers (no picking allowed!), also bird-watching and all sorts of other nature-related activities. Our days were filled with lots to do and by bedtime we were ready for sleep, regardless of the uncomfortable palliasse!.
We could only have been away a week, but to me it seemed like ages. Some of the girls received food parcels from home and one thoughtful parent also included some shoe polish for her daughter – result, one sponge cake tainted with polish – yeuck!! After “lights out” we would chatter quietly, but this didn’t last long as we were all so tired at the end of each day that we’d soon drop off to sleep.
Even though my memory has dimmed somewhat, there was one incident which has remained in my mind. We went on a walk and all I can remember of the terrain is a long and winding road (idea for a song title?). We walked for a while until the road began climbing; teacher was in front and I was one of the “stragglers”. Child protection and health and safety were things of the future at that time, so there was no adult bringing up the rear. Suddenly a boy behind me fell with quite a crash – he must have tripped over something – but he went down and didn’t appear to be getting up. The group had by this time disappeared around a bend. Decision time. I called out with my little voice but obviously no-one heard me, so I waited until the boy recovered and we decided to stay put. It seemed like forever but eventually the teacher came dashing back, having realised that two of his charges were missing. I was near to tears with relief and so it all ended happily; just a grazed knee and a tear-stained face.
And the same applies to God. We can follow Him, and we might get lost on the Way, but He’ll not leave us lost and forlorn. No matter what we do, He’ll be there whenever we need Him, to dry our tears and mend our broken hearts.
“Never will I leave you; Never will I forsake you.”
(Hebrews 13 verse 5b)
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”
(Joshua 1 verse 9)