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Wednesday, September 7, 2005

From the 50-year diary of Maurice Rowlandson

Special to Assist News Service

LONDON, ENGLAND (ANS) -- Near to our home in Bushey was a large country estate. The Manor House was called The Grimsdyke and had, in earlier days, been the home of W S Gilbert (of Gilbert and Sullivan fame). In fact it was the home in which he had drowned in the lake when trying to save a young boy who had fallen in.

From time to time we had taken friends to dinner there for the special Evening Soiree at which ‘Mr Gilbert’ appeared with some of his friends. In story 58 was recounted a rather unique occasion at the Grimsdyke when Dr Walter Smyth and my colleague John Dillon were our special guests.

We decided to return there just before Christmas with some 100 guests, including many members of the Billy Graham Team (who were in London for Mission England preparations) and some of the key members of our staff. This Christmas Party was one of two memorable occasions in which many of my colleagues on the Billy Graham Team were involved. The second occasion would take place a few years later and will be recounted in due course.

Everyone enjoyed the evening. It was an opportunity for informal fellowship with each other, accompanied by the excellent musical presentations given to the group by ‘Mr Gilbert and his guests’ throughout the evening. Years afterwards some of those who had been there were still talking about it. It certainly bore the mark of a successful occasion!

A week later we went from that stately home to another one at Salisbury. Malmesbury House, situated right in Cathedral Close, was the home of John and Terttu Cordle. I had known John since my friend and colleague Roy Cattell had introduced me to him back in the 1950’s. It was in 1951 that, during a visit to America, John had ‘discovered’ a young American Evangelist whose name was Billy Graham. He was so deeply impressed by him that, upon John’s return to England he immediately went to see Roy Cattell, at the time the General Secretary of the World’s Evangelical Alliance (WEA). He persuaded him that the Alliance should invite Mr Graham to London for a Crusade. To condense a longer story (which has already been told) the WEA called a meeting to consult Christian leaders. John Cordle flew back to the United States to persuade Billy Graham to accept the invitation to attend that meeting. The rest is history.

In an earlier story I had said that, humanly speaking, without John Cordle there might never have been a Harringay Crusade. The Christian church had much to thank him for his foresight and enthusiasm. Through the past 33 years I had maintained my friendship with him. When we were invited to his home our Mealtimes at the Cordles were always special. We had been there in 1984 when the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke. Now, on our way to our Timeshare in Bournemouth he gave us an invitation to have lunch with him. Our young daughter, Jacky, was with us. On this occasion one of the lunchtime guests, amongst a number of others, was the great historian, Sir Arthur Bryant, making it a memorable occasion for Jacky. There were other significant guests as well.

A few years later we paid another visit to Malmesbury House. On that occasion we were invited back for one of John‘s evangelistic soirees. It was a cold December day and John had invited more than 50 guests to dinner. They were served in a large marquee erected on the front driveway of his home. The weather was bitterly cold and – rather inappropriately for the occasion – it was a ‘cold’ menu! Guests kept going into the house to retrieve their coats. However, the evening ended warmly enough as everybody went into the house filling every available space in the lounge, dining room, hall and on the staircase. They listened to ‘Black Rod’ (of the House of Lords) as he gave a simple testimony. He told how, as a boy attending a sailing cruise on the Norfolk Broads, he had found faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It was a simple and direct testimony to a group of ‘up-and-outers’ (as distinct from down-and-outers!) many of whom had probably never heard the Gospel before. Marilyn and I felt very privileged to be there – probably the only non-titled people there!

Our next engagement in London was to go to London Airport to meet Billy and Ruth Graham who had just arrived in London. With them was Stephanie Wills, his long-time and devoted secretary. Mr & Mrs Graham were to spend the weekend as house guests of Her Majesty the Queen in Sandringham House. Mr Graham had been invited to preach at the Sunday Service in the Anglican church on the Sandringham Estate.

On Friday 13th January 1984, in terribly stormy weather, the Grahams with Dr T W Wilson and me drove up to an hotel in Shipdham – our home for the weekend. On Saturday morning, Dr T W Wilson and I did a reconnaissance drive to the gates of Sandringham House. I recalled the advice of Major General D J Wilson Haffenden that ‘Time spent in reconnaissance is rarely wasted!’ On the way there we had a puncture! I was deeply grateful that it was not later the same day! On our return we collected Mr & Mrs Graham from our Shipdham hotel and drove them to Sandringham Rectory to spend time with Canon Jerry and Mrs Joy Murphy. Joy was the daughter of Billy Graham’s long-time friend, Canon T L Livermore and was, incidentally, a niece of John Cordle’s. Both T W Wilson and I had known the Murphys for many years.

Later that afternoon I drove Billy and Ruth Graham (with T W Wilson as a passenger) to Sandringham House. I was confident that I now knew the route there and into Sandringham Park. Driving up to the front door of Sandringham House Mr & Mrs Graham were met by Colonel Blair Stewart-Wilson, and were escorted into the house. Dr Wilson and I returned to Shipdham where we had invited Peter and Rosemary English from Norwich to be our guests for dinner. Peter had formerly been Lord Mayor of Norwich.

On Sunday morning we returned to Sandringham Rectory where extension loudspeakers had been installed in the lounge so that we could share in the service relayed from the church. Other members of the Billy Graham Team joined us there including Russ Busby (the Team photographer) and the new Team Press Representative, Larry Ross. It was the first time I had met this competent, tall (nearly 7-foot) and out-going young man. I was later to get to know him very well as we worked together during Mission England.

It was a great service and Billy Graham preached his heart out in the presence of the Royal family. Afterwards there was a BBC reporter with his microphone ‘at the ready’. He stopped a lady, as she left the service, to interview her. 'Did you enjoy the service?' he asked her. The lady replied: 'Yes'. 'Why?' asked the BBC man. ' Because I heard Billy Graham preach.' She replied. The reporter went on to ask ‘And what was so special about that?' To which the lady replied 'He preached about the Lord'. 'So what was so special about that?' persisted the BBC man. 'You must not know HIM' said the lady!’

We had lunch at the rectory and Dr Walter Smyth told us that, after lunch, Billy and Ruth Graham would be brought from Sandringham House to the Rectory to have afternoon tea with the Murphys. Dr Smyth said that we should all return to Shipdham and leave the Murphys to enjoy their time alone with the Grahams. Soon after lunch he ushered us all into the waiting cars. Suddenly Joy Murphy came out and, through the open window of the car, said ‘Jerry and I wanted Maurice and TW Wilson to stay for tea!’ Dr Smyth immediately changed tack and urged us to get out of the car and not to ‘keep the lady waiting.’ Nonetheless he was not too pleased! That evening, when we got back to our Shipdham hotel, the Rt.Rev.Maurice Wood, Bishop of Norwich, joined us for dinner. TW and I found the atmosphere between us and Walter Smyth was distinctly ‘frosty’!

That tea-time at the Rectory was memorable to us for it was the Queen’s Equerry, Colonel Blair Stewart Wilson, together with one of the Queen’s Ladies in Waiting Lady Abel Smith, who had brought the Grahams to the Rectory. Conversation flowed easily as we mingled with the guests. The Colonel told me that he wished he had had a recording of the morning service. I told him that one had been made by our engineers and I promised to send him a copy. Two days later I had a phone call from him to ask if it would be possible to have six copies. I was happy to oblige! Later I also sent him a photograph of the occasion that Russ Busby had sent to me.

Our relationship with Dr Smyth was put right the next morning. He drove with me back to Sandringham House to collect the Grahams. When we arrived we were met by one of the Footmen – Paul Whybrew. Paul was a member of my church at Frinton on Sea and had been in Royal service for many years since he was 16 years old. So I received a warm welcome from Paul and he took Dr Smyth and me into the Footmens’ room for a cup of coffee. Then Paul led us through the corridors of the house to the main living room. It was such a warm room with an unfinished jig-saw puzzle on the table and other family memorabilia lying around. We waited there until Colonel Stewart-Wilson brought the Grahams down from upstairs. He took leave of them as they got into the car. Dr Smyth was so impressed with all that Paul had done for us that the events of the previous afternoon were quickly forgotten!

But all was not over yet. There followed the story of the pheasants – but that must wait until next time!

(Next: Sandringham Pheasants: Billy Graham Interviews and the NEC Briefing)

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Maurice Rowlandson
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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.