The Dean of Ripon writes:
THE Revd John Bonsall Langdon, who died on 4 November, aged 94, was a faithful, popular, unassuming priest, whose remarkable military wartime service was little known to friends and parishioners; such was his modesty. Just days before his death, he received the Legion of Honour from the French Government, for his courageous efforts seven decades earlier.
John Langdon was commissioned into the Royal Marines in 1942; this led him, as a lieutenant, to play a vital part in putting the first British troops ashore at Sword Beach on D-Day. He had responsibility for nine landing craft, ferrying leading companies of the 1st South Lancashire and 2nd East Yorkshire from the landing ship Broadsword.
The ship made five crossings, delivering more than 5000 British and US troops to Normandy, before striking two mines almost simultaneously. Lieutenant Langdon had just enough time to rescue his Bible and his two tennis rackets before the ship sank. After only ten days’ leave, he joined No. 44 (Royal Marines) Commando in Burma, where again he was called upon to show great courage and initiative in commanding landing craft in the capture from the Japanese of Ramree Island, off Arakan.
John was born in Enderby, in the Canadian Rockies, in 1921: the family lived in a log cabin. His mother’s desire for a more comfortable existence brought the family back to England, resulting in John’s being educated at Oundle. After the war, he went up to Oxford, to study PPE at Lincoln College. As with many men of his generation, John’s experience of war and military combat led to a vocation to the priesthood, the discernment of a call by God to work for a better world through serving Christ.
After his training at Ripon Hall, Oxford, he was made deacon in 1954 in Rochester Cathedral, serving his title at Erith, before a second curacy in Christchurch in Winchester diocese. The rest of his ministry was to be spent in the north, in the diocese of Ripon.
After three years as Minor Canon at the cathedral, he was given a choice of parishes by Bishop John Moorman. He could opt for an attractive rural community in picturesque Teesdale, or a mining village east of Leeds. John was always game for a challenge, and had a desire to serve where he thought the need was greatest; and so he chose the latter.
So it was that, in 1963, he became Rector of Swillington, in the West Riding. His diligence in pastoral care and visiting was appreciated, and his initiative in establishing a Scout troop continues to benefit that community. In 1975, John again had the opportunity to show that he was prepared to serve where the need was great, and moved to parishes in the centre of Leeds: he remained in the Wrangthorne and Woodhouse areas, until his retirement, back to Ripon, in 1992. But retirement was not to be used as an opportunity to take life easy. He provided active service as chaplain to the ancient Hospitals and Chapels of St John, Bondgate, and St Mary Magdalen, continuing with the latter until his death, after a stroke.
In the last 18 months of his life, he received satisfaction from the fact that, as Rector of Swillington, he had baptised a child who was now the Dean of Ripon, and therefore “his boss” by also being Master of the Hospitals. This was a gift of grace that both Master and Chaplain appreciated.
John, who never married, was blessed with remarkably good health, until just ten days before he died. This was probably due in part to a fitness regime under which he played tennis and jogged into his late 80s With the smile that was so characteristic of him, he joked that he wanted a refund from the National Health Service. His GP had never warned him that he would not be able to play tennis in his nineties. This, however, did not prevent his leaving his body to medical science: a man who wished to follow in the footsteps of Christ, he served the well-being of others to the very end.