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The Revd Edward Leigh Phillips

by
23 September 2016

A correspondent writes:

THE Revd Edward Leigh Phillips, known as Bill, died on 8 September, aged 104. His life was one of faith, service, and survival. As a priest, he influenced many lives. Before his death, he was acknowledged as the oldest surviving chaplain from the Second World War.

Bill was born in 1912 in Banga­lore, India, where his parents were Congregational missionaries at the United Theological College, work­ing for the London Missionary Society. The magical nature of Bill’s memories of the compound in which they lived on the outskirts of Bangalore stood in stark contrast to the cold, grey climate that he en­­countered when, aged five, he and his brother, John, aged seven, ar­­rived in England, after a long boat journey from India.

The discipline of Eltham School, set up for sons of the clergy, and the boys’ essentially parentless child­hood, demanded from Bill a skill for survival which stood him in good stead through the challenges of his life.

While his school friend Mervyn Peake stimulated an interest in art, it was Bill’s outstanding sporting skills, particularly in cricket and rugby, that gained him greater re­­spect and status, and eventually, a rugby blue. His gift for art thus be­­came a hobby rather than a métier.

Having read history at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, and sub­sequently theology at Wycliffe Hall, he was ordained in the Church of England, to whose overt hier­archy and convention of ministry he may well have been drawn.

A shared sense of service com­bined with a love of sport brought together Bill and Nancy Wilson, his wife-to-be, at a camp for deprived children, in London. Bill’s initial pacifist stance in the war was revised when, as a curate in Patcham, Brigh­ton, he witnessed the smoke from the battle of Dunkirk wafting across Brighton’s shore.

Enlisted as a chaplain, he served in Africa and Italy. After 13 para­chute missions, he was finally taken captive at the Battle of Arnhem, having chosen to stay and look after the wounded rather than flee to safety across the Rhine with other members of his Division.

The influence of Bill’s ministry in the parishes of Iford and Kingston, near Lewes, in East Sussex, and latterly Rodmell also, extended across generations and back­grounds. His instigation of family services to enable the attend­ance of all family members was relatively new in its time. His weekly teaching in the village school kept him in touch with many local families. On Ascension Day, he led a chalk chase on the Downs for the school­children.

Bill appreciated the historical architecture of the churches in his care, and the Decorated Gothic style of St Pancras’s, Kingston, earned a Grade II listing in 1965 while under his auspices. He oversaw a consider­able initiative to fund and construct an adjoining vestry to give choir and organist space to robe and prepare before each service. This helped to achieve the high standards of music and attire that Bill sought: the choir, mainly village children, were re­­hearsed each week, for many years under the leadership of a brilliant young organist, Peter Britton.

Preaching was Bill’s forte: his academic background and teaching experience enriched his reflections and expounding of them. Outside the four walls of the churches, his bringing together of the whole parish, in celebration of Harvest with a supper, and children’s parties in each village at Christmas, was testa­ment to his energy, and his duty and service to parishioners.

Bill’s wife, Nancy, died in 1995. He is survived by their five children and nine grandchildren.

A correspondent writes:

THE Revd Edward Leigh Phillips, known as Bill, died on 8 September, aged 104. His life was one of faith, service, and survival. As a priest, he influenced many lives. Before his death, he was acknowledged as the oldest surviving chaplain from the Second World War.

Bill was born in 1912 in Banga­lore, India, where his parents were Congregational missionaries at the United Theological College, work­ing for the London Missionary Society. The magical nature of Bill’s memories of the compound in which they lived on the outskirts of Bangalore stood in stark contrast to the cold, grey climate that he en­­countered when, aged five, he and his brother, John, aged seven, ar­­rived in England, after a long boat journey from India.

The discipline of Eltham School, set up for sons of the clergy, and the boys’ essentially parentless child­hood, demanded from Bill a skill for survival which stood him in good stead through the challenges of his life.

While his school friend Mervyn Peake stimulated an interest in art, it was Bill’s outstanding sporting skills, particularly in cricket and rugby, that gained him greater re­­spect and status, and eventually, a rugby blue. His gift for art thus be­­came a hobby rather than a métier.

Having read history at St Edmund Hall, Oxford, and sub­sequently theology at Wycliffe Hall, he was ordained in the Church of England, to whose overt hier­archy and convention of ministry he may well have been drawn.

A shared sense of service com­bined with a love of sport brought together Bill and Nancy Wilson, his wife-to-be, at a camp for deprived children, in London. Bill’s initial pacifist stance in the war was revised when, as a curate in Patcham, Brigh­ton, he witnessed the smoke from the battle of Dunkirk wafting across Brighton’s shore.

Enlisted as a chaplain, he served in Africa and Italy. After 13 para­chute missions, he was finally taken captive at the Battle of Arnhem, having chosen to stay and look after the wounded rather than flee to safety across the Rhine with other members of his Division.

The influence of Bill’s ministry in the parishes of Iford and Kingston, near Lewes, in East Sussex, and latterly Rodmell also, extended across generations and back­grounds. His instigation of family services to enable the attend­ance of all family members was relatively new in its time. His weekly teaching in the village school kept him in touch with many local families. On Ascension Day, he led a chalk chase on the Downs for the school­children.

Bill appreciated the historical architecture of the churches in his care, and the Decorated Gothic style of St Pancras’s, Kingston, earned a Grade II listing in 1965 while under his auspices. He oversaw a consider­able initiative to fund and construct an adjoining vestry to give choir and organist space to robe and prepare before each service. This helped to achieve the high standards of music and attire that Bill sought: the choir, mainly village children, were re­­hearsed each week, for many years under the leadership of a brilliant young organist, Peter Britton.

Preaching was Bill’s forte: his academic background and teaching experience enriched his reflections and expounding of them. Outside the four walls of the churches, his bringing together of the whole parish, in celebration of Harvest with a supper, and children’s parties in each village at Christmas, was testa­ment to his energy, and his duty and service to parishioners.

Bill’s wife, Nancy, died in 1995. He is survived by their five children and nine grandchildren.

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