Posted by Martin – February 12 2018.
In September 1954 I was 19 years old and serving in the RAF. I was stationed at RAF Turnhouse in Edinburgh. I worked in the Air Traffic Control department as an RTDF (Radio Telephony Direction Finding) operator. RTDF technicians operated equipment that gave navigational aid to pilots. Those of us doing this job at Turnhouse had been warned that we would become redundant when new equipment was installed in the control tower that would provide automated service of what we had provided manually. It happened in September 1954.
I was given a new posting and sent to join the RAF Fixer Network that consisted of a number of small RTDF installations that covered the whole of Scotland. I was sent to Findochty, a coastal town in Banffshire where our small station and workplace was located on windswept cliffs that overlooked the Moray Firth. The small number of staff, which averaged four technicians, were housed in private lodgings in the nearby small town of Portknockie.
I remember leaving Turnhouse and getting the bus to the railway station in the centre of Edinburgh to get on the train for the first part of my journey. I was sorry to leave; Turnhouse had been a very happy posting for me and I would be leaving behind the company of men who had become close friends. An express train took me to Aberdeen, stopping (if I remember correctly) briefly only at Dundee, Arbroath and perhaps Montrose. From there a local train took me to my destination. It was a “milk run” type train in that it seemed to stop everywhere. Finally, it pulled into the station at Portknockie. Hauling my kitbag with me I got off the train and saw a young man in an RAF uniform waiting on the platform. When he saw me he began to walk towards me and, as we met and shook hands, he introduced himself as Bill Marr. I liked him immediately but did not realize, and would not have guessed, that he would become a close and beloved friend, not just for the time we would serve and work together in the RAF but for the rest of our lives and into eternity.
As we walked to 9, Church Street, the home of Bob and Lottie Harvey which was where the RAF boys stayed, Bill told me that Bob and Lottie were the nicest people one could meet and, the Findochty Fixer Station was the “cushiest” posting one could wish for. He was right. Bob and Lottie were a mom and dad to the RAF boys who stayed there.
The next day Bill took me out to our workplace and generally introduced me to the system of operations, the shift schedule, the bus timetable and so on. The station was in a beautiful location but the wind blew incessantly and during the winter it could be very cold. I did not realize then that one adjusts to those conditions fairly easily.
Bill and I became firm friends. I had become a Christian believer, a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, when I was 15 years old. Bill and I had conversations about what it meant to be a Christian. These conversations were never rancorous but always respectful. Bill had not experienced exposure to the message of Christ during his earlier teen years as I had but his heart was open. I began attending services at the Baptist Church in the nearby fishing port of Buckie and became an active member of the church youth group. Bill would come with me and sensed the love that the people there had for each other, a love that reached out to him. He quickly understood that the Lord was real to them and to me. I still clearly remember the evening that Bill and I were talking together in my bedroom and he said to me that he wanted to turn his life over to Jesus and follow Him. We knelt together as he simply received, by faith, the Lord Jesus as his Saviour and Lord. I also remember that, after the prayer, he looked at me at me and said, “I’ve done it but I don’t feel any different!” I tried to assure him that not everyone has a “Saul of Tarsus experience” but that the Lord had heard his prayer and he was born of the Spirit in accordance with the promises found in scripture. I also assured him that he would experience changes in his life as the Holy Spirit began to work in his heart and life. He was scheduled to work the morning shift the next day and that meant an early start. He went to his room. After praying some more for him and giving thanks to the Lord for what had just happened I got ready for bed. I was scheduled to work the afternoon shift which meant I would relieve Bill just after noon.
I have to admit that I was concerned and hoped that I would not find Bill in the same frame of mind as he was when he went off to bed the night before. When I arrived at the station his face was shining like a light. There was an expression on him that I had never seen before. He was exuberant. He said, “Last night I didn’t feel anything but today everything has changed, I feel completely different.” He had been reading the Bible, praising the Lord and praying on his own during the morning and reported that the workload had been light. He stayed on for a while and we talked. I could not take my eyes off him – he was shining, there was a glow on his face.
He went home and the first thing he did, as he walked into the kitchen was to tell Lottie that he had given his life to Christ. She was shaken as Bill told her what had happened to him. A few days later Lottie said to me that she had always thought of herself as a Christian. However, she now acknowledged that she did not know the Lord as Bill did and wanted me to pray with her as she gave her life to Christ. A few days later Bob came to me and said he saw a great change in Bill, “and now Lottie, she is a different woman.” Bob surrendered his life to Christ. Bill, a babe in Christ, by the witness of his changed life and testimony of his mouth had brought our landlord and landlady to the place of commitment to the Lord.
Bill grew in the Lord, quickly, and never looked back. He was loved by the people who knew him. My relationship with him was like a “David and Jonathan” connection. He was due for release from the Air Force before me and I remember the day that he needed to leave and go back to Edinburgh and Turnhouse to get his release paperwork done so that he could return to civilian life. I walked with him from Bob and Lottie’s house to the railway station. The train came in and we shook hands and embraced as brothers in the Lord (he used to smile and “warn” people about me saying, “he always shakes hands.”) With Bill on board the train chuff-chuffed (it was a steam locomotive – we were still in the steam age) started moving and I walked out of the station.
I wanted and needed to be alone so I walked out of town and on to the top of the cliffs. It was a sunny day and there was, as usual, a brisk but not cold wind blowing. I sat down on the grass and began to weep. My tears were not of sorrow, although I knew I would miss Bill’s presence and fellowship of course. My tears were a mixture of things, gratitude to the Lord for the privilege of watching the Holy Spirit draw Bill first and then Lottie and Bob to Christ, for experiencing the richness of true Christian friendship, the joy of realizing afresh that I was a child of God, redeemed by Christ and finally, I suspected that Bill’s life and mine would likely take different paths, meaning that this special chapter in our lives was now concluded.
When my time of release came I went home to London, enrolled at the London Bible College and trained for the ministry. Bill returned to Edinburgh, the city of his birth and began working in the electronics industry. He became part of a very good church, living his life for the Lord.
He met and married Irene. I met and married Grace. He and Irene became successful and godly parents of Neil, Eunice and Colin and wonderful grandparents. Grace and I, although we did not have biological children of our own were entrusted by the Lord to be spiritual parents of many dozens of young people who became part of the Grange Fellowship, a large youth work in west London.
In the mid 1970s the Lord moved Bill and Irene and us from the United Kingdom to Canada, Bill and Irene to Toronto, us to Abbotsford, 50 miles east of Vancouver. We stayed in touch and very occasionally met. In the late 1970s and 1980s Bill’s work brought him out to the west coast from time to time. It was very special to have fellowship at those times.
Now Bill has taken the lead and made the short and exciting journey to the eternal home that the Lord has prepared for those who love Him. He has heard the Saviour’s welcoming words, “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord.” When our times come we shall follow on and join him there. Meanwhile, I am nourished by the precious memories of a special friend who set a high standard for us all in how to live our lives for the cause and glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. Be there waiting for me Bill and, as we did sixty four years ago when my train pulled into Portknockie station, we will walk together as you introduce me to some of the wonders that are beyond our present imagination.