Marion was the daughter of the Right Reverend Francis Featherstonhaugh Johnston and Gladys Katie Head. She was born on 11 November 1920 in Port Said, Egypt, where her father was Chaplain from 1920 to 1933. He was Chaplain in Cairo and Alexandria before he was made Bishop in Egypt in 1952.
While Marion’s parents were living in Egypt, she went to Ashford High School for Girls in England, where she boarded. She spent the Christmas and Easter holidays in England, only going home to Egypt once a year. At the age of sixteen she returned to Egypt and attended the English Girls’ School in Cairo.
When the war started, her brother Noël was on holiday in Egypt before going to University. He joined the RAF and went for training to Rhodesia where he successfully got his ‘Wings’. He was sent to West Africa in the Air Sea Rescue, as Captain of a Sunderland Flying Boat, and then to England to train RAF pilots. He married Monica Mary Allner, and their son Peter was born after his death in a flying accident in Scotland in 1945.
In Cairo, Marion met and married (1) Captain Claude John Carnegie Bamber (First Field Regiment, Royal Artillery), the son of Captain C.C. Bamber, Ghurka Rifles. They were married in Cairo Cathedral on 18 June 1940. The following year, February 1941, he was killed in an accident while serving in the war against the Italians in Eritrea. His grave is in the Military Cemetery at Keren, Eritrea.
While in Egypt, Marion worked for British Intelligence, and in 1941 went to England. The journey took over two months via South Africa, South America and Newfoundland. She stayed with her mother-in-law, Dorothy Maude Bamber, and her father, Claude Carnegie Cheales. She stayed also with her uncle-in-law Dr. Bertie Bamber, where she became interested in medical work. She worked for a short time at the Horley Cottage Hospital as an auxiliary nurse while waiting to go to Guy’s Hospital for her nurse’s training.
In 1945 she returned to Egypt, and took up her old job in Intelligence. It was while she was on her way to Egypt that several ships in her convoy were torpedoed, and her parents got the news of Noël’s death. It was then that she met (2) the Rev. Francis Patrick Bellesme Ashe. He had been sent to Egypt with Friends Relief Service, and while waiting at the camp at Maadi, helped at Cairo Cathedral under the then Archdeacon, the Ven. Frank Johnston. He met Marion just five days before being sent to Samos to do relief work.
After VE Day and VJ Day, Marion returned to England to finish her training at Guy’s Hospital. Pat left Greece, and became the Bishop of Southwark’s Chaplain to Youth. Nearly five years after they first met in Cairo, they met again at a Prayer Meeting in Guy’s Hospital. On 21 February 1950 they were married in Southwark Cathedral. They lived for a time at Kennington Vicarage with Canon and Mrs. Wallace Bird.
They moved to Blindley Heath Vicarage where Lois was born in 1951, and Robert and John in 1953. In 1956, they moved to Otley, Yorkshire where Islay Jane and Andrew were born in 1958. They adopted Ruth in 1959, and David was born in 1963.
In 1964 they moved to St. Mary’s Leamington Spa, where Marion had the vision of helping one child from Vietnam, and Project Vietnam Orphans was started. In 1972, they moved to Church Stretton, and in 1974 Pat resigned his Living, and they went to live in Godalming in the bungalow Marion had inherited from her parents, in order to direct the Project. All the family of nine moved from a vast Rectory into a two bedroomed bungalow, which had to be enlarged by the addition of two rooms in the attic.
Marion worked as a night nurse at Hydestyle Hospital until the Daily Mail Airlift in 1975, when a hundred children were brought from Saigon. In 1978 they started Christian Outreach which began work amongst refugees on the Thai-Cambodian border. Getting children adopted into Christian homes, and arranging accommodation for refugees from Cambodia took up all their time until Pat retired in 1980.
Marion’s self-effacing humility and out-pouring of love made her loved by all who knew her. Marion passed away peacefully in her sleep on 31 July 2008, and Pat continued to live in Godalming, where he enjoyed the visits of family and friends, until his own death on 6 January 2009.