Remembering Marion

Remembering . . .

Marion Islay Johnston

by Ken . . .

Marion was born on November 11th 1920 in Port Said, Egypt to her parents Frank and Gladys Johnston. Her father was Chaplain, then Archdeacon and eventually Bishop in Egypt.

Marion attended boarding school at Ashford High School for Girls in Kent, 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.

Whilst there, Marion met and married Captain John Bamber, of the First Field Regiment Royal Artillery. They were married in Cairo Cathedral on June 18 1940. The following year, February 1941, he was killed in an accident while serving in the war against the Italians in Eritrea.

During the Second World War her brother Noel joined the RAF. After training as a pilot in Rhodesia, he was sent to West Africa where he was Captain of a Sunderland Flying Boat, and then to England to train RAF pilots. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for rescuing airmen. He married Monica Allner, and their son Peter was born after Noel’s death in a flying accident in Scotland in 1945.

While in Egypt, Marion worked for British Intelligence, and in 1941 she went to England. The journey took over two months via South Africa, South America and Newfoundland. She stayed with various members of the Bamber family and at that time 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 Noel’s death in a flying accident in Scotland.

At this time in Cairo she met Pat for the first time. He had been sent to Egypt with Friends Relief Service, and whilst waiting at the camp at Maadi, was invited by Marion’s father to help at Cairo Cathedral. They met just five days before Pat was sent to Samos to do relief work.

After the end of the war 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 February 21st 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. They then moved to Otley, Yorkshire in 1956 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. 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 at the height of the Communist invasion. In 1978 they started Christian Outreach, which began work among 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 love made her loved by all who knew her as a very special person. Each has had the privilege to know her in one or more of her many different roles; as Daughter, Sister, Wife, Mother, Grandmother, Aunt, Mother-in-law, Godmother, Friend, Vicar’s wife, co-founder of PVO/Christian Outreach, and so the list goes on…

The family would like to add how, as a mother and grandmother, she loved them all and helped each one to grow as individuals, some challenge considering the variety of unique characters she and Pat have produced!

We have all witnessed her devotion as a wife in loving and supporting Dad. Their remarkable example of Christian marriage has been such a gift to us all.

Marion has been a friend to hundreds, if not thousands, of people over the years. She always thought of their needs, not hers, for example in offering people a meal whenever they came to visit.

She was always such an example of God’s Grace and endless Generosity. I am reminded of King David’s phrase “My cup runneth over”. I suspect we can all relate to the familiar experience of checking she didn’t keep piling too much food on one’s plate!

In the year 2000 we celebrated Marion’s 80th birthday and her grandchildren wrote some words of appreciation for her, I shall conclude with a flavour of what they said:

Dear Grandma,

For us, your grandchildren, it is difficult to comprehend how anyone, except Grandpa, could live for such a long time!

Your life has spanned a time period when so many momentous events have taken place in the world and you have travelled to most of the four corners of the earth. You have seen the results of the horrors of war, and have helped to heal the wounds of those who have suffered.

You have survived the traumas of raising seven children, including two sets of twins, as well as a hip replacement operation and a triple by-pass and valve replacement heart operation – and, as Grandpa will assure you, you are still as beautiful today as the day he met you. Your beauty comes from within and shines out like a beacon as an example to all of us, your grandchildren.

We give thanks to God for the way in which He has shaped your life. We would like to thank Grandpa for marrying you, which resulted in our parents, and gave life to us. And we would like to thank you for all that you have done for each of us, for your kindness and generosity, for your words of wisdom, and for being there when we needed you.

Grandma, we love you very much.