The following story was taken from Ebenezer’s Grandson by Leonard Holder. More details about his books can be found on www.selinaofsussex.shop.
‘Young people, boys and girls, the Kingdom of God needs you!’ Mr Jack Nickless was the invited speaker at a Monday teenager meeting in the early of summer 1963.
He and his wife, Joy, ran a children’s holiday home by the sea in Belgrave House, Littlehampton, Sussex. The house belonged to the Brethren Assemblies and was used with the object of bringing the Gospel and biblical teaching to young people. During much of the year, boys and girls needing breaks away for various reasons were sent to Belgrave House by different councils, many from London. However, in the summer months, the house ran holiday camps for girls and simultaneously ran a camp for boys in a field they owned just outside Littlehampton. At the Monday meeting, Jack Nickless was calling for older Christian teenagers to help in the running of these camps as room or tent leaders and in other vital ways.
As Leonard walked his girlfriend home that evening, he commented to her in a thoughtful tone, ‘Phyl, I felt challenged by that call to help in Littlehampton and wonder whether I should apply.’
‘It’s interesting you should say that, Len,’ answered Phyllis smiling, ‘because helping in a girls’ camp like that is something I would love to do.’
She went on to tell him how a year or two earlier, she had spent a few days in a Müller home in Bristol over Christmas. Joan, who lived next door to the Pitwell family, had an elder sister, Hilda, who was a housemother in one of these children’s homes, and Joan had taken Phyllis on a visit.
‘I have kept in touch with some of the girls,’ said Phyllis. ‘Auntie Hilda said they really appreciate any interest taken in them, so I’m corresponding with several of them.’
Both Leonard and Phyllis contacted Jack Nickless and offered their help in Summer camps.
The position that Jack Nickless offered Leonard was to be cook’s assistant in the kitchen at Climping Camp. Over the summer months, there were several camps planned, lasting a week or ten days each. An older Christian woman who had cooked for the camps before had volunteered again for that year, but with camps of fifty to sixty boys, she valued some practical help in food preparation. Leonard was willing to do whatever was required and agreed readily, little knowing how this was preparation for the future.
The camp was in a field at the end of a lane in the village of Climping, and from the field, there was a footpath straight down to sand dunes, a stretch of sandy beach, and the sea. In a semi-circle around the edge of part of the field were individual concrete tent bases designed for bell tents to be erected over them. There was a building with a few toilets and also an open-sided, roofed area for washing hands and faces and dirty dishes. In addition, there was a larger building providing an adequately sized hall where the boys could both eat and gather for meetings. At one end of this building was a kitchen and a small bedroom and toilet facilities for the cook. The cook’s assistant was allocated a place to sleep in one of the tents.
Each boy was required to bring a sleeping bag and, on arrival, was provided with a palliase. This was a very large canvas bag which the boys stuffed with straw as a mattress to sleep on. This was Leonard’s first experience of camping.
During the first week all went smoothly. Leonard got on well with Mrs Hall, the cook, and they worked efficiently together. Then tragedy stuck. Mrs Hall was unexpectedly required to return home to care for a family member who was ill.
‘Len, there’s no one I can call on to take Mrs Hall’s place at this short notice,’ said Jack Nickless apologetically. ‘Do you think you will be able to manage on your own? I’ll be able to bring all the supplies in, and if you need advice, I know Miss Mogford, the cook in Belgrave House, will willingly do all she can.’
Leonard was given a menu of meals planned for each week and provided with a book of recipes, and thus equipped, with some trepidation, he stepped up to the challenge.
The advantage of this promotion was that he now had the use of the only bedroom on the camp, a proper bed and mattress, and warm water facilities for washing. It seems there was leg pulling, probably out of jealousy from other helpers. One evening he came to bed and found the mattress missing. After searching, he discovered it in the main hall. On another occasion, his alarm clock was reset to 3.00am. The strange thing was that Leonard go so tired from his duties that he had begun to do certain things automatically, and getting up was one of them. On hearing the alarm, he had jumped out of bed and got his clothes on before it occurred to him that it was still very dark outside!
‘Drat!’ he exclaimed, looking at his clock. ‘What wretch has been changing my alarm?’
Actually, they were a good group of leaders, and Leonard got on well with them, but they each had their own area of responsibility and it was Leonard who was expected to have food ready for them when they needed it. Mr Nickless came in every day and talked with him about the menu for that day.
There was really only one disaster. The dessert for one evening meal was spotted dick pudding. The recipe book gave all the details and clearly read sixteen pounds of dried fruit. Having never made it before, Leonard never questioned this, and weighing out the amount stated – which was in face the whole quantity in the pantry cupboard for the entire season – he mixed in the flour and other ingredients and put the mixture in the oven to cook. Alas, when it was time to dish it up and fifty-plus boys were waiting expectantly, the pudding looked exactly the same as it had before going into the oven – all soft and gooey. Leonard had no idea why it hadn’t cooked, and after a discussion with the leader, it was decided to open some tins of peaches to have with the custard already prepared.
Jack Nickless very easily solved the mystery the next morning. Sixteen pounds of fruit is far, far too much, he said, but he agreed on looking at the book that this was indeed what was clearly stated. Of course, the fruit couldn’t be wasted, so for several days, Leonard mixed the gooey mess with generous amounts of flour and sugar and baked it as cakes. The boys ate it all greedily around the campfire in the evenings. It became known as ‘dog’s body’!
Several other memories remain for Leonard from that first Climping Camp, one being that it was there, at an evening meeting, that he gave his first evangelistic public talk. It wouldn’t have been called a sermon and wasn’t intended to be, but it initiated Leonard in speaking publicly and gave him the exercise of prayerfully seeking from the Lord the right message to give to his hearers, in this case a room full of boys. Another memory is the chorus which staff and boys sang together before every meal:
Christ is the answer to my every need.
Christ is the answer; He is my friend indeed.
Problems of life, my spirit may assail.
With Christ, my saviour, I need never fail.
For Christ is the answer to my need.