Stories from my family (renamed)

Discussion of the SES, particularly in the UK.
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Ben W
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Stories from my family (renamed)

Postby Ben W » Fri Mar 17, 2006 7:00 am

Hello everyone. I've not commented before on this site - in fact I've only recently started reading it seriously. I guess, like many others, I feel I have a lot to say but before I get into any of that I'd like to make some opening comments.

[I've chosen to add to an existing thread in line with a request I read on the site. If this is unhelpful then perhaps the site editors can move this to a new thread. (Done. For those who are new to this thread, this post and the four posts that follow were originally part of another thread. Daffy)

(1) Who am I: I was a child member of SES from around 1967 to 1977 - ie from age 7 to 17. I was an active member of the SES during that period which included attending the normal "adult" activities of group nights, extra activities (cleaning etc), and weekends / weeks away at Stanhill Court and Waterperry. Later on I spent every other weekend with a group of adolescent boys at Stanhill Court - we lived in the garden in a caravan. The whole issue of schools was an emerging topic towards the end of my time in the SES. Prior to that point very little specific provision was made for children but in a very real sense the setting up of St James and St Vedast was a response to the generation of kids that I was part of. I was about 2 years too old to go to St Vedast. However I have 5 brothers and sisters who went and who have to differeing degrees struggled in life since. One of my brothers received 51 strokes of the cane during his time at St Vedast.

I now live in Australia. I am a partner at a large accounting firm - none of my brothers and sisters have been as successful in their careers - although one is now (at the age of 32) a newly qualified dentist. My name back in 1977 was not Ben Wheaton. I changed it in 1980 by deed poll, partly (but not wholly) to get away from the past.

(2) This site: This is a fantastic site. Vibrant and colouful. Full of strong emotion and memories, and with a huge amount of positive energy. Congratulations to those who have put this together and who are constantly nudging it in the right direction.

(3) The key players. There are a number of key groups here:
- Those who suffered at the school and their supporters
- Current or recent pupils and their supporters
- Current SES members
- Those formally representing the school and their supporters
There are some beautiful voices from each of the first three of these of these groups on this site.

(4) The primary purpose of the site as far as I can tell is a support mechanism for those who suffered - a vehicle to allow them to find a voice and to find each other - and through this to move towards a satisfactory resolution to the trauma and suffering and its long term effects.

Before I go on, did I get that right??
Last edited by Ben W on Wed Apr 26, 2006 3:37 am, edited 2 times in total.
Child member of SES from around 1967 to around 1977; Strongly involved in Sunday Schools ; Five brothers and sisters went to ST V and St J in the worst years

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Free Thinker
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Postby Free Thinker » Fri Mar 17, 2006 7:11 am

Hi Ben, welcome!

Yeah, I think you got it right!

I would suggest that Daffy (the moderator) move this to a new introduction thread since that's really what it is.

We're glad to have you contributing. Good thing you were too old for St. Vedast although I'm sorry that your siblings weren't.

Every new voice here helps (as long as it isn't berating and abusive.) and we look forward to hearing more from you!

Free Thinker (also raised in the school although in NYC and from birth-19)

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Re: Introducing myself and opening comments

Postby Goblinboy » Fri Mar 17, 2006 7:20 am

Ben Wheaton wrote:Before I go on, did I get that right??


Thanks Ben, and welcome (even if you are involved in the Satanic cult otherwise known as accountancy ;-))

Would be great to hear more of your experiences of how the SES treated kids, and what led you to leave the SES.

Cheers,

GB

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a different guest
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Postby a different guest » Fri Mar 17, 2006 8:20 am

A wave to Ben from another aussie dweller! :)

Hope to see you posting more soon.

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Postby chittani » Fri Mar 17, 2006 9:05 am

Well said, Ben.

Speaking as a member of group 3, we'd love to hear what you have to say. I agree with the suggestion that this should be a new thread.

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Ben W
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Thanks for the welcome...

Postby Ben W » Fri Mar 17, 2006 9:50 am

... and now to business.

I have many many thoughts which have been churned up as a result of reading the website. Some are relatively small and some are bigger.

Let's start small and see how we go.

Firstly I have some thoughts for current / recent pupils. I applaud your involvement - and am prepared to take your comments at face value. What I hear is that you are appalled at the school's past, but genuinely believe the school is now a good place.

You seek reconciliation and closure. I personally believe that this is possible, However the path is very long and there are many stories yet to be told.

I think you will need great patience, and strong stomachs but I genuinely hope you can last the course.

[I'm getting on a plane shortly heading for Tasmania so if there is a silence until tomorrow you'll understand]
Child member of SES from around 1967 to around 1977; Strongly involved in Sunday Schools ; Five brothers and sisters went to ST V and St J in the worst years

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Ben W
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Further comments from somewhere a bit colder...

Postby Ben W » Fri Mar 17, 2006 12:58 pm

... now back on line for a bit.

GB asked about my experiences at SES etc. We'll get to that at some point. For now I want to comment on the topic "Schools' new statement on the Inquiry" which is where I posted my original comment.

I read the report with interest and was initially impressed with its openness. However on re-reading it I have some questions - which I've added back in that thread.

As far as this thread is concerned I will come back to this over the weekend.

My hope is that we can gently coax those who received the most brutal treatment, and who have yet to contribute, to take a step forward. My brother is one of those and I believe his story is important.
Child member of SES from around 1967 to around 1977; Strongly involved in Sunday Schools ; Five brothers and sisters went to ST V and St J in the worst years

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Postby ET » Fri Mar 17, 2006 3:03 pm

Welcome Ben, it's great to hear a new coherent voice on here, and interesting to hear from someone who was a child in the SES before the schools were set up. I look forward to hearing more about your experiences.
I also wholeheartedly support your hope that other people who have been serverely damaged by the SES can come forward and post. I have been worried by some of what has been posted on this BB lately, as I feel that, although everyone is welcome to come on here and post their views, some of what was being written was abusive and confrontational, and may well have been discouraging people like yourself and others who are even more damaged by their experiences from coming forward.
I would like to take this opportunity to say to anyone who is reading this BB but has not yet had the courage to post, or posted a while ago but has felt discouraged in recent weeks, that many of us who were here in the early days of this BB are still here, and you will still receive support and understanding from us.

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Postby Tom Grubb » Fri Mar 17, 2006 10:52 pm

ET wrote:I would like to take this opportunity to say to anyone who is reading this BB but has not yet had the courage to post, or posted a while ago but has felt discouraged in recent weeks, that many of us who were here in the early days of this BB are still here, and you will still receive support and understanding from us.

I second that.

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Ben W
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Introducing myself in more detail

Postby Ben W » Sun Mar 19, 2006 12:49 pm

A few people have invited me to share some of my experiences as a child in SES prior to the establishment of St Vedast and St James.

I?m sitting here in Tasmania with a glass of local Riesling, watching the last of the sunset over water. Earlier I cooked prawns on the barbecue, and before that was sea kayaking on the water in front of the house. The SES seems a long way away.

I started writing on this site without thinking that I would necessarily want to talk in any detail about my own experiences. I regard myself first and foremost here as a supporter of those who were abused ? in particular those known personally to me.

I have come to the view that it is potentially helpful, for me to talk about my personal experiences as a child in the SES. I read another entry on this site from someone who said that after visiting they sat down and wrote 70 pages of notes. I can understand that. 10 years (in my case) is a long time and I can do no more than scratch the surface here. However in so doing I am hoping that if people are interested in certain aspects they can push the discussion down certain paths

I suspect that not much of that period has been written about on the site ? and that there are a number of people out there with experiences to share. I have not dwelt on this or carefully reconstructed, but rather allowed it flow. There could be mistakes in what I have written and I look forward perhaps to others correcting or adding to my comments.

I have split up what I have written into a number of sections ? to make it easier to read. These are as follows:

- Family life
- My experiences as part of an SES group
- My experiences at Sunday School
- Life as a child of established members of SES (part 3)
- Leaving the SES
Child member of SES from around 1967 to around 1977; Strongly involved in Sunday Schools ; Five brothers and sisters went to ST V and St J in the worst years

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Ben W
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Family life

Postby Ben W » Sun Mar 19, 2006 12:54 pm

I was born in 1960 to a recently divorced and distraught mother. Nearly four years later a man appeared on the scene who in 1964 became my stepfather. For a while he brought great joy into our lives. He was also a member of the SES.

Soon my mother was doing ?the exercise? and then meditating. She?d disappear regularly in the evenings ? something I?d not experienced up to that point in my life. We moved to Harrow in 1966 on World cup day ? apparently I supported the Germans much to the amusement of my stepfather and the removal men. A brother came a few months later and other siblings after that.

My mother?s second marriage was far from happy. My stepfather proved to be a violent bully who terrorized both my mother and me over a long period. Everything I did at home (music practice, homework, personal hygiene, housework, tidying) was governed by detailed instructions breaking each task down into a series of tightly defined sub-tasks, with a process for each. I was hit for every slight deviation. Sometimes my stepfather would come in from work and inspect the 2 hours of housework I had done, calling me to account (ie shouting at me and hitting me) for things I had done wrong. On other occasions he would stand over me watching me tackling tasks and again shouting and hitting me. This was a daily occurrance (when he was around) for 10 years. His weekends and weeks away at Stanhill or Waterperry were blissful occasions for the family. I mention this not for sympathy, or to give him a hard time, but to make the point that time out of the home was for me the only time I lived without fear. Therefore, whatever hardship I faced when at the SES it was more than counterbalanced by the relief of being away from my stepfather. I should also mention, that I have recently become reconciled with my stepfather who is a much changed person ? as am I. That is a whole other story, and not for here I think ? though I have no doubt that his behaviour was strongly influenced by his relationship with SES.
Child member of SES from around 1967 to around 1977; Strongly involved in Sunday Schools ; Five brothers and sisters went to ST V and St J in the worst years

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Ben W
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My experiences as part of an SES group

Postby Ben W » Sun Mar 19, 2006 12:58 pm

I am not sure when exactly I started attending classes in my own right. It was certainly well before I left primary school ? probably when I was 8 or 9. I went to Suffolk Street first (which I noticed was the only building in the street where the name plaque was polished), and then Newton Institute. Later the classes moved to 90 Queensgate. I had a child?s curiosity about the lectures. This was where my mum and stepdad went. The subject matter was vaguely interesting though I daydreamed through much of it. In the second half we would ask questions. I lived for the interval when we could go downstairs to the Refectory and I could spend money on food. The whole thing was an adventure. I was a 9(?) year old traveling into London on my own, navigating my way around the underground, walking through the bright lights of Piccadilly, stopping along the way for a Westler?s burger from a white coated man with a push cart. It was a delicious irony ? all that freedom and bad food. We were on ?the diet? at home and I ?knew? all about the terrible things that processed food did to you.

This burger eating persisted throughout my time at SES ? and for years beyond. At 90 Queensgate, we would wander off at the interval and go to Wimpey?s next to Gloucester Road station. We must have looked an odd sight ? a couple of 12 year olds turning up in sports jackets and ties and asking for burger and chips. The waiter seldom took money from us.

The fact that I was from an SES family marked me out from the other people in my group. I knew most of what was coming in advance ? the exercise, the pause, clothing, meditation, the diet ? and it was quite fun watching it all unfold. At that stage of my life I accepted most of it.

My group life progressed in much the same way I?m sure as many others who visit this site have experienced. Second night activities (cleaning 11 Suffolk St, decorating 92 Queensgate etc), weekends away at Stanhill Court, and later Waterperry. The tone earlier on was quite light, tolerant, but also studied. There was a sense in the group that they were on to something. People would rebel or drop out, and the group got smaller and was combined with other groups into some kind of peer grouping. Those that remained became bound together. I remember the group tutor and the assistant sitting in front and the chairs in several rows facing them. It was a long evening for a young kid after a full day of school and an hour?s journey in, and I?d often have difficulty staying awake, experiencing that strange feeling of dropping asleep, rocking right forward and then involuntarily pulling myself. Sometimes one of the group would pop a sweet into my mouth which seemed to help. I remember on one occasion trying slowly to pull a handkerchief out of my pocket ? it required suprising force which I applied studiously and silently. I had no idea what was being talked about. Suddenly the handkerchief came out along with an entire pocketful of loose change which spilled in all directions over the floor. No one said anything but continued on with the session as if nothing had happened.

Over time the tone did change. My memory says it happened when Mr Shelley took over leadership of our peer group. Group sessions by then were in Princes Gate and I remember some particularly uncomfortable sessions with him ranting on and the group cowering and fauning. We had a memorably tough weekend away at Stanhill Court with him during which the pressure was really cranked up. I think it may have been the first full on experience of ?measure? for the group ? late nights, very early mornings, classroom sessions of sounding, Sanskrit, Philosphy, long morning and afternoon sessions in the garden carting wheelbarrows full of earth. I remember one lady bursting into tears and rushing from the room sobbing at one point. I can?t remember if anyone went with her, but the rest of us continued as if nothing had happened. (Ryder Shelley was an Australian who lived at Stanhill Court in a suite of rooms on the first floor. He had, so he said, fought the Japanese in the war, and there was something very tough about him ? although he was also capable of great good humour. He was a member of McLaren?s ?Tuesday night? group.)

Even though I was getting older, I never lost the confidence of the indulged. On a later weekend (after Mr Shelley had disasppeared) we fasted for a day once with no let up in the physical labour. I had no qualms in nipping into the larder to help myself to Weetabix and honey.
Child member of SES from around 1967 to around 1977; Strongly involved in Sunday Schools ; Five brothers and sisters went to ST V and St J in the worst years

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Ben W
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My experiences at Sunday School

Postby Ben W » Sun Mar 19, 2006 1:06 pm

In parallel with all of this there was my life at the Sunday school and activities that related to that.

At some point I had been invited to Sarum Chase ? a large house in Hampstead opposite the Heath. I was there along with a number of other kids, most of whom I was meeting for the first time. It was a lovely building and the leaders delighted in telling us about Lord Shaftesbury, the original owner, and showing us through the rooms, the ?secret passage?, and around the gardens. I think this was around 1970. We felt special, and we felt lucky to be in such wonderful surroundings.

The Sunday school arose out of that. I was going to school in Harrow, and an active member of the local church choir. So my Sunday school commitments suddenly meant I was unable to go to church on Sunday mornings. (A bit of a problem!) Beyond that it all seemed to work out OK.

Over time, we settled into a routine ? boys separated from girls, a range of classes, occasional wider get togethers with someone talking to all of us in a more-or-less un-engaging manner ?the highlight being looking over at the girls or generating and sustaining some quiet joke or other.

One of our activities was gardening. Here we were handed over in teams away from the teaching staff and under the control of those SES members whose ?second night activity? was Sundays at Sarum Chase. Some were grumpy and business-like ? others much more friendly. In the early days the gardens, which were extensive, were ramshackle, and full of nettles and brambles. One of the least favoured duties was weeding. There were many stings involved in this activity until one of the teams of kids invented ?carpet rolling?. The gardeners were delighted, and the innovation was much talked about. The older boys were put onto a team building a log cabin and we toiled with impossibly heavy logs shifting them from the side of the building, up the steep paths to the very back.

Time passed, we grew older, and the activities changed. It was not bad, but it was not good either ? except for the camaraderie which was great. By then we felt different rather than special. Boxing was one of our activities and it was there that we came across My Barber. A dashing, good looking teacher who we liked, even if we didn?t like the activity.

Some of the names I have read on the site were people I got to know at Sarum Chase. In addition to Barber (who was friendly enough), I knew (and liked) Chris Southall. Mr Wray (is this the same person Sam mentions?) was there too and well liked although personally I never had a strong rapport with him.

There was a group of boys that I spent a lot of time with in those days. It changed over time, but some of the names I remember most are Ben Gray, Anthony White, Sebastian Best, Joseph Todhunter, Paul Saunders ? and later Lionel Hithersay. There were many more. I am no longer in touch with any of these people. Some I did maintain contact with for a while, others I heard about (for example Joseph). I have used Friendsreunited to find a number of people from my day schools, but have assumed this grouping is not listed on that site. If I am wrong please let me know. I?d be really interested in catching up with these people.

There were occasional children?s weekends away at Stanhill Court (where I sustained a wonderful scar on my knee there which really should have been treated at hospital) and Waterperry. These were long and tough weekends ? very long days starting before dawn and ending at 9 or 10 in the evening. But there was plenty of fun to be had, and apart from being shouted at from time to time, there was little fear in the group and no violence that I remember. This did change over time and there was one weekend at Waterperry when I must been around 13 when the mood was a lot tougher. Even so, we still found time to get up to mischief ? stealing food from the larder including on one occasion a tin of corned beef ? no idea what it was doing there in the first place ? and then having to wake up the leaders when one of us ripped a huge hole in his finger trying to open it. That weekend Mr Barber drew a large cartoon with characatures of all of us ? including Martin with a bandage on his finger.

Towards the end of our time at the Sunday school, the practice of Fagging (as in public school fagging) was introduced. The older of us, myself included, were each attached to a senior member of the SES and every other Saturday spent the day with them. The biggest issue here for me was the imposition on time. By that stage (age 12 - 13) I had an activity every night of the week (all but one was SES related), every Sunday, and every other Saturday. Fagging seemed odd to us, but we went along with it. For my part I was attached to a man called Philip Easton who was a genuinely lovely guy ? quietly spoken, interesting, knowledgeable.

At that time there were two elite groups in SES each of which had weekly tutorials with Mr Mclaren ? the Friday night group, and the (lesser) Tuesday night group. Mr Easton was in the Friday night group along with people like Sheila Rosenberg. (I heard he left later to take over a farm.)

Fagging for me meant getting up at 4.30am, and catching the first tube train over to Preston Road from where I walked up the hill to meet Mr Boden ? an odd but friendly man who (when he thought I was asleep) would hum and sing The Magic Flute as he drove his Ford Anglia along the A40. We?d arrive at Waterperry at 7am and would leave again at around 6pm. Waterperry (from this angle) was fun. I ate with the elite, was generally indulged, and had hours at a time under the loosest of supervision during which I roamed the house and gardens, made friends, played the pianos, raided the larder, and explored.

I remember meeting Sheila Rosenburg. I think I had asked for it in order to request a reduction in my weekend commitments to the SES. She remarked that she was amazed how old I had grown and it was shortly after that that the arrangements all changed. Fagging and Sunday School was replaced with weekends at Stanhill Court. We went every other weekend ? which significantly increased my free time away from the SES. At Stanhill Court we were under the supervision of Mr Shelley ? whom we all feared, but also respected. A large broken down caravan was procured and much of our intitial activity revolved around its renovation. The renovation was painfully slow ? we made the proverbial British worker seem lightening fast ? but the arrangement seemed to work out well for all concerned. It wasn?t a bed of roses ? we still had long days, runs at 5am in the pitch black and cold, interminable sessions of Vedic maths and Sanskrit? but we also had a good amount of free time, and we knew how to bend the rules. The arrangement meant that we shared Stanhill Court with groups coming down for their weekends away ? and we were always one step ahead of them ? nicking their wine ? but careful not to take the best bottles, sneaking off when we were attached to their gardening teams and getting together in hidden corners of the estate.

We were all at our own (mainly fee paying) schools and therefore had ?normal? lives outside the SES ? and in our evenings at the caravan, listening to Pink Floyd on our portable cassette players we would compare notes on schools, girls, music and other issues of the day swigging wine from the bottle and eating our way through whatever food we had brought or acquired.

I don?t want to underplay the austerity. It was certainly there ? and we had many uncomfortable sessions. One of our number was younger and smaller and never really accepted as part of the group. He was given a hard time by Shelley and on at least one occasions was hit with a belt for (I believe) stealing money. But we did not live in fear of violence.
Child member of SES from around 1967 to around 1977; Strongly involved in Sunday Schools ; Five brothers and sisters went to ST V and St J in the worst years

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Ben W
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Life as a child of established members of SES

Postby Ben W » Sun Mar 19, 2006 1:09 pm

The other aspect of life in the SES I think is relevant is that as a child of parents who were established members, I spent some early Christmases at Stanhill Court. This started when I was pretty young ? perhaps 9 or 10. There were other kids too. Here the atmosphere was much lighter. The evening sessions were longer, and full of music and merriment. After dinner ? which I recall sometimes included sumptuous deserts ? Mclaren (or other senior people) would talk in the Withdrawing Room. Sometimes we were included, others not. We were referred to as pure ? full of Satva ? not so tainted with Rajas and Tamas. One Christmas we were given torches as presents - which we took as an open invitation to explore the house and grounds in the dark.

Mclaren was an interesting speaker, even for young children. He chainsmoked his way through these sessions, often with a twinkle in his eye, and taking many questions ? including a number from me.

There were kids of different ages at these weekends and it was here that I first became acquainted with the Youth group. Kids who were probably 17 or 18 ? who we sometimes shared dormitory space with and who talked about mopeds, drinking, girls and other things. They seemed to spend more time in mixed groups than we did. This was my first encounter with Chris Southall ? who at the time was a smooth character (in the way that younger kids look up to) and friendly. He was not my favourite of that group, but there was nothing sinister about him that I can remember.

My mother speaks badly of the youth group - people came out of it changed for the worse. I did not observe any of that, but I wasn't looking. I think this would be an interesting angle to develop if we can find people who were involved who are willing to contribute to this site.
Child member of SES from around 1967 to around 1977; Strongly involved in Sunday Schools ; Five brothers and sisters went to ST V and St J in the worst years

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Ben W
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Leaving the SES

Postby Ben W » Sun Mar 19, 2006 1:12 pm

You will appreciate that throughout my time at the SES, my overriding problems were connected with home rather than SES. My relationship with my stepfather changed as I grew older. I was still fearful and terrorized, but I became more rebellious. In 1977 I met my natural father for the first time, and a month later my grandfather (who I?d been very close to) died. The pace of life accelerated hugely for me during this time, and I spent growing amounts of time with one of my SES friends. We?d skip our group night sessions and go instead to pubs or to the Music Machine or Roundhouse (or other music clubs) and listen to punk rock. I moved out of home to live with my grandmother, and my relationship with SES ended. The group held a place open for me for a while but I never went back.

My leaving home was the catalyst for other changes. My stepfather moved out, although his presence continued to be felt. A year into University I heard that my mother had run away with the kids. I found her in South West Cork living in a [terribly run down dwelling with] no water or gas, cooking on an open fire. Later she moved back to London and lived in squats for a number of years. Education for the kids, was very patchy from that point on, although it improved slightly in London. By that time my other brother had left home at the age of 12. I don?t want to say more about their journeys. I think it is their position to comment on that if they wish.
Last edited by Ben W on Tue Mar 21, 2006 7:35 pm, edited 2 times in total.
Child member of SES from around 1967 to around 1977; Strongly involved in Sunday Schools ; Five brothers and sisters went to ST V and St J in the worst years


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