It’s only recently that I heard Paul McCartney talking about some of his songs, their lyrics and their meaning.
He explained about the person called ‘Eleanor Rigby’ (not her actual name). She was an ‘older lady’ who lived near his childhood home in Allerton, Liverpool. He would visit her to make sure she was ok, chat and offer to do her shopping. Loneliness was encountered. He had inherited some of his mother’s gifts as a nurse and midwife ‘to be there and meet the need’.
The chorus of the song is, ‘All the lonely people, where do they all come from?’. All the lonely people, where do they all belong?’
This final question ‘Where do they all belong?’ was the question that our founder Richard Carr-Gomm asked himself on his return from his war-time service. He had been a Churchill tank Commander that had taken him from the beaches of Normandy to the gates of the Belsen concentration camp. After the end of the war he served as a commissioned officer in the Coldstream Guards for two and a half years in Palestine ‘Shoring up the British Mandate.’
In the warm summer of 1953 when returning from a posting to the Suez Canal in Egypt, he travelled via Malta and Sicily to Naples where he took the slow train the length of Italy. It was his experience of travelling as a tramp, sleeping rough, surviving on discarded scraps of food and drinking from public water taps and bathing in the sea that prompted his reflections. He found that the worst deprivation was the lack of human company.
Because he looked like a tramp, he was treated like one, and never made welcome. He said that in the whole of that journey in Italy he was only met with kindness once. That was when he arrived in Turin. On a whim he had gone to see the ‘Turin Shroud’. En route to the cathedral he came across the Little House of Divine Providence, otherwise known as Cottolengo, a community of the distressed, 8,000 strong, run by an order of nuns offering care and companionship. The distressed were of all ages. Children, who had no hearing or speech, and the disabled playing football. It took him time to come to terms with the fact that the mentally ill were mixing with all age groups. The family members of the children explained to him that the fact that their children were mixing with those with mental illness was ok as it ’was not infectious’.
Richard’s journey home to England was filled with the question, ‘What does Britain do with its poor and its unwanted? ‘Soon after his return to the Guards in London he spent a weekend on retreat at the Hillfield Franciscan Friary in Dorset to reflect upon his experiences. He ‘…felt a clarity of vision and a peace, feelings very rare to me’.
So began the formation of the transition from a decorated Coldstream Guard Officer on guard at Buckingham Palace to joining the purposeful work of a ‘Home Help’ in Bermondsey and the care of people in need of companionship and community again.
I have been asked, with others, working and resident with Abbeyfield worldwide to relate my first encounter with the organisation, and even with the man himself Richard Carr-Gomm.
My encounters with Richard Carr-Gomm were in the autumn of 1987 in Poole in Dorset. In the summer of that year I had met with fellow clergy of the borough and different denominations for mutual support. At that time it soon became clear that we had one common concern. This was that young men and girls were homeless in some numbers and migrating to Bournemouth and Poole from around the country, and sleeping rough.
We prayed for wisdom and practical action, of course, and very soon out of the blue I received a letter from Poole Social Services asking if I would chair a small group to look at the whole issue of homelessness. It turned out that Richard Carr-Gomm was looking to see if his society could sponsor and support a project in the borough.
That is how I met him and became Chair of the Carr-Gomm Society in Poole when he visited us there. He had come down from his home in Bath. I remember his six foot two stature, size twelve shoes and his Rabbi type beard and encouraging presence.
At the end of our meeting with him he wished us well with our project to found a Carr-Gomm house in Poole (with the assistance of the then Housing Corporation). He took me to one side and said that I should never forget, ‘Edward, loneliness is no respecter of persons’. Never one to miss an opportunity he then handed me a signed copy of his autobiography ‘Push on the Door’ (1982) with the words, ‘With best wishes and welcome.’
In 1990 the house for seven young people was officially opened near to Poole Park and its work continues to this day.
That encounter with Carr-Gomm never left me and when in 2014 I read out the advert for a Chaplain with Abbeyfield, (I was newly ‘retired’ from NHS Chaplaincy), I was informed by my wife Jane: ‘That sounds like you!”
I reread my gifted book and then fully realized that Carr-Gomm was born just five miles down the road from us at Mancetter, North Warwickshire.
‘Eleanor Rigby’ was no doubt pleased by her visits from the young Paul McCartney. Out of them came music and lyric ‘All the lonely people where do they all belong?’ The question keeps being asked and the values of Abbeyfield give us some of the essence in our reflections upon our Caring, Openness, Honesty and Respect.
To be continued…
Canon Edward Pogmore
1. Some detail from the Guardian obituary of Richard Carr-Gomm,
6th November 2008
2. ‘Revolution in the Head – The Beatles records and the sixties’ by Ian Macdonald, published by Pimlico, 1995
3. ‘Push on the Door’ – an Autobiography, published by the Carr-Gomm Society, 1982
4. ‘60 Facts about our Founder’ – broadsheet published by The Abbeyfield Society its 60th Anniversary - 2016