Sometimes, you will come across stories that will grow more and more inspiring and special as they are unfolded. Sometimes, these stories are just that – great stories. Sometimes, they are a little bit more. They might somehow strike a chord with us, or they might be extra special due to the fact that they are actually true, that this actually happened to the human begin sitting in front of you, telling the story.
Personally, I’ve been fortunate enough to hear a number of true stories like that, but few of them rival the story of Reginald Matthews. What started as a 30 minute interview that was supposed to be about him winning his first award at 90 turned into 2½ hours about the Second World War, Religion, the South West, Asia and why he’s never retired. What was supposed to be 700 word piece on an award and a teaching experience in China turned into 2500 words about…well, for want of a better description, I would call it a life well lived. A story about a 90-year-old man whose fascination with airplanes somehow ended with him sailing the seas until the tender age of 79, and going to China to volunteer and an English teacher at the age of 89.
Luckily, the editor at the local newspaper who had originally committed the cardinal sin of telling me to write the ‘long version’ of Reg’s story (and knowing me, he should have known better) was able to edit my meandering tale down to a newspaper-friendly length. That version – which I would say is by far the superior one-sitting-story – can be found here.
The version found here is the original, unabridged script that I sent to the editor, and perhaps a chance to learn a bit more about Reg and his inspirational life.
Any attempt to sum up a life in words – even 2500 of them – will invariably fall short. I’ve chosen to focus on three main parts of Reg’s life, and split the story up into four separate posts. I hope this also makes it a little bit easier to read.
Now over to Reg.
From South West England to Asia
After the war, I spent some years working as an air mechanic at London Airport, before moving down to Newquay.
A family member had died and left us the dairy in 2 Central Square. I was given the title of manager, but in reality it was mother who was in charge. During the following years, I became friends with a local couple and it was them that introduced me to the scripture. It was also in Newquay that I had my first real religious experience and one that would define the rest of my life in some ways.
My new friends would often invite me over for tea and I would always be full of questions about The Lord and The Bible. Their answers made a big impression on me and got me thinking about the bigger questions in life. The night sky in Newquay is a special experience that can be hard to explain if you have not seen it with your own eyes. It was one such clear night in 1954 that I sat and thought about life and had what I would call a religious experience. I joined a local church and started to hear about the missionary work that was going on throughout the world.
I learned that there was a mission in Plymouth, and convinced my Newquay customers that it would be a good idea for them to have a double delivery of milk on the Saturdays. They liked the idea and as soon as I was finished with my rounds I would rush up to Bodmin with the empy bottles and from there on to Albert Road in Plymouth where the mission was.
It was very inspiring to hear about the mission work, but there was a problem for me – I did not have the A-levels that were deemed necessary to join up and go out on a mission. Luckily, there was an officer there who knew of my wartime experience and kept putting my name forward. Finally, in 1973, I was accepted and went on my first mission.
The missions were based on using ships to transport missionaries from port to port, where they would stay for up to six months at a time. We often sailed to army bases in the Far East, where we would perform duties that to a point mirror modern day social workers, engaging with the army personnel and locals in the area. Missionary work is far from always connected to preaching the gospel, and often include medical work, counselling and development projects.
From the first mission, the missionary ships became the focus of my life. With my background in the Navy, I knew how to fix and maintain parts of the ships, and I would work as an electrical engineer aboard, as well as doing missionary work in the places we travelled to. The missions would last for around a year and then there would be a month or two in Plymouth before going back out.
The rules are that you should retire by 67 because that is when you are too old, but I think they purposefully forgot to ask me, because when they finally decided to inquire ‘Reg, how old are you?’ I could not lie. ‘I am 79 this year,’ I told them.
That was my last active trip on the ships, back in 2003.