Revd Ray G C Follis (OH 1935-1940)
The OH Club has been informed of the death of Flight Lieutenant Revd. Ray G. C. Follis., DFC (1924 - 2012) peacefully on Tuesday 10th January 2012 aged 88. In the sheet of instructions for Ray’s funeral, which was filed in the St Mary’s office some time ago, I came across his note, typical in its lack of assumption, that ‘one of my three sons may wish to say a few words’ - note the word may - then in capitals ‘Very Brief’. Well yes, Pop, one of us rather surprisingly does indeed wish to say a few words about you on behalf of the three of us. As to your command of ‘Very Brief’- we once again have the ultimate pleasure from childhood of totally ignoring your wishes! Ray’s early days were spent with his parents in various vicarages, his father being a parish priest.For various reasons home life was not the easiest but happily, at the age of 10, he won a choral scholarship to Hereford Cathedral School. There he sang in the cathedral choir and took part in many associated musical activities. His time in the cathedral choir cemented his life-long love of music, in all its forms. He loved every aspect of school at Hereford. But had a real fear that, when his voice broke, he would have to leave as his choral scholarship would be over. However he was awarded a bursary to stay on, and then discovered his other great love which was rugby. He was a committed player of the game until his mid-thirties and, from then, a passionate spectator of the game. After school he joined the RAF and trained as a navigator. This was when he met and fell in love with our lovely mother Mavis. They were married in 1943 when he was 19 and very soon started a family. During the war Ray flew many missions in Mosquitos - which were the night fighter/bombers so feared by the Lufftwaffe that shooting down a mosquito counted as two ‘kills’ on a German pilot’s record. In July 1945 Ray was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross in recognition of acts of valour whilst flying in active operations against the enemy. After the war Ray was offered a scholarship to St John’s College Cambridge to study English. But with a family - John had arrived and I was on the way - this was not feasible. He always had a great love of English and it would have been fitting for him to have had his years of study at Cambridge. However, he had to make a living. He thus got a job selling life insurance. Now the idea of Ray selling life insurance is beyond belief – but amazingly the company awarded him the title of ‘Insurance Salesman of The year’. Actually, if truth be told, the only reason for this was that he managed to sell insurance to just about every one of his former RAF colleagues! Fortunately for the insurance industry he was soon offered a permanent commission in the RAF and embarked upon his chosen career. He was stationed at the Royal Aircraft Establishment at Boscombe Down, where he undertook night fighter trials of the new Venom jet. Whilst there he and Mavis attended church in nearby Amesbury and got to know the vicar, who was a distinguished army officer before becoming a late ordinand. One of Ray’s treasured memories, related to me towards the end of his life, was when this ex- army vicar visited him at his first parish and said to Ray ‘I expected to see an RAF officer wearing a dog collar – but all I see is a parish priest’. This meant an enormous amount to Ray. Whilst worshiping at Amesbury gradual little seeds for the future were sown. But Ray’s RAF career was on the march and soon he was posted to Singapore to head the new Meteor jet reconnaissance squadron. During this time, in 1957, his name was posted in The London Gazette as being Mentioned in Dispatches in recognition of distinguished service. After this he was returned to the UK to RAF Wyton to continue developing photo reconnaissance with the Canberra and Valiant Squadrons there. After that, he was returned to Singapore to head up the Far East Air Force photo reconnaissance unit where, amongst other things, his team was tasked with the mapping of Thailand. This was the first detailed aerial map of the country and its interior and was part of an agreement between the UK and Thai governments. During his time in Singapore he continued playing his much loved rugby but also became heavily involved in church life, being choirmaster at a number of military churches and later at Singapore Cathedral. Incessantly, during this time, the drip, drip, drip of the call to ordination would not cease until it could not be ignored and, after much careful thought and discussion with Mavis, Ray decided to resign from the RAF and train for the ministry. It was ironic that immediately after sending off his letter of resignation to the Air Ministry he received a letter informing him that he had been assimilated to the new fast track career structure. This meant that he was marked for a distinguished future in the RAF – something of a test of faith and more were to come. Within a few days of his giving his resignation to the RAF he was critically injured in a road accident and, after emergency treatment in Singapore, was flown home to the RAF hospital in Halton. Here his life was stabilised and he embarked on operation after operation with no let-up. Largely because of his rugby fitness he finally recovered. He was asked by the Air Ministry to serve one more year in the RAF so that his successor could be selected and confirmed – and was then to start his training at Lichfield Theological College which had a speciality in the training of late ordinands. Sadly for Ray the aftermath of his serious accident soon became apparent in that, whilst physically recovered, he had not been allowed to take the time necessary to recover mentally. He thus undertook the demands of his studies at Lichfield and the first year of his ministry battling with the debilitating nightmare of post-operative depression. Very slowly, after four years and with wonderful professional help, he recovered. He always felt that this experience was of great value to him as a priest in that he could immediately recognise the signs of depression. He was able to say to those seeking his help that ‘I cannot get into your black hole with you, but I do understand as I once had my own black hole’.Ray’s ministry then became the essence of his being and, with Mavis’s wonderful support, he proceeded on his chosen path. He arrived at Fishbourne and Appledram where he worked tirelessly for his 22 years there, undertaking all manner of developments and projects.He was a man who led from the front – anything he started he was physically involved with – from churchyard working party to fundraising for a choir vestry to developing aspects of the local church school. He never expected others to do what he thought he should do himself and where he should lead. Ray always had a passionate concern for the needs of young people. Noticing that Fishbourne had limited sports facilities for the young, he pioneered the ‘Fishbourne Playing Fields Association’ which raised money to purchase a field and to build club facilities there. This went on to be a flourishing concern. He was, I think, quietly tickled pink when on leaving Fishbourne, a road on a new development was named Follis Gardens. Throughout his ministry he never ceased to praise the total and unswerving support of Mavis. When Ray started his training in Lichfield, she had returned from a life in Singapore with a live in maid, cook and a gardener to live in a caravan in a local farmer’s field and thereafter in a basic unheated flat, taking whatever small job was available to help support the family during Ray’s training. I was still at boarding school and David had just started – fees had to be paid and Ray was insistent that we should enjoy the benefits of public school education as he did.When Ray retired he and Mavis left Fishbourne to begin and enjoy their happy and relaxed retirement at Aldwick.