Memories - my tribute to the late Cecil Ernest Clayton

I WAS always aware that our mothers were very great friends. We always inter visited with the Claytons when I was a child. I think that probably Mrs Clayton and my mother would meet 'up town' as we called it, maybe visit Austin's 'The Great Clothiers', have a cup of tea and a chat, and then they'd be home in our respective homes - to get us our tea and set us up for the evening. At least that is what I presume was the routine. (Not every afternoon of course, but durin

There is an early photograph of Cecil and myself (aged two or three years), taken of us seated on the doorsteps of the Clayton home on Duncreggan Road, Londonderry. So the friendship between the two families goes back very far indeed.

Cecil's father, Mr Ernest Clayton, was a teacher in the Londonderry Model School, where he taught the fifth Class, which was usually regarded as the most difficult, because in it, we would be prepared for The Foyle and Londonderry Examination. Later, of course Cecil's father became Headmaster of 'The Model' but that was after we had already left for Foyle.

Mr Clayton was very keen on football, and he was a great supporter of Derry City Football Club. During our time in Mr Clayton's class, we had a kind of league of our own - the class being divided into four teams - The Spitfires and The Hurricanes to name but two. Those of course were the war years and the main event was when a team from Foyle (perhaps The Prep) came down to play a team from The Model.

Later at Foyle, during the years 1942-1947, Cecil and I played rugby - first in The Medallion, and then later for the 1st XV, and we both had the honour of playing on the team captained by the late Noel Henderson, who later played for Ulster and Ireland.

Cecil and I played in the Semi-Final of the Ulster Schools' Cup in which we lost 5-3 to Medthodist College, whom we had previously defeated that season, 1946-47.

At Foyle, Cecil, like myself, was a pupil in The Greek Class, under the instruction of Mr Mullin (who incidentally also took the Medallion XV). There were usually just five or six of us in the class because all the others of our year went to Mr Walker, the teacher of French. So we were rather a 'special bunch'. For five years, we laboured at the Greek language, and towards the end of our course, we actually touched on some New testament Greek (which seemed somewhat easier because of our knowledge, in English, of the Four Gospels - known and familiar to us from our Sunday School lessons).

Mr Mullin probably had a difficult time with us, but he never gave up trying! Cecil, like the rest of us worked patiently and doubtless, like myself, perhaps came to actually like the language in which our New Testament was originally written.

Cecil's family worshipped in Strand Presbyterian Church, where the Very Rev W.A. Montgomery was the highly respected Minister, and he held the whole Clayton family in very high esteem.

In fact, I personally heard Dr Montgomery describing them as "the kind of people who are the very salt of the earth". We ourselves, my parents and brother Allison and I were members of Great James Street Church, and on the occasion of my own becoming a Licentiate, Cecil's father kindly spoke in my support at the reception after the service, much to the pleasure of my parents, Mr and Mrs W.F. Armstrong.

In those days, Strand Road and Great James Street congregations held United Services during the months of July and August, so there was always a warm and friendly bond between the congregations, just like the bond between the two families, The Claytons and The Armstrongs.

During those boyhood years, and to pass the long summer holidays, Cecil, I and others spent part of our time at the grounds of City of Derry Cricket Club. Going along to ‘City’ helped to while away the long summer evenings. On a Saturday, we loved to watch the members of the Senior Team display their skills with bat and ball.

Then we could enjoy watching the mid-week matches, probably on a Wednesday evening. On an afternoon or evening when the grounds were free, we would take the opportunity to practice ourselves, doubtless organising our own game. We were always keen on the make-up of the Senior Team, with some of the leading players becoming our boyhood heroes.

However, often family holidays came along, and we took ourselves off to various resorts on the North Coast or Donegal. Cecil, of course, played his full part in all of this and going down to ‘City’ was always part of his vocabulary.

Another activity Cecil and I had in common was in our membership of The Londonderry Crusader Class which was under the leadership of the well known and respected Mr T.S. Mooney, who was an official of The Belfast Bank, and was known affectionately as ‘T.S.’ This was a boys Bible class, held on a Sunday afternoon in the premises of The Presbyterian Working Men’s Institute in The Diamond. Shortly before the hour of three o’clock, we boys would noisily climb up the rickety stairs to a room at the top, where we then sat on the old style wooden brown chairs which were then noisily and unceremoniously knocked over when everyone made a rush for the door when class was finished.

However, during the class itself, everyone conducted themselves with remarkably good manners, and quiet, reverence, whilst at the same time we sang the challenging choruses, along with some lovely hymns from the Hymn Book called ‘Golden Bells’.

The boys then listened with respectful attention as ‘T.S.’ in his own inimitable and assertive way passed on to us the rudiments of Christian Theology, and pointed us to the way of salvation in Jesus Christ Our Lord.

At Easter time, the Irish Crusader Union held a house party in Bray, Co Wicklow, in a large mansion called St Valerie. Some Derry Crusaders, including Cecil and myself thoroughly enjoyed the games, fellowship and fun, with visits to Dublin, a climb up Sugar Loaf Mountain and also to The Silver Lounge in Bray town for ice cream! At evening prayers, we heard the challenge of the call to follow Christ and to commit our lives to him. Cecil had the privilege, like myself of sharing in all these activities.

One of the subjects which often came from Cecil’s lips was regarding his visits to his uncle’s farm at Ballougry, County Londonderry where he often visited his cousins, The Mackeys, and there he learned about the work of the farm. I remember him referring to this, and I know that he appreciated how hard working farmers were.

In 1945, Cecil and his classmates from Foyle were given the afternoon off to observe the surrender of the German U boats in Lisahally.

‘Over the Sea to Skye’ was played by a piper, a tune latterly played at Cecil’s 70th birthday party, attended by myself, Harper Bell, Josh Lapsley, Don Houston, Norman Austin, DH McNally and JO Lyons, friends from Foyle days.

Cecil started his career in the Belfast Bank in 1947, initially posted to the Chief Accountant’s office, and latterly in Limavady, Dungannon, Bangor, Coleraine, Portstewart and Dungiven.

During his time in Dungiven, he had his share of problems during troubled times but had the respect of all.

Whilst serving in the bank, he participated in many sports, including Rugby, Hockey and Football. It was in Limavady where he met his future wife, Anne Semple, and they would both settle in the town, bringing up their family John, Heather and Alan.

As a family, Cecil, Anne and their children enjoyed so many family caravan holidays and indeed Anne and he continued to do so, even after his children left home. Upon his retirement in 1986, Anne and he travelled extensively to Australia, Canada, and Singapore to name but a few. His main interests in life were his family and garden, the former of which he was devoted to, and they to him.

Cecil Clayton was a very good son - he always held his parents in high esteem - as a boy, he obeyed them, respected them and always gave them their proper place. He was also a very good and devoted brother to his sisters Evelyn and Margaret. He was loving and loyal to all his family, and they can all look back now with thanksgiving for a husband and father who was second to none, who gave himself on their behalf and who shared his life with them until his death on 14th June 2010.

Cecil was everyone’s friend. A man with Christian principles who was admired by all who knew him. Full of openness and charm, always cheerful and kind. His knowledge and power to communicate made him good company. he was indeed like his father - a great character, upright, honourable, buoyant and bright.

After many years, it was a great joy and pleasure for me to meet up again with Cecil on his 70th birthday and then on several occasions after that, which means that our friendship has spanned all those years since we were tiny toddlers until we reached a ripe old age. A wonderful record to look back upon, and for which to give thanks to God for the life of Cecil.

A Life well lived, and a race well and truly won.