Bucks Free Press, September 8th 1988.
Over the past two weeks, Free Press writer Andrew Neish has followed the life of Oscar Muspratt, Vicar of Penn. We have seen Oscar as a young boy fighting the elements in Australia, and as an army chaplain braving the bombs of Hitler’s Luftwaffe in the siege of Malta. Now Andrew talks to Oscar about his 44 years at Penn and his role on the international scene.
OSCAR’S life of adventure was over – in a sense. He was now a country parson, with a loving wife, a small child, and the cares of a small sleepy village to tend to. No more mountains, no battles, no bloodshed, no more fighting a wild and hostile Outback. But as we have seen, ‘Oscar had been born to a life of challenges. At the age of 38, he-wasn’t going to change his lifestyle now.
There was rationing. There was still the post-war hardship. There were the new parishioners to get to know. But these were problems familiar to Oscar. “I had the challenge of a new parish, of meeting new people. But of course 1 was used to this,” he says. “I was merely building on what 1 had learnt before.” . Oscar’s early Outback life prepared him for a special task in 1949. He was’ one of 300 clergymen sent on a mission to London to spread the’ Word. His patch was Kingsbury, Neasden and Willesden. He knocked on doors, not to sell lobsters this time, but to tell people about God.
There are poignant memories. “1 shall never forget meeting on my door-to-door visits one of the most wonderful housewives I have ever been privileged to know. She had become blind when she was about 18 or 19. Instead of giving up her life as hopeless, she had taught herself to cook, married: and had four children whom I met in her spotless home in a back street. She wasn’t satisfied with that achievement and took in four lodgers, all of whom were blind.”
This theme of endurance against all odds crops up again and again in talking to Oscar Muspratt. He quotes this story but doesn’t feel the need to elaborate. He just nods and smiles. This has been a way of life for him. Penn has known Oscar as its vicar for 44 years. He has followed the bread and butter tasks of christenings, weddings, and funerals as any clergyman would. But he insists: “Some ‘people might think I’ve just taken it easy here in the village, but that just isn’t true.”
Indeed, Oscar’s lust for adventure has jetted him from deepest Bucks obscurity to the world stage on more than one occasion. At the height of the Cuban Crisis in 1962, when Kennedy and Kruschev were playing the dangerous game of brinkmanship over the infamous missiles, Oscar was in Washington. He was invited to say the opening prayers at a session of the US Senate -the epicentre of American politics.
“Things were very tense in the States at that time. The situation might have led to the outbreak of World War Three. I think America realised the links with England, forged in the two previous wars, were still vital. In a sense I was representing my country. This was no time to be nervous. I couldn’t let England down. I read out William Penn’s farewell address to Philadelphia and I was praying for the safety of America which could have been blasted by the nuclear warheads.” Despite the gravity of the situation, Oscar’s memories show that sense of humour which is so much a part of his character. “One of the rewards for doing the prayers was to be allowed to sit in the building all day and use the Senate’s own headed notepaper. I can tell you, I wrote as many letters as I could.”
Amidst all the adventure, the travel, the excitement, Oscar has never forgotten his beloved, parish of Penn – and Penn Church. There has been an extension to the churchyard, a new organ, vestry, choir stalls and a screen commemorating the 200th anniversary of the US constitution.
But Oscar has never, faced his challenges, alone. Until her death in 1976, Margaret Muspratt bore the burden with her husband. “She would always. listen to people and they would come to her with· their problems. They. could always trust her. Someone might call. in the evening in the: middle of a meal and I’d have to talk to them for perhaps an hour. Margaret would· never ask what it was about if it was a talk in confidence. She was always supportive.”
Now there is a new challenge. There are· proposals to merge the parish with Beaconsfield which would leave the church without its own vicar. “The supreme test at’ the moment is to keep Penn independent. Penn has always been known for its initiative, its history, its originality. I’m determined to keep it that.”
The burial of Donald Maclean in 1983 shows Oscar Muspratt as a man of principle, someone who does what’s right and the consequences be damned. Donald Maclean was along with his friends Guy Burgess and Kim Philby, the worst traitor this country has known. His defection to the East outraged a nation and brought grief to his friends and family. But Oscar knew that beneath the treachery there was a man who had simply lost his way – weak as all men can be in the eyes of God. When Maclean died, Oscar knew that he would be asked to take a service for him, as he already had strong links with the Macleans. The family had a country home on Beacon Hill. Top war correspondent Chester Wilmot had to leave his accommodation in Tylers Green. Oscar arranged for him to use the Macleans’ home as they were planning to let it. Oscar had already buried Lady Maclean, Donald’s mother. Security men had attended on the chance that the spy might return to pay his respects. He remembers the tense run-up to the service. “Donald’s son Fergus came to me and said he was 48 hours ahead of the Press. His uncle, Alan, Donald’s brother, felt it would be best to have the service in a few years when all the commotion had died down. “But Fergus and I thought we had to act quickly. We didn’t want all the cameras there. So the whole thing was fixed within one day.” Was the decision to take the service difficult? “Obviously I had to think about it. But then, whether a vicar is called upon to bury the Archbishop of Canterbury or the biggest villain unhung, he still commends them both to the hands of God. There was one condition. The Press speculated that there would be a Hammer-and-Sickle on the casket. I couldn’t have allowed that. As it happened there was none.” Oscar remembers the love that Maclean’s family still felt for him, in spite of the treachery. In that respect; he chose a passage from Corinthians – a line of which reads: ‘Love keeps no score of wrongs, does not gloat over other men’s sins but delights in the truth: There is nothing love cannot face, there is no limit to its faith, its hope and its endurance.’
But the Maclean affair is only a moment in time in Oscar’s colourful life. He has many projects closer to home but just as important. There is the link with Pennsylvania and William Penn. His interest in William Penn began when he first arrived at the village. He was given some books about- the great man. Holed up in the vicarage by a heavy snowfall, he began to read. It was the birth of a passion that has burned ever since. He has worked for years to prove Penn’s links with the village. On this note he has been the guest of the US State Department with Earl and Countess Howe, and was given the freedom of Pittsburgh in 1950. In the same year, he made a speech to the State Legislature in Harrisburg – a privilege granted to only two outsiders a year. He also
On a less controversial note Oscar intends to write a history of the village and the church. Another possibility is to write the life stories of many of the people he has buried over the years. This has been a fantastic and full life so far – sparkling with achievement. But what is he most proud of? “Difficult to say. There is the church in Mount Dandenong’ which Keith Reid a fine architect designed – he was nominated by me. The scheme I created for the unemployed in Melbourne, which must have given thousands of men a chance in life which they deserved.” “But there are the simpler things in life. The human side. I’m pleased to think that I’ve added as personal and sincere touch as I can to the many burials and weddings I’ve taken. “The personal side of life has always been very important to me.”
Oscar Muspratt is now 82. Over the last three weeks, we have’ looked back on his life. But Oscar continually looks forward, His work isn’t finished yet. For this man of action, the challenges the tasks, the achievements will never cease.