THERE was not a spare seat in the room for the society’s November meeting, when Barbara Ratings gave an outstanding presentation on her “Experiences as a vicar’s wife from Germany”.
Her childhood was spent in Besigheim, near Stuttgart, where her father had moved the family in the Forties.
However, the house was requisitioned for use by American army officers.
Barbara’s mother was able to hide the family silver beneath the garden compost heap and she and her three daughters were able to live at the local vicarage.
The vicar’s wife not only took them in but also cared for refugees fleeing from the Russian advance westwards.
Barbara wondered if she would perhaps become a vicar’s wife like that, or more like Charlotte Lucas who faithfully supported her ridiculous and insensible husband Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice!
She then explained how she met her husband John after going to the village of Cuddesdon, near Oxford, to work as an au pair for the Runcie family. Robert Runcie was then principal of Cuddesdon Theological College, where John Ratings was a trainee priest.
John had a car and invited Barbara to Oxford and they would also go walking together. Robert Runcie asked what his “intentions” were towards Barbara and Mrs Runcie made it known she did not want to lose her au pair!
Barbara then returned home to complete her A-levels and went on to study at Bremen University.
Over time, the “English theology student” became her “English boyfriend” and then her “serious English boyfriend”.
John, meanwhile, had embarked on his first curacy at a “training” parish near Manchester with a social housing estate of some 28,000 people. His plan then was to work in the Manchester diocese.
The couple were married in Germany in 1968 and Barbara then returned to England as a curate’s wife.
John did not want to run his own parish straight away but wanted a curacy in a parish of a different type to widen his experience.
Robert Runcie, who had by then become Bishop at St Albans, suggested Easthampstead, which John accepted.
He was then invited to go to Geneva to study at the World Council of Churches’ College for Ecumenical Studies for six months and Barbara went too. It was following that, in 1971, that John became the vicar of Wargrave.
The couple had to become acquainted with different customs, such as parties where guests were welcomed by a butler, or where the ladies were expected to “withdraw” after dinner.
John was keen to keep an “open house”, although one well-known lady from the village did take that literally and walked in to find Barbara sitting on John’s lap!
When it came to wedding services, Barbara would sometimes join the choir and found the choristers would try to anticipate which of his regular sermons John was going to deliver.
Life at the vicarage involved other duties, such as washing the church linen, or dealing with tramps who called, or running the Young Wives group.
She also experienced her first Remembrance service, which was something that did not happen in a formal way in her home town.
In 2005, she was thrilled to be invited by the Royal British Legion to give the speech at a commemorative lunch to honour the 60th anniversary of VE and VJ Day, when she could portray the present day Germany in which she grew up, a free, democratic and welcoming country.
Barbara also recounted her time in teaching, including for many years in the modern languages department at the Piggott School in Wargrave.
This became accepted as a centre of excellence and a language college.
The European Union funded the Comenius Project, linking schools in Britain, Denmark, Germany and Latvia for which Barbara was international co-ordinator.
Her work in promoting German-British relations came to the attention of the German government and in 2002 she was awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz am Bande (John would refer to it as her “Iron Cross”).
Barbara concluded by saying that she had 37 years as the vicar’s wife in a community which she and John loved — and she still does.
After the Christmas party this month, the society’s next meeting will be on Tuesday, January 10 when Dan Wood, who grew up in Wargrave, will recount his experiences on the river.
On Tuesday, February 14 Graham Jones will talk about the Lambourn Valley railway and some of the people associated with it.
Meetings are held at the Old Pavilion in the Recreation Ground, Wargrave, starting at 8pm. For more information, call Peter Delaney on 0118 940 3121 or visit www.wargravehistory.org.uk