Death of North Walsham Salvation Army stalwart
Salvation Army's Ellen Christian has died at the age of 67. During her lifetime she helped the vulnerable in London and 'could always see the best in people'.
Ellen Lankester was born in Station Road, Sheringham, in June, 1952. Her mother, Rene, was a committed Salvationist, and Salvation Army activities dominated the youngster's life by the time she was eight or nine - Church all Sunday, choir and tambourine practices in the evenings during the week, along with Bible study and singing lessons. After school, on Wednesdays, Ellen was allowed half an hour with non-Army friends.
At 14 she was made a senior soldier of the Salvation Army. She left school the following year, spent three years training as a children's nanny, and got a job with a family in North Walsham.
Her life changed forever in 1975, when she met husband-to-be RAF policeman Keith Christian. She knew immediately that was the man she was to marry, and he proposed to her in the jeweller’s shop. They married in 1976.
After marrying they had a week's honeymoon in Great Yarmouth and, later, time on the Isle of Wight with his relatives. Keith returned to Cyprus and Ellen followed a month or so later - her first time on a plane.
Daughter Victoria, born in August 1977, died of cot death about six months later. Time passed in a blur, and the couple's love pulled them through. Ellen wrote that it seemed to grow stronger. She was told that having another baby would kill her. Ellen and Keith were sad, but accepted it. They later left Cyprus with heavy hearts… and arrived in England to find it snowing heavily.
Keith was posted to RAF Wittering, near Peterborough, where married quarters were very different than living in a Cypriot village. Ellen began to dislike it; her husband was at work all day, and then exercises could take him away for days, so Keith left the RAF in 1980, and started managing a block of flats in Camden, London, that came with a one-bedroom flat for them.
One evening in 1984, out of the blue, Keith asked Ellen if she'd like to go to the Salvation Army the next day. She hadn't been for years. But, yes. They enjoyed it, and often went later. Ellen reflected: "It's totally different going to the Army because you want to, rather than being made to go."
By 1986, Keith and Ellen were in full Salvation Army uniform and undertook managing Faith House, a five-storey Victorian building in King's Cross which cared for the homeless, runaway children, sex workers, mothers struggling on their own, and others. Ellen and Keith would be at Faith House during the day, helping Camden social services, sometimes there would be children to take in until a foster placement or children's home was available. They helped put together food parcels and toys for families living in B&Bs.
At about 10.30pm Ellen and Keith would invariably go on the "midnight patrol", armed with tickets to give out that would get the needy a sleeping bag or a place in a hostel. They'd walk up Euston Road, looking for the vulnerable in doorways and alleys. There was a soup and clothing "kitchen" at Euston station. On to St Pancras and King's Cross. They once returned to find a new-born baby on the doorstep, wrapped in a jumper and left in a box.
On more than one occasion Ellen came under physical attack when trying to help or protect others, suffering broken ribs, fingers and a bloody nose. Not a way of life for the faint-hearted. But Ellen was buoyed by faith.
In 1989 they were nominated for the Freedom of the City of London. Ellen's mum and Aunt Audrey were thrilled to think a former little girl from north Norfolk could receive the highest honour the City of London could bestow. In early 1990 the couple were invited to join the Guild of Freemen of the City of London.
The long hours took their toll. Even so, it was a shock when they learned the work and midnight patrols were ending. In 1995 they were out of a job, and home. They had made contact with 56,000 people during their time at Faith House, and helped 42,000. Keith and Ellen decided to take a year out and rented a cottage in North Walsham.
In 1997 Keith was headhunted to manage an apartment block in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair. They lived in, rent-free flat with bills covered. It was opposite the American embassy and almost every morning the King's Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, went past with their gun carriages. At the turn of the millennium the couple stood on the roof to watch the fireworks over the Thames.
The flowing decade saw illness and surgery for Ellen, but on a much happier note, the couple attended the Lord Mayor's Banquet and were presented to the Princess Royal - something they never forgot.
Keith retired in 2011 and they again returned to Norfolk. They celebrated their ruby wedding in 2016 and looked set to enjoy their later years, but Ellen died last month - her life story written but not yet published.
Keith said 'Ellen’s smile was an endearing quality, and you could count on the fingers of both hands the sad times when that smile disappeared. She could always see the best in people, no matter who they were,"
Ellen's autobiography “Norfolk into Danger - And Back” is published by AH Stockwell Ltd on October 25. It costs £11.95.
The image above of Ellen and Keith at an event at the House of Lords is from the family collection, as published in the EDP.
These are excerpts from the full obituary published in the Eastern Daily Press