The young convert was not favoured like many who have had the great blessing of being raised in a Christian home, or even under the influence of a godly Sunday School teacher, and who at the very start of their Christian life have been nourished by those who cared for their souls. But just as in the case of Saul of Tarsus, (whom God had called to be a chosen vessel to bear the name of Jesus before the Gentiles), the Lord had a “disciple named Ananias” at Damascus ready to be the first to call him “brother Saul” and to give him his earliest lesson in the school of God, so the Lord had also His servants ready to be used by Him in leading young W. J. McClure into the right ways of the Lord.
Little beginnings, some indeed that might seem out of the ordinary and of no importance, have often been the seed plot from which fruit has been gathered in later days. Such might be said of the early experiences of brother McClure.
During our visit to the British Isles together in 1927, one beautiful day early in June, as we motored along the road from Banbridge to Belfast which was very familiar to him, the peaceful countryside, the fragrance of wild flowers all around, the cattle grazing in the fields, the songsters of the grove sending forth sweet melodies, all together made a very pleasing and attractive appearance. But the mind of Mr. McClure seemed taken up with the past. His heart was evidently deeply stirred as he related to me his conversion and early Christian experiences. It was most interesting to hear him speak of these in his own graphic style, until I could almost see it all portrayed before me. His first experience of leaving home, which became such a factor in his Christian life, seemed especially before him that day as certain localities and buildings along the way brought back memories of his first long walk along that very road over fifty years before. He told me that shortly after his conversion he and a Christian companion, James Ruddock, who had heard much about the good positions and wonderful opportunities for work in Belfast, conceived a great desire to go to the city with the laudable object of being able to make money to help their respective families. Neither had the courage to tell their parents what their intentions were, and so they decided to slip away and, after they had secured employment, write home and tell of their success.
One early morning the venture began. Their store of money gathered for the occasion amounted to only a few shillings, but they were sure they had an ample supply. The journey that day was over twenty miles, yet the long walk meant nothing to these ambitious boys who had visions of great achievements. With no special incidents occurring along the way, not even a ride in a wagon with a friendly farmer, these two strangers arrived in the city in the evening. There everything seemed so different from the country town they had left behind. Boys were calling out the evening papers, crowds of workmen were pouring from shipyards, foundries, and linen factories, scenes interesting to watch, for, of course, they expected soon themselves to join some of these crowds in the evening after their day’s work was done. But the first great surprise in the big city for these boys was very startling. When they had paid the amount demanded for a night’s lodging after what they had already spent during the day for necessary food they were surprised at the great degree in which their savings were reduced. Still, of course they expected soon to have their little store replenished.
William had often heard his father speak of the great industrial plant called the “Barbour and Coombes Foundry” with its many employees and so early the next morning the two boys presented themselves to the foreman, and asked for work. He merely looked them over, shook his head, and said, “I have nothing that would suit you.” Undaunted by this rebuff (for there were many other shops in the city), all day long they travelled from place to place, but only to hear the same words they had heard from the foreman at the foundry in the morning.
Bitter was their disappointment toward evening as homesick and tired, their money almost gone, in a big city and all alone, these two very discouraged boys wended their way back to their lodging place. Suddenly as he was passing a doorway W. J. recognized a blacksmith who had formerly worked in Banbridge for his father. “Hello, McClure, when did you come and where are you going?” were the questions asked and in getting the answers, the kindly Irishman took them in for the night.
Still another surprise awaited them on the following-day for as they set out once more on what seemed now a hopeless task—the getting of a job—on turning a corner they unexpectedly ran into Mr. Simpson McClure, who had followed them to the city. “What are you boys doing?” was the stern demand. “Looking for work,” was the meek and confused reply. “Come with me,” was the next word, and as he started off, they followed, keeping a few steps behind. Up the street and around a corner they went, and then he marched them into a restaurant; to the boys, a very acceptable move especially as they heard him say, “Give these boys something to eat.” After a good meal the word of command again sounded, “Come on.” They walked a number of blocks, and into a large foundry yard, the very place they had visited the day before without success. There the foreman who had turned them down, greeted Mr. McClure, Sr., as an old friend, and soon he was asked, “Can you give these boys work?” “Surely,” was the reply, “they can start at noon.”
Again his father led the way, and the next stop was at a boarding house. “Can you give these boys board and lodging?” was the question put to the landlady. “Yes, indeed, I have a room that will just suit them.” He paid for a week in advance, gave the boys a little pocket money, and departed leaving the dazed job seekers with hopes revived by the wise dealings the father had shown them.
Having now left the country town and his home associations behind, he was well satisfied with his employment, but being the eldest son in a large family he felt his responsibility. Life seemed to assume a new aspect and the outlook was very encouraging.
In the foundry he worked at a machine and soon acquired skill in the mechanical end of the business. He continued in the employment of Barbour and Coombes for a number of years.