We were due for leave this year. Church affairs as usual would be handed over to my senior African Minister, the Rev J A Pearse. Although nearing retirement age, he was quite ready to undertake the extended work. So, with no anxiety for the six months of our leave, we set out from Lagos and enjoyed the weeks at sea.
I engaged in the missionary deputation tours organised by the MMS Joyce did not join me for reasons which will be recorded here. Together, we visited our family in Ireland and other relatives in England and did as much preparation work as possible for our return to Nigeria in the autumn.
On 20th August 1939, our first son was born in the Elizabeth Garret Anderson Hospital, London. All went well with Joyce and with the baby, to be called Peter. It was, however, a very anxious time for war clouds hung heavily in the sky. Hitler’s promises were worthless. On 23rd August, it was decided to evacuate the hospital and all those women who were well enough were sent home. We were staying in Joyce’s old home in Brockley, London. Her mother very happily and efficiently coped with the one hundred and one jobs which have to be done on such occasions.
Each day the European news got worse. Neville Chamberlain’s effort of appeasement and the whole Munich agreement with Hitler rapidly faded and belated war preparations were reluctantly made. Then came Sunday, 3rd September. Hitler did not respond to Chamberlain’s final appeal, and the Prime Minister, sick at heart, waited until the last second of the deadline. Then the brief broadcast explanation of the failure of a mission came and the declaration that we were at war with Germany.
Within an hour those dreaded sirens, portents of a coming air raid, sounded out their shrill whine. It was said that somewhere, an overwrought official had, too hastily concluded that a skein of flying ducks was a flight of approaching aircraft. The reaction was immediate. ARP wardens rushed from street to street and sirens maintained their doleful warning.
We shoved the Moses basket in which Peter slept, under the heavy oak dining room table and decided we would all go together in the event of a direct hit. No heavy oak table could withstand such. Then came the tremendous relief of the changed message of the sirens, the danger was over.
Evacuation became the order of the day, resulting in the removal of over a million people from their homes. Heart rending scenes were witnessed daily at London stations and those of other cities, as mothers said goodbye to their children. We moved too. Joyce’s sister, also wife of another Methodist Minister who was stationed in Tiverton, Devon, immediately opened her home to us and to Peter’s cousin, Angela, and her mother. Angela’s father was in the wartime Fire Service in London. She was 3 months older than Peter. This invasion of two infants and three of us parents, must have been a great strain on the Shaw household, especially as there was no Shaw family. We have always been grateful for their home and their acceptance of all the extra work, noise and broken sleep involved.
It sounds as though we were peacefully landed in a County remote from London and could forget the war while there. Far from it. The impact of food rationing and of petrol restrictions and control were yet to be fully felt, but apart from the physical changes to wartime, there was the mental anxiety as we awaited the October day when we, with a ten week old Peter must set out on the Atlantic and, for just over two weeks, run the gauntlet whilst an unknown number of submarines lurked in our course. This fear of the voyage was driven deeper as we heard and read of the British line “Athenia” falling victim to a German submarine in those early days of the war.
Our sailing date was fixed, purchases and all sorts of preparations had to be made but now an added dread had come. Suppose we were sunk, how could we give little Peter the best chance of survival? I have asked Joyce to describe these most essential preparations.
The preparations made were relatively simple. It was in the time before all the modern baby sleeping bags were available. We took a warm wooly pram cover, blue one side and white the other, stitched a zip into two thirds of the length, closed the bottom and the top, but in this way leaving a space or hood at the top above the zip. We then decided that it would be good to be able to strap him to Nelson, in case we had to take to a life boat, so wide straps and buckles were added. A second, waterproof cover, zipped like the first, was added to prevent wetting as we took to the boats. Finally we made a little waterproof bag with spare nappies. This was slipped into the bottom of the wooly bedbag, it also contained a note giving name, address and destination, so that if we became separated or if Peter alone survived, the finders would know who he was.
This may all sound melodramatic but once our precautions were complete there descended on us a great sense of peace. This, in no small way, we regarded as an answer to many prayers being offered on our behalf. Peter slept in his Moses basket in the cabin, ready every night but, thankfully the precautions were never tested.
Finally we sailed on this nightmare voyage. We had various stops along the English coastline while we awaited arrival of other ships to be in our convoy. Now, convoys cannot sail at a greater speed than the slowest ship, probably a cargo vessel. We were on a modern passenger liner and, after the first few days, as nothing had happened, our captain decided to cut the convoy. None of the passengers were very happy about this. True, he observed some protective measures and did a zig-zag pattern in the hope of upsetting the aim of any submarine launching a torpedo at us. Each port at which we called, gave us a welcome break but then, usually evening time, once more we faced the dangers. It was a tremendous relief when, one day, we turned in between the mole walls of Lagos harbour, along the Marina and finally docked. Thankfully we stepped ashore and could set out up-country as a family of three. We did not think then that it would be six years further on that we could set sail again for a war weary England, still suffering the very many privations they had borne but rejoicing that although the war in the east, with Japan still continued, VE Day had come.
Our reliable friend and colleague, J A Pearse, had kept the circuit in good shape and did not hand over any unsettled disputes. It gave us very great pleasure to invite him to conduct the service and to baptise Peter. It obviously gave him great pleasure, in a very full church, to baptise the very first and probably the only white child he ever baptised.
Joyce and I had led an open air life and had walked long distances in our medical, evangelistic and educational partnership and had gained quite a reputation. Sleeping in schools or churches, beneath the overhanging grass or leaf roof of a native house or even under a tree in the market place with our mosquito net hung from the branches. We did not rise as early as the village folk so there often was quite a crowd watching us dress, wash, and in my case, shave. We knew that our exploits were the subject of conversations amongst some of the more senior member of the mission staff. Some, whose job confined them to their schools, may have been reminded of their missionary reading of stories of adventure, and may have been a bit envious. When we arrived back in Nigeria with Peter, they concluded and said so that our life style would have to change. They said he was lovely and all that, but saw the end of our trekking programmes. Absolutely nothing was further from our minds and even when we consulted Peter, he said absolutely nothing!
Admitted, we took extra precautions. We had never been able to be extravagant, and had never considered ourselves as being the owners of a fridge. But, with an infant in the house, we fell to the exceedingly rare opportunity, up-country, to buy one. It was 3rd, 4th or even 5th hand and belonged to a Salvation Army couple who were moving up country. Now the Salvation Army are not noted for fat salaries nor for luxuries and we understood all about the pensionable age of the fridge. It had health problems which led to their readiness to sell, it suffered from indigestion and periodically we had to stand it on its head to let the chemicals inside get the wind up. It ran on kerosene and was subject to fits of depression, emitting clouds of heavy black smoke from it wick. Still, we got results from it in the shape of many a bottle of cooled and preserved Cow and Gate for Peter. We paid 10 pounds for it. They say one gets what one pays for; true.
In trekking, we did have to carry extra loads. Peter’s garments consisted mainly of underwear. This all fitted into his cot which, in turn, fitted into a metal frame which folded cats-cradlelike. The most important extra, was a very large mosquito net. When suspended from a tree, this gave ample space for our lilos or camp beds, a folding table and two stools or chairs and was high enough to enable us to move about with shoulders erect. Now in addition, Peter’s cot had its own net thus giving double protection against mosquitoes. We were fortunate to have yet another line of defence. Joyce is one of those people much sought after by insects of the biting varieties. No self respecting mosquito or flea would pause as it passed me in its rush to get to her. So we were sure that if anything had got into the outer net, she would know as she awaited feeding time or giving other attention.
The arrival of Peter put us on a much closer level with the African people. Joyce had reached their highest attainment: motherhood. Single women missionaries were respected for their example, leadership and devotion to their tasks but, for them, as for many African women who remained childless, there was regret that they lacked the joy of a family.
I omitted one most important transport item. How did we manage to walk for hundreds of miles and carry Peter? First of all, while he was happiest in a sleeping posture, his carry-cot provided the answer. We shared our carrying of this very light cot with our trusted friends, Stephen and our cook. But, when Peter wanted to sit up and take interest in all going on around him, we thought out a satisfactory means. I made a very simple but strong seat complete with back rest. This we fixed to a metal frame with two uprights bent over to rest comfortably on my shoulders. Thus, he was at chest level, facing me, and I was able to observe any visiting insects or when he knocked off his hat. This also avoided the inevitable perspiration of two bodies and it left both my arms free. I know he had to view my chest instead of the tropical flora, but he never complained of that and soon, he was big enough to see over my shoulders. Then, of course the time came when he was able to walk along the more level parts of the bush path. We both enjoyed this new freedom.
Thus the fears that our trekking would be abandoned or even curtailed, disappeared and already we were a missionary staff of three, for the boy attracted so many people that it often gave us the chance to talk or tell some of the simple Gospel stories. Joyce used to joke with the women and compare their children. She boasted at the speed with which Peter produced teeth. Ah, said the women, he will be slow to walk. They were right, he was over twenty months before he was ready to venture from A to B without having a chair or other object to hold on to. However, when he did start, we could not stop him. One day, as we both were busy in a main road village, she saw her patients while I visited my school, the girl who looked after Peter took him along the road and reported that he had walked from a certain spot all the way back. We counted the telegraph poles, it was exactly half a mile.
In 1941 we were due to go on leave. We thought about it a lot and decided not to face the submarine hazard of a journey to England. The Mission authorities said we must take local leave. Now, in the Northern Provinces is the large plateau 4,000 feet above sea level. This offered the best area for those seeking cooler days and nights. We were able to book into a Sudan Interior Mission (SIM)station and we set out on the long train journey. We booked a Second Class rail compartment and one of our hospital doctors drove us the twenty miles to the station. We had a very good friend who was the one and only lady Education Officer for the whole country, she shared the holiday with us. She travelled First Class and had boarded the train at Lagos and been on it all day. When we found our compartment, it was clearly marked for our family, but was already occupied by a Syrian gentleman with a lot of loads and quantities of food. The Guard directed him to another compartment. He was greatly displeased and said “You are driving me out of my home”. We were sorry, but with Peter on one seat and us on the other, obviously there was nothing we could do about it. We had two nights there and on the morning of the third day we changed to the Bauchi Light Railway: a narrow guage line which took us right up the escarpment on to the Plateau. This was a most interesting but very slow journey.
On the main Kano train, we had a restaurant car and got good meals, but here there was no such provision. The engine puffed and panted any many times, we could have got off and walked along beside the train as it ascended the escarpment. Our picnic lunch was good, but we wanted a pot of tea to accompany it. Arrangements were made for this. I went along to the engine during one stop, with my teapot and spoons of tea already inside. The driver gave me a long handled coal shovel and directed me to put the teapot, open lid, on the shovel and hold it under a certain pipe. I did so. Then he opened a valve and out hissed steaming water, filling the pot. Miss Plummer, our lady Education Officer companion and we enjoyed many cups of good tea.
We got off at Jos and were met by the driver of the SIM car and driven to Miango, quite a long way off. Our room was very comfortable, all meals were served in the dining room and we really were made welcome.
The change of climate was wonderful and needing blankets on our bed at night was a pleasure we had not previously had in Nigeria. In the hot south, the very thought of any wooly covering was absurd. Then there was the joy of playing tennis, wearing a pullover to keep out the cool air. It amazed us that the native people were completely unprotected. They did not leave the fashion of nudity to the children but all ages followed the same fashion. No wonder everyone seemed to run most of the time, there was no bus nor train to catch, they found it was warmer to do it that way.
In 1941 the SIM showed the sense that, 40 years later has slowly dawned on the whole world. ‘No Smoking’ was their policy. Today, in the eighties, it is forbidden on the entire London Underground system. In cinemas, theatres etc., the same is generally true. Many leading shops display notices and in many places, we are thanked for not smoking. Despite the SIM notices, amongst the guests opinions varied. It was not uncommon to miss some of the older southerners after our evening meal and, if we went for a walk, we could see, dotted here and there, the pinpoint glows of cigarettes as their owners puffed quietly in the bush. We were often amused at the way these old chaps tried to get round the rules.
Refreshed by the climatic change and also by the friendly SIM folk whom we met, so many different varieties and nationalities, we felt ready to return to our own work in the hot south. One great help in our pioneer work came through. When the SIM mapped out a new area, their policy was to send a married couple to live there. No building schemes, no church services, they were simply to live and to live simply amongst the people. They were known as ‘Friend Makers’. Our mission set up was very different in that each missionary had many towns and villages to look after. We could not stay for long in any one place but, we were still Friend Makers who, as frequently as possible gave medical aid and showed films and told Bible stories in the open air. We did not build, nor even discuss any schemes during our early years in the north. So, we too were Friend Makers with a different method.
We had no radio and no newspapers and it was sometimes difficult to think of the hardships and suffering of others within the reach of war. We knew nothing of the progress or losses of those early days. We were thankful, however, that Nigeria was out of the range of enemy aircraft.
We were very conscious of the delay in our plans for extension. One problem was that I now had two circuits to superintend, eight quarterly meetings instead of four. As each quarterly meeting included a week of instruction and refresher course all this took up two months of each year. Also, the building of a bungalow in the north had to be postponed. Instead, we stepped up our visits in the north and each dry season went as far as possible to the towns and villages in both the Kaiama and Bussa Emirates. As Friend Makers, we were now accepted wherever we went, including Wawa, the place where chief and people fled as they saw us approach. Doctor, with her wonder working support, opened doors which would have remained closed for a long time to the introduction of a school, or even to preaching.
I have explained how the work was divided. In and around the Province of Ilorin, the southern half was Yoruba speaking but the northern half was a foreign country, abounding in foreign languages (this was the view of the Yorubas, who could not understand that there was anyone in Nigeria who could not hear and speak Yoruba). So, we managed in our staffing of the southern half. Untrained men, catechists, were stationed widely. In addition to their conduct of worship on Sundays, they were to gather children for the opening of little schools. We next took the plunge and I applied to Wesley College for two trained Sub-Pastors for our extension work. I got two: E A Ogungbe (who later entered the Ministry) I stationed him at Amodu and the second, Philip Adebisi, at Ogboidun. They had supervisory duties with the untrained men in their areas as well as their own churches and schools. These were lonely outposts in which each was a pioneer.
What of the northern half of the area? Here too we had signs of development. Some keen American agency must have written up the plans we had to open work in a large untouched area up to and along the Niger. One day I had a letter from our District Accountant in Lagos. He told us of an anonymous American source ready to give financial aid to anyone undertaking evangelical work in a new field. They would bear the cost of salaries for new workers for the first five years.
This was indeed splendid news, but there was the very serious problem of staff. All our workers were Yorubas. We called for volunteers amongst them who would go to far away Bussa to work and witness there. We got no response. It was not a question of needing more money than they were already earning. It was that old fear, borne of centuries of intertribal war, and general suspicion. This was too big a barrier. It is all very well for you to go there and talk of the friendly reception you got and how nice the Emir is, they argued, but we will not be living in the Emir’s palace nor moving amongst his chiefs and ruling class. How will we be protected? Then too, we will have to learn a foreign language, it will not be possible for us to command interpreters. Strong and reasonable arguments indeed. How were we to solve the problem? The solution was not instant nor simple.
We thought about it, prayed about it, talked about it, continuing to try to present the call in terms of need, adventure and that the Gospel was not a gift for the Yorubas only. It became clearer to us that patience was the only thing required. In order to be patient, we were not inactive in our own work. Life went on.
During one of our Synods in Lagos, we had been invited by a Methodist European, an official in the Lagos Town Council. He had put us up for the three weeks and also put up with us for that long period. We felt that the only way we could show our gratitude was to invite him to come up country and stay for a holiday with us. He was very pleased to look forward to a trip into the interior. Many people get an entirely wrong impression of life in Nigeria through being confined to Lagos and its suburbs. He came to spend the next Christmas with us. Our other guest was a fellow missionary Ashley Rose.
We decided that a trek to the Niger would make this to be a never to be forgotten memory. With the Christmas festivities over, we packed up and, with Stephen and the cook, set out on the two days journey. We spent the first night in Kaiama and then the exciting part where we had to crawl down the side of dried rivers, cross the bed and climb the other bank. We arrived safely at Bussa. But I must relate a little of our experience the first night in Kaiama. The European District Officer, in his isolation, warmly welcomed us and invited the four of us to have dinner with him that evening. During dinner, conversation turned to animals and he told of incidents with hyenas around Kaiama. Not very long ago, a forestry officer and his wife were staying in the Rest House. They had a small dog and, as there was no means of locking him in, they tied his lead round the legs of one of their camp beds. During the night, a hyena was seeking food and followed the scent of the dog right into the Rest House where his owners slept. The fight was short and sharp and exit the hyena complete with a loudly protesting small dog which never returned.
Now I have already outlined the architecture of the Rest House. A large circular room with a low walled verandah, the conical grass roof covering both spaces. The central room with no bath nor water, but the cement floor over the whole building did at least give firm clean space for one to stand while bathing. There was not a single door or window frame, just large spaces for access and light. Naturally, we took over the larger room and parked our guests at the front entrance, one camp bed erected in each opening to this small verandah.
It was already late and very dark as we walked home after dinner. We had our torches which we shone to reveal any of the many puff adders in the grass. We did not delay in getting to bed. Our guests, like sentinels on either side of the door space, took a long time to settle down. One, or perhaps both had the fidgets, perhaps aided by indigestion, judging by the noises off which interrupted their whispered conversation. Regrettably, our guests did not have a good night and were very glad when our early morning cup of tea was ready. Of course, it was unfortunate that our host of the previous evening told that story of the hyena. Many times during the rest of our trip and later, we laughed heartily at their dread of a wandering hyena.
We took our guests down to the Niger next morning. They were amazed that the river should be so wide even though it still had a thousand miles to flow before it reached the sea.
Talking about the hyena reminds me of the time, a few years later, when Peter was with us. Once more we were back in Kaiama Rest House. He was tucked up in his carry cot, in the care of Stephen and the cook. We were on our way into the town, to keep an appointment we had made with the Emir of Bussa and his chiefs. As we drove along the narrow road, suddenly we saw an hyena running away from our car, but in the direction of the Rest House. We put in a terrible hour of anxiety; supposing Stephen or the cook had for some reason left their post and did not see the animal. It was our turn to enter into the anxiety of our guests of an earlier visit. We were indeed thankful on our return to find that no hyena had been seen or heard. We took a more sympathetic view of our guests sleeplessness.
I tried to be a helpful husband and took my turn in the supper, bath and bed time story. Peter was a good listener and really enjoyed a good yarn. I read and read and gradually got quieter, hoping sleep was near. My voice sounded distant; sleep came at last! But the trouble was only beginning, it was I who went to sleep. Peter was chuckling at my funny puffs and was wider awake than when we started.
Whilst we were committed to the northwards thrust, I felt that we should make enquiries as to borderlines with other missions to the east, the route which John Milum must have taken when trying to avoid intertribal warfare and chose to make for the Niger and then turn northwards. So we prepared to travel to the lower reaches of the Niger in the Lafiagi and Pategi, it was important that as the building of our first mission house in the north, was held up by the war, we should at least know where Christian work already existed in the eastern direction. There was a European Government official at Lafiagi. I wrote telling him of our proposed visit and asked permission to use the Rest House for a night or two.
We eventually arrived. I called on the District Officer to report arrival. At the same time an African lorry stopped and the driver came and handed the DO an envelope, it was my letter sent a long time in advance. Major Glasson came out to welcome me, visitors were very few. I simply said I was reporting arrival. He shot out his hand and loudly said “What part of Dublin do you come from?” We had a good laugh at his correct placing of my accent. He too came from Dublin. At dinner that evening, to which he had kindly invited us, he presented us with a pillow slip each. No, not for extra bedding but for extra protection from the hordes of mosquitoes which in the greater darkness beneath the table, made for our ankles.
We reached the Niger on that trip but found that the Church Missionary Society was well established. So we returned to Ilesha satisfied with our journey and happy to know that there was no need to stretch any further to the east.
Peter was growing and developing and was happy to play with other children. The African minister in our large Ilesha central church, had a son the same age. The two got on well together. It was funny to see them, like two elderly gents, talking about the weather and the state of the world. They were two years old and spoke different languages one each, but this did not appear to be a problem.
One day, my colleague received a message from a large town called Owo, about 100 miles from Ilesha along another road. It was a request that the Methodist Church should come to help them. He brought the letter to me for consideration and action. We decided that we should visit Owo to find out what it was all about. So the three of us, together with Eman Adubifa, my colleague, travelled to Owo. We got a great welcome from some 400 people. Somehow these people had been gathered together by a disciple of Swedenborg and were being taught the very strange tenets of the 17th-18th century philosopher, theologian and mystic. The people of Owo had had enough and had sent the call for help. They wanted us to take over their 400 adult members and their property. I thanked them for their confidence and assured them that I would consult our authorities. Several ad hoc committees were held and the decision was to go ahead. I decided that we could steer clear of the danger of any former Swedenborgian making a stand and claiming that the propery still belonged to their church. We would ask for a new site and began all over again.
We were on firm ground here for the Olowo, the head chief of all the town belonged to the 400 group. He gladly gave us a large site of our choice. Every thing went very well, there was no opposition to the scheme. We built a church and a school. Pupils flocked in and the school was a big success. In later years the Olowo was knighted by the Queen. The church became the centre of the new Owo circuit.
We had now spent three years in the tropics instead of the usual eighteen months, followed by a six month leave. I have described above how we had taken a local leave on the Nigerian Plateau (4,000 feet) but the benefits gained were in no way equal to two sea voyages and several months at home. The Missionary Society was willing to send us to South Africa instead of England. So after three years, we set out on a journey right across the continent. Descriptive details are too long to include here. I have therefore written the whole account of three memorable months in Part 2: World Travel.
During our absence in South Africa, we had thought over and prayed about the sad failure to find anyone who would volunteer to go to the Niger River and thus the non-Yoruba speaking section of our new circuit. The five year offer of our anonymous American sponsors still held but sadly, two of those precious years had passed and we still had no one who would live in Bussa.
At the Quarterly meeting following our return to Nigeria, I shared our thoughts with the staff and again appealed for a volunteer. James Bakare came to see me. He explained, as I already knew that his wife and he had never had any children, whilst all the rest of the staff were family men. It would therefore be easier for him to volunteer to work in Bussa. Here was the first break and a very happy answer to prayer. It was also good news that his wife and he could get ready and go soon.
As soon as we could rearrange our programme, we set out for Bussa. We told our friend the Emir that at last we could send a teacher. He said that he was very pleased to hear of the appointment and that I was to assure James that he would be welcome and need have no fear of trouble although they were of a different tribe. I raised the question of accommodation. The Emir said that he would arrange to have a house built for the teacher. As this would be our financial responsibility, I thought it wise to enquire how much this would cost. The Emir was silent for a moment and stroked his beard as he did his arithmetic, then announced the house would cost 3 pounds 15 shillings. I tried to show no surprise whilst I paused to consider this large total, then thanked the Emir and said that the financial arrangement was quite satisfactory. Of course, there would only be one room and certainly no supply of H & C taps in the bathroom outside. The room, with its conical grass roof would have no windows and one hole for a door; we would have to finance the mat which would hang over the door and could be rolled up and tied there as required. The adjoining bathroom was completely in public view and consisted of a mud wall three feet high, no roof. The house for the teacher would be ready in three weeks.
We returned to Ilesha, reported all to the Bakares and arranged a date for departure of these two who were missionaries just as much as we were when we set out to work for a people, not of our tribe and speaking a language which we had never heard before but would have to learn. One further disadvantage for the Bakares was that they would not have any text books to help in their study. For their new tongue had never been reduced to writing, whilst we moved into a language area where we had text books, dictionary, the Bible and many other works already translated.
Amongst other equipment, I gave James carefully ruled exercise books so that he could write down what he thought the sound of each new word was, then in another column, its meaning. We determined that as soon as we could take lessons at home, we would tackle the recommended way to reduce a language to writing. We felt sure that the research work James and his wife would do would be a big help.
When all was ready, we started our long journey to Bussa with the Bakares and their belongings. They also took a young relative to act as domestic aid, she would also be a companion for Mrs Bakare. The journey took two days and on arrival, we all stayed at the Rest House. The Emir was true to his word and the very next day the Bakares moved into their new house. The land given to the Christian Community at Bussa (of which there was not a single representative, but that clause in the agreement clearly indicated that I who signed the application, had no claim in the land) was of a generous size and the mighty Niger flowed past the bottom of the garden. It was unlikely that there would ever be a water problem.
We showed the new residents as much as possible of the town and countryside and introduced them to such people as we had already come to know through our visits.
On the evening before we were due to return to Ilesha, I felt that the best farewell we could give the Bakares would be to have a Communion Service. Our trekking table top consisted of some twelve slats of wood fixed on to a pair of canvas tapes. This made it easy to roll the top tightly into a convenient bundle. When unrolled, it hitched into slots on the four legs of the folding frame. The result was a perfectly steady though very light weight table. We placed this outside the Rest House wall, spread it with a white table napkin, laid out our travelling set of twelve individual communion cups and the small container for the bread. To us, our constant companion Stephen and to our missionaries the Bakares, this open air Celebration was a moving experience. There, with the setting sun lighting the smooth waters of the Niger as it flowed quietly by, we all realised the presence of God at this act of re-dedication and valediction. So we left James Bakare and his wife, strangers amongst other strangers who spoke an unknown tongue, the first Christian witnesses living in Bussa.
The Bakares did well as they laid the foundation for Christian work in and around Bussa. The Emir continued to keep his promise to look after them and there was never one word of complaint. It was a long time before there was any sign of interest in what they said, but notice was being taken of how these Friend Makers did. James wrote down his observations of the meaning of words and, according to his ear, how they sounded. The vocabulary grew and grew. We visited Bussa as often as possible, to encourage them as well as to extend our friendship with the Emir and chiefs. The medical activities of Joyce were not only in demand in the town itself but spread to the widening number of villages around, where James had made contact. We were glad to find that the Bakares and our own presence was welcomed. We were no longer strangers.
We hoped that their reports we brought back each time as well as the letters James wrote to his colleagues would stir up interest in other catechists, now that the courageous Bakares had broken the barrier so well.
Meanwhile the war years continued. Twenty miles from Ilesha was the chosen site for an airstrip and a large camp for men being trained for the Burma Campaign. Our climate was said to be just like that of Burma and therefore ideal for training. This new arrival of hundreds of soldiers and airmen, opened up opportunities for a very different type of work amongst our fellow countrymen now in Nigeria. The men became very bored with the bush life and the complete absence of healthy and moral leisure activities. We were glad to co-operate with the Brigadier in putting on a ‘liberty van’ for the queue of men who would welcome spending Saturday afternoon or evening, or alternatively Sunday afternoon and then English Service in our large church in Ilesha. It was a very big undertaking for Joyce to prepare for a dozen or more who were delighted when their turn came to get a half day away from the camp. For most of these days we had a female cook, Miriam. She got down to it, preparing cakes and all needed to entertain. It took her days to prepare each week, but no one left unfilled. We made very many good friends, amongst them chaps who obviously came from church-going families and who missed this regular use of Sunday. Others who had never had much interest but who became interested while training for Burma and in their repeated visits to Ilesha. Our Hospital staff appreciated what we were doing and happily joined in the entertainment of the men. There was another side to the scheme, that of maintaining the cake and sandwich teas as well as a three course evening meal on both Saturdays and Sundays was made easier as we shared responsibility.
Two other domestic matters can be included here. Peter was not four and we felt a play-group could ease his entry to proper school. The ever-ready Joyce was glad to undertake this. In Ilesha there were several Lebanese and Syrian traders. They all traded in cloth materials and kept a very good stock and variety of same. One Lebanese family had also a four-year-old girl. The parents were delighted when we asked if they would join in and Houda joined Peter in the Play-school every day. The other domestic matter? Government had a very strict rule that any wife who became pregnant must return to England at three months. This rule only could apply to Government servants so, as Joyce was now in this condition, she became a pioneer in our own Mission and decided to await events in Ilesha. She continued her medical, Homecraft Centre and the play group until the time came for her to travel to Lagos where we had made all the arrangements necessary. This meant spending Christmas with colleagues who very kindly gave us hospitality during the remaining days of waiting.
Our second son was born in the Creek Hospital, Lagos on 28 December 1943. I gladly undertook the despatch of cards announcing the arrival of Anthony Richard, who was 10lbs 7 oz at birth.
We stayed on in Lagos for our Annual District Synod, which always meets in Lagos in January. Anthony had difficulty in retaining his feeds. As soon as the contents of his bottle, or even part thereof went down, he promptly sent it back. This became such an anxiety when we were back up-country again that Peter, then 4 years old enquired “Shall we send him back?” Our own hospital had not got the pathology facilities to cope with a thorough examination. This is where our war-time visitors from the camp twenty miles away were of great help. The army undertook to rush specimens 200 miles to the Coast to the large Army hospital. The bug was identified and the correct treatment started. Thankfully we watched the very quick improvement to a thriving baby who consumed and retained all that he was given.
I have already written that Peter was baptised by my senior African colleague. Peter Woods Ludlow. Woods was his mother’s maiden name. To these the Owa of Ilesha had given an additional name “Setokunbo” which means “comes from overseas”. We invited Edward Jones, whom we all affectionately called Jonah, and who was superintendent minister of the neighbouring circuit to baptise Anthony Richard. When the Emir of Ilorin, the big Moslem chief, saw him he too added an appropriate name.
Signs of a turn in the tide of war were showing. The big clash in North Africa was taking place in which ‘Monty’ was victorious over Rommel at Alamein. The Allies too, were rising to their peak ability to become victorious in the air and to make the whole horror of bombing cities in Germany a reality to Hitler who had enjoyed for so long being master of destruction in England with his Luftwaffe and doodlebugs.
Grateful as we were for those welcome signs of progress towards the end of the war, once more the time for leave had come round and once more we decided that we would make it a short local leave.
We were able to book into the Government Rest House at Jos, on the Plateau. Once more, a fortnight at 4,000 feet above sea level did remarkable things for the two boys and for both of us. One excitement whilst there was having the heaviest storm we had ever experienced. Four inches of rain pelted down in two hours. A concrete bridge nearby disappeared, with the road which had been over it. One foolhardy European decided to make a dash for home at the height of the storm. He could not see properly and failed to notice in time that in place of the bridge was a deep hole. With his car, he slithered down and came to rest in the torrent of water rushing by. He was able to get out and up, but his car was a write off. So that we could get to church in Jos, we had to select the narrowest part of the swollen stream and leap over. This was risking a wetting at least, but we had to leap over, carrying Peter and the baby. Not both at once, but doing the jump several times, we got safely over and were in time for church that Sunday morning.
With the boost the Jos fortnight had given us we were able to carry on our work in the two circuits, Ilesha and Ilorin. The missionary grant from England had continued although Ilorin had been recognised as a circuit. Now, however, development was possible with the greatly increased availability of men suitable to take on responsible positions. We, ministers and laymen and women, felt the time had come for the Ilesha circuit to get on without any grant. The official term within the church was for a circuit to reach ‘A’ status. We lodged our notice of this intention at Synod and, at its next meeting were granted this new status. The churches in the circuit rejoiced with this step towards independence, the Missionary Society also rejoiced and, whilst for some time the Missionary in Ilesha was to be the superintendent of the circuit, my time in the northern work was increased together with the very small grant that had been allotted to the Ilorin circuit and Borgu Mission.
This transition to financial independence had taken us through much work after our local leave. Unfortunately too, much time was taken up with illness. I was struck down with typhoid. Joyce nursed me through those weeks, with the ever ready help of our hospital doctors. But, to add to our troubles, very soon after my being able to be up and about, Joyce herself went down with typhoid. Happily the time came when she too was able to be up and about, but the indications were clear. The normal appointment to the work in tropical Nigeria had wisely been fixed for eighteen months work followed by absence from the tropics for six months. As mentioned already, this was not a six months holiday. True, more than a month was spent on board ships, also the Missionary society made full use of us for advocacy work during much of the other months which, too had to be the time for plans and the laying in of stores for the next tour.