Chapter 13
The peace

13.1 First leave after the war

8th May 1945 was VE Day (Victory in Europe) and although the Japanese surrender was not signed until 2nd September, very many people whose work had held them in Nigeria, as in many other countries, were long overdue for leave. Passages were difficult to obtain. We had a fairly strong case. We had been in the tropics through the whole war, except for our South African break and were both still recovering from the effects of typhoid. In addition, I had developed a very nasty boil on my thigh. These facts may have helped to get us a cabin on a sort of hospital ship, in that most of the passengers were in a poor condition. The ship was a Dutch M/V, the Peter Stuyvesant. We had no regrets this time, of getting away for a year’s leave to make up for the long six years since we had left England. We had decided that we would divide the year between England and Ireland, thus giving equal opportunities for both our families.

With Victory in Europe, there did not immediately come a return to normal as far as shipping was concerned. Orders were strictly enforced and at night we had a complete black out. Those who smoked were forbidden to light or smoke cigarettes or pipes as they took their after dinner walk around the decks. With the eastern war going so strongly against the Japanese it was unlikely that they would launch any fresh offensive in the Atlantic, but there was always the danger that a fanatic might try to do damage and take his own initiative. More fearful passengers dreaded each night at sea. Daytime, bright warm sunshine, good food and complete freedom to walk or sit and, of course, the knowledge that we hoped to be home in a few weeks brought new life and health to the mentally and physically weary.

Other ships joined us as we reached the Channel. It was rumoured that we would land at Tilbury and our joy was great as we turned into the Thames Estuary and finally anchored off that port. Our joy was short lived for, up came the anchors and once more we turned away from London and down the Estuary, joined by quite a large convoy. Patrolled by a Navy frigate, we turned northwards into the North Sea. Once more rumours floated around, a Dutch port for a Dutch ship, or could it be Hull, as some ridiculous passenger said: probably a native of Hull? He was right, it was Hull.

Now, it was the practice of our Missionary Society to inform Thomas Cook to expect so and so from such a ship due at somewhere on a certain date. Cooks would see to everything, including our financial needs. But on this journey, the Mission House could not know of our arrival. Hull had been battered by the Luftwaffe and accommodation in any hotel was out of the question. We were told to get to York as soon as possible and were even issued free rail tickets to make sure we did so. We re-labelled our heavy luggage: Thomas Cook & Son, hold, pending instructions. And we set off for York. It was late afternoon when we got there and were fortunate to find that the Midland Hotel could take us in. We used ‘Room Service’ to get a meal for Peter (6) and Anthony (1).

I have made no mention of the ports at which we called on the homeward voyage. One was Freetown, Sierra Leone. I record this fact for, while there, we bought a hank of bananas, not merely a ‘hand’ which is the largest on sale at home, but a ‘hank’ of probably a dozen or so ‘hands’. I probably paid a couple of shillings for the lot. I hung the hank beneath one of the stairs on deck although in the shade they began to ripen very quickly. When we landed, we had perhaps twelve which had not gone black and dropped off. These precious remains, we took as hand luggage and both of the children had a banana at that hotel supper. The young room service boy who came to clear the dishes took up and closely examined the banana skins. He probably had forgotten ever seeing one before.

Peter was much admired. He was dressed in what looked like a bell boy’s uniform, blue, long trousers and a row of brass buttons from neck to waist.

Next morning the problem of money became real. I had my cheque book but in those days we had no 50 pound plastic guarantee cards from the bank. And hotels just did not accept cheques from travellers staying one night only. In the telephone directory I was able to find a number of Methodist Ministers, so I started ringing around. I found one who was going on holiday that day and had already made his financial arrangements with his bank. I explained our problem, who I was and my reference to the Methodist Missionary Society. He was naturally worried but, bless him, also concerned for us. He looked up his Minutes of Conference. I was recorded there and the address I gave in Nigeria was correct so he agreed to come round to the hotel and discuss the matter. I produced my passport as further evidence and, very helpfully, he accepted my cheque and gave me the amount from his holiday money. He would be plain to the bank manager and get a further withdrawal. So all was well. I was able to pay the hotel bill and purchase rail tickets to Kilsyth, Scotland where Joyce’s sister to whom I have already referred, was with her husband now stationed there. We got a warm welcome, it was good to be in a home once more.

We shall not forget the effects of rationing of food and the stress of air raids and war conditions which showed on the faces of the people. After a whole fortnight of good food and day after day of sunshine on the liner, we had become tanned and rested, while Scottish and English people were thin, and sallow. As we sat in the train on our departure from York, thoughtlessly perhaps we gave the boys a banana each from our dwindling supply. We caused a queue on the platform of gazers at the bananas.

Whilst in Nigeria we had no official ration books, we were subject to restrictions, minimal compared with those living in Europe. For example, on our occasional visits to the Coast we always had bought a few luxury items like raisins for the Christmas cake. During the war these were unobtainable. Fortunately Joyce has always been good at making do, so her Christmas cake had instead of sultanas, diced dried bananas; very good too. Another commodity rarely obtainable was sugar. We either had none at all or perhaps would have a note from a not too distant trader begging us to take a 56lb bag of sugar. Usually, when we arranged to collect this prize, we found it an almost liquid mess. The trader dared not open up the bag to sell in smaller quantities.

In the U.K. of course, we had to register and fill in so many forms in order to get ration books. In the end, I had to travel to Stirling to get ours.

Apart from seeing grandparents, Peter had some outstanding priorities. He wanted to see the King and Queen and Buckingham Palace but, almost as high a hope, to see and travel on an upstairs bus. So, while I was away in Stirling, Joyce took him on the top of an upstairs bus. He was thrilled but must have caused great amusement for the other passengers by his loud voice enquiries. Passing a factory, he would ask “What do they do in there Mummy?” This reached its peak when, passing a cemetery he shouted out “And what do they do in there?”

Regarding his Buckingham Palace dreams, Joyce wrote to the Lord Chamberlain. She told of this six year old who could not be in England during the war and of his wish to see the King and Queen. She mentioned that she was a doctor and had been on medical duties in Nigeria. A very important envelope came one day in the post, very correctly addressed, showing that someone had done their homework, it had the long string of her medical dregrees. If we took Peter outside the Palace at a certain time and day, their Majesties would be driving out. We did. They did, and Peter got a Royal wave.

We divided our year of leave fairly, spending half in England and half in Ireland. As a base we rented a cottage in Bray, a seaside resort south of Dublin and the very beautiful mountains of Wicklow and Dublin. We toured a lot and saw many of my large family and relatives.

There is no need in this record to comment on the great difference that came over the world with the end of war, but I would refer to the difference that came for our plans. We could now look forward to being able to build our new house in Northern Nigeria, our hope that an extra missionary could be found to take over my work in Ilesha, and enable us to devote our whole time to the development of the long planned but delayed pioneer work in the north.

13.2 Leaving the children in England

Family-wise, it was an unhappy period: Peter, now over six years old, must have schooling which could not be found in Nigeria. Joyce had been his teacher, with the aid of the PNEU (a parents correspondence course). Slow communications meant that lessons sent home, could not bring a reply for six or seven weeks. No air mail was in operation. He had made good progress in reading, writing and arithmetic, but obviously he must stay behind and attend school.

We took the advice of two of our fellow missionaries who had children in school in England. Peter joined them in Miss Woods Nursery Hotel in Herne Bay, Kent, and attended a local primary school. Dr Catherine Evans, who had trained with Joyce had a practice in Herne Bay. She very happily and efficiently acted as universal aunt for Peter and we felt this was a big help in what we dreaded, the separation when we must return to Nigeria.

Once we had decided to take the advice of our fellow missionaries, we arranged to rent a small house in Herne Bay for the rest of our leave. We would help Peter to feel less of a stranger in the place. Miss Woods took the boarders in the Nursery Hotel to Sunday School and Church in the local Congregational Church. We also attended there on Sundays. The collection was taken up before the children went to their Sunday School classes and, on the last Sunday together, to our great pride Peter, who could hardly be seen above the pews, was one of the collectors.

In the Methodist church the President of the Conference presides for one year only. The honour of being nominated as President Elect indicates the high regard in which the chosen man is held by Laity and the Ministry alike. One such holder of this highest office in the Church was Walter Noble, a true statesman and General Secretary of our Missionary Society. It happened that when Walter Noble retired, he lived in Herne Bay.

In 1946, as well as rationing there was a genuine shortage of unrationed items such as vegetables. I used to help Joyce by queuing for supplies. Standing in my place in the queue I was embarrassed to see that Walter Noble had joined us, three or four places behind me. I got the last of the carrots on sale that day. A few days later we met again in the same queue but Walter was one in front of me. He was wanting a cabbage, so was I. But, when he reached out his arm and took the only one left, he turned round and gave me a most unpresidential wink. The moral was clear: if you would be a good statesman, queue early and often.

To return to the nightmare of the pending goodbye, Peter, although the more conscious of that dread happening was not the only one sharing it with us.

In Northern Nigeria, while building our new home, we must find water and would have to live very rough during the operations. We therefore decided that it would be safest all round if we also left Anthony behind. He was then about 2.5 years. Now, many years earlier, Joyce’s parents had made very good friends with Nellie and Roy Gooding and had helped a lot during his long illness. Roy recovered and was now Governor of the National Childrens Home at Congleton, Cheshire. They generously offered to give Anthony a place in their own family, until he would sail to join us in Nigeria.

Sadly we were setting out once more for Nigeria. We had dreaded our goodbye to Peter. We took him to school that morning. Providentially the bell rang out very soon. Peter was off like a shot, he never looked back as he ran to the classroom. Our agony was greatly relieved.

We still had to part with Anthony, but we looked forward to his joining us soon as our new house in the Northern Provinces could be built. Not so with Peter for, Educational reasons demanded that he must stay in England.

People have often spoken of the courage and the sacrifice of missionaries who go to the ends of the earth, separated from their children. But far too little is said of the loneliness and sorrow of those children. Heartbreaks are not the exclusive experience of parents alone. We could tell when fears of impending farewells and separation began to gnaw. Weeks before each of our sailings to West Africa every second year, Peter would change. Less bubbling over with boyish fun and happiness, the shadow of the heavy cloud gradually came over him. In 1946, we had left him running to the classroom, not even turning to wave goodbye. We knew he would be well cared for by Miss Wood, proprietress of the Nursery Hotel, and by Dr Catherine Evans, his universal aunt, but Mummy and Daddy would not be there that night, nor indeed for another year and a half.

After a term in the local State School, he went to Vernon Holme, Prep School for Kent College, Cantebury. The Principal had kindly agreed to take him earlier than usual because of his circumstances. He appeared to be happy as a boarder. His Housemaster supervised letter writing and often added a few lines. Peter had chosen the cello as his musical instrument. The housemaster wrote of the day he entered the music room where a cello seemed to be playing itself until he spotted Peter behind it. Then there was the time Peter wrote a story for us. We were surprised to get two air mails by the same post. The first ended “to be continued” and the second contained only two lines concluding the story, followed by “Love Peter. XXXXX”.

In 1948 our next leave came round and for a few months we were again a happy family together. Again we rented a house in Herne Bay to be near Peter’s boarding school near Canterbury. During his holidays we all travelled together. In 1949 he was accepted into Kingswood, our leading Methodist Boarding School, the Preparatory department of which was Priorscourt, in Berkshire. We were back in Africa at the time of this transfer but Miss Woods and Dr Evans undertook the removal operation. His holidays were still spent at Miss Woods, Nursery Hotel, Herne Bay. Now this address was all wrong for a lad at the beginning of a Public School education. Of this, much more was to follow in 1950.

13.3 Sailing to Nigeria

I started this chapter with the words “Sadly we were setting out once more for Nigeria”, actually we did not set out together. Poor Joyce had the added lonliness of leaving me behind also. This was quite a blow, to start on a two weeks voyage without the husband and the two boys she had on the journey home. The circumstances were as follows:-

The Christian Council of Nigeria was a very active body and included all the Protestant denominations in the two southern halves of the country. In Eastern Nigeria there was a happy avoidance of overlapping. The Church of Scotland occupied all the Cross River territory. They had a very large Leprosy Settlement in addition to all the ordinary outlets for Christian service through church and school. The Church Missionary Society worked in the Ibo and Efik speaking areas.

Work in the south western section was much longer established than in the east. Here in the Colony of Lagos and the extensive Protectorate, Lagos had become the headquarters town for all the churches, with a resulting overlapping of missions. This explains why we had undertaken those thirteen weeks exploratory tour in order to ensure that we would not encroach on the work of any other mission in our expansion programme.

The Christian Council of Nigeria decided to combine in one new department, all medical work, including the north. The Council invited Joyce to be Medical Secretary for the whole country. She was very glad to undertake this responsible task in an honorary capacity. The Roman Catholic Church came in on this joint medical work. The Secretary had to deal with a lot of correspondence, visit hospitals wherever and whenever possible and attend the meetings of the Christian Council, alternately in east and west.

Towards the end of our leave we had an urgent message from Nigeria. Dr C Chesterman (later Sir Clement) a very prominent man in Christian Council affairs was arranging to visit Nigerian hospitals. It would be a great advantage if the Medical Secretary could accompany him on this tour. It was asking a lot of Joyce, a voluntary missionary doctor, to rearrange sailing dates, especially as with great difficulty the Mission House had managed to reserve the only berth left on board a very full boat. I therefore would not be able to travel with her. We decided she should go on the “Cupacabana” and be in Nigeria when Dr Chesterman would arrive.

This South American liner was to sail from Southampton. I went to that port with Joyce but also with my loads, desperately hoping there might be a cancellation which would enable me to travel with her. Nobody had cancelled so she went alone. Fairly soon after I got a call to travel on a troop ship. I was glad to travel on anything. The accommodation was spartan. One of my colleagues slept next to me in a large area aft. All our bunks were on the same level like a dormitory. We all lay heads to the unpanelled steel plates of the stern and with our feet towards one of the masts. About forty of us men shared the semi-circle dormitory. We were right over the propellers and had to get used to the noise and the shudder each time a large wave lifted the stern of the ship out of the water. One of the great pleasures to me, but doubtless a fortnight in hell to some, was that as a troopship there was no alcohol on board.

We duly arrived in Lagos and to our personal reunion. Meanwhile, the tour with Dr Chesterman had been completed satisfactorily, well, almost satisfactorily.

13.4 Medical tour with Dr Chesterman

The tour necessitated long train journeys. When Dr Chesterman and Joyce were booked, the railway clerk conveniently put these two doctors in the same compartment for two. Joyce spotted the label indicating that they were to be joint tenants of the compartment. So began an effort to rearrange matters. Fortunately, a representative of Nelson’s the printers and publishers had a compartment to himself and, as he realised the embarrassing situation he offered Dr Chesterman his spare berth. During the days, the two doctors were able to confer, discuss and arrange their visitation.

All went well until they reached Kafenchan Junction. The two men got out to stretch their legs with a walk on the platform. They decided they would like to get some snaps of the local ladies of Kafenchan. Their dress was certainly unusual. It consisted entirely of a piece of bush string around the waist. From the middle front hung a small bunch of leaves suspended, for inadequate modesty. From the middle back was suspended a disc made from animal skin. This had nothing whatsoever to do with modesty but served the useful function of always having something to sit upon. When walking, these discs flopped up and down.

Now Joyce had stayed in her compartment where, during the days, they worked on Christian Council matters. The two men came in to ask her to help on the platform with distracting the ladies while the men got their snaps. She mentioned the danger of their small luggage being stolen. They pointed out that there was a policeman stationed at the end of that very corridor, all would be well. With the snaps completed all three returned to the compartment. Immediately Dr Chesterman missed his attache case, Joyce also looked in vain for her bag containing needlework and other items to work on while travelling. The policeman spoke no English and soon the train pulled out with two extremely annoyed and frustrated travellers in that compartment.

Dr Chesterman’s loss was very serious. His case contained his full manuscript of a book he was about to publish. Joyce’s loss was different. For years she had carried round with her a piece of tapestry on which she worked in her spare time, but as spare time was a rare experience in her very busy life, after about nine years, it was not yet finished. It could not have served the Kafenchan ladies in making a garment for, when they decided to put on something different, they just plucked a new bunch of leaves. The missing treasures of manuscript and needlework were doubtless flung into the bush by the thief. Even the attache cases would not have fetched adequate payment for the thief’s time. Kafenchan was notorious for men from elsewhere who hung around the station with an eye for other peoples property.

One of our Methodist doctors in Eastern Nigeria had hopes that one day we would build a fine new hospital in Umuahia. As our Mission already had our Itukmbang hospital as well as several small institutions, it was felt that we would not rise to his dream for the Eastern Provinces. So Harry Haigh’s thoughts turned to the possibility of the Christian Council undertaking a union development. Harry and Joyce, as Medical Secretary of the Board, pushed the idea and eventually sold it to the Christian Council.

A tremendous amount of work had to be undertaken by the Secretary. In addition to visits to Eastern Nigeria, Joyce paid a number of visits to the Government Director of Medical Services to discuss plans and the scheme in general and finally on behalf of the Christian Council, accepted the offer of a grant of 116,000 pounds. This was a magnificent sum in those days. Work started, Harry Haigh was able to give local supervision and, in due course, in part of the country where no other medical aid was available, a splendid large hospital was ready for use.

The opening ceremony was probably unique. The Queen was visiting Nigeria and her programme included the naming ceremony for the new hospital at Umuahia. Now roads, often too deeply cut with ruts caused by heavily laden lorry traffic, are not suitable Royal routes. So instead of being present on the ground, Her Majesty flew over the hospital and named it the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital.

We had retired from Nigerian work before this happy opening ceremony and Joyce could not be present. We were very pleased however, on one of our return visits to Nigeria to go to Umuahia and I, in particular, noted that all the hard work she had put in as Medical Secretary of the Christian Council had been recognised in the engraved plaque “LUDLOW WARD”.

13.5 A new house at Afon

I can now return to the building of our new house. We had found a spring and had chosen a site near to this precious water supply, on a hilltop. We drew up plans for a U shaped building. A covered porch of 12 feet square gave entrance to our dining room. The room on the left was the office while on the right hand was our bedroom. This had a door to a cement floored ‘bathroom’. Its only furniture was our travelling folding canvas bath, 286 inches square. (Later we graduated to a tin bath in which one could actually sit with legs fully extended and exult in our allowance of two inches of water). Next door, in the smallest room in the house, was an Elsan Chemical Toilet. This was the height of extravagance compared with the nil cost of sand for an Earth Closet, but it had a hidden advantage, mosquitoes did not like the chemicals that the Elsan manufacterers used.

The remainder of the wing was our small spare bedroom and an equally small lounge with wide doors on to a patio, still covered with the same roofing. The opposite wing consisted of a store and our kitchen. There was a three foot wide verandah all round the house.

The large village of Afon was about half a mile down the hill. All the houses there were of the usual reddish, unplastered mud walls, and thatch roofs but without the added protection we enjoyed in having corrugated iron sheets under our thatch. Here a most friendly District Head lived. He was the Chief through whom we conducted any local business within his district. Like the Emir of Ilorin, our big Provincial Chief, he was of Fulani descent. The features of the Fulani are very different from the normal Negro type of thicker lips and wider nose. The Fulani are pale, almost yellow-black with longer thinner faces. They are a very quietly speaking people.

As soon as it was possible on the completion of Dr Chesterman’s visit, and our reunion in Nigeria after the voyage in different ships, we prepared to hand over the Ilesha circuit where I had been Superintendent for sixteen years. Joyce wound up her medical work where she now had seven village dispensaries, each with a resident nurse. The hospital staff took over responsibility and the good work continued. When all was ready, we packed our loads and said goodbye to Ilesha.

We lived a camp life at Afon whilst supervising the completion of the new house I have already described. With the joy that we were now resident in the Northern Provinces, we gave our whole time to the pioneer work which we loved and which we had not been able to undertake fully whilst still living in the South.

13.6 A new helper at Kaiama

As the presence and work of our Mission became more widely known we felt that the time had come to station a man in Kaiama, the smaller Emirate, but which still covered a large area of land through which we had to pass every time we went to Bussa and the Niger. Joseph Abe had been to our Training College, but had not been able to keep up with his fellows and did not pass his examinations. He was very active however, and it seemed right to give him this opening in the new field. There were some traders in cloth who lived in Kaiama and travelled to the many markets in the area, so he was able to converse with them in his own language for they all came from the south. The presence of these people also made it possible to start a small church. This, in some respects, was not a good thing for the native people of Kaiama regarded it as an activity for the Yoruba speakers only. When Abe gathered enough children to start a small school, he, of course, could only teach in his own tongue and such children as came, were all of southern families. These efforts in church and school were both mistakes. Until we could have a Hausa speaking member of staff, it would be wise to continue making friends of the local people.

Added to the mistakes made in permitting the founding of a little church and school which catered for Yoruba speaking people only, a heavier cloud spread over our work in Kaiama. I had to dismiss our representative there and the wound to the native people as well as to our work, took time to heal. Brighter days did dawn and full account will be given of these days and events in later pages.

In Afon itself it became obvious that we must undertake medical work as soon as possible. In my record of Joyce’s opening up the village dispensaries, I have already referred to the co-operation of Sister Mildred Earl in Government service in Ilorin Hospital. As our own hospital in Ilesha had not enough girls with minimum Standard Six education, their output of trained nurses was too small to let us have sufficient for staffing village dispensaries just then. Naturally they were reluctant to lower their standards in order to admit more girls. Sister Earl however, ran a training course in midwifery and a lower type of general training for girls with a Standard Four education. She was therefore ready to help us by taking Wende Awoseyi for training.

Wende was a devoted and splendid type of girl. Her failure to be accepted by the Ilesha Hospital was a bitter disappointment. (She had completed the Standard Six course but had not passed the final exam). She readily welcomed the opening given by Sister Earl and satisfactorily completed the two year course in Ilorin. She returned to Ilesha to serve in our circuit medical work. Her name will appear again, but I cannot but mention here the outstanding fact that in later years she became the Sister in charge of the large out-patients department of our own Ilesha Hospital where she had been turned down for training in her earlier years.

When we transferred to live and work whole time in the Ilorin circuit and it became obvious that we must open up medical work in Afon, Wende volunteered to come and work in the north. We had no dispensary but, with Joyce, she worked every day under the shade of a large tree on our compound and news of this new work spread rapidly. The shade of a large tree was a blessing but, what could be done in the wet season? The funds we had received from home for the building of our new house catered for that purpose only and there was nothing forthcoming for a dispensary.

As described elsewhere, importing unwanted harmoniums from England, repairing same and selling them was providing a source of income. We decided that this small provision added to an amount of faith, should be put to a dispensary scheme at Afron. It worked. Built with the very attractive brown/red Yangi and its cement pointing following the irregularly shaped lumps, we put a heavy thatch on top of corrugated iron sheet roofing. The building provided a large covered verandah adjoining the consulting rooms and store. The rear end was a 4-6 bedded ward.

The opening ceremony was a grand occasion for Afon and all who lived there. The Emir of Ilorin, the Provincial Resident Magistrate and many others were present to take part and show their approval of this, probably unique, non government undertaking, with its own doctor and staff. We made it clear that our work covered a very wide area right up to and along the River Niger. Doctor would not always be in daily attendance in Afon but, in her absence, Nurse Wende would refer anyone to whose needs she was not qualified to attend, to the Government Hospital in Ilorin. This was the understanding and practice at the Native Administration dispensaries throughout the Province. Happily our co-operation with both Emir and Government was good and highly regarded on both sides.

13.7 Stephen

Our friend Stephen was still with us, helping in the house and in the church as well as his beloved activity, medical work. He had appealed to Joyce to let him undertake this work with her so that when, one day she would not return to Nigeria, he could become more useful to his people.

He travelled everywhere with us, cleaning up and dressing nasty sores and washing horrible eye conditions. On one of our journeys we visited a new village. We asked that we should be led to the Chief’s house so that we could salute him. He was ill but agreed to let the doctor see him. His foot was very swollen from a suppurating wound caused by a large thorn which was still there, embedded in the foot. A minor operation followed and the thorn was removed. A very grateful Chief assured us of a welcome at any time we could return.

The same Chief’s son had very poor sight we were told. Could doctor do anything to help him? Now, Suberu’s trouble was that he had in-growing eyelashes which had not only caused much inflamation but had almost closed the boy’s eyes. Yes, doctor could help, but suggested that Suberu should come and live with us at Afon as regular treatment and the plucking out of offending hair would be necessary and could only be undertaken with daily attention at Afon. This was agreed and very soon Suberu became a member of our family on the hill. His recovery was complete and he asked to be allowed to stay on with us as a compound labourer. So our message, work and influence spread and grew.

13.8 Crossing the Niger

In our most northerly station, Bussa, James Bakare and his wife were doing well. We felt however, that Bussa must be the stepping-off point for work amongst the river tribes, of which there were several. Each tribe had its own language, further complicating any progessive plan for extension.

We planned to explore the upper reaches of the river and one day set out in a long canoe with a crew of three. Two of these had poles whilst the third had a paddle which he used as a rudder. The poles were used so long as we hugged the shore, the paddle, when in deeper water we had to cross from one bank to the other. We were alarmed to find how swiftly the Niger was flowing once we got away from the shelter of the bank. Our crew knew what to expect and, before leaving the shallower sheltered water, they went well up stream so that the paddle could steer us down to the island we had already passed. On one such crossing we had a very frightening experience for the current exceeded expectations. We almost made it but were swept ever more quickly down. We must have shown far too much alarm, for Stephen unintentionally rebuked us with his assurance “God will take care of we”. In desperation, one of the pole crew reached up and caught an overhanging tree branch as we passed and, with his companion’s immediate aid, pulled the canoe alongside the island. We all rested a while before thankfully resuming our journey.

Thus we came to Ojiji. Not a large village but one in which we estimated up to half the population, children and adults, were blind or partially blind. Ojiji in our memory has always been called the village of the blind.

River blindness was a terrible but widespread condition. Ojiji had a far higher incidence than any of the other riverside villages we visited. Stephen, with his great sympathy and patience, spent many hours washing infected eyes, but this could not restore sight.

I am reminded of a touching experience in one of our villages, far from the river. Doctor had frequently visited here. One day a little procession came into the village, a woman carrying a head-load then a young man holding the end of a long stick the other end of which was held by an old man. The youth explained that his father could not see properly and that they wanted the doctor to help him to see again. Joyce examined the old man’s eyes. They were seared, scarred and sightless. She asked the young man how long his father’s eyes were like this. He explained how, gradually, the old father had become less able to see. Doctor replied “Why didn’t you come to me long ago?” No one told us, replied the son. Doctor said “I might have been able to do something for your father then, but it is too late now.” They turned to go back to their village. The mother again lifted her head-load of sleeping cloths and food which they had hoped to use while the old man’s sight was being restored. So they left. Again the son repeated his answer: “No one told us; we never knew!!”

13.9 Anthony’s return

Our house building, as so many other people have found, took longer than we expected. There was another disappointment, it was very difficult to arrange a passage for little Anthony to come out to join us. Finally a missionary couple in Eastern Nigeria were sailing with their little daughter, Ruth, and very kindly offered to include Anthony in their family. They came in an old troopship, and our excitement was very great as this dirty looking, grey painted ship arrived. Anthony had grown and was very quiet. He accepted the red bus we gave him but he was not too sure of us. A few hours later Joyce put him to bed, under his mosquito net. He made it quite clear that he had come here on a holiday and that he would be going back to Auntie Nellie soon. However, he began to relax and it was not long before he cuddled up and told Joyce “You are a rather nice mummy after all”.

Here are two flashes back to the missing months. In church, the Gooding family sat well to the front and Anthony often stood in the pew seat. Once during prayers, he was looking back down the church and a lady in the next pew smiled at him. Anthony, in his loud and rather deep voice said “Will you shut your eyes”. The other incident was when Roy Gooding took him for his first hair cut. Addressing Anthony, the barber asked “and how would you like it, Sir?” He replied that he would like it with a little hole in the top like Uncle Roy.