Chapter 15
A harmonious leave

15.1 1948: The second mobile operating theatre

Our 1948 furlough was a very busy time. The Missionary Society appointed us to undertake many speaking engagements. We could be sent for a week or more to Ireland, Scotland or the Channel Isles. We would address meetings each evening in a different town or parts of a city, with afternoon womens meetings thrown in, then perhaps a three service Sunday in a Central Hall or large church. We enjoyed it all and met very many fine people. In addition, we had privately arranged to address meetings where friends had been supporting our work in Prayer and giving.

Much time also had to be taken up in searching for and buying items of equipment for our medical and visual aids programme, our bookshops and our personal needs. Through the years, it had become possible to purchase a variety of tins of food which in the earlier days were not to be found in Nigeria. But for reasons of economy, it saved a lot to buy larger quantities at wholesale rates in England. All these things could be included in our personal baggage on board ship and thus no freight charges were made.

Then came the Mobile Unit. Through the influence of Fred Dodds, the Army Transport Department agreed to release one of their stock of unused Humber ambulances. This had a flimsy canvas covering. The price they suggested was ridiculously low. They knew it was to be used for travelling medical work in Nigeria. A new Humber engine with four wheel drive was just ideal for our needs. If we ran into soft soil, we could pull out on powered front or rear axles.

We were introduced to Mr Pilcher of Wimbledon. He would strip the body and start again from the chassis upwards. We visited Wimbledon each week to watch growth of the vehicle of our dreams and to suggest to Mr Pilcher what he would tailor to meet our needs. The result at the end of our leave was a gleaming, made to order unit.

It looked like a modern ambulance, all metal with double rear doors which folded back against the sides. Folding steps gave easy access to the interior and, incidentally gave maximum fresh air also. Up the steps and on the left was a 6ft x 2ft cupboard with sliding doors, the top was covered with PVC and made an examination couch and operating table. The top was also hinged and opened like a book. A metal leg could be dropped and the whole, now 4ft width, provided a clean base for our double bed. In the capacious cupboard over the driving seat were three biscuit like mattresses of foam rubber which gave total covering of 6 ft x 4ft. A mosquito net could be press buttoned to studs in the roof and, within a couple of minutes it was all ready for the night’s sleep. The upper part of this left-hand side had two opening windows and, above them a row of lockers containing books and school supplies in our mobile bookshop. The two cupboards beneath bed level contained all our tins and other food supplies for weeks at a time.

Along the right-hand side was an upholstered seat for the staff. This hinged up and provided ample space for our cook to store his stove, pots and pans, and all his domestic loads. Above this seat the whole of the right hand side was given to lockers for medicine bottles, pills, surgical instruments and equipment. All the locks worked well and remained safely shut when travelling. In the middle of these lockers was a hatch door which opened outwards, providing a useful little counter on which medicines which could be dispensed to patients waiting in the queue.

Immediately behind the driver’s seat was a wide cupboard to house our petrol driven electric generator, a Bell & Howell sound projector, cine camera, reels of films, an epidiascope and screen. The top of this cupboard had a sunken wash basin with water piped from a tank in the roof, a large filter for already boiled drinking water and, on the door of the bedding cupboard was an electric fan. In the roof was a bright ceiling light. Between the top of this electric cupboard and the bottom of the bedding cupboard was an eighteen inch gap, the whole width of the vehicle. This gave essential breeze to the staff sitting in the rear of the mobile unit as we travelled. When doctor needed to make any private examinations, we could unroll a blind to cover this gap and separate blinds to cover the windows, turn on the fan and the electric light while she was thus engaged. Further provision for literature and school materials was made by a fixed series of lockers on either side of the driver’s seat, which was wide enough for driver and two passengers.

So our four-in-one unit was constructed on four wheels but meeting our medical, bookshop, cinema and caravan needs. The body builder took a personal interest and must have contributed generously from his own pocket for the bill, including the money paid for the Humber engine and chassis, came exactly to 1,000 pounds, the sum of the anonymous gift.

We had broadcast our plans widely and had received generous support from many relatives and friends. Their giving had made possible the purchase of the projector, generator and much of the medical equipment included. We are grateful to all who finally solved our pioneering travel problems and gave us a caravan home and workshop for years.

15.2 Learning Hausa

I have taken many paragraphs to describe what had to be done during our leave to get the Mobile Unit constructed, but there were still other time consuming items in the queue. Some of these I will include here.

Hausa is the Lingua Franca of Northern Nigeria and must be used in any hope we had of reducing to writing the language of the Bussa Emirate people. Along the Niger several tribes were located and spoke different languages, Kamberi, Gungawa and others, but Busanchi was our target.

We linked up with the School of Oriental and African languages in London University and gained greatly with the help of Dr Ida Ward, who advised on tackling a new language and creating an alphabet which would include all the sounds recognised in the speech of the tribe. Here, the work of James Bakare and his wife and those lists he had written down would prove to be of great basic value. Later, I will have further to write on this subject.

We must study the Hausa language. Here, fortunately much ready help was to be found in print, grammars, text books and a large Hausa Dictionary compiled by Dr Bargery. His work was officially regarded as the bible of the Hausa language. We were indeed privileged to be accepted by this very Dr Bargery and, twice a week like a pair of undergrads, we rushed by bus and underground to Goodge Street, the nearest to Malet Street and the University, to sit at his feet. Dr Bargery seemed pleased to let two rather overgrown learners take up his time, he was interested also in our development in the north and our desire to tackle Busanchi. Now, I am writing these lines nearly forty years later. I have forgotten a lot of the Hausa he managed to teach, but I still remember a lovely story which we had to tell in Hausa after translating it from English.

As in England, Scotland, Ireland, stories about the Englishman, Scotsman and the Irishman always end up with the hero belonging to the country of the narrator and the dull one, the rogue or the lacking in humour and imagination invariably belonging to one of the other countries; this kind of story is told universally. So in Dr Bargery’s version the Hausaman is on top of the Fulani, a tribe which probably came from Egypt in the 13th century and settled in what is now Northern Nigeria. Incidentally, the Fulani tribe is divided into two. Those settled in towns soon became the ruling caste. The other half are called the Cow Fulani: a quiet, peace loving people who follow their herds wherever fodder can be found.

A certain Fulani had ten sons. They protected their father’s herd all day. They came to a wide river and one of them suggested they should all have a swim. They did so and greatly enjoyed themselves until their eldest brother suddenly called out and told them to form a line. He began to count, pointing to each man facing him, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine. Suddenly he cried out “Ah one of us is drowned”. All the brothers joined in weeping and mourning for the lost brother.

As they were thus engaged, a Hausaman was passing. He enquired what might be the matter. The eldest explained that they had been a happy family of ten, caring for their father’s cows. They had gone swimming and one of them had been drowned. Wailing renewed until the Hausaman told them to stop, he would help them to find their brother. They clutched on to this vague hope and promised that if indeed the Hausaman succeeded, they would give him a cow.

The Hausaman instructed them that once more they must all go and swim. They obeyed. Then he called them to come out and arrange themselves (stand in line). Eagerly they did so. Then pointing at each of them he counted loudly, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Their joy knew no bounds “Ah” they said “our brother is found” and they gave him a cow.

During our leave, there was another time-filling occupation particularly for Joyce. Her brother, also a doctor who had served in China, now had an extensive practice in Cornwall. He fell ill and Joyce volunteered to be his locum. George had his own chauffeur. This saved much worry in finding the homes to be visited. I moved in with the two boys and we were all made very welcome by George’s wife. The boys greatly enjoyed going in the car whilst Joyce visited. For their benefit, the chauffeur went as quickly as he dared over the hump bridges of the Cornish lanes, always with the guaranteed shrieks of joy from the occupants of the back seat.

15.3 Summoned by bells

Yet another time consuming occupation was the work and travelling involved in connection with the development of my harmonium enterprise and the export of church bells and handbells to supplement our exceedingly small grant from London for our pioneer area, the size of Wales, which had no hope of raising funds from church collections nor school fees. We received no grant whatsoever for our medical work.

I think my interest in harmoniums and organs must have developed through readiness to tinker with our harmonium at home on the rare occasions when anything went wrong with it. Also, two of my sisters and one brother were all church organists and I was keen enough to go with them, when time permitted, and listen as well as watch their footwork on the pedals and swell and their choice of stops as they practised.

In Nigeria there were many churches, especially in Lagos, with organs or good harmoniums. There were also good organists to play them and conductors for choirs. But as the years passed and more and more up-country churches wanted to copy their wealthier Lagos friends, the demand for organs and organists grew. One of our large Lagos churches imported a big secondhand organ from England and hopefully invited me to assemble and install it. There were three very good reasons why I declined. One, I could not spare the best part of a month, two, as I had not taken the organ to pieces in England for packing, the task of identifying all the parts would be very hard and three, frankly it was beyond my ability. However, good came out of the invitation for it made me think of what I felt I could do. Why not import harmoniums and after necessary repairs, sell them to waiting churches and thus supplement our northern work which was financially starved. So next leave I made enquiries as we toured around the UK talking of the church work in West Africa.

We found that many of our churches had old and no-longer-wanted harmoniums and when we sailed once more we had four instruments with us. True, they were more ancient than modern but gradually, in spare time and holidays, I got them all working and, provided a school teacher who could play could be found, he stood a good chance of a job. I have singled out school teachers because, during their training college years they were able to learn on one of the college harmoniums, an occupation which appealed to many.

The idea caught on and news spread to churches at home of a useful outlet for old harmoniums. This was considerably aided by publicity like that given by Dr Ralph Bolton. I welcomed the official backing of the Methodist Missionary Society given in his letter in the Methodist Recorder:-

The Old Harmonium. The Rev Nelson Ludlow has for several years been engaged in front line evangelistic work in the northern part of Western Nigeria. Following an illness Mr Ludlow commenced the repairs of a broken winded harmonium, rendering it vocal again. He sold it to a town church and thus started a church building fund. On his next furlough he asked for supernumerary harmoniums and actually took a number back with him to Nigeria. These were made orchestral and the first little church was built out of the fund. The plan has progressed and all that prevent further church building is the need for raw materials in the shape of harmoniums. Have you one in the corner of the vestry or even in the boiler room? If so, please communicate with me c/o Methodist Missionary Society, 25 Marylebone Road.

I received letters that read “We understand that you want a harmonium. We have one here and will be glad to give it to you as we have no further use for it.” None of the donors gave any idea of the condition of the instruments. Usually the main trouble is asthma and kindred breathing problems, or reeds which have taken a vow of silence. I received so many letters from people who just had not the heart to burn anything which just might be useful to someone. It appeared there was a cloud of unwanted harmoniums just ready to fall upon us. My usual reply was to thank the would be donors and express the hope that I would visit them during next leave.

Meanwhile I had made a useful contact with a dealer in ex-Government items. He had some handbells used during the war by ARP street wardens to supplement the warning of the air raid sirens. I bought a dozen of these knowing that I could use them in some of my own schools if I found it difficult to find buyers. On return, I displayed them in our Offa Bookshop. They sold in less than a week and so many equirers wanted their names put on a waiting list that when I received a cable from my ex-Government dealer offering a 1,000 handbells, I decided that the extraordinarily low price he quoted would make a handsome contribution to our building fund. I cabled back saying I would take the lot provided he would store them until I collect.

The church in which we had been married was one of the very many London churches that was bombed. The adjoining Sunday school accommodation became the centre for as many activities as could be fitted in. On Sundays, services were held there also. Only the front half of the church was open to the sky so the back half had some sort of covering. This was supplemented by a large gallery which afforded accommodation of sorts, protected on three sides but leaving the fourth open to wind and rain. It was not difficult to get permission to make this a temporary store and packing centre, especially as I was helping the church out voluntarily in the absence of their minister.

We had a very keen Missionary secretary who had great D.I.Y. ability and also was retired and very glad to become storekeeper and chief packer. His contribution to our church building fund in Nigeria was of very great value. Mr Eustace and I carefully examined each harmonium that arrived, checking on woodworm and whether to export or reject. Our dealer friend was able to get old packing cases and wood which solved our packing problem through the ability of Mr Eustace in enlarging or reducing the size of each case to fit the harmonium concerned.

The 1,000 handbells were a separate problem. Obviously it would be best to unscrew the wooden handles on the handbells then the brass business end of the unit could be stacked like a number of tumblers. The difference was in the weight. Another commodity stocked by our dealer was a pile of ammunition cases. These were steel and each had a secure hasp lock and a handle at each end for the two carriers required. We found we could get 100 bells into each container and although they made a really heavy load, ten ex-ammunition cases were locked and adorned with “Meth Mission, Afon via Lagos!” and were ready for the long journey.

Another opportunity to add to our church building fund arose out of my contact with the Fire Brigade. I asked about those bells they had used during the war on emergency fire vehicles and whether I could buy some. I foresaw a ready market in churches in Nigeria where a bell to call people to worship was really necessary. Village clocks were never seen, watches were unobtainable and clocks were not reliable. Each church near Offa railway works, managed to get a two or three foot length of old railway line which was hung on a nearby tree and struck with a heavy bolt, also acquired from the railway. This gave quite a clear sound, but did not look so good as a proper bell like the Lagos churches had.

An official reply came from the Fire Service. They were interested in my enquiry and the purpose for which I wanted to buy some bells. They had made an effort to trace any bells still available and regretted they could only produce ninety. I was alarmed that this would run me into the red but when they told me of their nominal charge and that they would make no extra charge for delivery, I thanked them and bought the lot.

I shall not forget the day the bells arrived where Mr Eustace and I would pack them. Opposite the bombed church was a row of shops, each with living rooms above them, making a terrace. The corner shop was owned by a cycle retailer. He stood watching the unloading and finally rushed over and demanded to know if we were going to install and ring them. I have rarely seen a man more agitated, neither have I ever heard of a carillion of ninety bells. I often laugh at the memory of the incident and of the absurdity of the fears of the cycle shop owner.

We eventually got everything crated, harmoniums, hand bells and church bells, which incidentally fitted into a further number of ammunition boxes. Obviously we could not take this consignment as personal luggage, but despatched them on a cargo vessel. Eventually they all arrived safely.

I started this chapter with the words “our 1948 furlough was a very busy time” and with a few descriptive digressions have told how we undertook a lot, perhaps too much, during our months of leave in order to cool down after the tropical heat near the equator. We were often amused by kindly enquiries from some who had hoped we had had a good rest during our stay in England and were refreshed by leisure. Our voyages, homewards and outwards were undoubtedly rest periods but when I came to describe what happened between, I had to turn up my dictionary in order to spell ‘leisure’ correctly.

15.4 The harmonium workshop

When we returned to Nigeria, I got down to the problem of storage of all our purchases as quickly as possible but, as I shall relate not quickly enough. As I saw it, top urgency must be given to the provision of cover from the rain.

I had decided to build an extension to our mud walled garage which had a corrugated iron sheet roof. This extension would eventually become a store and would become a workshop for our circuit carpenter. He was already fully employed making school desks, blackboards, easels and tables and stools for schools and teachers’ houses. He also made frames, doors and windows for our new buildings. Until the extension would be complete, he worked in the shade of a large tree and made extra protection from the rain by erecting a leaf roof over his bench. Joseph was a good worker, well trained by our Ilesha Hospital carpenter. He was honest and made good use of time whether we were on trek or in residence. As we could not commence building this extension for a few weeks when the rainy season would finish, the much needed protection for all the crates of harmoniums and bells must be found elsewhere. The obvious place was the wide verandah around the house adequately covered with thatch. We unloaded case after case on to that verandah and, to make a real start with repair work easier we carried the contents of one of the cases into our living room and placed the harmonium just outside the door into my office. This was a mistake. The harmonium was of French origin and had a flat top instead of the often heavily decorated type more favoured in England, which sometimes had an overmantle with imitation pipes, elaborate knobs and fretwork.

The idea of putting this flat top variety at my office door was that in the evenings or at other spare time I could work and also be more companionable to Joyce. Unfortunately I often came in with an armful of exercise books or other loads and while getting my keys out of my pocket I would lay the load on the convenient top of the harmonium, and did not always remember to remove them. This also was a mistake. I am quite willing to admit now that that corner of our living room did get rather cluttered. However, one day Joyce, who normally is very ready to accept situations and remain patient with me, said “Nelson, I want to talk to you”. Now a lot can be sensed from the tone of voice, not the volume, and somehow I felt there was trouble brewing. I laid another pile of books on top of the already crowded harmonium, came abruptly to a halt ready to listen but simply said “Yes”. “That harmonium will have to go”. Again, the tone of voice suggested deep feeling and called for action. We did not argue, it was all over in a moment, but I do remember that we started digging the foundations for that urgently needed workshop the very next morning.

It was a great joy to be able to hand over more and more of the harmonium work to Joseph. At first he glued and screwed, gradually he could renew bellows and carry out any frame repairs whilst I did the more delicate work of restoring sound to silent reeds and attending to ciphering problems. We reached the state where Joseph was able to strip, thoroughly clean and repair, leaving only the checking and final tune-worthiness to me. We sold dozens of harmoniums and all the bells. The Government Public Works Department undertook to make frames so that the big bells could swing and be erected on proper wooden frames or even fixed on suitable large tree branches. We were very glad to be able to put the profits to the building of two dual purpose churches/schools, a dispensary and a new bookshop. These were not mud constructions but built of yangi, which is the Yoruba word for red coloured rocklike lumps of laterite found in tropical climates, not as hard as stone but it is a mason’s work. Neatly pointed with cement, following its crazy shapes it makes a most attractive wall.