We do not deny the fact that there are attractions to the Moslem Faith. Our church bell clangs out on Sunday mornings and evenings but, in bigger centres of population, the Moslem muezzin loudly calls the faithful to prayer five times every day. Christians generally do not wear any form of uniform but, for the Moslem, white robes and turban are universal. Often I have stood in the vast market place of Ilorin with its impressive large white domed palace of the Emir. I have been an observer at the prayer meeting marking the end of the fast of Ramadan. Thousands of white robed Moslems stand in lines, filling the wide area, then all kneel and bow forward touching their foreheads on the sandy ground. Then rising and again bowing, many times but always in unison. It is a moving scene. Sadly, there are no women in view.
All this has added to the nominal roll of followers. Koranic schools have a very limited curriculum: reading in Arabic or reciting from memory the Koran. As one passes a Koranic School, often on the verandah of a house, there is the continuous loud shouting as the learners learn. From both of these methods of propagation it would appear that the wide growth of the Moslem Faith is automatic attraction rather than by conviction and, if there is no alternative available, folk of animistic and fetish background join the ranks of the white robed mass.
Writing of the impressive scene of Moslems at worship reminds me of two items to retell, one serious and one humourous.
So often we heard the meuzzin call the faithful to prayer five times a day. It makes one sad to recall the large number of Christian churches the doors of which are closed after worship and remain closed until the next occasion for worship. True, we have many dual purpose buildings which are open most of the days, for educational or social purposes, or even as a source of rent from variety of users. Too often we forgot the true purpose, the house of prayer.
Children are the same all over the world. As I stood in Ilorin observing the Ramadan prayers, a small boy, complete in white robes was almost shaking with quiet laughter as he awaited the next time the row in front of him would kneel and then bow forwards with their foreheads on the ground. In his fingers he had a pin poised to stab a sitting target. Like our children, his mind was not geared to the purpose of the solemn occasion.
We have been amazed at the tolerance of the Emir and most Chiefs. When Lord Lugard promulgated the law of no Christian intrusion into the Moslem Faith in the Northern Provinces, without the approval and invitation of the Chief, this was interpreted differently by different European District Officers (official advisers to the chiefs). I have heard of a Senior District Officer sending a note to a junior officer demanding that he stop playing a record of hymn singing on his gramophone on a Sunday. Indeed the godless often went to extremes. This stupid attitude gave birth to the following light hearted effort of a poet:-
I wish I were a Casowary On the plains of Timbuctoo I then would eat a missionary Coat, hat and hymnbook too.
I digressed from the tolerance of the Emir and Chiefs. Our Christians in Ilorin had as their meeting place a large shop which they rented. This served for Sunday services and all their weekday activities. As their numbers grew, I first contacted the Resident Magistrate. He was quite ready to give his support to any application we would make to the Emir. A special visit to the Emir resulted in his pleasure to allow us to build a church within the boundary of Ilorin. This was an amazing concession for permission on any previous application had very definitely been restricted to land outside the boundary. All that remained now was to fill in the forms and get his rubber stamp on them.
There was yet another surprise to come. When we had cleared the site and made all the arrangements, we called once more on the Emir to report that we were ready to build and that we would be having a short ceremony at the stone laying. He said that he would be glad to attend the stone laying ceremony. Actually he did more than that. He, a staunch and I believe devoted Moslem, showed his friendship by laying the foundation stone, in the presence of the Resident Magistrate, the Administrative staff and the delighted Christian community. I have never heard of anything like this before, the stone laying of a Christian Church being performed by an Emir. I think it may be unique.
Gidado did not start school until he was a well developed youth. There was no school at all within reach. In his second year in Infants Class 2 he said he wanted to prepare for baptism. We found him to be very keen indeed and as he was now able to read and there was no doubt of his genuine desire, it was as an adult that I baptised him. He got married when he was in Standard 1, took our advice and, rather than be a married man, nearly six feet high, amongst a crowd of small children, he came to Afon to learn weaving. Here also he did well, got his weaving certificate and set up a loom of his own in his own village. One day his elderly father, a bearded Moslem, came to report that Thomas, (his son’s Christian name) had been opening up Christian work in a neighbouring village and wanted to start a class for such adults and young people who were ready to join our church. We noticed and were surprised to hear him say “our church”. It was the first indication that the old man was perhaps like one of old who was a disciple secretly because of the Jews. It was a lovely tribute of an old Moslem to the prayer and hard work of his Christian son. We have visited the neighbouring village often and today, the Bale (headman), six other adults and many children are attending the instruction classes run by Thomas.
From our new home at Afon there was a laterite road through to Ilorin, the Provincial capital, a distance of 14 miles. The very large area in front of the Emir’s palace was the site of an extraordinary night market. From an hour before dark every evening, the market gradually filled up with women who spread out their stalls on mats. Each woman had arrived bearing a large head-load of whatever she wanted to sell. There was no licencing regulation but sellers of vegetables had an area and similarly other produce and products could be found by those who frequented the “midnight market” as it was called.
As night fell, all the women lit their little oil lamps and others who were arriving late, came into the area with their lamps already alight. It was a wonderful transformation, what had been a wide open space in the afternoon now looked like a fairyland. Trading began and continued until quite a late hour. We have been privileged to climb on to the platform of the Emir’s palace and to get an aerial view of the market. It is a sight worth seeing.
Apart from the midnight market, there were several stores open through the day. Most sold building materials and dealt in buying-in produce for forwarding to Lagos and eventual export. There was one good store which stocked quite a reasonable variety of European groceries in tins. This is where we used to do our shopping. Then there was the Kano train which travelled every two days. this had a cold store on board and meat, even ice cream could be bought. The trouble was that the train always arrived an hour after midnight so it meant a very late night shopping. Still, it was popular for the Europeans. Living 14 miles away, we did not often make use of it.
On that 14 mile stretch of dirt road we passed a large village called Laduba and nearer Ilorin is a much larger place known as Ologbondoroko. We frequently called in to salute the chiefs of these places but because of the agreement introduced by Lord Lugard that Christians would not undertake any work in the north unless they had been invited by the chiefs to come to their town or village, we were just friendmakers. However, if and when the opportunity came, we had every intention of trying to open a school in the bigger of two places. The opportunity came. On one of our visits, I had our cine camera with me and with pleasure responded to the request of the Mogaji (Chief) to take his photo. Other lesser chiefs and people wanted to be snapped also. When this operation was over they very naturally asked when they would be able to “picture”. I explained that this was a very wonderful camera and that if I were to let them see, it would have to be after dark, when I would hang a white cloth on a tree and they would not only see their faces but also their movements. That did it, they couldn’t wait, and at once issued a very sincere invitation to come back to them. We felt that Lord Lugard would have said it was all right.
The film was a great success. In order to make the evening worthwhile, we tucked in other places we had visited and also a Bible story which was well received. We treated any sick folk who came or were brought to the open air clinic and when we felt we were good enough friends and that the door was open, we suggested that it would be good to have a little school where we would teach more subjects than the Koranic teacher did. We applied through the Emir and the Education Department and then discussed the necessity to get a small piece of land, not for us but for the local people who would want to send their children to school or attend any other classes we might start.
Now all this friend making and introduction had taken months and as we had already introduced our oval dual-purpose buildings from the harmonium/bell fund, we decided to build one of these on the site. It was just beside the road and in good view of all passers by.
There were some southerners living in or near to Ologbondoroko. They were traders who went the rounds of the five day markets spreading out their rolls of cloth. Some of these men were Christians. They had their families with them so when we got permission to open a school, they were very pleased to give their children the chance of attending school which was not normally possible for the gypsy life they lived. We welcomed the ten or twelve children and hoped they would be a nucleus and also be an attraction to help swell our numbers in the school. It did not turn out to be so. Later, we arranged that the teacher we had sent would conduct a short service on Sundays in this dual purpose building. Again, the plan was welcomed by the trading ’foreigners’ but the true natives took no interest. This was a very great disappointment. Some people did pause as they passed on their way to farm. They quietly watched and listened as we worshipped. We felt that we must not regard the whole move as a failure, we must continue with the little school and the Sunday service even if only supported by people from the south. So we continued month after month.
One Sunday morning I was taking the Service when a very large local man, dressed in a splendid native robe came into the church and sat down. He listened intently. After the service I shook hands with him, welcomed him and tried to find out why he had come. He answered very clearly “I want to become a Christian”. I was greatly surprised. We had been praying for a breakthrough for so long, I confess my guilt in wondering if it would ever come. Very quickly however I told him how pleased I was. We would do all we could to tell him what it means to become a Christian, how we would teach him to read so that he could go on learning for himself. Then one day when he would show that he understood and was ready, I would baptise him and give him a new name. Aiyedun said he understood all I had said of what he would learn and that he was ready to start at once.
Now, at this very time, we had been asked to give hospitality to a very famous visitor and his team. Dr Frank Laubach was the inventor of a new approach to reading and was successful in introducing his Mass Literacy method into many languages. We were proud to be his helpers as he tackled the Yoruba language.
His system was based on an alphabet of the essential sounds used by speakers in their own tongue, consonants and vowels. Then he chose a very well known object beginning with a letter which produced that required sound. By a very strange coincidence, in no way connected with a certain well known shoe manufacturer, the Yoruba word for shoe is ‘bata’. Now he simply drew the outline of a shoe standing upright, and people gazing at Laubach’s illustration can easily get the “b” sound when he looks at, and later when he thinks of, ‘bata’. When he and his artist had produced a complete chart of an alphabet that covered all the Yoruba sounds, Dr Laubach asked me to produce someone whom I knew had never been to school and had no knowledge of letters or reading. I produced our compound labourer, Salimanu. He was willing to be the guinea pig and in three days mastered the chart. Amazingly, in one week Salimanu was able to read the 23rd Psalm. Of course he did not understand it, but he would do that later. The idea and the result was so wonderful that I immediately chose some of our catechists, taught them the method and how to use it. Soon Mass Literacy work among adults began and became recognised and widespread.
There was no limit to Frank Laubach’s patience and tact. Older learners naturally were more sensitive, particularly in the presence of younger and quicker learners. But there was never any embarrassment. If an older learner made a mistake and instead of a ’b’ gave a “d” sound to bata he would never say “No” and correct the mistake. Quietly he would say “Yes”, “bata”. Quickly the older learner would adjust and would not make that mistake again.
We started a Mass Literacy Group in Ologbondoroko. It proved to be a great help to our new friend Aiyedun. To encourage the group the Resident Magistrate of the Province came to a meeting of the Chiefs and other Moslems. We had offered a prize to the first successful learner. To our great satisfaction, the winner was Aiyedun, the one who had decided to become a Christian. Our church was the meeting place.
Abraham was a very happy man. He was always regular in attendance at Church. He spent a lot of time in becoming fluent in his reading and soon got down to learning to write also. Then he decided that he would like to come to Afon each day and learn to become a weaver. The weaving class in the Homecraft Centre was doing well and we could fit him in too. This craft would give Abraham a source of income back in Ologbondoroko.
So it appeared that all was going well in Ologbondoroko. The breakthrough was made, now others must follow. But they did not follow. Abraham remained faithful and we continued praying and working.
One morning we received the tragic news. No, Abraham had not died, but it was discovered he was a leper. The younger Moslems made hay whilst the sun shone. They went around chanting. “Don’t follow Aiyedun. He became a Christian. Allah is not pleased and Aiyedun now is a leper”.
Poor Abraham. We went to see him but he had gone, disappeared. The shock, the stigma, the taunting of the Moslems was too much for him to bear and, alone, he had gone away to hide his sorrow. If anyone knew where he had gone they would not tell us. We kept on enquiring, we searched. One day we were told that outside a certain distant village a leper had settled in a little grass shelter. We trekked there and someone pointed the path which took us to a shelter, but there was no one about. I called out “Abraham”. We had found him. He came out, wearing the robe in which he had been baptised, carrying his Bible with his finger holding the place he had been reading. He had lost weight, his robe was now soiled and crumpled. We talked together and prayed together. Abraham still believed.
Abraham’s tormentors, back in Ologbondoroko continued working and making it extremely difficult for any other person to become a Christian. One day, Abraham received a message saying his father had died. Now his father had been one of the chiefs and Abraham, the eldest of the family, was next in line for appointment but, Abraham was a leper, he could not return to Ologbondoroko. Yet Abraham still believed. Soon afterwards he received another message, Abraham’s wife had gone off with another man. She could no longer endure the stigma of being a wife of a leper. But Abraham still believed. Then news reached him that his house in Ologbondoroko had been burnt down. He could not go to rescue any of his belongings: he was a leper. Still, Abraham did not lose his faith.
We visited Abraham frequently, each time trying to persuade him to come with us and enter the Leper Colony at the Ogbomosho Hospital. Finally, he agreed and became a resident in much more pleasant quarters. The remarkable development in the treatment of leprosy had already been showing dramatic results. Isolation was still necessary but, instead of the frequent large injections, tablets were taken under the supervision of the medical staff. Abraham co-operated with the hospital staff and we began to think of and look forward to the day when he could return to Ologbondoroko bearing a certificate stating that he was “clean”. What would his Moslem folk do then?
Our time for retirement from Nigeria arrived and with sad hearts we said goodbye to all the Africans we had come to know in the very many years we had been with them. Our work was taken over by a very keen young couple. He was a minister as well as an engineer, she was a nurse. So the happy partnership in evangelism and healing would continue.
We were invited to return for the Conference of 1962 when the Methodist Church became autonomous. The ten years since our retirement had brought about many changes. Signs of greater growth had come as independence from the London-based Missionary Society put increasing responsibility on African personnel to raise their own finances, appoint their own officers and continue existing policies or change to something new.
During this short visit we did not get time to return to Ologbondoroko nor did we get much information from that part of our old field.
I have made many references to transport and the need we had for really suitable means of getting all the equipment we used to the very many towns and villages we visited. In the north, because of the sparsity of trees it was possible to get to places where there was no road. Pedestrians always walked in single file. The Fulani cattle owners also followed the same trails but of course their animals beat down grass and shrubs and left wide traces which we used for motor transport.
I have not yet referred to our bicycles. It required considerable skill to ride along the narrow pedestrian tracks, they kept fairly straight but the sand became very dry and deeper than a cyclist anticipated. This could, and did, result in an unexpected tumble. Despite the high number of times we have been thrown off, we bear no scars and had no cracked or broken bones. I had had an old bike for years. When Joyce took up cycling we were able to purchase a brand new Raleigh for six pounds.
One day I was due to go on trek but had a lot of paper work to attend to before I could get away. Joyce was staying on in Afon. Cook had his loads ready so, as I was cycling and knew the way, I sent him off with the carriers. I left Afon on my bike after lunch. I reckoned that I would overtake Joe, the cook, in a couple of hours, but I didn’t. There were quite a few dried up beds of streams which I did not seem to remember. I began to enquire of anyone coming towards me if they had seen Joe and the carriers. No one had seen them. It was now late afternoon and still the track I followed had no expected landmarks.
So near to the equator days and nights were almost equal. I kept looking at my watch and my anxiety increased as six o’clock approached. Obviously, I had taken a wrong track fairly soon after I had left Afon. There were of course dozens of junctions. It is rather like a railway track, the engine driver is all right so long as the points have been set. Somewhere I had not seen the point and had pedalled on along the wrong track diverging ever more widely from the correct route.
The short dusk gave way to night, there was no moonlight but, worse still, I had been so confident I would overtake the carriers that foolishly I had broken a rule and had set out without drinking water. We dared not drink any water that had not been well boiled and filtered. The carriers had a good supply in my loads, I had none.
I was lost. There was no use in pushing the bike on through the darkness. The odd animal noises began as they set out to prowl after darkness. Should I hope to find a tree and lodge in its branches? The other alternative was to sleep, or rather to spend the night with ants and other creepy crawlies plus mosquitoes and other winged predators and hope that no larger animal would pick up my scent.
No, or very few self respecting Africans are out along a bush path after dark. I spent a completely miserable two hours, then I definitely heard voices. When walking in single file conversation amongst the walkers is always loud and clear so that number five or six can be heard by the leader. I was thankful and overjoyed. I certainly would not enquire into morals nor the honesty of the approaching company, they were human beings. It seemed an age before they came. The five men were alarmed to find a white man out there. I explained. No, they had not seen Joe nor the carriers. No, they did not know the village at which I would meet Joe, but if I cared to follow them home, they would find a very knowledgeable man who doubtless would be ready to help me for a consideration. Consideration? I was quite willing to mortgage a week’s stipend (just under four pounds sterling at that time), I started offering less. So we set out for home, their home. It was a long walk but eventually we got there. True to their estimation, there was a knowledgeable gentleman who appeared to be eager to lead me to my destination and quite satisfied with my mortgage plans. He could find a little hurricane lamp, we did not have to discuss the cost of the paraffin oil.
Mr ‘consideration’ and I got to my destination about midnight. To my horror I learned that neither Joe nor the carriers had arrived and there was no water to drink. This was really serious as I had not swallowed a drop nor eaten a bit for eleven hours. The Chief kindly said I could sleep on his floor, gave me a large earthen pot in which to boil some water and one yam to eat, when cooked. I boiled the water well and as patiently as possible. I watched while it cooled sufficiently to drink it. I do not recommend the drinking of tepid rather smelly water. In the dim light of a native lamp I could not distinguish its colour, probably deep brown. As I was cooking the yam, I thought I heard voices. Could it be Joe and the carriers? It was. I rushed out to welcome them. They too had taken a wrong turning. We were all extremely tired. We had food together and I reduced the quantity of prepared water the carriers had carried. Further bliss, I was elevated from the flat hard floor to the heights and comfort of my own camp bed. From inside my mosquito net I listened to the flying insects outside but not for long. Thankfully sleep made me forget the whole day’s journey.
Another mode of transport to which I have made little reference is the horse. The omission is understandable for, in the southern provinces, chiefs alone and not many of them, had horses. It was different in the north where a horse could move freely without having to stumble over tree roots and cope with the very crooked route of a forest bush path. The Durbars of which we read, where dozens of horsemen charge about and race, are confined to the North. Here a kindly Emir was almost certain to lend us a couple of horses to save the fag of long walks. Incidentally, the kindly Emir would also send at least one ’chaperon’ to see to our welfare and probably to the horses welfare also.
We were due to go north from Bussa and were offered two horses. Joyce decided not to accompany me, but was very concerned about the journey and enquired if the horses were gentle. We were told they were very gentle animals, but probably as only one would be in use I had better ride the brown one for he was very “Hunkali” (gentle), so I mounted Hunkali. Before I got my second foot in its stirrup, Hunkali reared and did his best to see I would never get it in, worse, he succeeded in dislodging my first foot. I did not know that I smelled but Hunkali thought that I did. We have all watched a Rodeo show on TV and got an idea of the power of an irritated horse and the powerlessness of a rider to remain upright but then, in those days, TV had not arrived to give Hunkali any ideas, it can only have been original sin. The horse won and while he paused for breath I slid to the ground. I quickly mounted the second, not so gentle horse. He did not seem to object to any smell so with head held high I rode past the still trembling and foaming Hunkali.
All our travels and investigations had been northerly. We were now in Bussa on the Niger and I decided to take time to move westwards so, in company with Philip, the catechist we set out for the border of Nigeria with French Dahomey on foot. We found that any villages we came to were very small and far between indeed, very large areas were completely uninhabited by human beings and were the happy hunting grounds of the animal kingdom.
We came to a lovely, fairly shallow river and estimated we could get across without having to swim. We would bundle our clothes and hold them above our heads. As we were preparing for this cooling exercise we suddenly heard a loud splash on our right and looking around quickly were just in time to see the second crocodile as it too splashed into the water. They went downstream and what we had hoped would be a leisurely crossing became a single man’s dash while the other kept a sharp look-out for any brothers or sisters of the croc family. We didn’t see anything big but from the occasional tread and other unmistakable evidence animals leave behind them, we knew we were in elephant country. Our long walk was unproductive, the few human contacts we made when they had overcome their natural desire to flee into the bush at the sight of a white man made us feel sure there were no large settlements anywhere near. We decided to return to Bussa and in doing so took a southern route in order to explore different territory from out outward journey.
Later we learned that our own Missionary Society’s workers in French Dahomey had undertaken exactly the same kind of sortie in order to explore how far the Busanchi language, spoken by their people on their side of the border extended. Of course their finding would be in the interests of a French translation and would not be of much help to us.
On arrival in Bussa, Joyce had been reading the monthly mail which our messenger had brought. He had to travel 180 miles to the nearest Post Office on his cycle and then 180 miles back again. Our method of coping with our mail differed widely, whilst Joyce picked out family letters and read them first, I glanced through the less interesting material and then quietly got in a chair and restfully read the family news.
After a welcome home again and large glasses of orange juice, I sat down to read. Almost the first obviously business looking envelope I opened was a letter which called for hoots of laughter. Accompanied by telling illustrations it read:-
We are addressing this letter to you as one who leads a sedentary life.’
I had just sat down having walked well over 100 miles in a week: sedentary life? I was being advised to invest in a special corset to cope with and cover those inevitable bulges which come to men in the wrong places. I didn’t place any order with the enterprising firm. My personal experience and knowledge of most Methodist Ministers is that we are of the lean kind.
One exception to the lean kind who worked in the East End of London got into an already full bus one day. A little Cockney girl sitting beside her mother was told to stand up and give the corpulent gentleman a seat. On doing so, our parson friend thanked her and offered her a seat on his knee. She accepted and squeezed on to what was left of that part of his limb. He asked her what was her name and was simply told, Mary. Oh said he, “I’ve got a little Mary too”. This brought forth the next utterance of the child “Not ’arf you ’ave”.
Soon after this we had agreed to a visit from a company of young students from our Wesley College. They were being sent so that they could experience what life was like out in the Circuits. We took them to the Niger.
Their leader, a young minister on the staff, was thrilled with everything he saw. Not so for the students. They just could not believe that the Borgu people did not understand their Yoruba tongue. They tried speaking very slowly and then they tried speaking very loudly, but still the people could not understand. Here, in their own Nigeria they had to have every word translated. Worse, sometimes they had to work through two interpreters for some of the lesser known but distinct languages of the River people. We certainly showed them what they had thought ridiculous: a Nigerian who could not understand their Yoruba.
It may have been noticed that for some pages back I have been trekking without Joyce. The reason really is a very little one; our third child was born on 15th July, 1949. We had some very good friends at the American Baptist Hospital in Ogbomosho. Elizabeth Joyce, an 8.5lbs infant was born with more hair than any of the staff had seen. I wrote in a circular letter to our relatives “for some weeks she has been studying her hands with great interest but a few days ago she has discovered that she has a voice and now her waking hours are spent in experimenting with this new discovery which slides up and down the scale and at times skids off it altogether, to her obvious surprise”. I see that I omitted any reference to interruptions to our sleep by that same little voice.
Elizabeth Joyce was baptised by the Rev Frank Longley, the Superintendent Minister of the circuit which includes Ogbomosho where she was born.
Christmas that year, 1949, was spent in Afon. We invited several colleagues in education work, they were better able to travel because of the longer Christmas break. We decided to stage a Nativity Play and got wonderful co-operation from the little church, medical and school staff as well as the Moslem pupils and our own compound labourers. The Play would be in our church and we made full use of its many arches instead of windows, and widened the communion table beneath the large central arch in the end wall. This gave elevation to the scene where Mary, the Babe and Joseph would be placed. The entire cast including the baby was African. The black angels came and went at the right time. The narrator spoke slowly and clearly. The real live sheep devoured as much of our palm leaf ‘walls’ around the lowly cattle shed, as they could get within reach of their tethers.
The Daodu and the lesser chiefs were all present, the village folk included many women, crowded round each opening in our oval shaped building. It was very obvious that all onlookers were much impressed by all they saw, by the singing of carols in their own language and by the story as read by the narrator. When the Christians followed the three kings in their bright robes of coloured blankets and Africans and Europeans knelt together before the manger in silence, we could hear the Daodu repeating several times the words “Itan Jesu” the story of Jesus “Itan Jesu” the story of Jesus.
Has ever a Nativity Play ended without the words “O come all ye faithful”? That Christmas Eve also echoed those words in song, and many of the performers continued to hum the tune or sing the words as the village folk returned in the darkness to their homes.
Our leave in 1950 was different from all the others. In 1946 and again in 1948, Peter, Joyce and I had to endure the pangs of parting. After an all too brief furlough period when we were a united family, now five in number, we knew that those pangs would return again. This year they would be greater for the time had come when Anthony, now six years of age must stay in school in England as well as Peter.
Because of age and illness, neither of their grandmothers could take responsibility for the boys, in any case we did not feel that they should be asked to do so. Happily we had the very satisfactory arrangement in Miss Woods Nursery Hotel in Herne Bay, and Joyce’s college friend, Dr Katherine Evans who was a very willing ‘universal aunt’.
There was a very definite snag. No self respecting lad of eleven, in the Preparatory Class of a well known English Public School takes kindly to having to record his holiday address as ‘Nursery Hotel’. We grieved for the shame Peter must have felt and made the decision that we must start buying a house and giving both boys an address all their own.
The financial aspect was a great worry to me. I had no reserve backing, my parent’s eight grown children had already had our endowment in the form of a first rate secondary schooling in Wesley College, Dublin. True I had a wife who was a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. Her missionary years had earned for her the princely sum of three pounds a week. After our marriage, while she engaged fully in medical activities in pioneering and helping with surgery when needed at our hospital, for eighteen years she received no salary, grant nor allowances. I felt my anxiety was justified. We started looking for a small house near Herne Bay.
When Joyce was a girl, her parents used to rent a house in Birchington during the summer so to that village we went. We looked over lots of properties advertised by estate agents and, after much searching we short-listed three. One fairly remote from the sea, another several roads nearer but the third, which was our real dream was on the sea front.
Joyce’s family were keen Temperance workers and amongst their many friends was Alfred Coucher who was an official in the Temperance Permanent Building Society, also a one time Mayor of Marylebone. He gladly offered to advise on our short list. Secretly we longed for the delightful four bedroom house, with nothing between house and beach except a mowed green maintained by the Council as part of a continuous open space, a very great asset to any holiday resort. But the price was 1,000 pounds more than the other properties.
Alfred came and gave the three careful consideration and advised we buy our seaside choice. He did not query that extra 1,000 pounds stating that when people come for a holiday beside the sea, the nearer they can be to the sea is the first choice they will have in renting. Our position would quickly be filled each year while the other properties could well lie empty if the season proved to be bad.
So with a big helping of faith we signed for a mortgage with the Temperance Permanent Building Society. The children’s excitement was great and, as frequently as we could we passed the house to have another look. The former owners moved out on the agreed date and we were able to make decisions as to which room would be chosen by the boys. Elizabeth was then a year old and obviously could not be consulted.
Peter chose a bedroom with a beautiful sea view through its front bay and side windows. We shall never forget his joy when he went to bed the first night, he declared “Isn’t God good to give me a room all to myself”. His four years in boarding school and the Nursery Hotel had provided only dormitory accommodation.
The decision to buy “Pitnacree” was inspired. As Alfred had said, we never lacked good tenants who were able and paid good rents. The property was managed and maintained by an excellent estate agent and happily the income from rent not only paid the mortgage, but also enabled us to put in central heating and double glazing. We have indeed much cause for thanksgiving for the 34 years we were the owners. It also made possible the purchase of our very comfortable flat in Bournemouth without any need for mortgage.
In spite of the amount of time taken in house buying, there were still other occupations and pursuits. We had to meet our missionary deputation programme, there was the long list of stores to be bought and purchases requested by our African friends as well of course, as visits to our relatives and friends in England and Ireland.
As the time of our departure grew nearer we were aware of the change in Peter and now also in Anthony’s demeanour. They became quieter and more clinging. In truth, they feared the coming separation. At school Peter had passed through a difficult stage. His letters and reports had been showing his unhappiness at separation. Then the awful time came for us to return to West Africa and we tried to say goodbye. His distress as well as ours was so great that I promised “Peter, this is the last time we will leave you, when we come home again in 1952 we will stay at home”. He bravely accepted this. We were glad soon to see that his reports showed progress. His class work and his cello playing improved. As for us, the promise had been made and our task now was to prepare for winding up our work and be able to hand over to a successor.