On the voyage back to Nigeria, after leave, I shared a cabin with a very fine missionary. Harold Stacey, an educationalist, was Supervisor of all our Nigerian schools. He was blest with a very keen sense of humour. This, my third voyage was the best so far.
As usual, there were many new recruits to our staff and we played the same tricks on them as had been played upon us earlier. For example--The Tsetse Belt was a belt of land where the Tsetse flies abounded--a very dangerous area. Bites could cause Sleeping Sickness. Each recruit would be asked if he or she had their tsetse belts ready. Some became alarmed and wondered why no one had warned them nor told them where they could buy these belts.
On arrival at Lagos I was told of my promotion to be a Superintendent Minister. I was to transfer to and take charge of the large Ilesha Circuit, some 200 miles inland. In the Ilesha Circuit there were four other ministers, and about one-hundred-strong staff of catechists and teachers. I would be manager of many schools, some earning Government grant. There were forty five churches, some big and some small. There also was a hospital run by the Wesley Guilds in Britain. My only responsibility there would be chaplaincy work. As I had only completed my seven years of training that year, it meant diving in at the deep end.
Elsewhere I describe my large mud house within the town boundary. The hospital was a quarter of a mile away, just outside the boundary. The population of Ilesha was then estimated at 50-60,000. The word Ilesha really meant Ile (house) Orisha (of the gods). It is the capital of the Ijesha Tribe--a very friendly, happy people who appreciated the work of the church and the hospital.
I followed the Rev Stuart Treleavan as Superintendent. He had spent only a few years there. Through matters entirely beyond his control, he had run up against two problems.
There was an urge amongst the Ijesha people for a Grammar School but they had lacked the know-how and the personnel for management. The Treleavans were both well versed in educational matters and were approached to take over a scheme and start a Methodist Grammar School. There would not be any financial problem. An ad-hoc committee of our church met in Lagos. Unfortunately, they felt there would be too great a strain on our output of qualified teachers, so the invitation was turned down. The same people turned down a later scheme of which I will write. Both these schemes could have weakened the supply of staff in the South, but the opposers had little interest in the great loss their vote would be to the extension of our work further north. This Ilesha rebuff was a serious blow to our church. Several years later, The Progressive Union in Ilesha did start a Grammar School. It is now a huge success but has no connection with the church.
The second big problem Treleavan had to face was the rise of a ’prophet’. Joseph Babalola believed that he was called by God to go out amongst his people not only to preach the Gospel but also to commence a ‘healing ministry’. Claims of his remarkable powers spread far and wide and people of different faiths and none, flocked to his open air meetings. Those seeking healing brought their bottles to be filled with water which he had blest. Rumours ran riot. It was said that Nigerian Railways put on extra trains to cope with the rush. I never had any proof of this but Joseph Babalola became famous.
Another rumour told of our Ilesha Hospital staff standing idle whilst patients went to Joseph for ‘proper’, instant healing. I do know that in actual fact the hospital became busier with disappointed hopefuls. Now, the last thing I would want to do would be to cast doubt or scorn upon any revival movement. I believe it is true that God moves in mysterious ways. However, the churches in Ilesha took a very critical view of the whole movement and opposed it. They regarded Joseph as an intrusion and were quick to condemn anything that savoured of Ju-ju.
All this happened before my arrival in Ilesha. It explains however, the uncharitable attitude of the church towards those who followed Babalola. We tried to break down this opposition, particularly when the movement gained support of the Apostolic Church in England and their first missionary, his wife and child, arrived. We befriended them, action which was not fully approved by our people. On the other side, it was not approved by the Babalola people who strongly objected to our own use of medicines and, of course, our large hospital. They did not know that their own Apostolic missionary and family, regularly took the recommended does of quinine. Gradually happier, or at least more tolerable relations grew.
Back to our hospital at the time I arrived in Ilesha. This had been started by Dr Stephen’s. Regrettably, problems had arisen amongst the European staff and it was decided to close the hospital. In 1929, Dr Edward Hunter was sent out to re-open the work. He travelled out with me, both on our first tour. His one and only assistant was Stella Liony, the Matron. She was of mixed parents, African and English, and had worked from 1920 until the closing, but had now come out again as Matron with Dr Hunter. She was a wonderful person and had served a total of twenty three years when she died. Three months after the re-opening, Sister Elsie Ludlow arrived from Ireland (my own sister).
The African staff consisted of five very new and young African girls, nurses in training. With the reluctance of parents to send girls to school the output at the end of elementary schools was small and hospital had great difficulty in getting the right kind of girl, even with a minimum of education. Three male members completed the hospital staff. Jacob who was interpreter at all interviews, Solomon the untrained dispenser, was gaining experience under the watchful eye of the doctor and Michael, the untrained night nurse. No one would risk leaving a girl on duty through the night, so, Michael slept through daylight hours and, probably a lot of the night in addition. Then there was the band of labourers employed for grass cutting and maintenance work on paths, drainage work and, of course sanitation. We had no septic tanks in those days and the old bucket system constantly required attention. Neither had we any running water. This need was met by collecting rainfall water from the corrugated iron roofing into concrete tanks which had to be kept under lock and key.
The work grew and a third Nursing Sister, Elsie Moody, was appointed to the staff. The Mission authorities had urgent need to find another doctor to take over responsibility for running the hospital when Dr Hunter would go on his six months leave at the end of eighteen months. They appointed a young candidate who had her M.B, B.S. qualifications. Dr Joyce Woods, however was working hard of her F.R.C.S and would not be ready at the time required. One evening at her London Hospital, The Royal Free, there was a dance. As she danced with another young doctor, she told her of her appointment to Nigeria, but because of he pending F.R.C.S exams, she would have to try to find a substitute who could fill in the months of Dr Hunter’s leave. Helena Gambrell immediately said “I will go”. She did and arrived in time for Edward’s leave and until; Joyce Woods came, when she had added this prized qualification to her successes.
There happened that at that very time, there was a young Government Agricultural office called Jim Pudney, in Ilesha. Helena and Jim became friends, good friends, very good friends, and although Helena had returned to England, it was not long before their engagement was announced. So Dr Gambrell did return to Nigeria as Dr Pudney.
The addition of Dr Woods to the staff was of great importance, a woman doctor and one so highly qualified. She had arrived in July while I was still on leave. When I was transferred to Ilesha in October, there were five Europeans at the hospital. During his first tour, Dr Hunter could rarely leave Ilesha. He had no relief and was on call for night duty as well as the arduous tasks of every day. The arrival of Dr Woods changed this a lot for, in addition to responsibilities as a surgeon, she shared the other work of the hospital. Another development became possible. The new doctor wanted to get out to visit the villages. Many people were still afraid to come to the hospital and she felt strongly the need to get to the patients, where possible instead of waiting for the arrival of extremely sick persons at the hospital gate.
The name of Nightingale appears often in the record. Nightie, as we called him, was not only a senior missionary but was also Secretary of our District Synod. He visited Ilesha on one occasion soon after the arrival of Dr Woods. She had had a very busy morning in the operating theatre and, at lunch, was telling Nightie all the patients should have had attention long before they could become so serious. She admitted that at one stage she wondered if she had bitten off more than she could chew. “Oh” said Nightie “is that the way you do it?”. Again, it is often the fact in missionary work where one has to tackle problems without any consultation.
As soon as I got settled in and had explored the work in Ilesha itself, I arranged a time-table for visition to each of the four ministerial colleagues and their surroundings. This meant walking many miles--my most remote colleague and his section of the circuit was twenty six mile. I could use the first six miles of trunk road and then walk the remaining twenty, or, by a different route which included other villages, I would walk the whole twenty six.
On a recent return visit to Nigeria, I did the whole journey by car. This, I felt was not an improvement. In the early days, I naturally felt tired after the long walk, as did my carriers bearing my loads. I was glad to stay several days before starting out on the return journey. Meanwhile, I was able to spend much time in schools and churches, also to do quite a lot of pastoral visitation and to talk with the Chief. The people enjoyed this as well as I did. But now, the superintendent can get his car, travel the twenty six miles, conduct a church service and be back home again in Ilesha for lunch. I am sure I knew more of the individual members and their homes, and of the problems of staff in the schools than is possible for the modern haste. It is true that visits through shorter now and probably more frequent, may not include the time I gave in the marking out and supervision of buildings, such work is undertaken by men, much better able and more experienced in the erection of buildings.
The desire of the second doctor to get out into the villages, may not have met with the approval of all at the hospital, but it appealed to me and to the circuit ministers tremendously. I was always glad to send messages to my villages that they would have such a visit. Preparations would be made and lists of sick people were written in readiness for the forthcoming visit. Sometimes the sick people were written in readiness for the forthcoming visit. Sometimes the doctor would be accompanied by one of the nursing sisters, at other times, I was glad to arrange my visit to the village school and church on the same day.
On one occasion, when my sister was the travelling companion, there was a large ostrich strolling around the market where the medical work was in progress. My sister wanted to take a photo of the ostrich. The bird which my dictionary describes as “the biggest living bird in Africa, remarkable for its speed in running,” took a long look at these strangely coloured women and in particular became interested in the camera. As Elsie advanced to get a better picture, the ostrich also advanced and proved all the dictionary says of its size and athletic prowess. Elsie fled as the baskets of the trading women were scattered by the ostrich, she was joined by the women in their hasty exodus. The conclusion of the incident was peaceful, the bird which in Elsie’s opinion was the largest in the whole of Africa, either became less interested or saw something more edible than the offending camera.
When the doctor’s free day coincided with one of my visits to a village, accompanied by an interpreter, an African nurse and one of the domestic staff, we would engage in our respective jobs of medical advocacy and school or church work. We enjoyed these walks through the forests and the village fold certainly appreciated the work undertaken in their midst.
Regarding the Circuit staff, I think that the fairest comment I can make on the senior African minister, the Rev J.A. Pearse is that he was a real Christian gentleman. I never knew him to be impatient or unkind. During my six months leave in alternate years, JAP as we affectionately called him, acted as superintendent. This was a very big responsibility as it meant quite a lot of book-keeping and seeing to the funds coming in from government grant, mission allowances and the income from forty five churches and all the school fees. None of the staff of one hundred, in church and schools was allowed to handle payment of salaries. All income had to be paid in to the central circuit account. JAP undertook all this work. I was not trained in accountancy, neither was he. I had had a very much better education in arithmetic, yet the task took very many hours each week.
One year, when I returned from leave and received the books and balance. I found that he was one penny out. He told me that he had had great difficulty in balancing the books. His solution was really easy, on the Income side, was one extra line - “Donation 1d”. The books balanced, his conscience was clear and so was mine! Years later, it was JAP who baptised our first born, Peter, the only white child he had ever baptised.
Amos Solarin was another minister of the same lovable type. I remember his first sermon when he was transferred to Ilesha’s big central church. “I am among you as one that serveth” and, my goodness he did serve. Nothing was too little nor too arduous for him to undertake. When troops were being enlisted for the Burma Campaign, he too enlisted as a chaplain and thus shared life with the commissioned officers. Many tributes came back to us of his character, humility and caring of all ranks. He was awarded the M.B.E. for services in Burma.
Other ministers were stationed at Imesi-ile, Oshogbo and Oshu sections. Each was responsible for the ten or so churches in his area. In addition were the smaller schools in which each minister, all of whom had passed through Teacher Training, was able to give advice and instruction to the staff. This did not include the government assisted schools. A senior and well trained headmaster did all the correction or advice needed by his assistants and I, as manager, supervised these schools. Many of our trained staff were very willing to conduct services on Sundays and helped catechists in outlying villages.
Quarterly Meeting lasted from Tuesday to Friday. They included classes of instruction for preachers, sermon outlines were explained and distributed, accounts of every station were checked and money paid in. No items of expenditure were permitted in the stations but refunds of approved items were paid with the salary of each man. The four days of Quarterly Meeting gave men in lonely stations an opportunity to talk and enjoy some social life with their fellows.
Ministers, headmasters, sub-Pastors, catechists formed a fine band of men. Of course, there were the occasional misfits who, by their own action, or by mine, did not stay long. I remember one chap who had a chip on his shoulder. He was critical of our life style and talking one day, to Dr Woods and me, told us that we ought to be ashamed of ourselves, coming to his country to exploit the African. This was really funny because, despite the doctor’s qualifications, she never received more than 3 pounds per week from the Missionary Society. He obviously was unaware that in those days, one’s years of study and training were borne by one’s parents and even post-graduate service was an unpaid privilege.
Sometime I was anxious to visit a school in the bush without warning, to check on rumour or lack of care in time keeping and cleanliness. I never succeeded in my quest. Either the rumours were untrue or else luck was on the side of the staff in the school in question. Every child was in place, the Register had been marked, even the compound had been swept. It was then I learned of the efficiency of the ‘bush telegraph’, in other words, the speaking drum. This was a specially constructed drum with skin on both ends but the two pieces of skin were linked or laced with leather thongs. When held beneath the arm and beaten with a hooked stick, the drummer, by squeezing the thongs, could lower or raise the pitch on a considerable scale. Now Yoruba is a tonal language and experienced drummers could broadcast messages which would be understood by listening drummers who were to be found in great numbers. So, unknown by me, many people knew that Oyinbo--the white man, was coming. This would be relayed, not by a pack of spies nor accomplices, but by men who had seen or heard something interesting and wanted to pass it on. Don’t we all?
As the three months passed and there were opportunities for Dr Woods to visit villages more frequently, she travelled as often as possible with me. Not surprisingly, our friendship deepened. We swapped information about our family background and discovered many similarities. Her elder sister was married to a Methodist Minister. He was posted to take over the English church in Madras, South India, and her sister who was very clever at all sorts of needle work undertook training and other work in the Ikkadu Centre for Indian Women. She also had an open door manse, to welcome and entertain young men attending the English Church. Then, the youngest member of the family had just qualified as a doctor and he was posted by the Methodist Missionary Society to a hospital in Yunan, South West China.
My sister Elsie was already one of the two Sisters at Ilesha Wesley Guild Hospital, and an elder brother of mine was an ordained minister of the Methodist Church in Ireland. That, so far, made it a draw--three all. Our homes were similar and very closely linked with the Church. Family prayers at home were a common feature. Music also had it place in common. Another strong tie was that both sets of parents were active in Temperance work, though movements like the Good Templars, Womens White Ribbon and, of course the Band of Hope. Happily, we were both like minded on pioneering and in the prospect of close relations between medical, evangelistic, and educational extension into areas where none such had yet been carried.
With all this family background and common hopes for the future, it is not at all a surprise that a romance developed. I am reminded that when I eventually popped the question, I got a “Yes, provided you will see to the Tilley lamps”. Now this particular hanging lamp had a circular fuel tank rather like a lifebuoy. Three chains from this tank supported all the works, with a long, vertical vaporiser rod, which rose up in the middle and supported the mantle fitting. An essential part of the equipment was a little glass jar full of methylated spirit in which was kept a small clip with asbestos filling, which became moist with the spirit and when clipped on to the vaporiser and ignited, warmed the paraffin under pressure in the rod. When warm enough this lighted the mantle. All this has taken time to describe but it also took a long time to light and to keep the thing in order. You can now see Joyce’s point in making a conditional acceptance of my proposal, especially as they had electricity at the hospital. I knew anyhow that the lamp smoked a lot and occasionally sent out a spurt of flame. Anyhow, I agreed to her conditions. For portable lights, we used Coleman petrol lamps. These were very quick and bright when on trek and watching out for creepy crawlies. Eventually we discarded the old Tilley.
On my treks and indeed when in Ilesha too, I always had a very light lunch during the heat of the day, so dinner was always in the evening, after a bath and a change of clothing. We all invited friends to share this evening meal on occasions. On one special evening I invited all four of the hospital staff and, in preparation I discussed the menu with Ajayi, my cook. He got a very nice piece of meat in the market and served it up with a special gravy, which looked odd with lots of bits and pieces floating around the dish. I called him up to explain. He had looked through my store of tins and found one labelled “Mincemeat” and to enrich his gravy for this special occasion, he had added the contents. Oddly enough it tasted quite good, although rather sweet. It was still unusual to get sultanas and peel with the joint.
News of our engagement spread quickly and was generally welcomed by European and our African friends. About this time in our Theological College, the Principal was endeavouring to give the correct interpretation in English of one’s status youth, maiden, lady, woman, gentleman, man etc.). When he thought he had made it all plain, he asked if there were any questions. An unexpected query was raised. “Please sir, will Dr Woods still be a lady when she married Mr Ludlow?” The Principal hoped so. In Yoruba parlance, a lady becomes a woman on marriage so the idea of a married lady was new.
The Owa of Ilesha was a very important man, referred to as the Oba or King. Appointments with him had to be made in advance and I always put on a Palm Beach suit for the visit, and also usually took a present. I would be received by his secretary, accompanied by an Olopa (policeman) and escorted to an inner verandah of his palace. In due time, the Owa would emerge and his chiefs in waiting would all lie prostrate as they shouted “kabeyesi”, which was a kingly salutation. The Owa would sit down and call for cola nuts. Breaking a nut into its five segments, he would offer them to me on his outstretched hand. I would touch his fingers and then reach for the back piece, that is the piece nearest him. He would take one of the remaining pieces and, silently, we would chew. This was an expression of peace and friendship then, after many expressions of good will and prayers for his health, I would get down to my request. This was most often for a piece of land on which to erect or extend a school or church. He would say that he would consider the matter and, either promise to let me know or, he would there and then call his chiefs into consultation in what was supposed to be an inaudible huddle with said chiefs. When he had got their opinion he would announce the result, usually approval.
The Owa and I became good friends and remained so during my sixteen years of superintendent of the Ilesha Circuit. Though never a Christian, several of his many wives were and their children by him, were in my schools. He invited me to have a Sunday afternoon Service, once a month, in the palace. He and many of his family attended. I much appreciated this gesture and printed this Service on our regular Preaching Plan. Several of his successors have been Christian and, because they were usually educated men, dealing with them would be much easier.
In the days of the old Owa, Romolaran 11., he was having quite a big social gathering at the palace. He sent an invitation to Dr Hunter at our hospital. Edward felt the Sisters ought to be invited as well, so he wrote a letter to the Owa. His secretary replied. “When the Owa invites a man to a party, he expects him to bring his wives as well”. My predecessor used to tell of the time he visited the Owa and apparently gave offence by his open criticism of polygamy. The Owa was silent for a while and then said “You are here, your wife is here, but we never know how many wives you have at home in England.”
I have referred to the annual Synod of our Church, held in Lagos and lasting three weeks. I had been appointed Assistant Secretary. This meant mainly that I had to type the Minutes and be general dogs-body to the secretary. Now this office was held by Edward Nightingale, who was not only an extremely hard worker, but also with some legal studies before he entered the Ministry. He was a very correct and accurate person. Joyce and I had fixed the date for our wedding, 12th April, which is also my birthday. As her tour ended in January, she could only attend Synod for part of the time before sailing for home. Nightie was very considerate and made my secretarial duties as light as possible up to the day she sailed, but part of his promise to her that he would look after me when she had gone, was that he would keep me busy, and he did. I had to catch up on pages and pages of minutes and letters and often would stagger to bed about three in the morning after five or more hours at the typewriter. His correctness and accuracy amounted to avoiding the shame of sending in a page, which had any correction on it. I recall how I made a silly mistake and typed “anti-natal” instead of “ante-natal” on the second line from the bottom of a foolscap (A5 in those days) page. He made me type the whole page again. I am sure that if he had let it pass, the authorities in London would know that I was not anti children, nor anything good for them, but no, the mistake would be above his signature as secretary. I was very much annoyed as I had set a target to get to bed before 2.30a.m. Still, he had promised Joyce that he would keep me busy.
It is extraordinary the difference in saying good-bye, even for a limited period can make. Somehow, the ice cream tasted less interesting. However, the Minutes had to be done correctly, five copies of every page. I welcomed the end of Synod. The remaining weeks until March passed and I began my long journey home.
One event in the week prior to my departure must be included here. I had a very good Young Mens Group in Ilesha, all spoke English fluently. They invited me to a farewell function. Several members spoke of their appreciation of the group and of what they had learned as well as the help it had given in English. Then, to mark the occasion of my forthcoming marriage, they presented me with a copy of ’Foxes Book of Martyrs’.