In 1945, having spent the war years in occupied Jersey, I went over to England. I had been badly let down by the man I hoped to marry after the war and was feeling very low spirited and disillusioned with life in general.
I couldn’t bear to stay on in the island so got myself a job as a housekeeper in London. I didn’t fit into this very well and in 1946 I went to Bournemouth where I had a cousin who offered me a job in her café. There I met Elsie Cranmer who lived in a flat over the cafe. We became quite friendly and in March 1947 she invited me to a Bahá’í meeting. This was the first I’d ever heard of the Faith but I decided to go and see what it was all about.
Life still wasn’t making much sense to me at this time and I was looking for something, though I had no idea what it was I was looking for. I went to several meetings after this and found myself very attracted to the teachings and the Bahá’ís I met. I didn’t want to be a Bahá’í at this stage as I felt the whole thing would be too much for me and I’d never be able to live up to it. But I kept on going. I was very interested in singing at the time and decided to go back to London where my singing master taught. Elsie gave me the address of the London Centre in Bina Gardens so that I could follow up with the Faith if I wanted to.
I was a very retiring shy person who was never very much at ease with strangers, yet, quite against my normal behaviour, I found myself going to Bina Gardens to see if I could meet up with Bahá’ís. I had to go three times before I found a meeting of the National Spiritual Assembly in session. This was on a Sunday afternoon and they told me that there were meetings held there on Thursday evenings.
I went along to these meetings for about six months, still wary about getting too involved. Then one night when I was lying in bed after having had a bad fall, I distinctly heard a voice say “What are you waiting for? You know you have to become a Bahá’í.”
I realised then that this was the thing I had been looking for, something that made sense out of life and made all its little ups and downs seem unimportant. This was in November 1947 and I became the first Jersey-born woman to declare my Faith in Bahá’u’lláh.
I don’t think there were any particular difficulties associated with becoming a Bahá’í – certainly no religious difficulties. I just felt it was all too much for me and that I would never be able to live up to it all. I was Church of England when I became a Bahá’í, but I had never had a particularly religious upbringing and my family was not very religious either.
In 1953 I pioneered to Reading for five years and was the first to open the town. I was secretary of the Local Spiritual Assembly of Reading for two or three years and it was the first Spiritual Assembly of the area.
When I first was in London in 1947, I met Mother George. She was a very old lady then and did not live much longer after I first met her. I also knew Isobel Slade, who was one of the very early believers, in London. I met Hand of the Cause Dorothy Baker in London when she came to the Bahá’í Centre to give a talk one evening. I also met Hands of the Cause Hasan Balyuzi and John Ferraby when I was in London. I have met Dr Lutfu’lláh Hakím and knew Evelyn Baxter and Diá’u’lláh Asgharzádih who were the Knights of Bahá’u’lláh to the Channel Islands. Hand of the Cause William Sears paid us a visit in Jersey.
In 1957 I pioneered back to Jersey, as the Guardian had said that anyone from the islands should return there. I have been here ever since and though we don’t have much success in Jersey, I shall stay here to the end of my days.
Unfortunately I never met Shoghi Effendi and I have no letters from him. I was in Reading when he passed over and can remember how shattered we all were by the news. We all went to London for the funeral. It was a very wet, dismal, November day and I remember how the weather seemed to fit in with the sadness of all the friends.
I attended the Bahá’í World Congress in London in 1963. It was a never-to-be-forgotten occasion with so many Bahá’ís of different cultures and backgrounds all assembled together in one place.
I have realised since all this happened that when I decided to leave Jersey and go to England, my life was taken over, so to speak, and that I was led by one thing and another to the point where I had to declare my Faith and become a Bahá’í.
Beryl de Gruchy
Jersey, July 1991