Barbara George

I was born in 1941 in Scotland into a devout Church of Scotland family. We attended church and Sunday School and I became a Sunday school teacher.  I later attended Youth Fellowship every Sunday, and enjoyed the companionship.  My father was an elder of the Kirk and my sister became one of the first women to enter the ministry of that church.  When I was 13 we lived in Australia for three years, and attended church there in Hamilton, Newcastle, NSW.  My most striking recollection regarding my spiritual life at that time is attending a revivalist Christian meeting in Sydney where the speaker was Corrie Ten Boom, famous for her miraculous survival of the holocaust.  We sang “O Lord My God, when I in awesome wonder, consider all the works Thy hand hath made —-“ and raised the roof.  I was there with my parents and sister (between 1954-57) and we were all very moved by the experience.  My father often asked me to sing this hymn when we had friends and family in, and to my shame, I often refused and said I had forgotten the words because I was too embarrassed to do so.  Now I consider it a great Bahá’í song – only the words “when Christ shall come” need changing, because He has come already.

When I was 23, in 1964 I came to the Island of St. Helena in the South Atlantic as a VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) unqualified teacher. This was at the time when VSO sent out unqualified school leavers before they became bogged down with the prejudices of adult life!  The other three girls were 17-18 year olds, and I was supposed to be in charge!  I attended the Church of England, the main religious denomination on the island, but was not allowed to take Communion there, although a communicant of the Church of Scotland.  This has of course changed over the years since then. Maybe that was what made me think more about what I believed.  I was teaching at the island’s Secondary Selective School where I met my future husband, Basil George, the one and only Bahá’í on the island at the time.  The Faith had reached St Helena at the beginning of the 10-year crusade, when Mrs. Elizabeth Stamp (Knight of Bahá’u’lláh) an elderly widow, pioneered here from the States.  She had returned to America before I arrived, but in 1958, Jagdish Saminaden, a Mauritian who lived in London, had been approached to pioneer here and it was he who taught a number of young islanders, three of whom became Bahá’ís in 1960/61.  The other two had left the island to live and work overseas, so Basil was the only Bahá’í here when I arrived.  Lowell Johnson, a member of the National Spiritual Assembly of South Africa, under which St. Helena is administered, kept in touch with Basil, and he stayed firm in the Faith.

I was very suspicious of this new religion, especially when I found it required fasting, which I thought weird, but one of the ministers of the Church of England on the island, a very holy and gentle man, a former Headmaster of a Boys’ School, who really thought a lot of Basil, assured me that when he got to England and saw the beautiful cathedrals, he would return to the fold!  In fact it was the other way around.

I returned home after a year in St Helena but we kept in touch, and Basil came to study in Leicester in 1966.  The only way I could see him on a Saturday night was to go along to the fireside at Bill, Mary and Gwen Prince’s house in London Road. There I met these marvellous older, typically English people, along with a mixture of nationalities I had never met before, and I saw the Faith in action in their coming together.  I also met Meherangiz Munsiff and stayed overnight with her family in London, being wakened for the 3 a.m. celebration of the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh somewhere in that city.  Quite an experience!  It was human as well as spiritual, because the person who had chosen the readings went on rather long and the others got impatient because they must have been tired.   It was shortly after this that I declared – mainly thanks to Mrs. Munsiff who could not understand people dithering.  I decided that I must make up my mind one night, opened the Gleanings and read “Tear asunder the veils…” so I reckoned that was the sign!

It was the 4th June 1967, shortly before our wedding.  Basil proposed at a Bahá’í meeting in front of everyone – nothing romantic – and we were married in the August in my home town of Kilmarnock in Scotland.  My parents were marvellous.  They were worried at first, which was natural, and later liked to joke about why I had to find someone from a tiny island in the middle of the South Atlantic, and one with a strange religion.  But once they met Basil, they were happy to give their permission.  The Bahá’í wedding was not legal in Scotland then, so we had to go to the Registry Office in the morning.  My parents did not attend that ceremony, as for their era a Registry Office wedding meant a shotgun one and they were not comfortable with it.  However, in the afternoon the hotel proprietor, who said he would try anything once, set up the room like a church and we walked down an aisle of chairs to say our wedding vows in front of Mr. Kamming, who had settled in Kilmarnock from Denmark and who was chosen as the Representative of the Faith to perform the simple ceremony.  In fact his son, Svend, had been married earlier in August and the Registrar thought there must be a lot of Bahá’ís suddenly turning up in the area!  I don’t think there has been another Bahá’í wedding in Kilmarnock since, but there were two in August of that year.

We returned to Leicester after the honeymoon in Skye, and were given accommodation by the Prince family in their home, which also served as a Bahá’í Centre for the area.  We will always be grateful for their kindness in helping us at that time. They were a wonderful family, and we will always remember Bill, Mary and Gwen Prince.

We lived there for a year until we found a Council flat at Rowlatt’s Hill in a 23 storey building – 17th floor – with wonderful central heating and hot water from Swedish designed boilers in the basement.  Bliss, and all for £5 a week rent.  It was the same block of flats where our dear Bahá’í friends, Diana and Aramesh Mahbouby, lived, and we used to go to their flat after the Saturday fireside, eat hot dogs and watch the Midnight Movie.

Soon after we married, although we had little money and I don’t know how we did it, we attended the Conference in Frankfurt in Germany – our first big Bahá’í event.  It was wonderful.  On the train we shared a carriage with Adib Taherzadeh, and Bernard Leach’s secretary, Trudi Scott.  It was the most amazing experience because there were so many Bahá’ís on that train that the atmosphere was electric and all the other passengers wanted to know where we were going, who we were and what made us all so happy!  I only hope some of those people followed up on the Faith.  In Frankfurt we met so many people from around the world, and even German Jews who had become Bahá’ís. The atmosphere of a large Bahá’í Gathering was exciting, and a warm memory, as, living where we do, it has not been possible to attend many such gatherings.

We enjoyed our time in Leicester, with Diana and Aramesh Mahbouby being close friends.  Others I remember from that time are Kevin Beint and Ghodsie Kousari, Brian and Hilary Lewis, and an Irishman Patrick Duffy and his wife Wyn.

In 1970 we returned to St. Helena with our six week old son, Kevin (named after Kevin Beint) on the cargo ship which plied between UK and Cape Town, carrying 12 passengers.  We have lived here since, briefly joining the Bristol Community 1976-77 when each studying for a B. Ed., where our children, Tara and Kevin, went to Christchurch Junior and Infant school with marvellously helpful staff.  We arranged our studies so that I could pick up Tara at lunch time, as she was just 4 years old.

On the island, we were joined by Cliff Huxtable, who had pioneered here from Canada in 1966 with his wife, Catherine, who was crippled with muscular dystrophy and in a wheelchair, and their son, Gavin.  Catherine died here in 1967 before we returned.  Cliff later married an islander, Delia Duncan.  For a time there were only the three of us and Delia had to remind us of Feasts although she was not then a Bahá’í.  She declared in January 1973.  Several pioneers from USA and Canada came over the years till we were able to elect our first Local Spiritual Assembly on 15th April 1973.

Our community is currently made up of 12 adults and 6 children.  One adult works on Ascension Island 700 miles away, where he is the only Bahá’í.

We have three children – two girls and the son mentioned above.  Both girls became Bahá’ís, and our eldest daughter, Tara, served 18 months in Haifa.  We visited her there in 1996, allowing us to stay for a week, which was a great privilege, and we went on Pilgrimage with our younger daughter, Emma, in 2000.  All are now married and we have six grandchildren – three boys and three girls, the latest being identical twin girls born to Emma and Anthony in 2010.

We are very privileged to have the Faith, our health and our family around us. Although Tara and her family are based in the UK, they have recently joined us in St. Helena (though only for two years) being seconded from her job in UK to head up a new Environmental Management Department here, since an airport is being built on the island.  It is great to have the whole family together.

Due to the fact that we are a small community, we meet each other often besides at meetings, and it is easy to pick up people without transport as distances are small.  Thus it is very difficult for us if we travel away from the island and want to attend a Bahá’í meeting unless someone can take us.  Also living in a small safe island where we know everyone, the outside world is a bit intimidating, and I could not take public transport to attend a meeting in a city at night.  It is difficult for people who live in the outside world to understand this, but on the rare occasions that we travel, we are usually fortunate in having friends who will help out.

The Island is a British Overseas Territory with a population of around 4000, and is currently undergoing much change as Her Majesty’s Government has decided to build an airport here.  Meanwhile, access continues to be by our own little ship, the RMS St. Helena.  We all love the ship, as it feels like home the minute you step on board after being away for a while – friendship and safety from the outside world!  It takes 5 days to sail from Cape Town, South Africa to get here, or 2-3 days to Ascension Island.

The Bahá’ís here come under the jurisdiction of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of South Africa, it being our nearest neighbour. Christianity is the only other religion on the island, and there are friendly relations between the 7 denominations, the Church of England being the dominant one, with a resident Bishop.

Barbara and Basil with their family in January 2012