My grandmother’s sight was failing and as she liked to read the scriptures daily, I was often asked to read the Bible aloud to her. I also used to accompany her to church. One day, after a sermon about being ready for the return of Jesus, I passionately declared my intention to be one of His followers if He should return during my lifetime. Little did I know that I would be tested, or that the Spirit of God in Jesus had already returned, as promised, to reveal God’s purpose for mankind in this day.
Time passed, and when I was 15 I attended confirmation classes and was duly confirmed into the Church of England. Some months later I spent my Easter holidays with an aunt, Helen Spaull, in Bournemouth. She was living next to Elsie Cranmer, a Bahá’í. The holiday was spent in long talks about religion and by the time I was due back at school I had decided to accept Bahá’u’lláh and declare myself a Bahá’í.
I was with my aunt and my cousin Josephine for about three weeks in 1945 and she had a flat situated over Elsie Cranmer’s. Both flats were reached through a baker’s shop. It was at the end of the War and there were a lot of men in uniform in Bournemouth, as war was still raging in the Far East.
Whilst I was staying there, I remember that David Hofman was due to visit as a play he was in was coming to Bournemouth. Most of the local Bahá’ís lived in Southbourne, among them Florence Pinchon who gave me a little book of hers called The Coming of the Glory (I think it’s out of print now, but it was a charming picture of the future). I also met Mrs Flowers and Mrs Palmer. I do not myself remember these last two friends but my cousin Josephine Spaull, who ‘declared’ when I did, was there over a two year period and she really knew them.
Josephine and I told Elsie that we believed in Bahá’u’lláh and wanted to become Bahá’ís, so Elsie said that she would test our knowledge of the Faith and if we passed, we could! She tested us on the history of the Faith, its main figures and its principles. I don’t remember any card being signed. She gave me the Hidden Words to mark the event.
After School Certificate and the end of summer term, just as I was beginning to realise what learning was about, I had to leave school and earn my own living. My parents were divorcing, so I got myself a job and digs in a hostel in Earls Court, London, from where I used to go quite often to the Bahá’í Centre at No.1 Victoria Street. My cousin Josephine was studying dancing with the Ballet Rambert so we used to meet each other there. At one time she knew and babysat for Hasan Balyuzi and his wife Molly, whom I met at the Bahá’í Centre; also John and Dorothy Ferraby. I have a book given to me by Walter Wilkins to celebrate Bahá’u’lláh’s birthday.
My pay was very small and really only sufficient for a girl still living at home – so I had a struggle to keep myself. However, I walked a lot and got to meetings in the basement at 1 Victoria Street and to firesides, which were good because I got something extra to eat!
Eventually I could not keep myself any longer and so went to live with another aunt. There were very few Bahá’ís in England then. I joined the W.R.A.F. in 1949 and gradually lost touch with the Faith as I found other interests.
Then, many years later, after marrying and having a family, I became interested in yoga and its philosophy and it struck me how alike the Bahá’í Writings were to the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita. As I only had two Bahá’í books, and wanted to read more, I looked in the telephone directory to see if there were any Bahá’ís living near me and I found Jim and Dori Talbot in Reading.
After weekly trips to firesides, this time with my youngest daughter, I confirmed my faith in Bahá’u’lláh. Around the time Jill and I declared at Jim and Dori Talbot’s firesides in Reading in 1972, I had just qualified as a teacher after three years as a mature student and Jill was just starting ‘A’ levels.
Why did I become a Bahá’í? I can’t really put it into words. It was/is something deep inside me. It has added so much to my spiritual life. Through Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings all the religions of the world have opened their scriptures, sharing their wisdom and riches. All prejudices are ignored as meaningless, thereby enriching life and making it happier and simpler. Far from losing the Christianity that I was born into, Bahá’u’lláh has fulfilled the prophecies in the Bible and made Christianity more real. No priest comes between me and my understanding of the holy writings – I am exhorted to study and meditate. The spiritual doors and windows have been opened and we can see and step out into the sunlight.
As isolated believers in Didcot, we were able to choose where to go for nineteen day feasts. We had the choice of Henley, Reading or Abingdon, so we became acquainted with a wide range of Bahá’ís in the Oxfordshire area. When the county boundaries were changed in April 1974 and South Oxfordshire included Didcot, the Local Spiritual Assembly of South Oxon was formed. If I remember correctly, I must have been secretary of the LSA from the beginning, as the first feast was held at Henley, and at that time a newsletter was sent to all secretaries to be read out at the feast. At the very first feast Marion Hofman was coming along to mark the occasion. Sad to say when I arrived at the feast I found I had left the all-important newsletter at home in Didcot. I had, therefore, to phone and ask another LSA for the salient points of the newsletter. Poor Marion was aghast at my forgetfulness, saying that to her knowledge this had never happened before!!
South Oxfordshire LSA was always a very happy group. Even though I had been appointed secretary I did not attend all the teaching activities due to my husband Ron not being a Bahá’í. There was never any word of criticism – always kindness and support. Years passed with regular activities, teaching, firesides and deepenings happening on a regular basis, when in August 1988 Ron died after a short illness and two major operations. As he was due for retirement we had planned a world trip together and I therefore decided I would continue with our plans and visit my cousin in Australia and friends in Tasmania, hoping also to visit the Bahá’í Temple in Western Samoa.
I left England in November 1989 and whilst in Western Samoa I visited the Montessori school attached to the Temple, gave a talk to the Samoa Women’s Club and went out to the villages where I spoke to the Bahá’í groups there. I also had the privilege of asking the Princess (who was a Bahá’í) for advice on treating mosquito bites which I was covered in. She advised me to use coconut oil which I still recommend and use today!
After a wonderful week in beautiful Western Samoa, I flew with Air New Zealand to Auckland. Audrey Hancock met me and took me to meet her parents, Tinai and Don Hancock. Tinai was a larger than life Fijian princess – a member of the Fijian royal family – her husband an Aussie, and together they were at the hub of Bahá’í activities in that part of the world. They had planned my whole itinerary while I was in New Zealand. The two days I spent with them were full of interest.
Then I was off to Whangarei to meet the Bahá’ís there. By our standards it was a large community and had a lot of Persian refugees. While there I met Karen Peo and her mother Enid Denton, who looked after me making sure I was invited to any activities taking place. A very special time also was spent with Janice and Wallace Edwards. I had met Wallace, a Maori, in the UK in 1983/4 when he and a friend stopped over on their way to Haifa with a present for the Universal House of Justice. Enid then very kindly drove me to Paihia in the famous Bay of Islands to see where the Maoris had signed the Treaty with the British in 1840. After a short break to enjoy some sightseeing, I was then back in Auckland where Owen Battrick picked me up and took me on a tour of the city. In the evening it was the Day of the Covenant and I was treated to a wonderful Bahá’í community celebration with young people singing and playing music. I have a lovely memento of this visit given to me on leaving Auckland by my hosts Owen and June Battrick – a beautiful picture of Bahá’u’lláh’s resting place in Bahji – which hangs on my sitting room wall to this day.
I travelled on from Auckland to Tasmania and then continued my journey on to Perth, Australia to visit my cousin. On the final leg of my journey I spent 10 days in Hong Kong. There I met many Malay and Indian Bahá’ís who were pioneers in Hong Kong at the request of the Universal House of Justice. We all went travel teaching to Macau, crossing by ferry with David Hofman who happened to be visiting the local Bahá’ís at the same time. Together we attended a feast and I remember thinking how unwell he looked at the time, having spent a lot of time travel teaching. I think he was taken ill shortly afterwards and had to rest and recuperate.
On arriving home after four months away, I attended the National Convention in Cheltenham and heard Philip Hainsworth asking for volunteers to pioneer to Gibraltar for the Holy Year (1992). As I was familiar with Gibraltar, having previously visited it on two occasions with my husband, I felt it was something I could commit myself to for Bahá’u’lláh. I therefore promised that I would go there after I had returned from visiting Canada, which would complete my World Tour.
Vancouver was my first port of call and where I had been asked to deliver messages to Bahá’í friends from their relatives in England. I also visited Victoria on Vancouver Island and spent the night at the Bahá’í-inspired Maxwell School (now closed). From Vancouver I flew on a magical flight to Alaska in the presence of The Whitehorse Choir who had been competing in Vancouver. I spent an exciting week in Alaska with Pixie MacCallum and her family. As her son was getting married, I had been asked to deliver a special family ring from his father Enayat Rawhani. Pixie drove me to Skagway – an old mining town – to pick up the mail boat back to Vancouver and my journey’s end.
Home again and time to plan my move to Gibraltar. I had promised Philip Hainsworth that I would stay for at least two years but in fact I ended up staying there a lot longer. I moved out to Gibraltar in June 1991 to look for accommodation and I met up with Pari and Mehraban Firoozmand who were also looking for somewhere to live. We eventually decided to share a flat together in the Watergardens. Before Pari and Mehraban moved in with me – two very young pioneers – Rosita and Ramin Khalilian with their six month old baby Carmel – arrived in Gibraltar. At that time I was on my own, and my pleasure at seeing and meeting them was great and we became very close friends, seeing each other daily and doing everything together, as there were no other Bahá’ís on the island.
Within the first month of being in Gibraltar, Philip Hainsworth offered to come and spend a week with us. The three of us together managed to organise a public meeting for Philip to speak at, plus an interview with the local radio, and also for him to meet the Governor and present him with a Bahá’í book. It was all a great success.
The National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of the UK kindly donated some books to the public library in Gibraltar but I am sorry to say that they did not appear on the shelves until about two years later. I was informed that this was normal procedure as the books had to be catalogued.
Soon Pari and Mehraban joined us and when Tahab Samandari came too, we were six in number. Together we all journeyed to and participated in the Centenary of the Ascension of Bahá’u’lláh in Haifa – what a bonus!! Even without that – just living in warm-hearted Gibraltar with wonderful loving friends made it a year to remember.
In 1995 the first Local Spiritual Assembly of Gibraltar was formed. At that time I was spending six months of the year in Gibraltar and the other six months at home in Didcot, so I chose not to be available to serve on the LSA. This meant that a local Bahá’í, Alfredo Daninio, could serve instead. Our community had by now grown to include Sue Glasborough and Dori Talbot, both part-time pioneers. Also on the LSA were Trevor Richardson and Ken Bishop both of whom still live in Gibraltar as Bahá’í pioneers. As a result of our teaching in Gibraltar, two local residents, Suresh Malkani and Audrey Batty became Bahá’ís.
My little flat saw lots of visitors coming and going, many to see if they would like to pioneer to Gibraltar, others to give their support and encouragement. Life was very busy and full of interest. No one ever needed to feel lonely in Gibraltar as you only had to walk outside your door in order to make a friend or to see friends.
My family had visited me but were not attracted to the ‘rock’ either for a holiday or to reside there so for me, therefore, it was time either to stay or to go. I decided to return home to the UK. Going to Gibraltar to pioneer was one of the best decisions of my life – I loved it! I have not really left … I spent four full years there and many half years since, and now I spend just a month there each year so that I can catch up with my friends and teach the faith.
Sometime after returning home and moving to Wallingford from Didcot, the district boundaries were changed, which meant that our community was reduced to just three members. In 2001 I noticed a request for travel teachers to go to St Helena – an island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Southern Africa!! Feeling it would be a positive move for me, I set about planning a trip there and decided to go for three months. People were very helpful in finding out information on the internet for me and advice was given from those who had been there previously such as Jagdish Saminaden from Muswell Hill, London, who was instrumental in encouraging Basil George to become a teacher and later to become a Bahá’í.
In 2001 I travelled out to St Helena via Cape Town, a 12 hour flight followed by five days sailing on a royal mail ship – the main route to the island! On arrival in Cape Town I was met and looked after by a truly inspirational Bahá’í family Mr and Mrs Isgaar Gallows, their daughter Tahirih and husband Gregory Matthue and their children Iraj, Kal and Viola.
On arrival at St Helena all the local Bahá’ís and, I think, the whole of the population of the island were on the quay to meet and welcome all those aboard. It did indeed prove an interesting place and I did my best to be useful and joined in all aspects of life on the island. A full accountof my visit is written in Thelma Batchelor’s Stories from Pioneer Post, a compilation of stories written by UK pioneers and travel teachers from 1988-2009.
That was more than ten years ago and I hear that at long last, after years of indecision, an airport is now being built. We will all be very keen to know what changes it will make to the ‘Saints’ and their island. It will certainly make it a lot easier for this 85-year-old to visit!!
Oxfordshire, April 2013