Jan and Bryn Fussell

Jan and Bryn Fussell

Bryn grew up in South Wales, in a poor family.  He and his siblings were left very much to their own devices, and Bryn’s many escapades put him on the wrong side of the law.  He spent several spells in borstal and later prison in the 1940s and early 1950s. Bryn has recounted the story of his childhood and youth, much of it spent getting into trouble with the authorities and subsequently spent in various correction institutions.  You can read this story by clicking here.

The story that follows in this post tells of Bryn’s encounter with the Bahá’í Faith in his middle years, and his decision to accept the Bahá’í Faith. Much of the account is written in note form.

In 1950, at the age of 19, I escaped from Rochester borstal and stole an aircraft which I flew to France. On landing, I was arrested, and spent a few months in prison in Paris. While there I received a lot of mail from complete strangers, offering me encouragement and good luck for the future. I also received a book called British Test Pilots by Geoffrey Dorman, a freelance air correspondent.

On the fly leaf he had written:

If you will only learn to be truly honest and utterly trustworthy you have it in you to be like one of the men in this book. If you would like me to help you, let me know and I will see what I can do.”

This was the first time I had been offered help of any kind, and it was a major turning point in my life. While serving my subsequent prison sentence in the UK, I kept in contact with Geoffrey.

In 1952 I was released from prison after serving 14 months of my 21-month sentence.  I was taken to Bristol by Geoffrey and introduced to Dr Hooker, the Chief Engineer at the Bristol Engine Company, where I was given a job in the engine test department. A year later, I transferred to development installation, which entailed fitting and running up engines on ‘Britannia’ airliners. I went on flight tests as a passenger. There I met my first girlfriend, Monica. Her father found out, met me and said “No daughter of mine is going out with a criminal”. He forbade Monica from seeing me again.

Went with a group of other Bristol workers to the Farnborough Air Show, where I had a very narrow escape from injury or worse when a DeHavilland DH111 jet aircraft broke up during the display and the two engines came over at head height. I ducked and so did some others but 29 people were killed, as were the two men in the plane. I vowed I would not have any more to do with flying, but I still do.

On holiday, tried to sail an outrigger sailing canoe from Bristol to Port Talbot. Boat capsized in the Bristol Channel. Sat on upturned canoe for three hours before rescue by Portishead pilot cutter. Day in hospital with hypothermia, then travelled to Port Talbot by scooter. Very homesick, decided to leave Bristol.

In 1955, I started a job as trainee skipper on Port Talbot pilot cutter ‘Marion Byass’.

I had three months of intensive training, and the job lasted two-and-a-half years. Hospitalised after accident on motorbike. Had a rethink about my future. A local curate, RWD Fenn, befriended me and introduced me to the assistant registrar of Swansea University, where I was offered a job in metallurgy by Professor O’Neil.

After three years in metallurgy and electron microscopy, I gained a job at Imperial College, in charge of two laboratories, solid state physics and electron diffraction of crystal structures.

I had saved enough money to buy a boat, which I hoped to sail to New Zealand. I left my job and bought a 36-foot sailing boat in Cowes. After several charter trips to France and the Channel Islands, I attempted departure for New Zealand, but the boat was rammed and sunk by the Sandbanks chain ferry in Poole Harbour.  I lost everything.

A friend gave me shelter, until I could recover financially. The insurance paid out for the loss of my boat but not its contents. I looked around for another boat and found ‘Gulnare’ at the Crableck boat yard up the river Hamble. I took an immediate liking to her; she looked right and felt right. Without any hesitation, I bought her for £1000 which was the insurance money. ‘Gulnare’ was a 40-foot gaff cutter that was my home for the next eleven years. She dated from 1899, and was built like a tank. I worked for a time at the Wellworthy piston factory.  I worked in the development department, but no matter how many ideas I came up with, none was utilised.

Then I found a job at Standard Telephone and Cables, near Brixham, producing high-power television transmitter valves.  I moored my boat at Totnes for the next two years.  Then I saw a job advertised in New Scientist magazine for a Mass Spectrometer Operator at Swansea University, and was accepted.

I sailed my boat from Dartmouth to Swansea and started work in the chemistry department of Swansea University. In the first year at Swansea, my boat was broken into no less than sixteen times, at the end of which I decided to sell it, to save my sanity. From then on, I lived in a small wooden bungalow in a place called Holt’s Field.

It was at this time that I was first introduced to the Bahá’í Faith. There was a couple living in a cottage across the field from me, Christine and Glyn Eynon. I used to go and play my guitar occasionally, and one day I went across to them and found they had a house full of people. I thought they were holding a party but was told this was not a party but a Nineteen Day Feast. I was invited inside and I asked where the beer was? I was told they didn’t indulge in alcohol, so I settled for a cup of tea and a cake. I played a few tunes on my guitar and when it was time to leave I was offered a leaflet about the Bahá’í faith. When I looked at it, I thought they were a bunch of religious nuts and didn’t think any more about it. I had looked at quite a few religions, all saying they were the right one, but all I could see was a conflict of ideas which confused me at the time.

After three years of contact with the Bahá’ís, and especially with Gladys Parker and Margaret Morse, I began to realise how prejudiced I was towards their religion. I actually found the Bahá’ís I met to be nice, normal people, with whom I could have lively and interesting conversations.  On closer examination I found the Bahá’í Faith was in many ways based on common sense and logic, with no clergy, dogma or ritual.  Having come to this realisation, eventually I found that I was in agreement with everything the Faith taught, and so I became a Bahá’í.

I met Jan after I became a Bahá’í. At first we could not stand the sight of each other, but when we became better acquainted we decided to get married.

Our son Habib was born 6 weeks prematurely on 26th March 1980 and has grown up to be a promising young man, now in his thirties.

In 1994 we went on a 9 day pilgrimage to Haifa, which was a very uplifting and spiritual experience, particularly meeting as we did with so many people of different nationalities and ethnic backgrounds. It was like a huge family gathering, and my thoughts were ‘why can’t the whole world get together like this – how peaceful it would be’.

Dr. Ballantine and I worked as a team to set up a Mass Spectrometry Laboratory.  I stayed at this job for 22 years. We were made a centre of excellence for mass spectrometry, with a new laboratory, two new machines, and extra staff. I could not run the centre as a technician, so I was appointed to the post of Experimental Officer to satisfy the requirements of the Science and Engineering Research Council. This resulted in a substantial increase in my workload and its associated pressures. After eight years it became one of the most advanced centres for Mass Spectrometry in the world.

After 30 years in this work, I decided it was time to call it a day, and do the things I like to do, before I became incapable.

Now I am a qualified Offshore Yachtmaster with a commercial rating, and an Inspector and Member of the BMAA (British Microlight Aircraft Association) and a check pilot as well, seconded to the Irish Aviation Authority to inspect Irish-registered microlights.  I initiated the formation of an Inspectorate for the National Microlight Association of Ireland.

I have become much more involved with the Bahá’í Faith because of its spirituality, logic and common sense, its practical and spiritual approach to everyday life and problems, and its vision for the future.  The Bahá’í Faith shows a way forward based upon justice, tolerance and love towards mankind.

So here I am at 85 years old. No regrets, after a wide spectrum of life, sublime to ridiculous, extreme despair to great happiness and contentment, hate and love, a truly extreme learning cycle, and looking back, I wouldn’t change it; its extremes have enriched my life and made me thankful for what I have, and am.


Bryn Fussell

Llanelli, Wales, April 2016