Recollections of the Early Days of the Faith
I was born on 17th December 1906 of a German father (merchant seaman) and an English mother, and my early years were spent in a happy and united family – then came the horror of the First World War (1914-18). Things changed and my childhood was no longer so happy. My father was interned as an enemy alien, first in Lancaster Gaol and then in Knockaloe Camp, Isle of Man. My mother was hard-working and ambitious and had opened a small drapery shop, which was quite a successful venture.
At the time of the sinking of the British Ocean Liner RMS Lusitania many Germans who were residing in Britain at that time were raided and persecuted. One such, the local pork butcher, had his windows broken and his piano was wheeled past our shop and burned on some adjacent spare ground. My mother, alone with me, a small child of eight years, was very frightened. Even her only brother did not want to know her, and old friends crossed the road so that they need not speak to her. My mother felt that she must get away from the locality so she told a friend whom she had helped many times in the past that she would give her the shop if she bought the stock. Unfortunately the friend cheated her by falsifying the stock figures, which hurt her very much, but it was only a part of the persecutions we suffered. Another thing that would happen was that on my way to school, people would point to me in the streets and say “That’s the little German girl” and all sorts of nasty things about Germans. Of course I had been born and brought up in England but that made little difference to the prejudice and discrimination against me. I was not even permitted to take a scholarship examination. Our family also always got the worst of rationing allocations; no wonder I had a `chip on my shoulder’. We moved five times during those war years. My father was allowed to come home only a year after the cessation of hostilities.
Trying to find a job when my name was Freitag was not easy, but eventually I did gain employment with some “foreigners” who owned a warehouse in Manchester. That was in 1922 or 1923. They did not seem to mind my German name. I found out afterwards that, born into the Jewish Faith, they had eventually accepted the Bahá’í Faith. This, of course, was the first time I had heard the name Bahá’í (I was 16), but there was an atmosphere free from prejudice and there was much laughter, and many visitors came from distant lands – I was in my element. Also working in the same office was a lovely blonde girl called Mabel Chessel. She too was a Bahá’í. I had much correspondence to write in connection with the Faith. A family called Hall used to call in very often, particularly Lucy, the eldest daughter, and the son Edward. Their father, E.T. Hall, was secretary of the Bahá’ís of Manchester.
I had been brought up in the Church of England but did not like the ritual and had asked my mother if I could change and go to the Congregational Church, to which she agreed. There was a Unitarian Chapel in the centre of Manchester; it is still there, and on one occasion, around the year 2000, displayed a quotation from the Bahá’í Scriptures on its hoarding. It had a minister with very liberal views and he organised speakers from different religions to hold meetings at intervals in his church. The Bahá’ís were invited to participate and I went along to about three of those meetings; I am not too sure who spoke, and when I asked Lucy Hall if Laurel Schopflocher had been one, she thought that was so. Both Laurel and her husband, Siegfried Schopflocher were distinguished early Canadian Bahá’ís, Siegried being appointed a Hand of the Cause in 1952. Also, about this time (1920s), Marion Jack went to Manchester and Lucy said that I met her. It is very probable that she was a speaker. Marion Jack used to cause consternation when she boarded a tramcar in Manchester as she always wore very big hats which could not be accommodated very easily!
Mabel spoke to me of the Faith and I attended the home of the Hall family in Norton Street, Lower Broughton. I distinctly remember a small Persian man speaking at one meeting and I have the impression it was Dr Lutfu’lláh Hakím. I went home full of this Bahá’í Faith and told my parents all about it and that I was a Bahá’í, but I don’t think I really had much idea what it was all about. I used to go to the home of Mr Hall where he taught me to play chess, all the time giving me spiritual teachings. He loved these teachings so much and wanted to share them all the time.
One day we had a visitor in our office – Martha Root from America. She came to pick up letters from Queen Marie of Rumania, which had been sent to us to await her. She dictated some letters to me and said she would pick them up on her return from Edinburgh where she was attending an Esperanto Conference. Lady Blomfield and Lydia Zamenhof were also at that Conference and Lady Blomfield came back with Martha Root to Manchester and arranged a reception for Martha at the Victoria Hotel – then very elegant, but later bombed and not rebuilt. I was invited and was very thrilled. Following the meeting at the Victoria Hotel, some meetings were arranged for Martha Root, and Lucy Hall told me that Martha had spoken at Cross Street Unitarian Chapel. She also spoke at a small chapel in a district of Manchester called Gorton and I have a strong recollection of walking along the street accompanied by Mr and Mrs Hall, Lucy and Edward Hall, and two other ladies.
[In 1972 my husband, Frank and I visited a Conference in Perth, Western Australia. The Bahá’ís there asked us to visit two old English ladies, Alice Deakin and Olive Dunn, and when I met them they showed me a photograph of Mr Hall whom they adored. They said he had told them about the Faith. They had gone along to the meeting at which Martha Root had spoken and had declared at that time. These were the two ladies I had remembered, and they remembered me. The week after that meeting they had left for Australia. There they had experienced great hardship and poverty but their Faith had stood firm and given them comfort and strength. They were then (1972) in their eighties and one was blind. I was very moved by their strength of character].
On another occasion, in the early 1930s, Lucy Hall invited me to go along with her to an international group organised by Manchester University. There I met Elsie Gibbs and Elsie Richbell (later to become Elsie Lee). They all taught at the school where Bill Hellaby’s father was headmaster. Both Elsies had become Bahá’ís by this time and they told Mr Hellaby senior about the Faith but it was many many years later that he became a Bahá’í. His son, also Bill, however, had read some of the pamphlets given to him by the Bahá’ís and had put them into a drawer at home. In the 1940s Bill occasionally attended the Bahá’í Centre which by that time had been established in a room lent to the Bahá’ís by Albert and Jeff Joseph (my employers). The Josephs’ business had expanded and they had a large warehouse and office accommodation. A first floor room was assigned to the Bahá’ís; the Publishing Trust material was stored there, and the Trust operated from the warehouse basement. Bill Hellaby decided to become a Unitarian Minister but later left the Ministry and worked wholeheartedly for the Faith, together with his wife Madeline.
About the beginning of the 1930s the Lee family joined the Faith. They were Mr & Mrs Lee senior and Joe and Mary, their children. Also in Manchester at that time there were three Bahá’í families who were related. They were the Hall family, the Craven family and the Sugar family. Mrs Hall was the sister of Mr Craven (affectionately known by everyone as Uncle John) and Mr Hall was the brother of Mrs Sugar. The Sugars had three sons, Alfred, Edward and John. There being so many young people, we decided to form a youth group, so Joe and Mary Lee, Lucy and Edward Hall, John and Teddy Sugar, Mabel (later to become Mrs Edward Hall) and Ellen Chessel, Elsie Richbell and myself formed the youth contingent. We organised trips to the local moors, coming back in the evening to either the home of Elsie Richbell or Lucy Hall, or to my home, to sing hymns lustily around the piano and to set the world aright over our cups of coffee. On two occasions we met Bahá’í friends from Bradford and Leeds, one being Philip Hainsworth.
When I first encountered the Bahá’í Faith there were only three centres – London, Bournemouth and Manchester. Great joy was experienced as other centres opened. I remember Arthur Norton and his wife and Cyril and Margaret Jenkerson in Bradford. For me, attachment to the Faith was a gradual process of growth and the rich bounty of many illustrious visitors to Manchester must certainly have helped. Such names as Zia’u’lláh Asgarzadeh, Raffi and Mildred Mottahedeh, Millie Collins, Dorothy Baker, George Townshend, Bernard Leach, Ursula Newman (later to become Ursula Samandari), Margaret Welby, David Hofman, Richard St. Barbe Baker, Richard Backwell, Sister Challis from Dr Esslemont’s nursing home in Bournemouth, Dr and Mrs Stanley Bolton from Australia, John Ferraby, Hasan Balyuzi, Ernest Miller, Bill Sears, Claire Gung (Aunty Claire) pass like a kaleidoscope through my memory.
During the war I was not in Manchester and do not have very clear recollections of that period but sometimes attended Bahá’í meetings there. There were regulations requiring registration as a Bahá’í, but it was not until Mr Sugar brought this to my notice that I ‘declared’ as a Bahá’í on 13th April 1944, although I had long counted myself a Bahá’í. My number is 176. In the early days, and as a youth of course, I had not been required to register.
Almost immediately I was elected to the Manchester Spiritual Assembly and served for many years as secretary (probably late 40s-early 50s). After the war I went to live in Swinton, then a small town just outside Manchester but counted as Manchester for Bahá’í purposes at that time, but when the Guardian’s civic limits edict was given I was no longer a member of the Manchester community. I was to be the first Bahá’í to live in Swinton (my home town) and helped to found the first Spiritual Assembly there.
I married my husband Frank on 13th April, 1936. He became a Bahá’í later in the 1950s. Our daughter Adèle was born in Salford in 1945 and became a Bahá’í when she was 15 or 16 (at the urging of Meherangiz Munsiff).
On 27th April 1971 Frank, myself and Adèle pioneered to the island of Guernsey, where there were no Bahá’ís at that time, and we have had the great good fortune to be able to help form the first Local Spiritual Assembly on the island.
Some Memories of Bahá’í friends
My first memory is, of course, the youth group to which I belonged, which consisted of Lucy and Edward Hall, Teddy and John Sugar, Mabel Chessel and her sister, Elsie Gibbs; Elsie Richbell and Joe Lee. Of course I have nostalgic memories of Arthur and Marion Norton, Peter and Marge Wilkinson, Cyril and Margaret Jenkerson, Madam Charlot (Alma Gregory’s mother), Mary Basil-Hall (Lady Blomfield’s daughter), Richard St. Barbe Baker and Bernard Leach, Connie Langdon-Davies, and Charles Mason Remey. I was taken to see the ballet at the Vic Wells (later Sadler’s Wells) Theatre by Mrs Kathleen Brown (later to become Lady Hornell). Mollie Brown, who later became Molly Balyuzi, was dancing in the ballet. On other occasions we had many a giggle with Hasan Balyuzi and John Ferraby, and also Brian Townshend whenever those three got together at a summer school, especially Hasan performing as a Chinaman.
My memory glides over such beloved figures as Dr Townshend, Dr Grossman, Professor Joad, Donald Miller, Dr Mitchell, Mr Marshall, Gitta Chaplin, all of whom have made monumental contributions to the progress of the Faith, not to mention Claire Gung, who was my special friend.
Mr and Mrs Banani visited the Manchester Centre when Mrs Violette Nakhjavani was a babe in arms. Later she was sent as a small child, perhaps 6 or 7 years old, to a summer school which her two brothers were attending. I remember that she shared a room with Kathleen Hornell and myself. I met Mr Ali Nakhjavani and Mr Yazdi in the London Centre when they were students. Ursula Mühlschlegel came to Manchester as an ‘au pair’ girl (to perfect her English) and later Dr Grossman said to me: “Always look after my Ursula – she is very precious” – how true that has proved to be.
As a family we went on our first pilgrimage in 1961. We drove through Italy, accompanied by Jimmy Habibi, down to Brindisi, where we took the boat through the Corinth Canal to Haifa. On arrival at the quayside, there was a terrific surge of excited Jewish people clamouring to pass through the customs, where they met with firm resistance and control. Over the tannoy came a voice: “Will Mr Senior and family please come to the reception desk”. So, of course, off we went, wondering what had happened. A tiny, bird-like figure greeted us. “I am Ethel Revel, just follow me.” She walked through the ranks of the crowd, nodded at the officials, who smiled back, and waved us on. Ethel, incidentally, told us stories of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá’s visit to her parents’ home in Philadelphia when she and her sister Jessie were young children, and of how He had laid hands on them and blessed them. She then told us what great respect the Bahá’ís engendered in Haifa, then we were off to the Western Pilgrim House, opposite the house of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá. As we entered, a raucous voice shouted “Allah’u’Abha”! We looked round in amazement, as we couldn’t see anyone. It was Rúhíyyih Khánum’s parrot, perched at the bottom of the stairs!
Our room, in the building that became the first seat of The Universal House of Justice, was next door to that of Leroy Ioas (Hand of the Cause of God) and his wife Marion, which was of course a great privilege. Every evening the meal was attended by one or two of the Hands of the Cause who told us so many fascinating stories of the Guardian and of ‘Abdu’l-Bahá, and even of the Beloved Himself. One day we were invited to take tea with Rúhíyyih Khánum. She was, of course, very gracious and always made you feel at home. My husband loved wood and whilst with Rúhíyyih Khánum he talked about being a bit of a handyman, so she asked him to mend a chair. There was a peacock in her garden which made a horrible din and woke us up every morning. We had the great privilege, during those days, of staying in the Mansion at Bahjí. It was a strange experience, hard to describe, overwhelming, a little bit frightening at times, so strong was the power felt there.
We visited the Shrine many times and Lutfu’lláh Hakím, whom I knew from Manchester, asked me to take over the tallying of visitors for a period. I felt this was a great bounty. He escorted us to the Archives building, which was part of the Shrine of the Báb in those days, and we were even permitted to very lightly touch one of the garments of Bahá’u’lláh. Rúhíyyih Khánum told us many stories of how the Guardian went round the second-hand shops in London, picking up bargains in furniture (now housed in the Archives building itself). She told us stories of the cut-glass chandeliers bought in Italy, and exported in numbered crates, and how they used to sit cross-legged, assembling them, the Guardian telling them hilarious stories of many things until their sides ached and tears ran down their faces. In 1968 we visited Haifa again after the conference at Palermo, and I have been twice since on a three day visit. Unfortunately I did not meet Shoghi Effendi, nor do I have any letters from him. We were not able to attend his funeral but subsequently we did attend the 1963 World Congress at the Royal Albert Hall.
One of the greatest bounties I have received has been the ability to visit many beloved friends world-wide and I hope that, perhaps, I have contributed in some small way to teaching activities in those lands. I have visited numerous places abroad where I have been able to travel teach; in America, the Bosch School in California, the states of Nevada and Virginia, Seattle, Oregon, and the city of Chicago. We visited East Germany many times before the wall came down, trying very hard to get the message over. We have also visited West Germany, the Orkney Islands, Iceland, Finland and Norway, France, Switzerland, Turkey, Canada, Singapore, Australia, India and Ireland, and last but not least Persia, where I had the great bounty of visiting the House of the Báb in Shiraz and the House of Bahá’u’lláh in Tehran on two occasions. We have also visited the House of Bahá’u’lláh in Adrianople.
A brief Summary of Pauline’s life
Pauline was an active and devoted member of the Bahá’í Faith for over 75 years. It was on the 27th April 1971 that the family arrived by boat in St. Peter Port on the island of Guernsey to start a new life in what Pauline often described as “Paradise”.
Sadly, after seven blissful years, Frank died in June 1977. He was the first Bahá’í to be buried on Guernsey. For Pauline it was now her home. She and I stayed to nurture a small but thriving Bahá’í community. A Local Spiritual Assembly was established. Pauline loved the people of Guernsey and wanted to get to know them and share their lives. For example she joined the WI (Women’s Institute) and took up bridge.
Pauline always felt she had been blessed in being guided to Guernsey. She often said. “What have we done to deserve such a wonderful place to live?” For her Guernsey was the cream on the cake.
She had an insatiable desire to travel, not only as a tourist, but as the means of meeting people of all races and backgrounds. She travelled far, visiting places in Australia, Iran, India, Eastern Europe, Spain, Canada, and many more countries around the world.
Wherever she went on her travels she took her wool and knitting needles with her. Pauline was always knitting – in the car, on the plane, on the boat, by the sea shore, on the mountain top, wherever, but to a purpose. We have estimated she must have knitted at least 500 jumpers for Oxfam and was knitting right up to the time of her final illness.
Pauline had a down to earth approach. She abhorred hypocrisy or pretence. She had a generous spirit and genuine compassion. She also had a sense of humour. Often, when asked how she was, she would respond, “Suffering from old age and poverty and bad-tempered as usual”. But this was always said with a big smile on her face and chuckle in her voice.
Among her last words before she passed away she repeatedly said “I must save the world”, no doubt a reference to Bahá’u’lláhs injunction to be earnestly concerned with the needs of the world and to bring love and unity to its people.
Adele Stevens-Cox (née Senior)