“A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.” (Psa. 68:5)
What is a widow with four children to do when, the day after she has
buried her husband, she receives notice to vacate the house they had
lived in for years? Of course, free rental of the house was one
of the perquisites that went with her husband’s work on the
estate. So the owner was within his rights. Nevertheless it
was a situation in which the widow proved the truth of the above verse.
The two girls, Ethel and Florrie, were away in domestic service.
Ethel was working for Mr. Scott in Dorking, a partner in the Christian
publishing company of Morgan and Scott. Florrie was working in a
house where her cousin was cook. George had received a
scholarship and was boarding at Reigate Grammar School. So at the
age of seven, I was the only one left with my Mother. Because of
these circumstances I was not only without a father but was also
deprived of the usual companionship of my sisters and brother. It
was almost the same as being the only son of a widowed mother.
Apart from schoolmates, I had few playmates. No doubt, life would
have been different, if my Father had lived, but God makes no mistakes.
I was shy and rather timid and not too robust in health. One day
coming home from school, a rough boy from the slums knocked me
down. He got some fun out of it, but I didn’t! He also took
my cap. I was scared of him, but I was more scared to go home
without my cap. So I followed him at a discreet distance until he
left my cap on a gatepost and ran off.
Mother was in her early forties and needed to find a way of supporting
herself and providing for me. God again proved to be a “defender
of widows.” In a short time she obtained a position as a housekeeper
for a gentleman bachelor. Mr. A. C. Knight was a director in a
large soap manufacturing company. As a Christian who attended the
Congregational Church, he was interested in boys and an active leader
in the Boy’s Brigade. Thus, it was possible for me to remain with
my mother in his home. In World War I Mr. Knight served as an
officer and was killed in the ill-fated Gallipoli landing. By
that time we had moved to Canada.
Early in 1906 we moved to Blackheath, a suburb in southeast
London. A large heath or open space for sports activities lay
between Blackheath and Greenwich Park. I became well acquainted
with that park in which was the Greenwich Observatory, the place of
zero longitude and source of Greenwich Mean Time. Nearby was a
Naval museum and the Thames River.
About the time of my eighth birthday there was a fall of snow. As
my Sunday school teacher escorted me home, she asked, “What is whiter
than snow?” That really puzzled me! I thought of white
things – writing paper, sugar, salt, mother’s laundry (no tattle-tale
gray for her!) – but snow was whiter than all these. Mother
dropped a hint that I should think in another direction. So I
finally learned what the hymn said, “Wash me in the blood of the Lamb
and I shall be whiter than snow.” I could rely on the word of
God, “though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow”
(Isa. 1:18). I am sure that I was saved then for I cannot
remember a time when I didn’t believe that Jesus died for me.
However, I didn’t have complete assurance.
There was a lot of emphasis those days on the second coming of Christ
and I had learned about the Rapture. Sometimes I would look out
of my bedroom window at a gorgeous sunset and wonder if Christ would
come before morning! But sometimes I was not so sure. One
afternoon I came home from school to find the door locked. Mother
was out shopping, no doubt. No problem! Just sit on the
doorstep and wait. But it seemed to be an awfully long
wait. Then the thought – maybe the Lord has come and I am left
behind! How can I find out? I know! I’ll watch the
people walking down our street. If I see one person I believe to
be a Christian (that, of course, would have to be someone from our
chapel!) then I’ll know the Lord hasn’t come yet. Even then I was
well-indoctrinated – no partial rapture theories had come my way.
To my great relief the first Christian I saw was Mother entering our
From time to time I was bothered by this lack of assurance. One
Sunday evening (I can’t remember when it was) I determined to do
something about it. It may have been something the preacher said
in the service, I really don’t recall. Anyhow, as I kneeled to
say my usual bedtime prayer, I added something. “Lord, if I never
really trusted in you before, I do now believe and accept you as
my Savior.” Immediately I was assured that I was really saved and
the assurance has never left me. No doubt I was truly saved
before but it needed that definite act to assure me. Later on I
learned that assurance of salvation is not based on our experience but
upon the promises of God’s Word.
About a quarter of a mile from where we lived in Blackheath was
Alexandra Hall. In some ways the assembly there was different
from others. Most of the members were upper-class people and only
a few of the poorer class. There was one woman who was a
charwoman but rather outspoken and uncouth when she poured out her
scorn on the snobbery of some ladies there. Mother’s ministry was
to befriend some of the old ladies and I was not enraptured over such
guests! She also took an interest in young women in domestic
service who were away from home.
When we first moved there, the congregation at Alexandra Hall was quite
large. Some two to three hundred would meet each Sunday morning
to observe the Lord’s Supper. Without fail one brother, Mr. Luck,
would read a chapter from the Bible without comment and Easter Sunday
it would surely be Luke 24. There would be some five hundred at
the evening service. Dr. Robert McKilliam was the recognized
leader in the assembly and always preached when he was home.
Though a medical man, he was a great Bible student and also editor of a
monthly magazine, “The Morning Star,” which emphasized the Second
Coming. The choir, mostly of older persons, sat on the
platform. One gentleman had his favorite seat by the railing and
during the sermon he would lean on this railing and enjoy a little
The assembly regularly held a brief 15-minute open-air service on the
steps before the evening service, summer and winter. Then in the
summer there was an open-air meeting in the center of the town after
the service. Later when numbers were dwindling they held an
evangelistic campaign. The invited preacher was an eccentric man
by the name of Hodson. His zeal for the Lord was accompanied by a
sense of humor and a quick repartee. On one occasion, so I am
told, he carried on a tent campaign in an English village. Sunday
morning he went to the Anglican Church to hear the parson. Being
sadly disappointed by the sermon he asked the parson, “Do you call that
preaching the Gospel?” It seems that in retaliation the reverend
gentleman persuaded two village thugs to beat up Mr. Hodson and burn
down his tent. When they accosted Mr. Hodson in front of his tent
and stated their intention, he, being a big husky man, picked them up
one by one and tossed them over the hedge. The parson who had
been standing at a distance, approached and haughtily asked, “Mr.
Hodson, do you call that preaching the Gospel?” To which Mr. Hodson replied, “No, I call that casting out demons!”
Perhaps the dwindling attendance was in part due to the fact that there
was no Sunday school and very few young people at Alexandra Hall.
After we left there Dr. McKilliam passed away which further contributed
to the decline. During my war service in World War I, visiting
Blackheath one evening I found about twenty believers meeting in a much
As there was no Sunday school there, I went on Sunday afternoons to a
Sunday school in a rough area of Lewisham. My chum, Willie
Peacock, went with me and our teacher was a fine man, Mr. Bernau.
In that slum neighborhood the windows were protected by heavy wire
screens. Almost every week some boisterous boy was forcibly
evicted for making trouble, but they would invariably return the
My schooling started in Lingfield with a year or so in Primary School
before Father died. When we moved to Blackheath I went to
Northbrook School at Lea Green, a 20 minute walk each way. There
was no such thing as school buses in those days. I enjoyed the
teachers there but very much disliked the principal. For me, Mr.
Fluke had an appropriate name: For one thing he smoked! One day
in class he misunderstood an answer I gave (deliberately I suspect) and
made fun of me before the class. It seemed to have been due to my
stand as a Christian, even though that was a weak one. During one
vacation I was waiting to get a haircut. Mr. Fluke came in and
took his place in the barber’s chair ahead of me, with some snide
remark to the barber.
Coming home from school one afternoon, one of my two companions found a
shriveled up potato in the gutter. It looked quite rubbery and my
chum said, “wonder if it could bounce!” No time was wasted
speculating on the “bounceability” of an old potato regardless of
surroundings. At a busy crosswalk where three streets met, my
chum flung the potato to the ground. Oh, did it bounce? On
the rebound it struck the bonnet of an old lady who was approaching and
would have completely dislodged it but for the ribbons by which it was
tied. (In those days little old ladies wore bonnets, which were
high in front above the forehead and were fastened with ribbons tied
under the chin.) I caught a glimpse of hands raised to retrieve
the bonnet and heard a scream. We did not linger to hear the
tirade about juvenile delinquency in that “modern age.” Three
boys decamped in three different directions with speed that surely
could be in the Guinness Book of Records had they been recorded.
Later I was transferred to Greenwich Central School, the equivalent of
High School. It was a 45 minute walk from home but we didn’t
think anything of that in those days. The headmaster there, Mr.
Wood, was strict but considerate and well respected. Monday
morning assembly was devoted to Scripture reading and prayer.
These schools were for boys; none were co-educational then. Each
Monday morning the two class monitors had to arrive early and fill all
the inkwells on the desks (no such things as fountain pens or
ballpoints!). One morning my classmate and I were carrying a tray
of inkwells down the stairs when a latecomer dashing up the stairs
collided with us. At the next assembly there were some caustic
remarks from the headmaster about the carelessness of boys who
spattered ink on the stairs!
Somehow I managed to stay out of trouble so was never sent up to the
headmaster’s office for misbehavior. A notation in his black book
meant no recommendation when leaving school. I doubt that I
deserved what he wrote on April 25, 1912 – “that progress has been very
satisfactory and that he leaves the school after having gained the
esteem of his fellow pupils and of his masters.” This
recommendation was given shortly before I left that school to go to
Canada. The teacher and the class kindly gave me a monetary gift
as I was leaving.
Vivid in the memory of my boyhood days are the summer holidays.
Mother and I usually visited her relatives and since there were many of
them it meant going to different places each summer. Mother’s
family was so large that her youngest sister was an aunt already when
she was born.
Cromer is a seaside resort on the east coast of England. A
Japanese Lantern was thrust into my hand so I could participate in a
lantern procession and I won third prize. Any inflation of my ego
was dissipated a few days later. While digging in the sand, one
of my shoes was buried and lost. Scolded by Mother I was mortified to
have to walk home barefoot.
One of Mother’s brothers lived in Cardiff in South Wales where he
worked in the drydocks. I was fascinated to see a ship in
drydock. One of my cousins also worked there and later was killed
by a fall into a drydock. One day we went on an excursion steamer
across the Bristol Channel to visit picturesque spots like
Clovelly. This small place in Devon was then only reached by boat
and the houses were perched on the steep hillside beside the sea.
A stop at Ilfracombe for a lunch that for a boy was memorable – roast
lamb with young potatoes (cooked with a sprig of mint) and fresh green
peas. The dessert was a dish of raspberries topped with
Devonshire cream, a very thick, rich cream.
Littlemore was a village a few miles from Oxford where Mother had been
born and where her oldest brother had a blacksmith and carriage
building shop. It was interesting to see how they fitted an iron
rim on a wooden cartwheel. A trip on a small boat through some
locks on the upper Thames River took us to a garden party for residents
of the area on the large estate of the Earl of Harcourt. Another
day we went through Oxford University without absorbing any knowledge
from that noted place of learning.
One summer Mother and I went different ways and I stayed with the
family of Ethel’s fiancé, the Wellers. Dentures were new to me
then. I was amazed that Richard, who was to become my
brother-in-law, took his teeth out at night. It was impossible to
remove mine, I found. Sixty years later in 1969 Anna and I visited
Rich’s two surviving sisters living in the same house. Naturally
they had aged but the house seemed to be just the same.
Mother’s youngest sister, Aunt Millie, lived in Folkestone on the south
coast facing the English Channel. Her husband was a retired army
man and they had two daughters about my age. On one of our visits
there the Red Cross and Ambulance Corps were holding some sort of
maneuvers. They called for some boys to volunteer with a promise
of sixpence. We were taken out of town on a truck and told to lie
down scattered over a grassy field. Tags were placed on us to
describe the kind of wounds we had supposedly suffered. Then the
nurses came to bandage us and take us back to school, which was to be
the hospital. Many of the boys were “ambulatory patients.”
With bandaged heads or arms in slings they had to walk back to the
school. As one of the more seriously wounded I had the good
fortune to be trundled back on a stretcher. Housewives seeing the
procession of wounded and not knowing it was a maneuver came out to
commiserate with the unfortunate victims of an accident. For
their benefit I tried to look as miserable as possible under the
circumstance. At the “hospital” a treatment of lemonade and
cookies effected some “miraculous cures” so our bandages were removed
and we were sent off home.
Mother thought there would be better opportunities for me in a young
country like Canada. World events didn’t concern me then but
there was already talk of war with Germany. My sister Ethel left
for Edmonton, Alberta the day after her marriage on June 1, 1911.
A year later, Mother, Florrie, and I were to follow. George had
obtained a second scholarship to the College of the Royal Horticultural
Society and so decided to remain in England.
At the age of thirteen the matter of baptism arose. There was no
baptistry at Alexandra Hall and I don’t know what position the assembly
there took on baptism. However, with considerable trepidation I
went to Dr. McKilliam for an interview. He was very gracious as
he talked with me about my faith in Christ. So I was received
into fellowship at Alexandra Hall shortly before leaving. It was
arranged that I should be baptized at Lingfield in the baptistry, which
my Father had helped to construct. That was on the 7th of May
1912, and was for me a very happy occasion. The Lord impressed
upon my heart, John 13:17, “If you know these things, happy are ye if
ye do them.” So, though I was very nervous, I was also very
happy. There was much about baptism that I didn’t understand, but
I knew it was something the Lord wanted me to do.
Even in those days I was keenly interested in missionary stories.
I don’t recall a great deal of missionary interest at Alexandra Hall
but more than once I would walk to King George St. Hall in Greenwich to
hear some missionary, especially if he was from Africa. One of
the thrills was to be allowed to go to the annual missionary meetings
in London in October 1911. They were held then at Devonshire
House, which was packed for the evening meeting. I sat on a step
up in the gallery and listened to Dan Crawford, then home on his first
furlough in over twenty years.
A few days after my baptism on May 16th we left Southampton on a Cunard
ship, S.S. Ausonia, definitely not one of their best. We were
traveling with an emigrant party arranged by the Salvation Army, mostly
of women. First morning out I was one of the few brave souls that
showed up for breakfast. The menu in steerage class was Irish
stew or boiled eggs. Irish stew for breakfast – perish the
thought! And the stew too! So I had two hard-boiled eggs which I soon
regretted eating! I was seasick for a week and for years wouldn’t
touch a hard-boiled egg. Years later we learned from our good
friend, George Maslen that he traveled on the Ausonia on the previous
voyage. The food was so terrible, the steerage passengers almost
Out in the middle of the Atlantic we were surrounded by icebergs and
moved forward very cautiously, with good reason for just a month before
that the Titanic had been sunk. I remember the news headlines,
“The unsinkable ship sunk.” This ship had been built with
watertight compartments to make it unsinkable in theory. On its
maiden voyage with many celebrities aboard it struck an iceberg with a
loss of hundreds of lives. We thanked God for a safe trip.
Landing at Quebec on Sunday evening, bells were tolling. I
thought they were church bells until I discovered that every train
engine had a bell and also a cow-catcher in front. For some days
we journeyed by train to Calgary. The train would stop at
intervals to change engines and crew, while the passengers made a wild
dash to the station restaurant for a quick snack. Trains there
were quite different from English trains and different too from present
day train travel.
In Calgary we stayed overnight before proceeding north to Edmonton the
next morning. The Salvation Army took us to their citadel where a
testimony meeting was in progress. Various members there took us
home for the night, which was very kind of them. I was rather
amused by the testimony of one man as he told of his new joy in
salvation. In his elation he was jumping up and down on the
platform, and rubbing his stomach exclaimed, “I have such a good
feeling down here!” Remembering the misery of our seasickness a
week before, I rather disrespectfully whispered to my sister, “If he
had been where we were last week, he wouldn’t have such a good feeling
down there.” It is to be hoped his assurance of salvation was not
resting merely on his physical feeling.
A train ride the next day brought us to Edmonton, the capital of
Alberta, then more like a growing frontier town. There we were
welcomed by my sister and her husband.