Memories of India

Lance Brennan, a volunteer with St Jude’s CVS, found a rich common professional interest in India when he started visiting:

One of the pleasures of my (retired) life is a weekly meeting with a husband and wife at Eldercare Allambi Aged Care Facility. Bruce and Pat spent the years from 1943 to 1963 as missionaries in India, educating and caring for the poorest sectors of the community. They have many stories to tell of their work, and of chance meetings with heroes of the nationalist movement: Gandhi told Bruce that he was welcome in India because he helped the weakest of his people. For someone who spent a major part of his life trying to be a historian of modern India, this was a fascinating insight into one of the most interesting people of the 20th Century.

Before becoming a missionary Bruce – like his father – worked in the South Australian Railways. He persuaded his father to take advantage of the free travel given to railway employees, resulting in a journey as far as Cairns that opened his eyes to the variety of our country. This brought back memories of a similar train journey I took with my parents, when I was 12, from Perth to Brisbane.

Pat comes from a family long-established as fruit-growers in Marion. Many of them are buried in St Jude’s cemetery. Pat  has many stories of growing up in the southern suburbs, as well as of her work establishing a school in India. I find the stories about the latter very interesting in comparison with Anne’s experience as the first principal of a coeducational boarding school for middle-class children in the hills north of Delhi: worlds apart.

When he returned from India, Bruce continued as a pastor in his church, but also invested in land in Lonsdale, which was just being established as a centre for light industry. Having developed a block of land with buildings and a car park, Bruce then donated it to a trust that supports the missionary work of the church.

Earlier this year, with the major assistance of their daughter Margaret, I organised a visit by Bruce and Pat to the Lonsdale industrial area and to St Jude’s cemetery. While we were able to identify some (though not all) of the graves of Pat’s family, we were unable to locate the exact buildings for which Bruce was responsible but we were all impressed by the extent of  the industrial area. I have more work to do before we return!

I am accompanied on my visits to Allambi by our Cavalier, Dee-Dee.  This is the highlight of her week. She and Bruce have a close relationship, built initially on the crumbs from his afternoon tea biscuits, but now made stronger by the distribution across the floor of his room of the ‘treats’ which I bring with me. I am now ‘led’ to Bruce’s room, by an otherwise rather timid dog.

I hope that Bruce and Pat look forward to our visits as much as Dee-Dee and I do.

July 2017

Postscript (April 2018)

Since I wrote the above Pat has died. She now lies alongside her family in the St Jude’s cemetery. We attended a simple but moving funeral service at the graveside. Bruce comforts himself with the thought that Pat now resides “In Glory”; but, of course, misses her companionship and marvellous memory. He is fortunate that their youngest daughter, Margaret, also lives in Allambi, so he has company for much of his day. Margaret also has the special task of holding Dee Dee’s lead when I push Bruce’s wheelchair back from the Tuesday ecumenical service.  Dee Dee does not like to be far from Bruce when she is at Allambi and her joy in locating him at last week’s service was obvious in the rapidity with which she wagged her ample tail. The ‘great game’ would surely follow the service.

We also continue our conversations about his life growing up in Adelaide during the Depression – getting a job for his younger brother at a shoe manufacturer, which eventually led to a career as an engineer; working in the railways; going to theological college in Melbourne; and eventually serving in India. During the early years this included riding a bike between the various villages in which the mission was working: on some rides he had to repair seven or more punctures! He was pleased when the mission was able to afford a car.

Bruce celebrated his 102nd birthday on 1 April: like the 100th and 101st it was a splendid occasion and due recognition was given to his many contributions to the work of his church.