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John Walmsley, Ninth Bishop of Sierra Leone

A Memoir for His Friends

Arranged by E.G. Walmsley, M.A.

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1923.

Chapter VII. Intervals at Home

BISHOP WALMSLEY was a frequent visitor to England during his time of service in Sierra Leone. The journey is not a long one; and the climate of the "white man's grave," in spite of all that sanitary science and medical skill have done, still makes it necessary to take long periods of leave. While his mother lived, the Bishop's home was at Nottingham. Afterwards he made his headquarters, when in England, at Christ Church Vicarage, Derby, the home of his sister and brother-in-law. It was a great source of pleasure to him that he was able in this way to keep in close touch with the town that he had known so well in his Normanton days. A few weeks of his leave were always given up to rest, if that word may be used of the strenuous type of holiday which appealed more than any other to his sense of recreation. The larger part of the time was devoted to ceaseless travelling, speaking and preaching in support of the Sierra Leone Fund.

This part of his life was enjoyed as thoroughly as all the rest. The same boy, who had spent so many hours watching the trains in Hereford station, now delighted in continually threading his way through the intricacies of Bradshaw. Journeys which seemed to the ordinary person entirely commonplace were always fraught with adventure to the Bishop. When he arrived at his destination, there was generally something to tell his host about the make of the engine, or about the length or speed of the train. His faculty for only just catching trains, but never missing them, remained with him to the end. Moreover, there was a delightful opportunity provided by these varied journeys, of seeing his innumerable friends. No matter where he stayed, there was always someone else, and usually far more than one, whom he must visit in the neighbourhood. And these visits were not confined to his intimate friends. Often he would delight the parents of some young trader or soldier whom he had met in Africa by descending on them for an utterly unexpected call. The map of England was thickly studded for him with people whom he knew, directly or indirectly; and with his marvellous memory for names and places, he remembered them all.

Many parishes claimed a visit from the Bishop year after year; and the generosity with which they supported his work showed how vividly he had brought home to them the claims of Sierra Leone. It was not only enthusiasm for his work that touched the hearts of people, but also the intense interest which he showed in every phase of human life. When he visited an English parish, he made the people feel instinctively that he was interested in them all, just as he was interested in the sheep of his own flock in Africa. There was nothing in the least degree mercenary about his appeals. It was all a matter of love and hope: love for the brothers of another race, and hope for the building of the Kingdom of God. There may be many more brilliant speakers than John Walmsley, but one doubts if any man ever made his hearers feel more ashamed of the threadbare objections which are urged against the support of missionary work.

The letters which follow give some idea of the delight which the Bishop took in his travels at home.

To Sister Ward

"DERBY, September 16th, 1918.

"I have had very bad weather since I reached England; but I have been, and am, very well, and everybody says I look so much better than when I was home last. I have had a complete holiday, at least as far as preaching is concerned: but I have travelled a good deal, and seen a lot of people. I had a very happy and quiet week at Kedleston after landing. I had an interesting talk with Lord Curzon on the Sunday; he read the Lessons about as well as I ever heard them read. On Monday I went for a night to friends near Birmingham, the Buxtons; one of them is my godson. On Tuesday I went up to town, and met Sister Cato, and went with her to the Colonial Office. I hope she will be able to come out in a week or two--they have practically given me the promise; but to-day I see news of the sinking of the Gal-way Castle. On Wednesday I went down to Dartmoor to stay a few days with Mr. Tucker, the Head of Trent College. The weather was awful, but I throve. I rode across Dartmoor to Holne, Kingsley's birthplace, one day, with a boy and girl and their aunt. We rode back nine miles against a terrific wind in almost tropical rain, put the boy to bed at Princetown with Mr. Tucker, and then went on six miles farther to Yelverton, down hills where the wind nearly brought you to a standstill: only the bicycles suffered. I walked the six and a quarter miles to Prince-town in just under an hour and a quarter; at times I had to run.

"Another day--mostly fine and gloriously sunny--I visited a lot of my old people in the extreme south. I went by train to Kingsbridge, took steamer to Salcombe, and walked four miles to South Allington, where my old Squire's son lives. He took me up to Prawle, a big air-station now, where many had changed little in twenty-six years, and some at any rate remembered me. Then to Kellaton three and a half miles away, where I used to live; then three miles to Widdicombe, from whence the other Squire's son--invalided from the Army and now a collector of market produce--motored me into Dartmouth: ten miles in less than half an hour on a road which certainly ought not to be travelled on at more than fifteen miles an hour: you know Devonshire hills and corners, and Dartmouth streets! Still all went well. I reached Exeter that night, and saw young G. and Mrs. S. Then to Manchester to hear Lloyd George and marry C. It was a great treat, and a very happy wedding.

"Next Sunday I begin work, and preach at Sheffield. This week into the country in Herefordshire."

To Sister Ward

"DERBY, November 8th, 1918.

"I can't help thinking that it would be best now for you to come home for leave; I think most of the danger and difficulty is over. What wonderful times these are! It is hard to realise all that has happened. We had a Reuter yesterday which announced Germany's acceptance of the Armistice terms; but it was premature. Still it cannot be long delayed.

"I have had a tremendous lot of travelling and speaking, and a very happy time withal. Among other places I have been to Portsea and Southsea--where Bishop Ingham looks fairly well, and his wife: Guildford, where I stayed a night with Lady Purcell; Lambeth, where Mrs. Davidson came down from an attack of influenza to see me (Mrs. Chavasse did the same at Liverpool); Hereford, Monmouth, Chepstow; Cheltenham, where I faced the Ladies' College; Peckham, where I had a happy time with the Crabbes; Rotherham, Stoke, St. Helen's--you can't beat that trio for smoke!--Rugby, where I stayed with the Headmaster; and plenty more."

To Sister Ward, during the Railway Strike

"DERBY, October 1st, 1919.

"I had a pretty full week-end. I was due to preach at Bolton, Bury, and Deane; and, as I don't like to break an engagement if possible, I cycled seventy-four miles each way. Twice, before and after Buxton, I was over 1,000 feet up (once 1,400 feet), and the last twenty miles were over granite sets and tram-lines, through Stockport, Manchester, and suburbs. I don't think I was any the worse, but I was glad of a rest yesterday."

To Miss Grace Russell

"DERBY, October 17th, 1920.

"I have been in a good many schools during the last few days: Hereford, my old school, and its Preparatory; Monmouth Grammar School, a big and still fairly classical school; Monmouth High School, a very nice school with an excellent Head--the girls especially voted to continue the 12 o'clock pause for prayer after the War, and to think of Sierra Leone; Gloucester High School, a big new school of good promise, with five hundred girls, and a sister of the Monmouth Head Mistress as the Head."

The Bishop took a special interest in the Monmouth High School. The Headmistress, Miss Ethel Carless, was an old Hereford friend; and at one time Edith Walmsley had been a member of the staff. The following account of his visits was written after his death by one of the "old girls," Miss Averil Mathews, for the School Magazine:

"The figure of a very tall man--so tall that to some of the little ones he seemed almost like a giant--with a kind, friendly face such as children instinctively trust, and eyes ever ready to smile down on one, in all, a being radiating the charm and attraction of a very lovable personality. Such is our memory of Bishop Walmsley.

"Altogether he came over five times to the High School at Monmouth. He would generally arrive in the morning in time to speak to the School in Hall before lunch. Standing on the platform facing us, a big map of Africa fastened on to the highest blackboard the school could produce, he would talk of Sierra Leone and his work there; of the School and Hospital we were trying to help; and of his journeys over his diocese and his many adventures on the way: of his voyages to England and the bunks on board ship that were never long enough for him; and of some of the many different people he had met and got to know in his wanderings. So the morning would slip by, and lunch time would arrive before we in the least realised it.

"We who have had him amongst us even for such short times will not easily forget him. For once at any rate in our lives we came into contact with someone who seemed greater than ordinary men, but who was yet so eminently human and interested in everyone and everything; who never failed to recognise and greet those he had once met; who found nothing too much trouble, even to writing, on his return to Africa, to the girls who had met him and brought him from station to school, and seen him off again the next day; above all, someone who could always be relied on to see the funny side of things and help others to enjoy them with him.

"We are proud and glad as a school to be able to number him among our friends: for he is one of the 'famous men' of our school song, who bore his burden and served his land 'Beneath the further stars'; one of those 'whose work continueth, Broad and deep continueth, Great beyond their knowing.' "

John Walmsley spent several happy holidays in Switzerland. He was an intrepid climber; and some reminiscences given by Mrs. Manser, of Tunbridge Wells, one of the host of friends he made during his travels, show how thoroughly he entered into the joys of mountaineering:

"My husband and I first met the late Bishop at Saas Fee in August 1911. He was there with W. H. Hodges, now Archdeacon of Buenos Aires, and we were lucky enough on arrival to be put by them at table, so we got to know the Bishop at once. I always recall those meals at Saas Fee, when the Bishop with his endless stories kept us all in fits of laughter. We did several expeditions with him and Mr. Hodges and a guide, Anton Supersaxo. There was the Alphiibel, to the top of which we did not get, owing to a blizzard; the Bishop was very anxious to go on, as we were within half an hour of the top; but as we were quite unable to stand against the gale, and were half-frozen with the cold and snow, we had to turn back. My husband lost his hat down a crevasse, and I remember the Bishop lying flat on his face trying to reach it with his ice-axe, he having the longest arms of the party! We also did the Weissmies with him, and walked on another day to the top of the Monte Moro Pass. He did the Siidlenspitz and Nadelhorn that year with a guide, also the Mittaghorn and Egginergrat with Mr. Hodges; the latter bitterly regretted the day he had been persuaded by the Bishop to attempt it.

"We also went up the Little Allalinhorn, where the Britannia Hut is now. Everyone he met, he always found he knew some relations somewhere; and no matter how trying people were, the Bishop always had a good word for them, and was always ready to give them pleasure. I remember how kind he was to an elderly lady, who was there that year, and how on our way to a climb one day, he took her down to a small place, Almagell, that we had to pass through, and gave her tea. Nothing was ever a trouble to him. Between 1911 and 1913 he stayed with us twice in Tunbridge Wells; once he was preaching for Sierra Leone. He was not home in 1912, or anyhow not in the Alps. He came to Arolla in 1913, to join us there at the beginning of September. He arrived on a Saturday, having come straight from Chamonix, where he had done the Charmoz, Aiguille d'Argentière, and Aiguille du Geant, on three successive days, staying at the Montanvert; he then walked up from Sion to Arolla, about eight hours, and arrived half dead, but as cheerful as ever! The chaplain at Arolla, as soon as he heard the Bishop was coming, asked my husband to ask him to preach the next day; this my husband refused to do, saying that the Bishop had come for a much-needed rest and holiday. In spite of his tiredness, he was at the 8 o'clock celebration on Sunday, but did not preach at all while he was there, though he celebrated the Holy Communion the following Sunday. He did preach once at Saas Fee in the evening. Three parties of us did the Petits Dents de Veisivi by the Arete: the Bishop and a Mr. and Miss Turner, and a guide; my husband and I and a Mr. Mills and a guide; and two boys the Bishop had picked up on the way to Arolla, Allingham and Oliver by name, a Mr. Sinclair was with them, and a guide. We all had a meal on the top, which was very narrow, and we had to perch ourselves round, without being unroped. The Bishop and I took several photos that day, he as usual being full of jokes! Then we all met at the bottom again.

"One wet day, the men, headed by the Bishop, spent the whole morning trying to climb by the porch in at the first-floor window without a rope or any help, and another morning was spent trying to climb a rock in the woods that had not been climbed for years, no rope being allowed, or even a leg-up! The party that did the first climb I mentioned went a glacier excursion to the Pas de Chèvres, and I remember the Bishop plunging down the shale slopes to the glacier; he was always in a hurry, and a very rapid climber. We had no guide that day, only a rope, which was most useful at the Pas de Chevres, the Bishop and my husband hauling the party up. There again, he had amusing tales to tell us, of a chaplain at Arolla, on a visit of his, who lost his head at this place, having talked very big about his climbing powers, and was pulled up like a sack of potatoes by the Bishop!

"On another day we all went to the Bertol Hut, a snow-grind; we had our lunch up there, and took photos. Coming down, the Bishop organised a glissade, which was not a great success; he of course was at the bottom long before the rest of us, having rolled most of the way, the snow being very soft and not suitable for glissading owing to the hot sun. Another day, a bad one, when we meant to do the Mont Collon, which would not do, owing to heavy snow, my husband and I, the Bishop, and our guide went to the Col de Mont Collon, by way of exercise. Coming back the Bishop said he could take us a short cut, down the glacier. Our guide was very sulky about it, but said, 'Let the Herr do what he wants,' and he retired well behind. Well, we scrambled and plunged down shale and snow, and over crevasses--but no short cut. I got more and more angry, and more and more tired, and felt I really hated the Bishop! He kept on saying, 'I shall soon find the track I am looking for'; however, needless to say, we did not find it, and our guide, Hieronymus Julen, a Zermatt man, who like everyone else fell under the Bishop's spell, had to come to the rescue, and we finally got off that abominable glacier. Then the Bishop said, 'I am afraid you are very angry with me,' and of course my wrath melted at once; it was impossible to be angry with him for long, or really at all.

"Three of the boys who were with us then were killed in the War, and one of the others was badly wounded. My husband is also a crock, more or less, through trench fever, so of all that party there are very few sound ones left.

"We also did the Mont Blanc de Seilon with the Bishop, or rather, we again had to turn back on account of the weather. We sat a couple of hours under the rocks, hoping it would clear, the Bishop as usual keeping us merry. That party consisted of the Bishop, my husband and myself, Mr. Mills, Hieronymus, and a porter, and it was our last climb, as the weather broke and the mountains were covered with snow. The Bishop left for England the next day. He loved the mountains, and always said the Alps were his best medicine."

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