IN 1913 Padre Rowlands, accompanied by his daughter, returned to England for a rest, after over five years' strenuous work. They travelled home by way of Italy and Germany, little dreaming that so soon afterwards Britain would be at war with the latter country. There followed a pleasant holiday in the homeland, varied with a little preaching for the C.M.S. on the subject of his beloved Ceylon.
Then came the Great War, and, as was the case with most families, that of the veteran missionary was involved in the historic struggle. Two sons and two grandsons served in various capacities with the armies. It was, therefore, difficult to leave England when in the throes of war; the need, however, seemed to be greater in Ceylon than at home, and thus, in October 1914, the Padre with his daughter turned his face eastward again. It was with a sense of relief that they heard that the Emden had been caught just a few hours before they sailed from Liverpool.
During this next term of service Padre Rowlands, being now seventy-six years of age, was obliged to undertake smaller districts. He therefore undertook the districts of Dimbula and Dickoya, making his residence at "Oddington," at the head of one of the pleasant valleys of the Dimbula district. These last years were strenuous ones, in spite of the restricted area. From time to time one or other of his junior colleagues were drawn in to take a part in the war. The arduous journeys were still continued on plucky little "Toby." "Many a time," his daughter writes, "have I seen him come home on little 'Toby' drenched to the skin." During this time, as indeed all through his missionary career, he had several narrow escapes of his life, either driving or riding, when he was made to realise that God's guardian angel must have been watching over him, or he could not have survived.
Sometimes the veteran would be asked the secret of his wonderful endurance. "Not smoking and not drinking "would be the reply. And yet Padre Rowlands was no fanatic on things such as these. "First things first" was ever the motto of his life.
Ceylon at this time was denuded of its younger men, and in consequence it was at times difficult to finance the Mission; yet the work went on, for those who were left made up for those who had gone. During all those strenuous years, with incessant travelling, varied by busy hours spent at the office table, the Padre always found time to indulge in his favourite hobby of gardening, in which he excelled. How well the writer remembers the occasion of a visit to "Oddington," where he found his beloved Chief busy in the garden during the slack hours of an afternoon!
In 1918, when Padre Rowlands was in his eighty-first year, he felt that the time had come for him to retire from active work. Very sorrowfully did he come to this decision, for strength was still given him for long journeys in his Master's service.
It is necessary here to tell the story of poor little "Toby's "last journey. He had carried his master on one of his last journeys to the district of Maskeliya, when the plucky little pony, having slipped one night in his stable and broken his leg, had to be destroyed. We may view it as a tragedy, and yet, perhaps, it was fitting that the travels of master and horse should finish together. Farewell, "Toby "; well and faithfully did you carry your beloved master!
When the determination of Padre Rowlands became known, many were the loving regrets which were expressed from all parts of Ceylon. Feelings were laid bate by many with whom reticence was a law of life.
Here is an extract from the wife of a planter:
"Thank you for your kind message of farewell,' which I have just received. My husband and I will never cease to regret your departure from Ceylon, and hope that it may be our good fortune to meet you again at home. . . . Your leaving us is one of the saddest changes Ceylon has suffered of late."
From a planter:
"I am so sorry you are leaving Ceylon, but it is for your own good. Your name will never be forgotten by me, anyhow. Your hard work, I can assure you, is appreciated by all, and the old catechist is 'much sorry.' Best love, dear old Padre, and good-bye."
From another planter:
"It is with great sorrow that we have heard of your impending retirement. Your visits I look back upon as very bright spots in the past; and it is very sad to think you will not be coming round any more to brighten our lives with your cheery presence and kindly words. However, we must not be selfish and grudge you your hard-earned rest in the evening of your days."
A touching letter from a planter friend of long standing:
"DEAR OLD FRIEND,--I will not waste your time with a long letter, but just wish you an affectionate farewell. I often think how few of one's old pals are Jeft, and at times feel very, lonely. . . . We will miss you, dear old friend, sadly, but perhaps it is only right that you should spend the last few years with your own people. So long as this war lasts, and with so many men away, it is my duty to stand here; but if I live to see it ended, I hope I may have the great pleasure of once again shaking your dear old hand. . . . May God bless you and yours.--Yours affectionately, ------"
From another planter:
"I want to send you just a line to tell you that we in------are thinking very much about you. 'Good-bye' is a sad word, and there are not words to describe how much you will be missed in Ceylon; but we shall often think of you and speak of you. . . . May I send you my love, and with many thoughts and many thanks for all the long tiring journeys you have taken for our sakes and the Gospel's. . . ."
A further tribute from a planter friend:
"I had hoped to have seen you once again before you sailed, but as neither my wife nor I are to be in Colombo for some little time, we have perforce to write our farewell.
"We both are feeling sad, after the many kindnesses you have shown us. For myself, I find it difficult to put on paper all I feel. You are, I feel, the one I have every cause to be grateful for, for making me the happy and contented man I am. If for this one thing only, I shall always think most kindly of you.
"This letter takes to you my very sincere good wishes that you may be spared to enjoy many happy years in your well-earned retirement.
"Ceylon will always remember their dear old Padre, and miss him sorely.
"Good-bye, dear Padre; again many thanks for your kindness to me and mine. May God bless you for it all. I can never repay you."
A further tribute:
"Only now, after your letter, do I realise that your departure is near. It is with very deep sorrow I feel I have to part with one who has been such a kind and helpful friend--a gap that can never be filled again. . . .
"May God bless you and grant you many more years of happiness as a reward for the wonderful work you have done."
A letter of farewell from a Tamil Christian:
"REVEREND AND DEAR FATHER,--It is thus I think proper to address you, as you have for the past fifty years or more been a spiritual as well as temporal father to the South Indian Tamils. The Tamils found a real, true, and sincere friend in you. You shared their sorrows and joys, and helped many in their time of difficulty, and watched their welfare with a fatherly care and love. People of four generations know you. As a very little boy I was told by my father of you and your unselfish work for the Master; and when, in 1907, I learned that you were coming out once again to spend your aged life in Ceylon, for the benefit of the Tamils, and to the glory of God, I was very glad. The past few years have more than verified the accounts I had heard before.
"At an age when others would have retired from active service, you came to Ceylon, and by your words, and above all by your simple life, you have exemplified how men actuated by love towards God and man can work for, and glorify, His Holy Name.
"When any good project could not be put through, owing to lack of funds, your money was unstintingly given, and the name of 'Rowlands' will ever be dearly cherished by Tamils for generations.
"You are now leaving us, and I desire to tell you how much we love you, revere you, and how grateful we are to you for your unselfish gifts in the shape of services, time, money. You have left an indelible mark on our hearts, and words fail me to express the gratitude, we feel toward you. You have lived a noble life.
"In conclusion, I pray that you and Miss Rowlands may have a safe and pleasant voyage, and when your task in the world is done, and when, by His grace, the victory won, you may be tenfold rewarded for the life you spent in His vineyard, for the glory of His Name, and for the welfare of the Tamil community.--With humble salaams, I remain, your most obedient and grateful servant, ---------"
In addition to this tribute of love and affection, many were the farewell sermons and addresses to be given to this community and that. We can do no more than cull from the daily papers of the time two typical instances.
The local correspondent of the Ceylon Observer writes:
"A farewell sermon was preached yesterday at St. Mary's, Bogowantalawa, by the Rev. W. E. Rowlands, to the English congregation in the morning, when nearly every lady and gentleman of the district turned up to hear this grand old Padre for the last time. . . . The Tamil Church was fully crowded; many stood outside. Rev. W. E. Rowlands preached from Acts xx. 30-32. Every word was clearly heard. Holy Communion was celebrated after the service, and the Tamil congregation presented their minister with an address; and a song, composed for the occasion by a Travancore poet, was sung by the congregation. Mr. Rowlands was garlanded and sprinkled with rose water. A group-photo was taken in the evening, Mr. Rowlands being the central figure."
The last message of the veteran was preached in the Emmanuel Memorial Church--his great gift to the Tamil people. Though not in good health and hoarse in voice, he preached for nearly an hour from the farewell message of the great Apostle to the Ephesian elders. In burning, eloquent Tamil did he commend his beloved Tamil people to "the word of His grace," while many among them wept "that they should see his face no more."