Chapter 68

Whippet Was Fed While Family Starved

 

Holiday over, we had a lot of work to catch up with. I found twelve members of my congregation ill in four different hospitals in Dunfermline and Edinburgh and a score badly ill at home, men recovering from accidents, women from operations and two young men with TB.

Fortunately, two elders had regularly visited the home sick and a colleague had called on all in hospital.

Many accidents happened just before miners' holidays and the few days after the holidays. In the two collieries there were eight mishaps, two serious.

Visitations took me into strange places and among strange people.

One such was the hostel in Newmills, frequented mostly by Irishmen, who were laying water mains and cables along the highways. Although they were nearly all Roman Catholics, they gave me a friendly welcome.

A few were over the hotplate grilling chops, sausages and steaks. Nearby a large pot of potatoes in their jackets was cooking. Other men were reading, a few reclining on their beds. Two such men caught my attention. I thought they were dead! They lay white and stiff. In the air I could smell methylated spirits. At one place I saw a bottle of cheap scent.

The man who escorted me around noticed my alarm.

'Don't bother about them, sir,' he said. 'They'll be like that until eight o'clock tomorrow morning, maybe midday. They're dead drunk with milk.

'Drunk with milk? What do you mean?' I asked.

'It's like this,' my companion explained. 'This one put the gas tube into a bottle of milk, he gassed it for a minute, then drank the lot. He's blotto for twenty-four hours. The other mixed liquid polish and milk and swallowed the lot. He's drunk for a period.'

Some homes were beautiful outside and in, reflecting the character of the owners. Others were plain, giving a feeling of warmth and happiness. Others again, with bare necessities, conveyed thrift, self discipline and strict buying from earnings.

One area in particular filled me with uneasiness and discomfort. A long row of dismal houses having few amenities. Some dwellings were slums, damp, bug-ridden, cheerless hovels.

One day in such a place a fire burned brightly. The mother and four children looked ill. They had no food, the cupboard was empty. I asked many questions and received evasive answers. I gave the eldest child 2/- to go to the bread van nearby to buy bread and a pot of jam. The mother was sweet, apologetic and unwilling to talk about her husband. He arrived with a whippet dog and disappeared into the kitchen. I followed. He had two eggs. He cracked one and was about to separate white from yolk in a handleless cup when I asked what he was up to.

'Oh, the dog gets the white. It's running tonight in a big race.

I was furious. 'You rotter,' I bellowed, picking up the other egg. 'Your wife and children come first. They'll get these, not the dog.

The man was speechless for a moment, then he turned to go out the back door. I barred his way.

'Your wife and children are hungry, have you any money?' He handed over 3/-. I let him go out with his precious whippet.

The grocery van was near the house.

'Here,' I said to the wife handing over the money, 'go and buy something and give yourself and the children at least one meal.'

On my way home I called at the colliery office and asked the manager if he had a hard job for a lazy man. When he heard the name he held up his hands, 'Sorry, he's worthless.'

I pleaded, 'I've never seen a woman and family so dejected and miserable. Give him hard work on the pit bing, starting tomorrow. I'll bring him myself.' It was agreed.

I retraced my steps to the house to find the man sharing a meal of hot soup with bread, followed by pies. I certainly laid down the law.

'I'll be at the pit gate tomorrow morning at seven a.m.,' I told him. 'If you are not there to start work, I'll report you to the police and the NSPCC for neglecting your children.'

Next morning he was at the pit gate. He worked on the pit bing and it proved the turning point not only to the man, but to his wife and children.

From friends I managed to get enough food for one week, even articles of clothing for the family. The wife joined the church, the children Sunday school.

Though the man had bouts of beer drinking, he never neglected his work or family again.

During the autumn of 1934 I visited every house in one street, noting all ages in the families. In this way I found jobs for unemployed, assisted many with financial difficulties and arranged for many elderly people, unwanted by their families, to be admitted into old folks homes and other institutions.

Most of the houses in the street were bug infested. Each time I arrived home I changed my clothes and had a bath. As we had a young family I did not want them to suffer.

Only once did a bug get in my clothes and it was removed from my shoulder by a miner.

One day, during my visitation, I saw a door open. Previously it had always been closed and my knocking ignored. Three times I knocked, then walked in, to be met by a dignified elderly lady and another younger person, beautiful but crippled. On introducing myself, I was made welcome. The old lady turned out to be most charming and the daughter equally so. They told me a moving story.

About a year before, they lived well, in a big house, with a thriving business. One morning, the elderly lady's husband handed a large order to a traveller. The traveller was apologetic, saying his firm declined to supply goods until previous bills were honoured. Shocked, the old man phoned up his bank manager to be told there was a big overdraft. Within days the firm was insolvent. Shop contents and house contents were taken over. The old man died of a broken heart.

Widow and daughter were allowed to choose certain articles of furniture, kitchen utensils and clothing. A friend took their belongings to a vacant house in my parish, where they hid themselves for weeks, living on food they had brought. They were on the verge of poverty. I promised to help. From a local parish fund the trustees gave me a sum of money.

Later that day my wife accompanied me with a basket of essential foods. The couple were too proud to accept charity. They would die first. I got round the difficulty by applying to an Edinburgh society which supported business ladies who had fallen on evil times and had few resources.

They were given 3 per week, articles to sew, knit, embroider and tapestries to make. Both highly skilled, they turned out wonderful work and became quite independent.

In another home I discovered an ex-matron of a large London hospital living in poverty. She had taken her pension in a lump sum to buy property she had not inspected. The property was worthless. Again I helped. Three ladies' indigent societies combined to assure her of 4 per week for the rest of her life.

With my health much better, I started house services, six to eight people from neighbouring homes meeting in one. I explained my mission to bring the church to those who were not able to walk to church. It was very successful.

In six weeks I had twelve meetings in all; one hundred very old, crippled, maimed, poor sighted, two with miner's lung and convalescent patients attended. I read the psalm, offered prayers, New Testament reading, ten minutes talk and the Benediction. I talked with each, then the host provided tea and biscuits. It is very interesting to note that out of the hundred, eighty-eight became church members.

By the end of 1934, Newmills Church was self-supporting, and giving to fourteen outside projects, had paid all its debts, for painting the church and four rooms in the manse and there was a balance of 18. I had held two communion services, twelve weddings, twenty-eight funerals, sixty-four baptisms, visited eighty-one in hospital and waited at Valleyfleld Colliers on thirteen occasions, for dead and injured miners. I had twenty-five house meetings and I could say every house in the parish had been visited and every man, woman and child was added to my church records. It was a wonderful feeling to realize my efforts were appreciated, the church pews full, twice every Sunday, plus two sessions of Sunday School and one of Bible Class. The Bible Class was dear to my heart, for I had forty teenagers, twenty-five of whom joined the Forces at the outbreak of World War II.

 

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This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993.   All rights reserved.  Used here by express permission.