From diaries and documents Dad gave to me, from many personal letters that he wrote and from our conversations I have attempted to sketch in something of his activities and interests when he lived at Balhouffle Farm House, Anstruther, Fife, from May, 1965 and afterwards at 'Nyasa', Glenrothes, Fife, from November 1976 onwards to round off this biography.
Always practical and forward looking, Dad felt that families should cherish, preserve and protect their history by entrusting it to one willing member and to this end he honoured me by asking me to keep and continue his work for future generations. I accepted and some of the diaries and documents he gave me in 1966 were accompanied by the following note which he frequently repeated to all the family and said he would put in his will:
'Ronnie has been my Literary Agent since 1965. All writings belong to him. His permission must be sought by writers who may print my work. It is his inheritance.'
From youth to the night before he died, Dad kept diaries; first recording key facts, then fuller accounts of family, friends and work, followed in retirement by several pages per day recording favourite poems, stories and ideas from books carefully read and enjoyed in the luxury of spare time. Finally the entries became briefer confined to the weather, visitors and callers and these understandably were sometimes spasmodic or poorly written because of ill health.
The diaries show that his favourite poem was called 'Walking with Jesus', by Ann Elizabeth Shorey, born 1851, with the last verse reading:
for Jesus day by day
Quotations abound in the diaries and one which seems to have made a great impression was taken from a speech, by another of the men Dad greatly admired James Stewart, to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland in 1900 which read as follows:
'I am sometimes asked the secret of my so called success. I wish I could be conscious of it, but I am not. I have simply allowed God my mind and body for His ends and with His help I have tried to do the root things of life and leave the secondary things alone.'
Funny stories were also recorded for use in sermons and talks for every occasion, such as the following example later used to chair a discussion group on 'Sparing the rod and spoiling the child.'
'Now tell me why I spanked you,' the father said to his son.
'What,' moaned the small boy, 'Don't you know either?'
Cherished verses of hymns were also noted, such as the following by Anna Laetitia Waring (1820-1910), after a very hectic and trying day:
From 1965 and during the first nine years of his 'retirement' Dad spent hundreds of hours collecting, ordering, interpreting and annotating documents, private diaries and mementos originating from or belonging to Dr Robert Laws in the Scottish National Library or at the Edinburgh home of his daughter Dr Amelia Nyasa Laws.
Dad was instrumental with Mr Andrew Walls, Director of Religious Studies, Kings College, University of Aberdeen, in having an on-campus 'Laws Room' museum opened on 27th October, 1975, to mark the centenary of the Free Church of Scotland mission to Livingstonia and to remember Law's birth in that city in 1851. Dr A.N. Laws concluded her 'room opening' address to the assembled dignitaries with the following warm words of praise.
'At this point I suggest that attention be drawn to the special service rendered by the Rev Mr Caseby to the preservation of records relating to the period which my father represents. During father's retirement they spent a great deal of time together, their friendship being cemented by their love and respect for the people of Malawi.'
It was only a few months after retiring when Dad offered to help his own minister by taking Sunday services at Carnbee Parish Church and so to become involved again in the pastoral visiting of the sick at home and in hospitals. Soon he was meeting needs in most surrounding churches giving sixty-six services, including fourteen at Anstruther Baptist Church and six whilst twice visiting Canada, at St Columba and Westminster Presbyterian Churches, Vancouver and Mayfare Presbyterian Church, Saskatoon. These Canadian visits in 1967 and 1970 led to an invitation to write some articles for the Scotian magazine about yesteryear memories of the 'old country' and the resulting fifteen long articles were well-received and generated much correspondence.
One strange incident happened in Vancouver in December 1970. My parents had just arrived in Canada to spend Christmas with my brother Grant and his wife Isobel to be told that the minister had been taken ill and that Dad had been volunteered by his son to take the Christmas Eve service, which he did.
After the service an Elder asked Dad if he was the Alex Caseby who had fished a badly wounded allied soldier from certain drowning from a flooded shell hole, despite his own terrible head wounds and taken him to the Canadian War Hospital at Dunes Camier in July 1916. Dad said that the Elder told him that it was his father who had died a few years earlier, sad because he had never been able to find the soldier who saved him.
I wrote earlier that diary entries were sometimes several pages long. Some eventually became small books, such as for both trips to Canada to visit my brother Grant and his wife Isobel in Vancouver and journeys across and about Canada to stay with his sister Netta, her farmer husband Alexander (Sandy) Robertson and their children, grandchildren and other relations living all over Saskatchewan.
When my grandfather, John Caseby, died in 1940, his youngest son, the late Angus Caseby of Leuchars, cleared out much of their father's belongings and burned all the accumulated information about the CASEBY genealogy, thinking it to be 'rubbish'. Dad immediately began the daunting task of trying to reconstruct this rich heritage for the benefit of future generations. Retirement allowed time to pursue our ancestry more vigorously. Many documents were scoured, authorities consulted, places and people visited and relations were asked to help in all parts of the world.
The outcome of this genealogical research was many detailed family facts, mainly relating to the Rodger and MacFarlane ancestors, which when organised and researched will fill another book.
One of his happiest finds concerned a Sandy (Alexander) G. Dali who became so dissatisfied as an Elder with the Auld Kirk of Largo and Newburn that he resigned and took half the congregation with him and formed the Relief Church at Lundin Links, now St David's Parish Church. The church was built by volunteers, men carrying stones in fishermen's creels; women sand and small chuckies in their aprons; even the children, cleaning up around the building. The little building cost £50. At the opening in 1771 Sandy Dall prayed,
'Let ane, o' ma bluid serve the Lord as a minister.'
Dad concluded his findings by writing with pride, '150 years had to lapse before I became one, the first!'
Africa and especially Livingstonia was ever my parents concern and even as I write this in late 1992 my dear near-blind mother will be finishing off her target of one crochet blanket per week for the hospital there. The name 'Nyasa' above the door proclaims where their hearts will ever be. Retirement gave Dad more time to write to old African students and to extend a helping hand to any visitors or students from Malawi and there were many.
Typical of this correspondence was a letter from Patrick F. Thole, a past agricultural student, who concluded one letter dated 1972 with a vivid reminiscence from forty-five years before:
'I still remember when you and Mrs Caseby prepared a feast that we ate at the hilltop Nyankhona. We were with high school children. In the evening we came from Nyankhona singing and dancing in a happy mood - this to me marked an everlasting remembrance indeed.'
Another example from Raphael Kabuzi Munthal, in December 1973, who wrote, 'I hope the Fife Home Town will live as a high land castle. I have shown your letter to many old men and women like me and we enjoy it all, thanks.'
Another lovable skill was Dad's ability to communicate with children. I can remember looking forward as a tiny-tot to his invented tales of daring adventures about Cleekum who did the most amazing things to bring about a good ending to the mess that bad people tried to make of innocent lives.
Sadly there is now no trace of these tales which had been committed to paper. Before, but much more so after retirement, grandchildren enjoyed illustrated letters including them in exciting exploits. For example his first two grandchildren, Paul and Jacqueline Hansford, have now bound all their stories of a curious character called Pajac into a colourful booklet for their own little ones to enjoy. Love for us all spilled out in this way and in all the happy holidays with Granny and Grandad much looked forward to by grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
In one much illustrated letter in 1973 to my children, Rodger and Judith, there was the following poem which may not be his work, answering their letter to him about feeding birds in Pitshanger Park, West Ealing.
Said the robin to the sparrow, 'I should really like to know Why these anxious human beings Rush about and worry so.'
Said the sparrow to the robin, 'Friend I think the cause must be That they know NO Heavenly Father Such as cares for you and me.'
family life was filled with many happy get-togethers and laughter always filled the house.
Typically, Mum and Dad decided to celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary on 30th April,
1974, with a party for about 150 family and new and old friends. It was a grand affair and
there are smile-producing photographs to remind everyone of a happy day.
Our family life was filled with many happy get-togethers and laughter always filled the house. Typically, Mum and Dad decided to celebrate their 50th Wedding Anniversary on 30th April, 1974, with a party for about 150 family and new and old friends. It was a grand affair and there are smile-producing photographs to remind everyone of a happy day.
The love the local people had come to feel in just a few years for Mum and Dad was well-expressed on one card in a specially written poem by Jenny Hunter from Anstruther which read as follows:
As usual, I was asked to make a speech on behalf of the family and part of it was published in the St Andrew's Citizen, reporting as follows:
'Ronnie spoke of his upbringing, of the standards that have always been set and kept in the old family home, of the love that has been abundant as money was scarce. A splendid tribute indeed.
'Then, just before he sat down, he paused. "But," he said, "I think the greatest tribute I can pay Mum and Dad today and one that sums up everything I've said, is that because of their example, I can stand here today and say to you with all my heart:
There were tears in many eyes, when he sat down, as well as admiration. And maybe, in some hearts here and there, a tinge of quiet regret.'
Always and everywhere there was a love of gardening and in retirement Mum and Dad took great pleasure in transforming the wilderness around their rented farmhouse into something that made all stop and stare. This was best put in these parts of a letter which appeared in the Dundee Courier, written by Lionel J. Hansford, my brother-in-law, in mid-1975, which read as follows:
'There is a "hallowed acre" in a corner of East Fife and people who go to visit gaze upon it in wonder. It is a garden some fifty yards long and thirty yards wide.
'A herbaceous border extends the whole length of it, which provides a riot of colour from a wide variety of lovely flowers arranged 'shortest in front and tallest in the rear' in true regimental fashion.
'A neatly trimmed lawn is surrounded by other flower borders and on either side of the transverse path is a profusion of different coloured sweet Williams which are probably without equal in the whole of the Kingdom.
Nearly half of the garden is planted with such a variety of vegetables as to put most amateur gardeners to shame.
The produce from the vegetable patch is more than enough to keep the deep freezer well-stocked from one abundant harvest until the next.
Visitors invariably go away with arms full of flowers and car boots redolent with the smell of fresh produce.
The house gardens are in equally good trim and are the admiration of passers-by.
One might ask what is the driving force when the body is often racked with pain in the doing of it?
It is simply that, as deeply Christian folk, they have come to a full realisation of the words penned by the poet long ago:
"You are nearer to God in a garden than anywhere else on earth."'
As Lionel had said in his newspaper letter that big Balhouffie Farmhouse and the garden although such a joy were becoming too much to cope with and my parents prayed for God's guidance. One evening Dad dreamed that he was reading an evening newspaper, a thing he never did and in it he was directed to a house for sale in the new town of Glenrothes. Next afternoon he bought a paper, found the house as in the dream. Mum and Dad went to see it, found that the owner was a distant Rodger relation and they bought it - leaving them with 34 pence in the bank. They were in their mid-seventies and they bought their first house!
When they moved in some weeks later, Dad's relation had made and hung a beautiful house name sign above the door by way of a parting gift- it read 'Nyasa'. Who could doubt that God had not a little to do with that set of coincidences!
Between 1965 and 1977 Dad and I had worked through much of his War Diaries and notes at my request about religion and the battlefield - the two seeming to me to be so much a contradiction. Since the source material was no longer required it was donated at Dad's request to the Imperial War Museum. I told them about the forthcoming eightieth birthday and as a surprise Celia Petty, Department of Documents, Lambeth Road, London, had the following letter published in the Dundee Courier newspaper on that special day, thanking him and adding to Dad's great joy,
'These diaries will be preserved in perpetuity in the museum's archive of personal records. We are very pleased to be able to add the Rev Mr Caseby's diaries to the collection since they give a valuable insight into the conditions of life in the Western Front and provide details of the battles in which he fought, which would otherwise be lost to posterity.'
As a new hobby Dad took up painting by numbers which he found rewarding and relaxing. He read about artists and noted one comment in his diary as follows: 'A famous artist was once asked what he mixed his colours with in order to produce such wonderful effects. "With brains," he replied.'
After much correspondence with various sections of the Ministry of Defence about his World War I records, Dad was surprised to find, in 1987, that a large proportion of the relevant document store in London had been destroyed by fire after enemy air action in 1940, including his details.
During some forty years, Dad had tried to obtain help through organisations such as The Earl Haig Fund, for old, unwell and needy servicemen and had met with difficulty in finding the official proof of their records to support benefit claims. He had success in over five hundred cases, but failure in many deserving instances and now he understood why.
Over the next few years Dad's major task was in selecting, organising and annotating all of his sermons before he gave me the few good ones which would fill several books. The sermon he liked best was based on the text Galatians Chapter 6 and verse 7 and on a poem, 'The Conquerors' by Charles Rose Weede, an American poet.
As I understand it the text made clear what Dad believed was a great message from scriptures which in the New English Bible reads as follows:
'Make no mistake about this: God is not to be fooled; a man reaps what he sows.'
The three verse poem compares the lives and achievement of Alexander the Great and Jesus Christ who both died at the age of thirty-three years and it concludes with the following lines:
was as pleased as punch with the first much larger draft of this book when it was
presented to him for his ninetieth birthday in January, 1988 and on the 3rd February he
wrote to me saying: 'Bit, by bit, I am getting over my special book. You have drawn it up
in an excellent form. Is it possible for you to get in touch with some publishers and find
out their conditions for printing in a book, or a series of paperbacks? Professor Craig
was here last Sunday, he would like to go over your wonderful story and write up a
Dad was as pleased as punch with the first much larger draft of this book when it was presented to him for his ninetieth birthday in January, 1988 and on the 3rd February he wrote to me saying: 'Bit, by bit, I am getting over my special book. You have drawn it up in an excellent form. Is it possible for you to get in touch with some publishers and find out their conditions for printing in a book, or a series of paperbacks? Professor Craig was here last Sunday, he would like to go over your wonderful story and write up a Foreword.'
During 1989 and 1990 Father's health began failing fast, ever-willing Mum was coping but visibly wilting under the increasing strain and so out of regard for her Dad was contemplating their moving to a local retirement home.
Dad wrote the following verse for Mum to celebrate their 1st 'Paper' Wedding Anniversary on 24th April, 1925.
verse was repeated on Dad's 65th 'Sapphire' Wedding Anniversary card to Mum with the
following additional words:
The verse was repeated on Dad's 65th 'Sapphire' Wedding Anniversary card to Mum with the following additional words:
In October, 1990, Dad requested that there should be a family party to celebrate his ninety-third birthday at the beginning of January 1991. He firmly believed that this would be the last time we would all be together in the family home.
Margaret, my sister, efficiently planned and quickly implemented all the arrangements with the Beefeater restaurant which was on the ground floor of a nearby Glenrothes hotel. The family asked me to express our thanks in a speech and propose the toast to Mum and Dad after the luncheon.
I drafted and drafted speeches, none of which seemed adequate or sincere enough to express our love and thankfulness for such wonderful parents. Then a letter from Mum to me at the beginning of December, 1990, inspired me with just the idea needed upon which to base a poetic tribute to my beloved parents.
Mum's letter was written with a sad heart because Dad was unwell and she thought they would be compelled to sell 'Nyasa' their house and spend the proceeds on keeping themselves in a Church of Scotland rest home at Leslie, near to Glenrothes in Fife. Mum and Dad had saved hard all their lives because they wanted to leave something from her 'nest-egg' to each of her six children and their nest-egg was mainly the investment made in buying 'Nyasa'.
Although she was almost blind, the letter was written to me in Mum's own hand on the 4th December 1990, with obvious great effort and probably many tears.
of the ideas to follow up that Mum mentioned came from the chiropodist who knew someone
who worked in an old folks home and wanted to change her job.
One of the ideas to follow up that Mum mentioned came from the chiropodist who knew someone who worked in an old folks home and wanted to change her job.
The lady, a Mrs Jemima (Mima) Monroe, came a few days later and started the Monday before Christmas as their part-time companion and housekeeper on a weekday basis.
She turned out to be a wonderful person and her arrival averted the need to move from 'Nyasa' with all its memories and precious mementoes.
5th January 1991, the family, through me, was able to express a tiny part of the riches we
felt our mother and father had already bequeathed to us.
The poem was well-received and the photographic session which followed gave us superb family pictures which we will always treasure. Dad declared previously that the party was also to celebrate Sandy and Grant's birthday that very day, Grant's wife Anne's birthday on the 19th, Charlie's wife Jane's birthday on the 25th, as well as his own, also on the 19th of January, 1991 and so large numbers of gifts were exchanged in the happiest of circumstances.
Unfortunately the Caseby genealogy before about 1841 remained a mystery which Dad asked me to solve during a brief holiday at Easter, 1991, as I seemed to be the only child with his feeling for history. The only starting clues Dad could give me were vague memories of odd things his father, John Caseby, had occasionally mentioned as follows.
Somehow the Caseby's, or some variation of that name became involved in the Protestant movement and connected with David Hackston, of Rathillet, Fife, who was executed in Edinburgh for complicity in the murder of Archbishop Sharp, near to St Andrews. Following this the Caseby families along with many others had all their possessions confiscated and they were shipped to Ireland or elsewhere.
By about 1790 John Caseby, or some such variation as Kisbie, was a farmer near Belfast, Northern Ireland - maybe Newtownards. He was a prominent Protestant preacher.
His father may have been called Peter and his mother Margaret McCaw. This original John had three sons who were all farmers and lay preachers. All had most of their property confiscated and the three sons left Newtownards in the 1840s, perhaps because of the Roman Catholic onrush and also for things preached, or for pamphlets written. One son sailed to Australia and nothing more was heard of him. One settled in Ayreshire and bought a farm and married without issue.
The third son, John, travelled to Kinrossshire, rented the farm of Tannerhall, Orwell, Milnathort, Perthshire. His first Irish wife (name unknown) died about 1840 and possibly a second wife, Euphamia (possibly Gourlay) born in Forgandenny, Perthshire, died about 1854. In 1860, he married Janet Robin, his twenty-year-old housekeeper, after which the facts are reasonably well-known.
It was not possible to solve the problems given to me before Dad died, but the search will continue in accordance with his wishes. Hopefully some reader may be able to help.
Neither diaries nor documents reveal one major personal strand in my fathers personal witness of his faith; his carefully prepared evening prayers involving and including everyone in the house around nine thirty p.m. for about ten minutes. There was a brief scripture, some ennobling thoughts from great writers or poets and uplifting prayers for the family, friends, the church on earth, Africa and for all involved in serious items in the news of the day.
These devotions ended with a handshake for the men and a handshake and a kiss for the women and a cuddle for the children, together with a word of love and a blessing of peace for the night. Dad firmly believed that none of us should let the sun set with a heart full of anger for another because we may never be together again in this life.
For Mum there was a handshake, a cuddle and a special kiss with the sincere words, 'I love you,' spoken as he gazed adoringly into her eyes and smiled at her.
Another secret was the understanding heart that felt and shared one's joy, pain and grief, yet never lost sight of what was the correct practical response to a particular need.
These are very private matters so only one personal example out of many to each of the family in trying times will have to suffice. When Daphne, my first wife, died after a protracted, gradually debilitating and expensive illness there were not only comforting words but also a substantial cheque so that my children and I need not turn to worrying about funeral costs as our grief had to give way to everyday realities.
Dad always had his personal affairs in order and so when he suddenly died in the early morning of 14th May, 1991, he had left two envelopes: one about practical matters, the other containing a brief obituary with a blank date of death and with blanks for the number of his beloved children (6), grandchildren (13) and great-grandchildren (14). Also typically, his obituary last thoughts were for Mum where he wrote,
Dad's last prayers were for the suffering children in Africa for the news was full of harrowing pictures of starving children in a world of plenty. Instead of flowers for the coffin, Mum asked for donations towards relief for suffering African youngsters for she knew that this was what her husband would want.
The Very Rev Professor Robert Craig gave the oration at the well-attended funeral service in St Columba's Church, Glenrothes, on 17th March, 1991 and his generous Foreword enshrines the essence of the beautiful tribute given then, despite his own real grief. The final hymn was the 23rd psalm, the first words Dad had learned at his mother's knee.
The reception which followed was a wonderful and happy time for friends and relations to meet and remember his ever present sense of fun, just as Dad would have wished. One waitress said somewhat disapprovingly and a little curiously to me, 'I thought this was supposed to be a funeral?'
I said quietly to her, 'This is nothing compared to the happy racket in heaven!'
She looked even more puzzled by this comment.
Dad did not wish for anyone but his minister at the Crematorium committal nor for his ashes to be identified because of his strong beliefs in the survival of the spirit; also to avoid the needless suffering caused to loved ones by neglected or vandalised graveyards. He applauded the idea he first saw in Chichester in 1974 of displaying gravestones round the edges and using the green space for recreation, playgrounds and gardens.
Mum asked me to send Dad's World War I medals to be with his original diaries and other donated documents and on the 22nd May, 1991, Diana Condell, Imperial War Museum, Department of Exhibits and Firearms, wrote to me saying,
'I have today written to your mother to express our appreciation of this very kind gesture. I trust that knowing that the medals are here with the diaries and other documents will be some small comfort to her.'
Rev J.W. Patterson, Clerk of the Presbytery of St Andrews, recorded at the end of May, 1991, in a report to fellow ministers that Dad had been born in one of the oldest villages in and was partly educated in their Presbytery, did mission work for some time in the area after returning from Africa, became an Elder in it and retired back into it in 1965 by living first at Balhouffie Farmhouse, in the Parish of Carnbee and then in Glenrothes, the newest town in Fife. He completed what he wanted to say as follows:
'A man of forceful personality and great zeal for the Lord, he remained a Missionary at heart until his dying day. He delighted in visits from those home from Malawi, or visiting this country, especially our Missionary Partner Alice Jones (now Mrs Longwe) who last came to see him with her husband and child.'
Then he concluded with this beautiful prayer:
only memorial to Dad, before this book, was an inscribed Lectern Bible, donated by my Mum
and presented by my brother Cyril to St Columba's Parish Church, Glenrothes, on Sunday
28th July, 1991, before which Psalm 121 was sung, the second life-guiding words Dad
learned by heart at his much loved mother's knee and passionately believed. The last
verse, verse 8 in the King James version, gives the best words with which to end this
The only memorial to Dad, before this book, was an inscribed Lectern Bible, donated by my Mum and presented by my brother Cyril to St Columba's Parish Church, Glenrothes, on Sunday 28th July, 1991, before which Psalm 121 was sung, the second life-guiding words Dad learned by heart at his much loved mother's knee and passionately believed. The last verse, verse 8 in the King James version, gives the best words with which to end this biography.
This work, Going With God, is copywrited by Ronald R. Caseby, 1993. All rights reserved. Used here by express permission.