Church of Scotland Mission

Bamdah, PO

Via Simultala, EIR






Dear Alex


Many thanks for your letter by air-mail.  I’ve had the thinnest Christmas imaginable!  Though I am about to make up for it over the New Year.  Bamdah has recently just been a little too much for me, and Dr Doctor the NZ visitor I had for a few days warned me that I could not go on very long as I was doing without breaking down.  I was coming out in a crop of small boils, which is of course a sign of being generally run down, and last week-end just after he left, I had to give in and rose from a day in bed last Saturday and came thirty miles by care here to Tisri.  I was able to return to Bamdah on the Monday – and do another 110 operations in the next three days, and make the Christmas preparations for celebrations on the fourth day.  But, being tired and quite unable to go on without a break, I have deserted the ship for a week and am in excellent spirits.  It is difficult for you to realize the quantity of work or the strain that it is under the conditions here – not from any want of will in the matter, but just because you haven’t seen it – and add to this the lack of company and relaxation, and you will see it is little wonder that it has almost bust me up.  Sometimes I think I would like to vent sore ire on the FMC, in sending a young missionary to a place like Bamdah.  I don’t suppose they knew what conditions really were and I know if I had, I wouldn’t have looked at it for a moment.  The lack of company I might have foretold, but the hospital conditions and the quantity of work make scientific work absolutely and totally impossible, and there is not a moment to pause if anything interesting comes along.  This robs the work of most of its joy on the professional side.  One does not get a ‘kick’ out of it.  I shall be quite glad when the Bamdah phase is over, though I am sure I shall look back on it as one of the strangest experiences of my life: transported into the heart of the jungle straight from the ultra-social life of the University, posing as an eye-specialist with patients coming to me at the Medical College, Calcutta, and from Bombay, and seeing cases in quantity and variety that would be the envy of specialists at home.











Dempster and the Kitchins had a consultation, and left me free to do as I liked about a break – that is one beauty of the Santal field, I find myself – a newcomer – absolutely free to do as I like, but then the Santal stations have always been autonomous, for the old pioneer missionaries couldn’t work together!  So, yesterday, I left Bamdah for one glorious week, keeping my departure a close secret till 15 minutes before my departure.  This was necessary, if I were not to have the cringing millions from hospital invading the bungalow.  First stop, Kitchins at Tisri, for the weekend.  Miss Macphail, Dr Macphail’s sister from Kalimpong, is also here – though she does not attract me, being dark and brown-eyed like myself, she is about the most perfect example of a typically Scots girl I have seen.  The impression is probably greater in this benign womanless land!  Jean Macphail was born in the Indian jungle, bred in it, grandparents from the Island of Mull, perfectly built, dark, pretty – but in a ‘cute’ Scots way, a beautiful speaker in which the Highland clipped vowel occasionally lingers, and with the polish that travel gives.  She simply hits you on the eye as being Scots.


Tomorrow we motor together to the Dempsters at Pachamba, probably for more belated roast turkey, as here, as from there after two days, we again go off together another 70 miles by car to be the guests of a coalmine manager, Mr and Mrs Mackie, who have long had an interest in the Santal Mission.  They have been very anxious about me, and Dr Doctor, who was with me in Bamdah for ten days, is their guest and so my visit has come about.  Mackie’s salary runs to about £5,000 a year, and there is to be big house-party on Hogmanay, so I am going to make my first exodus into non-missionary European life in India in some style.  Miss Macphail and I are going to be so much together this week (I suspect Mrs Mackie of match-making!) that it is rather a pity she only attracts me in a detached way!









Bamdah recently has made me thoroughly rebellious and it is difficult to say what I shall be doing next year.  Next June I come here to Tisri for three months as the Kitchins are going home for a short furlough at their own expense.  I hope to get down to language study then – I at present speak Hindi ‘Bilingsgate’, so far I can ascertain – and sit a belated exam in September.  I am also angling for Udaipur, Rajputana, which is the most perfect city in India surely – a dream by moonlight – a city of marble palaces set on a lake completely encircled by mountains.  It is in a native state with all its pomp and the European population ensures tennis, golf, dancing, riding and such things that I shall want to do after a year in Bamdah!  The hospital is likely to be good as there is also a Government Hospital with which it works harmoniously.


If this fails through, I have an immediate alternative which to me is very fascinating, and on which I would like your opinion.  This is a trip round the world, which Dr Doctor guarantees he can wangle for me.  I never met such a pleasant companion as Doctor.  We had the whole universe torn to pieces and put up again during his ten day’s stay.  He is one of these people who rise to what we each called a ‘throw-up’ in conversation, some statement, outrageous or otherwise was made by one of us and the other was expected to comment on it, or at least tell him he is talking through his hat.  As a matter of fact, it is idle to deny that suddenly descending on me in the Indian jungle, replete as he admitted with a jumble of impressions from Europe from his fourth world tour, that he took quite a notion of me, and is coming back in January for a week with me before he sails for New Zealand.  The idea is that the Mackies, who have big shipping interests can arrange for a berth as ship’s doctor on a merchant vessel (not passenger ship) from Calcutta to New Zealand, and that I spend two months in New Zealand as Doctor’s guest in Wellington, with trips to the other island, and from there he himself can guarantee a similar berth to England via Panama.  There of course the enticing picture ends, for if I do so I shall have taken advantage of my right in making my appointment to India for two years only in the first instance, and I shall arrive home without a job and with only about £60-£70 in my pocket. 










I feel at present very strongly, however, the lack of preliminary experience surgically at home – I am literally hacking my way, here, as Dr Bruce of Alford suggested! – and would not be averse to a year or a couple of years at home before returning to India.  More than that, the awful danger of a missionary is that he become self-centered through isolation, cut off from the wider interests of life, and become different from ordinary people.  If I dig myself in now, I have practically no experience of a wider life or of human nature among my own race.  Dr Doctor is tremendously keen that I shouldn’t run this risk and suggests short spell as assistant in a working class practice in a Midlands English town, the rougher the better.  I should like this for the experience and also it would be most instructive to compare the mentality of patients there and here.  A doctor, like the minister, and to a lesser extent the teacher is a very privileged person in the opportunity he has for studying human nature, and there is nothing which seems to me such an interesting hobby.  I am at the moment seriously thinking of the world trip – if I don’t do it in the next few years I’m not likely to do it at all, and the insight into the life of officers at sea with whom I would be on equal footing would be an education in itself.  I shall be pleased to hear what you think of the idea: I don’t think I would have much difficulty in getting a job at home for a while.


Many thanks for the newspapers, your articles in which I have enjoyed immensely, also the High School Herald, which is a great idea.  I would like to see a few of the next copies to be issued, because of my old interest in school magazines.  These occasional papers are very welcome, but each mission station of course gets the Church Record, which I mention in case you go to the trouble of sending one again.


Am interested to hear of the German studies.  Are you contemplating a holiday in Germany?  I hope you have word of a principal teachership soon.










Things are looking very bad in India just now.  The recent murder of a young European Government official who only married last year, by two Bengal school-girls of good family followed by two attempts at derailing mail-trains (one successful) all in the one week give you an idea of things as they are.  The missionary certainly has the more carefree existence these days.  Many go out in literally hourly danger of their lives.  All their bungalows are guarded by a cordon of police day and night.  They play tennis with armed police surrounding the court, and on “club night” there is similarly an ambush of police.  How their women folks bear this strain is amazing.  Ordinances are being issues head over heels of each other and widespread arrests are being made as in the days of the Civil Disobedience movement.  The government, however, now backed by unanimous public opinion at home, and jealously watched by the now organized European community in India, is not likely to err on the lenient side.  An interesting side-light, no doubt with its purpose is large number of military displays recently held in Calcutta, while the picture page of the Statesman, the chief Calcutta daily, has been featuring pictures of same almost daily!


Well, that must do meantime.  You should get my letters from home occasionally instead of waiting till end of term, in case I am very irregular in writing you.


Yours affectionately