Going the wrong way: a missionary leaves the war behind

A Reading-sponsored missionary reports on the effects of the war on his journey back to what is now Pakistan, in a letter to members of the congregation at St John’s Church in Watlington Street. It was printed in the parish magazine, and gave Reading people a glimpse of the war from the colonies:

Church Missionary Society,
October 21st. 1914.
My dear Vicar,

Here I am at the Headquarters of the Punjab Mission, tho’ by no means at the end of my travels. At the last moment it was found impossible to run the Language School at Lucknow this year, which is rather a blow. However, Canon Wigram is trying to arrange that the three Punjab recruits shall work together for some months at language study. Probably we shall go to Multan in a fortnight’s time, and until then I am going up to the Batala by way of Amritsar.
I have so much to write about that it will be very difficult to be concise, but I will make an effort.

We had an excellent voyage and never once was it rough, though for two half days I was hors de combat owing to the ship pitching in a horrid swell. We saw signs of war the whole way. On the first night we very nearly ran down a British destroyer near Dover. At Gibraltar we saw the ‘Highflyer’ and the ‘Carmania,’ both covered with renown after their fights in the Atlantic. Off Malta we passed quite close to four troopships from India under the escort of three French cruisers: and at Port Said we saw no less than thirty-five troopships on their way to the Front. We passed them amid tremendous cheering, tho’ everywhere we were greeted with shouts of ‘You’re going the wrong way.’ At every port we touched at we saw captured German and Austrian merchant ships. On reaching Aden we heard that the German cruiser ‘Konigsberg’ had got through the Straits of Bab-el-Mandeb into the Red Sea and was coaling at Jeddah; if this is true we must have passed within a very few miles of her and we may be thankful that our voyage wasn’t terminated on the Arabian coast.

From Aden to Bombay we ran with very few lights on at night and these few were darkened by brown cardboard funnels, so we were more or less invisible after dark. The second night out from Aden all lights were suddenly switched out and the ship’s course was completely altered. We thought that the ‘Emden’ was on our track, and some of the ladies went so far as putting on lifebelts. The Captain had spotted a glare in the distance, which turned out to be only an Arab dhow fishing in an unusual part.

We were a party of seven C.M.S. Missionaries on board, and I fear usually the noisiest table at meal-time; however, I hope noise is a sign that we were enjoying ourselves.

I was quite sorry in many ways when the voyage came to an end and we dropped anchor in Bombay harbour at sunrise on October 16th. There were at least a dozen crowded troopships to greet us as we steamed up the bay; and the Tommies didn’t seem to mind standing in the full glare of the sun to watch us pass. …..

Yours affectionately,
Arnold I. Kay.

A second letter provides more details.

Mr Kay obviously found the Punjab very different from an England which had not yet experienced widespread immigration, but he reported that local people felt a real loyalty to the British Empire. Many soldiers from the Indian sub-continent were to join the war effort:

Baring High School,
Gurdaspur District,

My Dear Friends,

Nothing at all definite has been settled for me yet; and my actual station may not be decided upon for some months. At present I am at a delightful school for Christian boys, not to teach (tho’ I shall probably give occasional lessons when the Principal is away), but to learn Urdu and Punjabi. I feel very feeble not being able to talk to anyone and everyone; though fortunately most of the boys know a good deal of English.

This is a very strange land with very strange people and very strange ways. Even things that seem English are put to strange uses, e.g., shirts are worn outside an Indian’s trousers, the barber will carry on his trade squatting with his customer on the railway lines or by the roadside, trousers are worn by many women, etc., etc…

One other matter and then I must close, and that is the extraordinary loyalty of the people. Even the Mohammedans [sic] are declaring their first duty to be to King George rather than to the Sultan, should Turkey side with Germany. And it is an impressive sight to see the 600 boys at the A.L.O.E. School here bow their heads in prayer every mid-day for those at the front. Very few of these boys are Christians, so it is a case of Sikhs, Mohammedans, Hindus and Christians praying together in silence for the Empire of which they are proud and loyal subjects.

With every good wish for Christmas and to use a favourite Indian Christian salutation, ‘May God give you all great blessing.’

Yours very sincerely,
Arnold I. Kay

Reading St John parish magazine, December 1914 and January 1915 (D/P172/28A/23-24)

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