Rearing Children in Africa During Difficult Times
AS TOLD BY CARMEN MCLUCKIE
The year was 1941. World War II was raging. I was a 23-year-old mother from Australia, but here my five-month-old baby and I were in prison in Gwelo, Southern Rhodesia (now Gweru, Zimbabwe). My husband was in prison in Salisbury (now Harare). Our other children—aged two and three—were being cared for by my two teenage stepchildren. Let me explain how I came to be in this situation.
I LIVED with Mom and Dad at Port Kembla, about 30 miles [50 km] south of Sydney, Australia. In 1924, Clare Honisett called on Mother and aroused her interest in Bible teachings by asking her if she understood the meaning of the Lord’s Prayer. Clare explained what it meant to hallow God’s name, and then she told of how the Kingdom would bring about God’s will on earth. (Matthew 6:9, 10) Mom was amazed. Despite Father’s opposition, Mother began to delve deeper into such Bible truths.
Shortly afterward, we moved to a suburb of Sydney. From there Mother and I would walk about three miles [5 km] to reach the meetings of the Bible Students, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then called. Although Father never became a Witness, he permitted Bible studies to be held in our home. Two of his brothers—Max and Oscar Seidel—became Witnesses, and so did some members of Max’s family as well as my younger brother, Terry, and my younger sister, Mylda.
In 1930 the Watch Tower Society purchased a 52-foot [16 m] sailboat, which was later renamed Lightbearer. For two years this boat was anchored at the foot of our property on the Georges River. There it was repaired so that it could be used by Jehovah’s Witnesses in the preaching work on the islands of Indonesia. My sister Coral and I would sometimes clean the cabin and deck, and we would borrow the masthead lamp to go prawning.
To Africa, and Marriage
Australia was hit by a recession in the mid-1930’s, and Mother and I traveled to South Africa to see if it would be suitable for our family to settle there. We had a letter of introduction from the Australia branch office of Jehovah’s Witnesses to George Phillips, who then had oversight of the preaching work in southern Africa. George was at the docks in Cape Town to meet our ship. He had the Watch Tower Society’s book Riches tucked under his arm so that we would recognize him. That same day, on June 6, 1936, he introduced us to the five members of the branch staff, including one Robert A. McLuckie.* Within the year, Bertie—as we all called him—and I were married.
Bertie’s great-grandfather William McLuckie came to Africa in 1817 from Paisley, Scotland. In his early travels, William became acquainted with Robert Moffat, the man who developed the written form of the Tswana language and translated the Bible into that language.* In those early days, William and his partner Robert Schoon were the only white men trusted by Mzilikazi, a prominent warrior in the army of the famous Zulu chief Shaka. As a result, William and Robert were the only whites allowed into Mzilikazi’s kraal, where the city of Pretoria, South Africa, now stands. Later Mzilikazi became a statesman and in the mid-19th century welded many tribes into a centralized African kingdom.
When I met Bertie, he was a widower with a daughter, 12-year-old Lyall, and a son, 11-year-old Donovan. Bertie had first learned Bible truths in 1927, a few months after his wife Edna died. During the next nine years, he preached the good news of God’s Kingdom in the islands of Mauritius and Madagascar as well as throughout Nyasaland (now Malawi), Portuguese East Africa (now Mozambique), and South Africa.
A few months after Bertie and I were married, we moved with Lyall and Donovan to Johannesburg, where it was easier for Bertie to find work. For a time I served as a pioneer, as full-time ministers of Jehovah’s Witnesses are called. Then I became pregnant with Peter.
Our Move to Southern Rhodesia
Eventually, Bertie’s brother Jack invited us to join him in a gold-mining venture near Filabusi, in Southern Rhodesia. Bertie and I traveled there with Peter, then a year old, while my mother temporarily looked after Lyall and Donovan. When we arrived at the Mzingwani River, it was at flood stage, and we had to cross it in a box pulled on a cable that stretched from one bank of the river to the other. I was six months pregnant with Pauline and had to clutch Peter tightly to my bosom! It was scary, particularly when the cable nearly touched the water in the middle of the river. Besides, it was the middle of the night, and rain was pouring down! After crossing the river, we had to walk a mile or so [some two kilometer] to reach a relative’s house.
Later we rented an old termite-ridden ranch house. Our furniture was sparse—some of it we made from the boxes used for dynamite and fuses. Pauline was frequently ill with the croup, and we couldn’t afford medicine. I was heartbroken, but we were thankful that Pauline survived each time.
Bertie and I Both Imprisoned
Once a month we traveled to the city of Bulawayo, about 50 miles [80 km] away, to sell our gold at the bank. We also went to Gwanda, a small town nearer to Filabusi, to get food supplies and to share in the ministry. In 1940, the year after World War II began, our preaching work was banned in Southern Rhodesia.
Not long afterward, I was arrested while preaching in Gwanda. I was then pregnant with my third child, Estrella. While my appeal was being considered, Bertie was arrested for preaching and imprisoned in Salisbury, over 200 miles [300 km] from where we were living.
This was our situation at the time: Peter was in the hospital in Bulawayo with diphtheria, and it was doubtful whether he would survive. I had just given birth to Estrella, and a friend had taken me from the hospital to the prison to show Bertie his new daughter. Later, when my appeal was rejected, a wealthy Indian storekeeper kindly paid my bail. In time, three police officers came to the mine to take me into custody. They gave me a choice. I could either take my five-month-old baby to prison or leave her in the care of our teenagers, Lyall and Donovan. I decided to take her.
I was assigned to work at mending clothes and cleaning. Also, a nursemaid was provided to help care for Estrella. She was a young inmate named Matossi, who was serving a life sentence for murdering her husband. Matossi cried when I was released, for she could no longer care for Estrella. The prison wardress took me to her home for lunch and then put me on the train to visit Bertie in the Salisbury prison.
While Bertie and I were in prison, little Peter and Pauline were cared for by Lyall and Donovan. Although Donovan was only 16, he continued our mining operations. When Bertie was released from prison, we decided to move to Bulawayo, as the mine was not doing well. Bertie got a job on the railways, and I supplemented our income by employing my newly acquired skills as a seamstress.
Bertie’s work as a riveter on the railways was considered essential, so he was exempted from military service. During those war years, the dozen or so white Witnesses in Bulawayo met for meetings in our tiny one-bedroom house, and a few of our black brothers and sisters met elsewhere in the city. But now, over 46 congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses composed of both blacks and whites are found in Bulawayo!
Our Postwar Ministry
Following the war Bertie asked the railways for a transfer to Umtali (now Mutare), a beautiful town on the border of Mozambique. We wanted to serve where the need for Kingdom preachers was greater, and Umtali seemed a perfect place, since the city had no Witnesses. During our short stay, the Holtshauzen family, which included five sons, became Witnesses. Now there are 13 congregations in the city!
In 1947 our family discussed the possibility of Bertie returning to the pioneer work. Lyall, who had returned from pioneering in South Africa, was supportive of this idea. Donovan was at the time pioneering in South Africa. Well, when the Cape Town branch office learned of Bertie’s desire to pioneer again, they asked him instead to open a literature depot in Bulawayo. So he resigned from the railways, and we moved back there. Soon afterward, the first missionaries to Southern Rhodesia arrived in Bulawayo, including Eric Cooke, George and Ruby Bradley, Phyllis Kite, and Myrtle Taylor.
In 1948, Nathan H. Knorr, the Watch Tower Society’s third president, along with his secretary, Milton G. Henschel, visited Bulawayo and arranged for the depot to become a branch, with Brother Cooke as the overseer. The next year, our daughter Lindsay was born. Then, in 1950, the branch was moved to Salisbury, the capital of Southern Rhodesia, and we moved there too. We bought a large house in which we lived for many years. We always had pioneers and visitors staying with us, so our place became known as the McLuckie hotel!
In 1953, Bertie and I attended the international convention of Jehovah’s Witnesses in New York City’s Yankee Stadium. What a memorable event that was! Five years later, Lyall, Estrella, Lindsay, and 16-month-old Jeremy were with us for all eight days of the huge 1958 international convention in Yankee Stadium and the nearby Polo Grounds. A record number of more than a quarter of a million attended the public talk on the final day!
A New Preaching Assignment
Bertie served for about 14 years as a commuter worker at the branch office in Salisbury, but then we decided to serve where the need was greater in the Seychelles. We sold our home and furniture and packed the remainder of our belongings in our Opel station wagon. With Lindsay, 12, and Jeremy, 5, we traveled about 1,800 miles [3,000 km] on extremely rough dirt roads through Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Tanganyika (now part of Tanzania), and Kenya, finally arriving at the port city of Mombasa.
Mombasa was unbearably hot, but it did have beautiful beaches. We left our car with a local Witness and embarked on the three-day boat trip to the Seychelles. When we arrived, we were met by Norman Gardner, a man who had received a basic knowledge of Bible truth from a Witness in Dar es Salaam, Tanganyika. He arranged for us to rent the house on Sans Souci Pass that had been built for the police who guarded Greek Orthodox Archbishop Makarios, who had been exiled from Cyprus in 1956.
Since our house was so isolated, after a month we moved to a house on the beachfront at Beau Vallon. There we invited people to talks that Bertie gave on our veranda. We began a Bible study with the Bindschedlers, and a couple of months later, Bertie baptized them and their adopted daughter as well as Norman Gardner and his wife. We also traveled with Norman in his boat to Cerf Island, where Bertie gave Bible talks in a boathouse.
When we had been in the Seychelles for about four months, the chief of police told us that we must stop preaching or we would be deported. Our finances were low, and I was pregnant again. We decided to continue our public preaching. After all, we knew that we would be leaving soon anyway. Well, when the next boat arrived from India about a month later, we were deported.
A Hazardous Return
On arriving in Mombasa, we collected our car and headed south along the sandy coastal road. When we reached Tanga, our car engine seized up. Our finances were almost depleted, but a relative and another Witness helped us out. While we were in Mombasa, a brother offered to finance us if we would go north to Somalia to preach. However, I was not feeling well, so we just wanted to get back home to Southern Rhodesia.
We crossed from Tanganyika into Nyasaland and traveled down the west side of Lake Nyasa, now called Lake Malawi. I became so sick that I asked Bertie to drop me off at the side of the road to die! We were near the city of Lilongwe, so he took me to the hospital there. Morphine injections provided some relief. Since I was unable to continue the trip by car, Bertie and the children drove on about 250 miles [400 km] to Blantyre. A relative arranged for me to fly there a few days later to join them. From Blantyre I flew back to Salisbury, and Bertie and the children made the rest of the trip home by car.
How relieved we all were to arrive in Salisbury at the home of our daughter Pauline and her husband! In 1963 our last child, Andrew, was born. He had a collapsed lung and was not expected to live, but fortunately he did. Eventually, we moved to South Africa and finally made our home in Pietermaritzburg.
Blessed With a Loving Family
Bertie passed away peacefully at 94 years of age in 1995, and since then I have lived by myself in our home here. But I am by no means alone! Lyall and Pauline are serving Jehovah along with their families here in South Africa, and some of them live right here in Pietermaritzburg. Lindsay and her family are in California, U.S.A., where they are all active Witnesses. Our two youngest children, Jeremy and Andrew, moved to Australia, where both are happily married and serve as elders in their respective congregations.
All eight of our children have at one time or another shared in the pioneer ministry, and six have served at branch offices of the Watch Tower Society. Donovan graduated from the 16th class of the Watchtower Bible School of Gilead in February 1951 and served as a traveling overseer in the United States before returning to work at the branch office in South Africa. He is now a Christian elder in Klerksdorp, about 420 miles [700 km] from Pietermaritzburg. Estrella lives with her husband, Jack Jones, at the world headquarters of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Brooklyn, New York.
Peter, my firstborn, spent some years in the full-time ministry, both in the pioneer work and at the Watch Tower branch office in Rhodesia. Some years ago, however, I was saddened when he left the association of the Christian congregation.
Looking back on my life, I can say that I am truly happy that as a teenager I went to Africa with my mother. True, life has not always been easy, but it was my privilege to act as a support to my husband and to rear a family who have helped to spearhead the preaching of the good news of God’s Kingdom in southern Africa.—Matthew 24:14.
The first-person story of Robert McLuckie appears in The Watchtower of February 1, 1990, pages 26-31.
See page 11 of the brochure A Book for All People, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
[Map on page 22, 23]
(For fully formatted text, see publication)
Dar es Salaam
[Picture on page 20]
With Peter, Pauline, and Estrella, before taking Estrella to prison with me
[Picture on page 21]
Lyall and Donovan in front of our ranch house near Filabusi
[Picture on page 23]
Bertie, Lyall, Pauline, Peter, Donovan, and me in 1940
[Pictures on page 24]
Carmen and five of her children (clockwise from left): Donovan, when in Gilead in 1951, and Jeremy, Lindsay, Estrella, and Andrew today