Norman Macrae – Mission Unfinished
A century of family life and mission work from Scotland to the Far East to Africa and back
Welcome to the website for Rev. Norman Macrae’s book Mission Unfinished
Mission Unfinished was published on March 6th 2010 in London. You can download the book Mission Unfinished and also listen to Norman reading the book.
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Tags: church, church of scotland, korea, minister, mission, missionary, nigeria, norman macrae, rev. norman macrae, scotland, scottish
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This is written in response to the urgings of a considerable number of people, who think that some of the memories, as well as the records of a gratefully varied life should be committed to paper, or whatever other means there may be of preserving and sharing knowledge.
The stories of a much wider family connection are already available in other works, but this may be of more special interest to the descendants of John Farquhar Macrae and his first wife, Bertha Christian Livingstone Learmonth, and particularly those of their son, Frederick John Learmonth Macrae, of whom, at the present count, are 33. I hope they will link it up and fit it in with their own memories, records, letters or whatever.
We are living in times of much more rapid social change than any other period in history and points where family memories impinge on world events are worth noting. For the present, this mix of family traditions and personal memories is offered to keep the story going and in gratitude for being part of the ongoing tale that is told.
Norman C. Macrae
The Story Begins and The Disruption
You can also hear
Part 2 John Farquhar and the Livingstone Learmonths
Part 3 Australia, Korea and Fred and Margaret (part 1)
Part 4 Fred and Margaret (part 2), Masan and The Next Furlough
Part 5 School Chefoo and Summer Holidays
Part 6 Our Return to Britain, Sedburgh and Edinburgh and Korea (part 1)
Part 7 Edinburgh and Korea (part 2)
Part 8 Farquhar’s Story, Back to the War, Licensing Ordination and Appointment and Origins of the Calabar Mission
Part 9 Nigeria and Marriage (part 1)
Part 10 Marriage (part 2) and Occasional Breaks
Part 11 Inter-Church Movements, Settling Back in Britain and Parish Life (part 1)
Part 12 Parish Life (part 2), Retirement? and Back to Nigeria (part 1)
Part 13 Back to Nigeria (part 2), Other Travels and The Family in 2008
Norman C. Macrae
A century of family life and mission
work – from Scotland
to the Far East to Africa ...and back. some extracts: go to page 8 below if you want to start at Korea in the year of 1910
The Story Begins...
The original homeland of the Macraes is in the North West Highlands of Scotland
in the area of Kintail, Wester Ross, more or less opposite the Isle of Skye. There at
the end of the eighteenth century a certain Donald Macrae (1741-1821) was the
tacksman (a Scots word meaning a chief tenant farmer) of Achintee on the shores
of Lochcarron. He was part of the 12th generation descended from Fionnla Dubh
MacGillechriosd (Black Finlay, son of Christopher) who is recognized as the
founder of the Clan Macrae of Kintail in the 15th century. Donald was also for
some thirty years a ruling elder in the Parish of Lochcarron.
Life was hard but conditions, unlike in earlier periods of clan history, were
generally peaceable; the people were devout and industrious and proud of their clan
traditions. The Macraes had been constables of the Castle of Eilean Donan on an
islet of Loch Duich a few miles away for several hundred years on behalf of the
much larger and more powerful Clan Mackenzie. The castle was destroyed in the
little Jacobite rising of 1719 and was not restored until between 1912 and 1932.
One of the sons of Donald Macrae was Donald (1801-1868) who had a vocation to
the ministry of the Church of Scotland and was in 1830 ordained and inducted to
the Parish of Poolewe some thirty miles to the North. But he had first of course to
graduate from the University of Aberdeen and go through its Theological College.
Travel for students from Achintee to Aberdeen was on foot (a distance of over 150
miles) and according to tradition students would return home for the long vacation
and at one other time each year for the Meal Monday Holiday, when they would
replenish their bags with oatmeal which was their staple diet. The Meal Monday
Holiday continued to be observed in the four older Scottish universities long after
its original purpose ceased to be necessary.
Eilean Donan Castle.
Restored between 1912 and 1932.
Painting by Rory Macrae.
Eilean Donan Castle.
At that time the building and maintenance of churches was
the responsibility of the heritors, or established landowners,
of each parish. Poolewe Church, which still stands and is in
regular use, was one of a number in the Highlands designed
and built for the heritors by the well known road and bridge
engineer and architect Thomas Telford.
While at Poolewe Donald courted the daughter of the
neighbouring manse, one Jessie, whose father James Russell
had been the minister of Gairloch since 1801. The Rev.
James (1761-1844) had been born in the Parish of Alves
near Elgin in Morayshire where his family had lived since
before 1600 and been factors to the Earls of Moray and
tacksmen of Mostowie. It is remembered of him that,
presumably unlike his future son-in-law, he was never a
good Gaelic speaker. Gravestones going back to 1691 in
the old churchyard of Alves still mark the Russell graves.
Donald’s courting must have involved riding on horseback over the hills for some ten
miles to Gairloch. In due course he and Jessie were married and had five sons and
three daughters. Two of the sons became ministers themselves and two of the
daughters married ministers. Two other sons (one of them a doctor who after
qualifying in Edinburgh had served as a ship’s surgeon for a few years) emigrated to
Iowa, U.S.A., and settled there, where some descendants still live.
Gairloch Manse in 1868
The first few years of Donald and Jessie’s married life coincided with one of the
most dramatic and important periods in The Church of Scotland’s history, (indeed
arguably, in Scotland’s history). And Donald and Jessie were to find themselves at
the heart of these events.
It was to become known as the Disruption and centred on whether the heritors - or
landowners - should have the right to choose or nominate ministers to parishes
without consulting the congregations involved. Underlying this was a theological
and democratic debate about whether the Church and its ministers should be
answerable to God and their congregations, or to the temporal authority of the
This debate reached its climax with the Disruption in May 1843. Believing that
their duty lay to God and their congregations rather than the wealth and authority
of the heritors, over a third of the ministers and perhaps half the lay members of the
Church - in protest against what they saw as State efforts to undermine the
Church’s spiritual independence and integrity - resigned their charges, left their
manses and, in many cases followed by their congregations, moved to form the
Free Church of Scotland.
This was an impressive and brave act involving considerable hardship for many
ministers, their families and indeed their congregations. Many of them were forced
to hold their services in the open air - on occasion even on the foreshore between
the high and low watermark, as this land did not belong to the landowners.
Meanwhile many of the ministers had to rely directly on the generosity of their
parishioners for accommodation and food.
Donald Macrae was a commissioner to
the General Assembly of the Church in
Edinburgh that year and the family
tradition is that his wife Jessie,
watching from the gallery of St
Andrew’s Church in George Street,
shook her umbrella at her husband on
the floor of the church to make sure that
he signed the Deed of Demission - the
document signed by the ministers and
lay delegates to the Assembly who
supported the Disruption. (A facsimile
copy of the 12 foot long Deed of
Demission with Donald’s signature “D.
M’Rae, Poolewe” hung until recently in
the reception area of the modern
Standard Life building on the site of the
original Tanfield Hall.)
My Great Grandfather,
Reverend Donald Macrae.
As the ministers and elders withdrew from St Andrew’s
and began the walk down the hill to the Tanfield Hall at
Canonmills where the inaugural Assembly of the Free
Church was constituted, the crowds in the street
applauded and sang psalms in encouragement.
An insight into the division and trauma created by the
Disruption is that Jessie’s father, the Rev. James, who
was 83 that year, did not come out.
So Donald Macrae and his family had to leave the
Parish of Poolewe. For a time he ministered at Tarbert,
Loch Fyne, and he finally was inducted to the Free
Church at Kilmory in the South of the Island of Arran in
the Clyde. Here in this beautiful and peaceful setting
his family grew up and here he died and was buried in
1868. His wife Jessie lived on for another fifteen years, and was able to sail to
America in1881 to visit the members of her family there.
It was thus the Disruption which first led to our branch of the Clan Macrae leaving
their ancestral homelands around the Parish of Poolewe - moving initially to other
parts of Scotland and Britain and beyond, to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa,
the U.S.A and other parts of the world.
Mrs Jessie Macrae
Kilmory Church and Manse, Arran.
John Farquhar and
John Farquhar (1852-1914), the sixth child and
fourth son of the Rev. Donald and Jessie, was only
sixteen when his father died. He had already
enrolled at Trinity College, Glasgow, in preparation
for his training as a minister, but on Donald’s death
the family moved to Edinburgh and John Farquhar
transferred to New College, established by the Free
Church within three years of the Disruption and now
the School of Divinity in the University of
Edinburgh. He also spent part of his time at the
University of Erlangen in Germany. As a
probationer John Farquhar served his assistantship at
St John’s Church in Cupar, Fife, and he was
ordained and inducted in 1877 into the charge of
what was then called Cockpen Free Church and is
now Bonnyrigg Parish Church. His photograph still hangs in the vestry there.
The Manse he lived in was a beautiful house in the Broomieknowe, Bonnyrigg,
which ceased to be a manse after a fire in the early years of the twentieth century,
but which has since been rebuilt and is now called Pitcairn House after the first
minister of the church. When John Farquhar moved into the manse, his mother
came with him as his housekeeper.
The story is told in the family
of how he first noticed the girl
he was to marry when he saw
her alighting from a carriage
when she was a guest at
nearby Melville Castle, and he
was then delighted to see her
in his congregation on the
Sunday. He found out that her
name was Bertha Christian
Livingstone Learmonth, and
that her father Thomas lived in
a mansion called Parkhall in
The Livingstone Learmonths are an interesting family. They claim as one of their
ancestors the earliest known Scottish poet, Thomas Learmonth or Thomas of
Ercildoune, also known as Thomas the Rhymer and True Thomas. He lived from
about 1225 to 1295 and a great epic poem of his survives, one of the earliest
Rev. John Farquhar
Macrae in 1885
tellings in the vernacular of the ancient romance of Tristram.
But legend and history have become so entangled in his
life that it is hard to distinguish fact from fable. For
example, the story of his disappearance for seven years
which he claimed to have spent with the Queen of
Elphame or Fairyland so that on his return he was
recognized as a seer (cf the Brahan Seer in the
Highlands) and found himself unable to speak anything
but the truth. The ruins of the Rhymer’s Tower are still
to be seen in the village of Earlston, originally
Ercildoune, about four miles North of Melrose.
Bertha’s father, Thomas Livingstone Learmonth (1818-
1905) was born in Calcutta, India (where his father was
a merchant), and then moved to Tasmania, Australia, in
1835. There, Thomas and his younger brother Somerville became noted breeders of
Merino sheep. Near Ballarat in Victoria they began to build a Scottish baronial style
home to which they gave the name Ercildoune. In 1856 Thomas married Louisa
Valiant and in 1863 in Ercildoune Bertha was born. The house still stands today with
the date 1838 carved on a stone above the main entrance, but this must have been the
date of its beginning for it was not completed until 1859. Many years later, after
Thomas’s return to Parkhall, Polmont, in Scotland, which he had inherited, he told his
grandson (my father) Fred Macrae, the story of how part of the River Yarra in Victoria
came to be lined with weeping willows.
At some point he and his brother had arranged to take a shipload of short-horned cattle
from Britain to Australia. The passage had taken about six months and included a stop
at St Helena. While there the brothers had visited the tomb of Napoleon who had died
there in 1821. He described how they took cuttings from weeping-willow trees planted
round the grave site and took them to Australia and that from these cuttings trees were
planted along the banks of the River Yarra. (Cuttings from the same trees were
eventually also taken to Korea and planted round our house in Masan.)
Bertha was not yet 20 when she married the Rev. John Farquhar and moved into the
manse, and there, less than a year later, the first of her five children was born. This
was my father Frederick John Learmonth (1884-1973),
but he was only a few months old when his father
received a call to Martyrs’ Church, St Andrews. So the
family moved to Fife which became their home for the
next seven years, and the next three children were born
there. These were Norman (1885-1917), Ethel (1886-
1944) and Muriel (1889-1971). Fred and his brother
Norman had their first schooling in Fife. St Andrews,
however, was not to be the family’s permanent home.
Basil Livingstone Learmonth (1867-1951) was the
younger brother of Bertha. He trained as a
My Great Grandfather
doctor in Edinburgh University with the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society and
went out to China in the early 1890s. This was only a few years before the Boxer
Rising was beginning to threaten Westerners and their way of life in China. It was an
extreme nationalist movement against foreign influence in trade, politics, religion
and technology, and it led to the destruction of much western owned property and the
killing of several hundred foreign diplomats and missionaries as well as Chinese
Christians. At this time Basil was given a temporary commission as a medical officer
in the British Army in China. Later he married Dr Agnes Hamilton who had a
distinguished record of service as a medical officer in Constantinople during the First
World War, and he himself served in the army with Chinese troops in Europe. In
time he became a professor in Yengching Medical School, part of Peking University.
I remember Uncle Basil and his wife coming to spend a summer holiday with us in
Korea On his final retirement about 1937 after the death of his wife, he returned to
Edinburgh and later married Mrs Mary Morton. They lived for a time in Plockton,
Wester Ross, but he died in Edinburgh in 1951 and is buried in the Livingstone
Learmonth lair in Warriston Cemetery.
In 1891 John Farquhar received a call to be minister of Toorak Presbyterian
Church in Melbourne, and the family duly sailed there in the second half of that
year. For Bertha this was of course a return to the land of her birth, and John was
encouraged and welcomed by one of his nephews, the Rev. Donald Macrae Stewart
who had already been some years in Melbourne. (Donald Macrae Stewart’s
mother, Mary (1836-1917) was John Farquhar’s older sister and was married to the
Reverend John Stewart who was minister in Pitlochry until his death in 1882.)
About five years after their arrival Bertha had her fifth baby, but tragically this led
to her own death at the age of not yet 33 on 19th June 1896, and the baby also
named Bertha lived only until 1902. A beautiful account of Bertha’s life and
service in the manses and congregations of Cockpen, St Andrews and Toorak is
given by Donald Macrae Stewart in the Toorak Parish Record.
John Farquhar married Jean Calvert (1880 -1954) in 1903, and the family of this
marriage was: Ian (1905-2001), Finlay (1908-2002), Joan (1910-1968) Stanley
(known as Bill) (1912-1940) and Donald (1913-1988). Their part in war and in the
church life of Australia in the 20th Century is effectively told in Ian Macrae’s
In 1900 Fred and Norman came back to Britain and were at school in Sedbergh,
Yorkshire, and later for a time at Morrison’s Academy, Crieff, and they were able
to stay during the holidays at Parkhall with their grandfather, who died in 1905.
Then for Fred it was back to Australia for an arts degree in Melbourne University
before coming back for his theological course at Trinity College, Glasgow. In
1910 he was a steward at the great Edinburgh Missionary Conference which was
the first real ecumenical gathering of the Protestant Churches and celebrated more
than a century of the modern missionary movement, and it must have been a very
inspiring experience for him.
Dr Basil Livingstone
Learmonth on his
retirement at Yengching
Immediately after it Fred went back to Australia and within a few months was
ordained and commissioned as a missionary of the Victoria Presbyterian Church to
Korea. Korea had for many centuries been a “hermit nation” and had only opened its
frontiers to foreign trade and to missionaries in 1884 (the year of Fred’s birth).
Fred reached Korea in late 1910, landing in Pusan and passing by train to Masan, he
continued on horseback to Chinju to begin language study and then on to his first
station at Kuchang. At this time of course no one in Korea spoke a word of English.
For Korea as a whole the significance of 1910 was that it was the year of Japan’s
annexation of the country, an occupation that was to last for 35 years until the defeat
of Japan in the Second World War. At Kuchang Fred
found himself in charge of a number of schools and
churches which he had to visit on foot or on horseback
or later by bicycle.
His father John Farquhar had obviously wanted to visit
Korea for some years, and he was finally able to sail
with his wife in 1914. But he was taken seriously ill at
sea and had to be put ashore at Shanghai. Fred travelled
urgently to see him and was able to spend some time
with him before he had to return to Korea. He intended
to come back as soon as possible, but sadly John
Farquhar died on 27 April 1914, aged 62, before father
and son could meet again. His body was taken back to
Melbourne and buried in Toorak.
Kuchang Mission House,
c.1913, Fred’s first
station in Korea
Fred J.L. Macrae
During the war his daughter, my aunt Muriel, went to do war work in England and
while in London in 1919, she married Thomas Gilkison, an engineer from
Invercargill, New Zealand. After the war they returned to New Zealand where
their two children were born and settled. They were Norman Farquhar (1919-
2004), who became a minister, and Myra (1922-2005) who married Dr Ritchie
Gilmour. He died in 2009.
Fred and Margaret
Missionaries at that time could only expect a home furlough once every seven
years but could have local holidays every year, and some of them took their
holidays in Japan at a favourite mountain resort called Karuizawa. Here in 1912
Fred met an English family and in due course became engaged to my mother,
Nancy Margaret Hall (1886-1948) who was two years younger than he was. They
both loved the mountains and rock-climbing and did a lot together, and they were
married in the little English Church (Anglican) in Tokyo on the 9th January 1915.
The Hall family were not missionaries. They had gone out from England to Japan
about 1892 when the father William Silver Hall (1844-1906), who was a well
qualified engineer was appointed to a responsible post in connection with the
development of railways in the country. The family at that time consisted of
William Silver Hall, his second wife Anna Maria, nee Cooke, (1859-1938), two
children by his first marriage Lucy Silver (1878-1945) and Oliver (1882-1912), and
the children of the second marriage, Nancy Margaret (1886-1948), Alan (1887-
1918) and Kathleen (1891-1979).
My parents Fred J.L. Macrae
and N. Margaret Macrae
climbing in the Japanese Alps,
William Silver Hall.
There was a fairly large British community in Tokyo at that time and they had their
own church and an active Masonic Lodge of which William became a Worshipful
Brother. There were clubs, polo and hockey teams, tennis parties and an annual sailing
My mother Margaret was eventually sent home to England to a boarding school,
Bedford High School. Her father, William died in Karuizawa on 26 July 1906 aged
62, but his wife stayed on in Japan until 1924. When Margaret came back after her
schooling, she became involved in teaching English to members of the Imperial
family, and she became a very fluent Japanese speaker herself, which was a useful
skill in Korea later but did not help her when she had to learn Korean, which is an
entirely different language.
In the year of their marriage Fred and Margaret were transferred to Masan, which is in
Kyungsang Nam Do (South Kyungsang Province) on the South coast, some 50 miles
West of Pusan and 40 miles East of Chinju. Masan was to become their permanent
home for the next twenty-five years, and where all their four children were born. John
Oliver Farquhar (1915-1982) came first on 9th October 1915. I was born on 29th
March 1918, a Good Friday, and christened Norman Christopher.
Their first home furlough, due in 1917, was postponed because of the war, and finally
took place in 1918 when the family
returned to Melbourne. They were
obviously very ready for it. Within
the previous year both Fred and
Margaret had lost brothers in action.
Fred’s brother Norman, a Major in
the 4th Australian Pioneer Battn of
the Royal Engineers, had been killed
in action in France on 2nd October
1917. (His name appears on the
War Memorial Cloisters of
Sedbergh School, and on the Clan
Macrae Memorial at Eilean Donan
Castle.) Alan Hall, Margaret’s
brother, of the Northumberland
Fusiliers, was killed, also in France,
on 30th May 1918. We were still in
Melbourne when the Armistice was
signed on 11th November 1918,
and among my brother Farquhar’s
earliest memories were the
celebrations of the crowds in the
streets as they “bounced the trams”. The next year it was back to Masan, the usual sea
route by Sydney, Brisbane, Sandakan in North Borneo, Manilla in the Philipines,
Hong Kong and Kobe.
Around this time, 1919, which was also incidentally the year of the world influenza
pandemic, there took place the only serious uprising of Korean nationalists against the
occupation of their country.
Masan House 1930.
With N. Margaret
My Grandmother Anna
Maria Hall. Tokyo,
December 1920. With
Fred and Margaret, Farquhar,
Norman and Margaret.
Although the years of the Japanese occupation were never a happy period for the
Korean people - who were proud of their ancient traditions and deeply resented the
occupation - as far as we children were concerned Korea was always a completely
peaceful, safe and beautiful place. It is from this period - and this place - that my
very first memories date.
Masan is a beautiful area and the Mission House on a hill overlooking the town had
a wonderful view of its landlocked bay with ‘Pig Island’ lying about a mile off
shore. Mountains surround the bay, one rising right out of the town to 2000 feet
which we went up from time to time pausing at a Buddhist temple which had a
huge and magnificent gingko tree. We always called it the fan tree.
There were three mission houses on the station, brick built and tile-roofed, and ours
was two storeys high with about four rooms upstairs and three rooms and the
bathroom and kitchen downstairs. Verandahs on both floors were after a time
effectively glassed in and provided further accommodation. The rooms all had
open coal fires, though the bedroom ones were only lit on Christmas Day or other
very special occasions. We had mains electric lighting from about the mid
nineteen twenties, but we certainly never had electric kettles or refrigerators.
Cow’s milk was not available in
Korea, but we always kept our
own goats and as children we
learned to milk them. So we
were brought up entirely on
My sister Margaret Fionnla was
born on 26th June 1920, and then
nearly four and a half years later,
Kathleen Barbara Learmonth on
The War Memorial Cloisters,
Sedbergh School. (Uncle)
Norman Macrae’s name
24th November 1924. There were no other children on the mission station, but we all
spoke Korean almost as soon and as freely as we spoke English. There often seemed
to be visitors staying or passing through, and our Visitors’ Book which has still been
preserved is a remarkable record of relatives, colleagues, friends and strangers of
Granny Hall, who was still living in Japan though her husband had died 18 years
previously, was among those who visited occasionally until she returned to England in
1924. We were on holiday with her in Karuizawa in 1923, and I remember being
there and having to rush out of the house several times in the day as we felt the
tremors of the great earthquake which destroyed so much of Tokyo on 1st September
that year and led to over 100,000 deaths. My father later travelled to Tokyo to see if
he could give support to the Korean community in Tokyo.
My earliest memories of Masan are of long summer days or snowy winter ones, of
walks on the hills (one of them became known as Granny’s Mountain because she had
managed it once), or picnics on the beach, of learning to swim in the sea, going out
with Father in the side-car of his Harley-Davidson bike before we had a car, of being
woken at dawn on Christmas Day by carol singers from the church, of worship in the
church before I knew what worship was or had learned to read enough Korean hangul
script to be able to join in singing the hymns I remember kite festivals and colourful
New Year celebrations.
From time to time our father would be away for days at a time on “itinerating” tours to
visit the outstation churches and schools for which he was responsible, and on his
return he would sometimes bring us strange little wooden animals which he had
carved with a penknife. Years later I remember going out with him on a few of these
trips to some village where I would spend the evening with a book while he did his
work in listening, teaching, examining, praying. On at least one occasion we went by
boat, sailed or paddled, to a far out village round a distant headland in the bay.
Farquhar, Norman and
Margaret on Harley
Davidson bike, with pet
dog and owl.
The Next Furlough
In 1925 when our next furlough was due we went again to Australia where our
father was due to do some “deputation work” in the first part of his leave. We got
to know the Macraes there again. They were of course by then very well
established in the life of Melbourne. Donald, my father’s youngest half brother,
then aged 12 and only two years older than Farquhar, demonstrated his homemade
wireless set using wet batteries, so that we could listen to the news. Broadcasting
was then in its very early days. Farquhar and I had our first term at a little school in
Melbourne called Glamorgan, and in November we all sailed for Britain in a ship
called the Esperance Bay.
Granny Hall had by this time settled in Bexhill-on-Sea on the Sussex coast where
three of her very elderly sisters lived, and Bexhill then became our base during that
furlough and later when we came back to school in England. Farquhar and I had
our first experience of English education at a prep school called The Beacon. At
this time we were also getting to know our cousins of the Bryan and Marsden
families, their mothers being the sisters of our mother and therefore also having
Japanese backgrounds. The Bryans were living then in South Norwood, South
London, and the Marsdens in Tonbridge, Kent.
Around Easter 1926, when I was eight, we had our first and long promised visit to
Scotland, reaching Aberdeen where we stayed with Father’s cousin Margaret
Thomson, wife of the Professor of Biology, later Sir Arthur Thomson. Although
my mother had never been to Scotland, we had always been encouraged to think of
it as “where we belonged”. I remember that we were there during the annual
Students’ Charity Week which was such a feature of Scottish university life. Our
return to Bexhill was hastened by a few days as we had to make it before the trains
stopped running because of the General Strike which was about to begin.
A couple of months later we were on our way back to Korea. On the way we spent
a few days at Dunkirk where a cousin of my father’s, Russell Macrae, was the
British consul, and from where we were taken to see some of the Great War
trenches not far away. From Dunkirk to Korea was I believe about fifteen days.
I remember passing through Cologne, Berlin, the “Polish Corridor” to the sea,
Riga, and having a day in Moscow before the long, about seven day, journey across
Siberia on the Trans-Siberian Railway.
All this must have involved careful planning, some anxiety and much prayer for the
parents. There were four of us children aged between twenty months and eleven
years. We were going out for seven years, and baby Kathleen’s health was giving
cause for concern. We took with us as much food as we could for the journey,
because we were self-catering and did not use the dining car. But we children
remembered it as a perfectly normal and uneventful journey, punctuated by the
infrequent long stops of the train when everyone piled out to try to buy bread and
vegetables, and to fill our kettles with hot water for tea from the big samovars, or
boilers, in the stations.
After days of running across flat forested country and through places with names like
Omsk and Tomsk, it was a pleasant change to be skirting the shores of Lake Baikal,
and a little later we crossed at Manchuli into Manchuria There we had a brief stop
with friends in Mukden (now Shenyang), and then we were back in Korea.
School Chefoo and
Very shortly after this Farquhar was taken for his first term of boarding school at
Chefoo, across the Yellow Sea in
China. Meanwhile Margaret and I
started having our lessons with
our mother. She received each
term the sound and imaginative
material of the Parents National
Educational Union, which
included syllabus, text books,
suggestions for art and exercises,
and then exam questions which
we answered and sent back to
England for helpful reports at the
end of the session. We tried to
keep fairly normal school hours
and term times. Farquhar would
come back from Chefoo for Christmas, Easter and Summer holidays, and life went on
in an easy and ordered way. Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopaedia was in constant
use and we kept in touch with world events through The Children’s Newspaper which
arrived fairly regularly every week. The A.A.Milne books were all sent to us as they
The summer holidays we spent each year in the wonderful area which we knew as the
Diamond Mountains. Keum Gang San is in what is now North Korea, and so, though
they know all about it, most South Koreans of today have sadly never seen it. It is a
fairly extensive, remote region of spectacular scenery with steep craggy mountains
and deep rocky valleys with cool, rushing rivers where we swam in deep pools.
The area was dotted with large Buddhist temples and monasteries and some almost
inaccessible little ones, not much more than cells, perched high up on a cliff face. It
was the only part of the country where we were always able to drink freely from
mountain springs. The highest part was over 6000 feet and usually involved an
overnight camp, and the whole area was steeped in legend and ancient culture, and we
who were children there still think of it as the perfect holiday country.
On the 25th July 1927 our sister Kathleen died after a long illness. She was not yet
three years old. It was our first experience as children of a death in the family and it
was a very painful time for us, perhaps especially for Margaret. During Kathleen’s
last illness, while Farquhar was in Chefoo, the rest of us travelled with her to the
A page from the family
Visitors Book, with a
painting of the holiday
lodge in the
mission hospital 40 miles away in Chinju. I remember Margaret and I were
together waiting in the garden of the guesthouse when my parents came from the
hospital to tell us she
had died. We were
taken to see her in
the doctor’s house,
and she was buried at
Chinju the next day.
Two years later I
joined Farquhar at
Chefoo. On this first
occasion our mother
went with us, but
normally my brother
and I would do the
every term. Chefoo,
now called Yentai, is
on the coast of
Shantung Province in
North China, and the
journey from Masan
usually took about
36 – 40 hours. We
would leave on an
evening train and
change two hours
later on to the
express train for
Seoul. On this we would have sleepers, fairly basic but adequate.
Arriving in the capital next morning, we would have breakfast in the station buffet,
before catching a train for the port Chemulpo at the mouth of the Han River. This
is now called Inchon. It is where the Russo-Japanese war of 1904 began and it was
also very important for the U.N. landings during the Korea war of the 1950s.
Inchon is famous for its tide which has a rise and fall of about forty feet and is one
of the highest in the world, and it consequently needs an artificial harbour with
From there we went by
steamer, either a Japanese
or a Chinese one, for about
24 hours across the Yellow
Sea to Wei Hai Wei which
had at one time been a
British Protectorate Treaty
Port and was now the
summer base of part of the
British Navy’s Far Eastern
On holiday in the Diamond
Mountains, August 1931
Fred and Margaret Macrae
with Norman and Margaret
and two guests.
The family in Seoul.
A Sunday in 1929.
fleet. Four hours steaming along the coast took us to Chefoo, and landing by sampan,
we would complete the journey to the school by rickshaw for a couple of miles along
the Bund or sea front road.
We could have gone to an American boarding school in Korea, but because we were
all due to finish our schooling in England it was considered best that we should be sent
to the nearest British school. The Chefoo schools were run by the China Inland
Mission mainly for the children of their own missionaries (of whom there were
usually about 2000 throughout China often in remote and dangerous places) but there
were many other English-speaking children of various nationalities at the school.
There were three separate schools in one large sea front compound: a prep school for
boys and girls aged between 6 and 10, and then the boys school and the girls school
(they later became co-educational) for 11-16 year olds, a total of about 350 pupils.
There was a well qualified and devoted staff who gave a good general education
leading to the Oxford School Certificate.
The sea regularly froze in the winter though the summers were long and very hot.
Bathing and boating from several different beaches, cricket and football often played
against the “Settlement” that is the resident foreign community, or ships that were in
port, expeditions along the coast or into the bare hills behind the town filled up leisure
time. It was a good school, but the general outlook was rather narrowly evangelical,
and Farquhar and I were ready to leave and move on when we became fourteen.
Chefoo, North China. The town and Harbour.
The three China Inland Mission Schools are in
the right hand half of the photograph.
Our Return to Britain
Farquhar went back
to England via
Siberia in 1930 with
a Danish missionary
family, and there is a
lively account of
written by the
Scottish mother of
the family. Mother
and Margaret went
home the same way
in 1931 because her
mother was not well,
and Father and I
were due to travel in 1932. But at the last moment he had to cancel the
arrangement because of the unexpected death of a colleague. After some delay it
was agreed that I should travel alone and my rail ticket to London was duly bought.
Japan was actively trying to occupy Manchuria at this time so conditions were
fairly unstable, but Father took me as far as Changchun in Manchuria and then I
was on my own.
I had no doubt that this was the right thing to do, though I realised it must have
been a very distressing time for my parents. My mother was in England, my father
had to remain in Korea, and their 14 year old son was setting off on his own into
what was effectively a war zone.
The next day I was due to change trains in Harbin where I had to get a Polish visa
which had not been obtainable in Korea, but the people who met me told me that
because of the war situation (usually referred to as “bandits”) and flooding on the
line no trains were running beyond Harbin. It was hoped that the lines would clear
in a few days, but by then the trains had stopped running out of Harbin in either
direction. In addition to the flooding of the Sungari, a cholera epidemic and a large
refugee situation made further problems. As a result I was stuck in Harbin for five
weeks, staying with the American couple who had met me on my arrival and
expected to put me on the next train that same day. There was no telephone service
and of course without trains there was no postal service, so any communication
between me and either of my parents in Korea and England had to be by
telegrams. I began to keep a diary of my doings and the news each day, but I did
not manage to keep it up for very long.
In the end – and I was already late for my first term at Sedbergh – it was decided
that I should give up the Trans-Siberian railway route and I was booked on a slow
German steamer, the Nord Deutscher Lloyd “Coblenz”, which took two months
from Dairen to Rotterdam with fourteen stops on the way. These included Taku,
Tsingtao, Shanghai (where I was taken ashore for a couple of nights by friends of
the family and given some books for the journey which together with a lot of chess
The Nord Deutscher Lloyd
S.S. Coblenz in which I
Sailed from Dairen to
Rotterdam in 1932.
which I played on board helped to pass the time), Hong Kong, Manilla, Singapore,
Colombo, Djibouti, Port Said, Genoa, Barcelona and Lisbon. At most of these places
I was able to get ashore for at least a short time.
I had a day and a night with a family in Rotterdam and it was good to reach London at
last and have Christmas with the family in Bexhill. I finally reached Sedbergh a
whole term late in January 1933. My father travelling by sea was finally able to join
us in the spring of that year.
Sedbergh and Chefoo were of course two very different schools functioning in quite
different environments. Chefoo was a maritime town whose only access was by sea
while Sedbergh nestled in the Yorkshire fells
(boundary changes later placed it in Cumbria), a
village surrounded by hills which became a very
important part of our way of life. (“It’s Cautley,
Calf and Winder that make the Sedbergh man”.) It
had been founded in 1525 and its traditions were
My brother’s and my background, with parents
who were missionaries abroad, was obviously very
different from that of most of the boys, but this
never caused any problems. There was an open
and confident atmosphere, and the fact that our
father and his brother had been there before us
helped us to settle in, and we revelled in the
freedom and the beauty of the wonderful fell
country. There were some remarkable men on the
The family in
When the parents were
Home on leave.
Fred and Margaret on
Holiday in Japan 1938.
staff. Music, drama and the arts were important aswell as games, and we quite
naturally developed social, political and international awareness. Farquhar was on
the “modern” or science side of the school and I went up the “classical” side with
Religion was never plugged here in any open way, but the beautiful school Chapel
with its weekly worship was an obvious focus of the life of the school. There was
always a good proportion of Scottish boys at the school, and the annual
confirmation classes catered for everyone who wanted to join. Then in December
there were two confirmation services, one taken by the Bishop of Bradford, and the
following week one by a Church of Scotland minister. When I was confirmed it
was by George MacLeod, then minister of Govan but soon to be the founder and
first leader of the Iona Community. Later I learned a lot from MacLeod, who won
an M.C. during the war and then become a pacifist and social campaigner, and also
from the Community whose influence went far beyond the Church of Scotland.
Our sister Margaret, by this time, after some years at Thornbank School in Bexhill
was a boarder at Bedford High School, our mother’s old school. Happily for
Margaret our mothers sister, Aunt (Lucy) Silvie Bryan was living at this time in the
vicarage of Luton Earnest, a few miles out of Bedford, where her husband Dr
Ingram Bryan was the vicar. So Margaret was able to spend the occasional
weekend with that family and got to know Michael the youngest of their seven
children (who was to become an RAF pilot and was killed in 1944.)
Farquhar left Sedbergh in 1934 to start his medical training at the University of
Edinburgh, staying at the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society’s hostel and
Cowgate Dispensary. I followed him to the University in 1936 for my Arts and
Divinity courses. This was the year of the accession and abdication of King
Edward VIII. The international political situation was of considerable concern.
The principal subjects of my Arts course were French and German along with
Philosophy and Moral Philosophy, and with introductory Hebrew and Greek for the
Edinburgh and Korea
During my first four years at the University I was very lucky to be in very
convenient and attractive “digs” at 4 Leven Terrace, looking over the Meadows
towards Arthur’s Seat. When Margaret came to Edinburgh she took first the
Diploma Course of the College of Domestic Science at Atholl Crescent, living at
that time in the East Suffolk Road Women’s Hostels, and then she began her full
nurse’s training at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, where on my retirement some
50 years later, I was to become a chaplain.
Our years in the city were full and happy ones, the first time any of us had really
lived in Scotland. I think we all worked reasonably hard at our courses but there
were plenty of “extra mural” activities. The Student Christian Movement was then
a large and influential body with a progressive, ecumenical and socially engaged
view of the world - and we were fully involved. Other interests of mine were
scouting with the University Settlement group and dramatics of various kinds.
Holidays were often spent cycling, camping and youth hostelling and we really got to
know what we had always thought of as our country. It was also an opportunity to
meet relatives in various parts of Scotland and England. I spent the Easter vacation of
1938 in the beautiful city of Heidelberg. It was the time of the “Anschluss” or
German occupation of Austria, and I saw Hitler when he was on one of his campaign
tours – a memorable, if disturbing, occasion.
Farquhar (M.B., Ch.B.) and I (M.A.) both graduated in the summer of 1939. In July I
attended the World Rover Scout Moot at Monzie Castle in Perthshire, and in
September Britain was at war with Germany. Edinburgh was virtually untouched by
enemy action during the war, but I remember one of the first air actions of the war
which was the unsuccessful attack on the Forth Bridge when a bomb was dropped on
Edinburgh in the first few weeks of the war. I remember this happening while Prof.
Reinhold Niebuhr of Union Theological College, New York, was delivering one of the
first of his Gifford Lectures in New College.
At this time my parents were still in Korea, and it must have been a very anxious
period for them. For some years past my father had been more involved in the
educational work of the Mission than the Church work which was now adequately
staffed. He had in fact been responsible in about 1926 for the design and erection of
the new school building in Masan (which many years later – in 1996 – was precisely
reproduced and reconstructed in the grounds of the Chang Shin College as a memorial
to the pioneering work of the Australian Presbyterian Mission).
But Japanese pressure on the schools and churches was becoming more demanding,
and missionaries were aware that their early enthusiastic reports on the rapid growth
of the churches were now having to record a falling away. Pressure on the schools
Celebration in Masan Church
of Fred Macrae’s 25 years
service in Korea. 8/12/35.
The Minister presiding is Rev
Kichul Chu, who became a
martyr of the Korean Church.
took the form of a requirement that they should from time to time parade at Shinto
shrines and take part in some Shinto ritual. To avoid too much confrontation this
was being presented as a patriotic rather than religious act, but it was obviously an
attempt to make the whole of Korea acknowledge the divine authority of the
Japanese regime and complete acceptance of the divinity of the Emperor.
Christians were unable to accept this, and though at first and in some places they
were allowed to parade silently and offer their own prayers for the state without
taking part in any ritual action such as clapping or bowing, yet sanctions on the
schools and persecution of the churches did obviously continue and indeed
The work of the Mission was carried
on as normally as possible, and when
my parents’ furlough was due in 1940
it was agreed that they should first
travel to the U.K. rather than
Australia. They did of course expect
to be back within a year so they left
behind in Masan practically all their
possessions and travelled lightly,
sailing across the Pacific to
Vancouver, then by railway across
Canada and finally in June 1940 in
convoy across the Atlantic. So for about a year during the war our family was
complete in Britain, our parents having rented a house at 108 Comiston Drive in
Edinburgh. Farquhar after a year at the Guest Hospital in Dudley, where he met
Jean Russon whom he married in 1945, was appointed a medical missionary of the
Church of Scotland to China. In 1941 he sailed for Burma as the only way in to
central China at that period of the Sino-Japanese war was over the Burma Road.
Farquhar has written an authoritative and compelling account of his adventures
over this period. (See his contribution to Ian Macrae’s history.) It took him five
years before he was finally able to reach his own station at Ichang on the Yangtze
in 1946. He worked in the hospital there for five years, but the hostility of the
communist regime culminated in a series of trumped up charges following a tragic
fire in the hospital. While Farquhar was under house arrest Jean was forced to
leave the country with her three children and pregnant with a fourth, who was born
in Hong Kong. Farquhar was tried and expelled in 1951.
The family were eventually able to meet up in Hong Kong, and to come home for a
well-earned leave. Farquhar was then appointed for six years, from 1952 –1958, to
aChurch of Scotland Mission Hospital at Sulenkama in the Transkei, and there
their fifth child was born. The family then consisted of Deirdre, born 1946, Meriel
1947, Gillian, 1949, Michael, 1951, and Iain, 1953.
The family in Edinburgh
18/06/41. This was just
before Farquhar sailed
In 1959 Farquhar went into general
practice in Port Alfred, Cape Province,
and there he became very involved
with the local black and “coloured”
its politics, but he died very suddenly
on the 28th February 1982, leaving a
deeply grieving family and a shocked
community. Gillian eventually settled
in London but the other four children
all married and stayed in South Africa,
with ten grandchildren, though most of them have also travelled overseas. Jean died
Back to the War
By now Margaret was doing her training as a nurse at the Royal Infirmary of
Edinburgh. My course had begun at New College, the Divinity Faculty of the
University in October 1939. (Divinity students were in a reserved occupation not
liable to call-up.) Student numbers at New College were of course very much reduced
during the war and practically all were candidates for the ministry of the Church of
Scotland which meant that there were very few women students, and although we
were all required to have a first degree before starting theology, there was virtually no
Divinity Post-graduate department and very few overseas students. But the academic
staff remained at almost full strength, and we had among others Professors John
Baillie, William Manson, John H.S. Burleigh and Norman Porteous.
During my divinity course I was involved in the work of the New College Settlement,
a community project in what was then one of Edinburgh’s worst inner-city slums, the
Pleasance. Then for the last two years of my course I was student assistant at the
Parish of Carriden, Bo’ness, 18 miles further up the Firth of Forth, which meant my
spending most of Sunday there. For about eight months of that time my minister was
away on a temporary war appointment and he arranged that I should conduct the
services in Carriden or, on an exchange basis, in other churches of the Presbytery
which included St Michael’s, Linlithgow, North Abercorn, Dalmeny, and one or two
others. This was a very useful experience.
During the summer vacations of 1941 and 1942 I spent some weeks each year on the
Island of Iona where Dr George MacLeod was setting up the Iona Community, and
some of us students acted as labourers for the artisans who were beginning to rebuild
the old monastery buildings. This was for me the start of a very long and important
relationship with the island which has continued to mean so much to our family. In
the summers of 1942 and 1943 my father lived on the island for several months acting
as locum minister in the vacant Parish Church (and incidentally helping in some ways
to ease the not always easy relationship between the ancient parish and the new - and
unfamiliar - Community).
The South African
L to R Gillian,
Michae and Meriel.
and Appointment as a
At the end of the New College course candidates for the ministry were duly
licensed to preach the Gospel as probationary ministers by their own supervising
presbytery, and those of us from Edinburgh received this authorization at a service
in St Giles’ Cathedral on the 15th April 1942. I was appointed as one of the two
assistants at St Cuthbert’s Parish Church, Edinburgh, and in the following month I
was appointed by the General Assembly as a missionary. Although my
background was in the Far East the war ruled that out and so I became a missionary
without knowing where I would serve.
On the 5th July I was ordained by the Presbytery of Edinburgh in St Cuthbert’s
Church, and soon afterwards my appointment was confirmed to the staff of the
Hope Waddell Training Institution, Calabar, Nigeria, which was suffering a
staffing crisis because of the war. Although everyone brought up in the Church of
Scotland must have heard of Mary Slessor of Calabar who first went out in 1878, I
felt that I knew very little about the place, but I was happy to accept the
appointment - though the date of my starting work depended on the entirely
unpredictable factors of the war situation and the availability of transport.
Origins of the
The origins of the Calabar Mission were rather different from those of most of the
other mission enterprises of the Scottish Church. The first impetus had come from
the Church in Jamaica as a result of the emancipation of the slaves in 1838 when
the Church there decided they would like to be involved in the Christianizing of the
continent from which most of their forebears had come.
A group of Church members and their missionary leaders volunteered to go to
Africa. They had first of course to persuade the Church in Scotland to support their
enterprise. The choice of whereabouts to go in Africa then came as the result of an
invitation from King Eyamba of Calabar on the old Slave Coast to start work on
the Cross River. So the first missionaries who came to Calabar in 1846 consisted
of some Jamaicans and former Scottish missionaries to Jamaica led by the Rev.
Hope M Waddell, an Irishman. The Jamaican connection with the Mission
continued right up until my own time in the Mission when there were still four
Jamaicans on the mission staff. There were also when I arrived in Calabar, still
senior missionaries who had been colleagues of Miss Slessor when she died in
In the event it was not until March 1943 that a passage became available at very short
notice, and I sailed from Liverpool on the Monarch of Bermuda, a troopship carrying
5000 troops including a number of Women’s Services, as part of a large convoy due to
sail round the Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, for the Red Sea and the Middle East.
It was a month when the u-boat campaign had inflicted very heavy losses on allied
shipping. Our convoy sailed far out across the Atlantic; we were not of course told
where we were, but I remember how we watched our latitude each night by the height
of the Pole Star. Part of the convoy left us for the Mediterranean and we eventually
arrived in Freetown, Sierra Leone, where all passengers for West Africa were
So I landed in Africa on my 25th birthday, 29th March 1943, and here we were rather
uncertainly accommodated in an army transit camp on the hills above the town. We
had no idea how long it would be before onward passages became available for
Takoradi, Gold Coast, and Lagos, Nigeria, and in the end we were stuck in Freetown
for the whole of April. That did at least allow me to get the feel of a West African
town; and army transport did enable us to get to Lumley Beach for wonderful seabathing
on most days. But watch out for Portuguese Man-o’-War (a stinging
Eventually an elderly coasting steamer – with hammocks instead of bunks – took us
on to Takoradi and Lagos where we had a couple of comfortable nights in the Church
Missionary Society Guest house. From there the only way to get to Eastern Nigeria
was to take the train North to Kaduna - crossing the River Niger at Jebba - and then
back down South to Aba. It meant a journey of some 900 miles between two towns
just over 250 miles apart as the crow flies.
We left the train at Aba, spent the night there, and the next day a 75 mile lorry journey
took us to Oron on the Cross River from which a river steamer carried us finally upriver
for about three hours to reach Calabar on the 14th May. I had travelled out with
the member of staff responsible for the carpentry and building departments, and we
were warmly welcomed on arrival as the war had left them very short staffed. The
Principal, the Rev. J. K. Macgregor who had first gone to Calabar in 1903 had retired
and gone home in 1940, but then returned the following year and was actually in
hospital in Calabar when we arrived. He died nine days later and his funeral was the
first service I took in the country.
So began my thirteen years service in the Hope Waddell Training Institution which,
founded in 1895, was one of the earliest secondary schools in Nigeria, and which
when I arrived had about 875 students in infant, primary and secondary departments.
A teacher training college of about 80 students was also part of the Institution, and
there were three technical departments offering four-year apprenticeships in printing,
carpentry and engineering. Many of the
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