Exiles Forum

Lisburn, Co. Antrim, Northern Ireland


Message from India

Autobiography describing years of missionary work in sub-continent to be launched in Lisburn


PROSPECT House in the grounds of Friends School will be the venue tomorrow morning (Saturday) for the launch of an autobiography by a Lancashire missionary who married her Lisburn born husband in India during the country's final years of British rule.

The Testimony of a Whatnot' is the work of the late Elizabeth Pritchard who was born in Preston in 1906 but spent most of her working life from 1930 onwards in the sub-continent.

Betty, as she was known by her countless friends, met her husband Herbert in the hills of Bihar, close to the India Nepal Border after he also travelled to the country on missionary work.

The couple married amid the area's magnificent scenery which sadly hid the reality of acute suffering among local people. In the late 1930's this included the terrible disease leprosy which was then one of India's main crippling agents. The newly-weds witnessed the turmoil of the change from Raj to independence while based at a remote dispensary in poverty stricken Bihar.

The autobiography allowed Betty, who became a member of the Religious Society of Friends after her marriage, to use her gift for writing to convey the nature of these times, her love of India, her selfless dedication to service and her deep religious faith.

'Whatnot' was a term of affection used to describe Betty because of her lack of professional skills or qualifications. She decided to use it in the book's title in what has been described as 'a typically self deprecating manner. However, the book and its fascinating story could so easily have never come to light as the manuscript turned up only by chance following Betty's death in 2002.

Its publication has been dedicated to the memory of a lady who overcome personal suffering to ensure as many people as possible have a chance to read it.

Ulster Friends Home Mission Committee Chairman Martin Mail said the organisation's members spent many months transcribing the text from 'thin,

faintly typed and often roughly annotated sheets' on to computer.

"The resulting file had gaps, errors, and inconsistencies that required painstaking proofing. A major part of this task was undertaken by Helen Kinkead (who passed away in 2007) at a time when she was enduring the unpleasant side effects of cancer treatment," he added.

The book's launch will begin at 10.00am with three short formal presentations at 11.00am. One of these will look at what's going on in India today.

The Committee hope a number of other organisations will attend as well as people from the Indian community.

They also hope the launch will provide an opportunity to raise money for flood relief in Bihar where Betty and Herbert spent so much of their lives together. Betty wrote three works of fiction during her life (now all out of print), many articles, and a series of Sunday School lessons.

These were distributed in a number of countries including the UK and India and were translated into several other languages.

She also wrote 'For. such a time' (Victory Press 1973), a history of the 75 years of the Regions Beyond Missionary Union (RBMU) from its establishment in 1898 by Henry Grattan Guinness and his wife Lucy.

Ulster Star