Australian Biography

Eva Burrows - full interview transcript

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You've said that you've learned things from every situation you've been in. At the end of your time in Sri Lanka, what did you feel that you'd learned?

Yes, I do believe that everything in life makes a contribution if you know how to use it. That's one of my convictions I suppose. And therefore what I learnt in Sri Lanka was an appreciation of the other faiths in the world, an appreciation of the simplicity and sincerity of belief, and also the responsibility of the Salvation Army to care for the people whom no-one else wants to care for. So that there were many lessons I learned.

And were you very sad to be leaving Sri Lanka?

Yes, I loved the people. I'd always been very sorry that I'd never learnt the language well. Of course the Singhalese language is written in the most beautiful script. So I learnt the script and I learnt to sing from the Singhalese language. And I learnt a certain amount of the language to get me around. But I didn't learn the language at depth. And I had a wonderful translator, the wife of my second in command. She was a perfect English speaker and she travelled everywhere with me. I would have liked to have delved more into the language itself. It's a very rich language, and a very beautiful language to listen to. So I was sorry about that. But nevertheless in Sri Lanka, it's true so many people do speak English, because it's been an English colony and so many people have been to school learning English. So that might be one of my regrets. But, as always in the Salvation Army, I had to move on.

And what were your orders?

My orders this time were to go to Scotland to become the Commander there. The Salvation Army had a territory in Scotland, separate from England, although you referred to the international headquarters and you co-operated with the Salvation Army in the United Kingdom -- in England I mean. So I had to go on to Scotland. So that was a very big change, climatically, because Sri Lanka is a very, very hot and humid place. I don't think the temperatures were very high, but certainly the humidity was. I'd never been so hot in all my life as I was in Sri Lanka. And now I was going to Scotland, and it was December. So I was going into the winter season. But I was due to come home for a short period so I came to Australia for a couple of months and then went on to Scotland to be the Commander there.

When you came home to Australia on these furloughs, on these long leaves, what did you do with that time?

Well, normally, when it was from Africa, it was a longer period, because I'd been away for so many years. So I normally stayed with my parents, and certainly gave them a great deal of my time. Because I'd been away so much, I felt they deserved that. So I would stay with them, visit the family, and then I would spend quite a lot of time going around speaking in Salvation Army venues, about the work in Africa, and encouraging support for our work. I think they normally call that deputation work. So your holiday wasn't entirely holiday, because you did spend quite a lot of time advocating the good work that was being done in the part of the world where you lived. I used to take a lot of slides, and so I would have a slide show in those days, and talk about the work. So it was quite a full time. You were usually not ready to go back at the end. But on that occasion, after I left Sri Lanka, I came and spent most of the time with my sister, Margaret, in Melbourne because my parents had died. So my time was with her and with other members of the family but it was quite a short period and then I dashed off to Scotland.

And so what was Scotland like for you?

Well, first of all, it was a very, very change, because I'd been working, really, in the Third World for so many years. And even when I was at the college in London, it was an international college, so I was always thinking of the Salvation Army around the world. So now I was to concentrate more in a Western centre. I was very interested to go there because actually my father had been born in Scotland and migrated to Australia when he was a young man. Unfortunately like a lot of young men who were migrant he lost touch with his own family, and I was hoping I might be able to get some contacts with them, but I really wasn't successful. So it was interesting to go there, but I really didn't know very much about it. And I made the wonderful discovery that Scottish people are so warm and welcoming, and very much like Australians, really, you know, very open and relaxed in their relationships with people. I had the good fortune, very shortly after I arrived to be invited to speak on the Christmas Eve service on the television, which was held in St George's Square in Glasgow. And the Salvation Army band was invited and I was invited to give the Christmas message. And so everybody in Scotland saw me, because it was a very popular program. And after that, when I walked down the street in Glasgow or anywhere, people would come up and say, 'oh, I was so glad to see you and welcome to Scotland, hope you'll be happy.' I really found the Scots wonderful people. No wonder they make very good migrants. They never lose their accent, but they make very good people to move around the world and settle in other countries.

You had been head of the social service side of things for the whole of Great Britain, so Scotland wasn't completely new to you, was it?

No, in that sense I knew something about the social work of Scotland. But now I was really involved in the evangelical side, the church side of our work. And the Scots are very vigorous Christians. Somebody has said that the Scots are all brought up on the Psalms and rolled oats. They have a great religious history. And I found the Christians in Scotland very energetic and vital Christians, and enjoyed my fellowship with them in the Church of Scotland in particular. But the Salvationists I found very vigorous and forthright Salvationists.

How long was your period of being in that role in Scotland?

Just about three years.

What did you see as your biggest task when you came in?

Well, I think it was to inspire and encourage the Salvationists to greater commitment to witness. We live in a very secular world and Scotland, the same as England, had very secular people as well. So I felt that most of my role would be to encourage greater understanding of the mission of the Salvation Army, that we mustn't compromise on the fact that we are an evangelical force in the Church, and not to become too content by just enjoying worship for ourselves. And I feel I encouraged that in the movement while I was in Scotland. I moved all around Scotland, naturally, preaching here and there, right up to Shetland and Orkney Islands. And a great time in Scotland is New Year. In fact, the Scottish people don't celebrate Christmas as much as New Year, and they actually have two holidays at New Year time. And so at that time I encouraged very big evangelistic rallies, so that we had a lot of outside people, people from outside the Salvation Army, come to our services on the New Year's events.

Were you successful in expanding membership during that time?

Yes, I think we saw a good increase in the number of members. We used to go into the public houses, as they call them in England, the pubs, with the Salvation Army paper the War Cry and I always encouraged that ministry because it's often there, in contact with people when you're selling the paper, that you find out some of the difficulties and personal problems in people's lives that lead to a visit. And then perhaps an encouragement of those people to come to the services. A part of Scotland for example, Kilburnie, had a great sort of revival at that time when we had a good number of people [who] came to a knowledge of Jesus Christ and came to join the Salvation Army. And one of them was a very interesting story. A man who had been a terrible drinker, you know, in Scotland they still love their pint a lot -- and he was always in trouble with the police and alway up in court, and the police hadn't seen him for such a long time they'd thought he'd died. So they went to his home to see the family and find out if the poor chap had died. And they discovered that he'd been converted in the Salvation Army and had given up the drink altogether. So those were the kind of experiences that bring you much joy as a leader, to find that the mission and purpose of the Salvation Army is being fulfilled. We did have one rather traumatic time there. It was a period of investigative journalism, when so many journalists wanted to go into places and sort of show that they weren't abiding by their principles. For example, in centres for mentally handicapped people, and so forth.

So, a couple of journalists decided they'd tackle the Salvation Army. So this journalist sort of dressed up as a drunk and tried to get into Salvation Army hostels, and then he had this documentary which revealed that Salvation Army hostels were not as compassionate as they say they are, and so forth. And it was a hard-hitting documentary. There were some aspects of truth about it, but I mean a journalist who's got his own big salary, dresses up as a drunk he may look like a drunk, but he doesn't think like a drunk. And it got a lot of criticism, both from supportive MPs. But in Scotland I had a phone call the next morning and it was the editor of the Daily Record, which is like the Daily Mirror, one of the tabloids in Scotland. And he said, 'Oh, I thought that was a terrible thing last night. I think it was very unfair to the Salvation Army and I'd like to redress that, so could you give my journalists a right to come into your centres and can we interview you?' And so the next day was a big double spread middle page; a fantastic, supportive piece of the Salvation Army. And it did us a lot of good. And I was hitting back at this other journalist. Anyway afterwards, I said to the editor of the paper, 'You know, that was really kind of you and why did you do it?' And he said, 'Well, during the last war I was a soldier in Burma. We'd been in the jungle and we'd been fighting and we came out to a clearing on a kind of a hill. Who should be there but this Salvation Army chap and he even had cool orange drink,' he said. 'I've waited a long time to pay back that orange drink.' So that was a great experience and I think many people thanked me for being willing to speak back. Other people thought we should have not said anything and let the Salvation Army stand for itself. But I felt that a lot of things that the journalist said were unjust. So I believed in having a go at him.

You said that there were other things that he said that you felt were genuine criticisms. What were they and what did you do about them?

Well, for one thing, that a lot of our hostels were still rather Dickensian. Big dormitories and, you know, as soon as men came in they would go to the corners of the dormitories, because they felt protected there. Men, these days, they were afraid of these great big open spaces. And it's quite true that our men's hostels, and some of our women's hostels, needed to be modernised. We needed money for that, so the Salvation Army set forth on a very big fund-raising project, and I must say now that most of our hostels in Britain have various styles of accommodation. They have small dormitories because there are still some men, homeless people who don't like to be alone, who are happy to stay in a four-bed, six-bed room. Then we have some rooms which are single. Then we have some little flatlets, some flats where there are, say, three bedrooms, single bedrooms and then the men can cook their own food. So we have what we call cluster hostels now. And we've, in Britain, been able to set up a housing corporation because government funding changed and now you have to apply to the housing corporation to get the money for these hostels. But it's been a very big advance really. So it wasn't just that documentary that caused us to do that. We knew that, but it also gave us some clout with the government when we sought money from them to improve the quality of our hostels.

What were the things that he accused you of that you reacted to, and addressed in the article?

Well, I think he accused us of not being considerate enough. For example, if a man comes to a hostel and he's dead drunk, we do not put him into that big dormitory with all these other men, who are homeless and maybe just disadvantaged people. He will immediately cause a big row and a big problem. The journalist didn't understand that. We usually ask them to wait for a while until they sober up a bit. Now he said that was very inconsiderate. Why didn't they take me in? And he also claimed that we weren't using our funding properly that we received from the public, and then we were able to prove what we did with the money. Where we got a lot of support was from people who said, you know, the Salvation Army workers, the officers, people like myself, we receive a very minimal salary in order that the work that we do may not cost as much as it would cost in the government. And -- that's what I also said. You see, if you have a government centre it costs a great deal of money, because everybody gets very high salaries. And quite a few MPs got on to the press and said, you know, 'Where are these trendy denim clad, university graduate yuppies who are telling the Salvation Army how to do their work? Don't you know the Salvation Army members wash the dirty feet of these people and wipe up their vomit. Where are the yuppies when this is happening?', you know. So I think that we had a lot of support from people who said that the Salvation Army workers in these hostels have to do very, what you would call, demeaning work in order to love and help these people. So in some ways it also was a backlash, a sort of a boomerang that supported us out of that documentary. I don't know how the journalist himself felt. I never met him.

At a personal level, how did your period in Scotland go for you?

Well, it was also rather traumatic because I had a coronary and spent some time in hospital. Fairly soon after I arrived. I think it was the very big change in climate and the fact that I'd had to rush home to Australia and rush to Scotland. And the fact that I'd been very exercised at the end of my time in Sri Lanka to get everything completed. I really didn't have much time and I was to be succeeded by a Singhalese leader. And I had been very vocal in saying that Sri Lanka deserved a national leader. And therefore I wanted to ensure that he got a very good start. So that quite a few of the projects that I had lined up, I had to ensure that the money was available and that a new program for a college in Sri Lanka for the whole of south Asia was well and truly settled. So I think I really overdid the work and when I got to Scotland and had to face an entirely new situation, I just had this coronary. It was a bit of a shock, it is a shock, isn't it?

Had you had any indications before that … that it was going to happen?

No, and I'd never thought it would happen to me. I mean, I know that two of my brothers died with coronaries. And then I've later found that other relatives. So it's obvious that it's something that belongs to our family and our family connections. But you don't think of women having coronaries. I mean that's the thing that surprised me.

How old were you?

Umm, now that was the beginning of 1980. So I would be 51. Ah, 50. And I, funnily enough, immediately thought that's what it was. I have no idea why I should know that. Because I woke up about 4 o'clock in the morning and I had pains down across my shoulders and down my arms. And I instinctively thought this is a heart attack. I hadn't even read up -- I'm terribly ignorant about the body and physical things because I'd never been sick. But I knew straight away and I had … my secretary lived with me at the time so she called the people next door because I was quite new to Scotland. We really didn't have a doctor yet and didn't know a hospital. And it turned out that the hospital, which was five minutes away from where I lived, is the famous coronary hospital in Scotland. And so I was in the hospital very quickly. And they say -- and since my reading has indicated -- that that's the best thing that can happen to you, that you get treatment straight away. So I was taken to this hospital and put in the intensive care, and I was in the hospital for about two weeks. And then I had to take about six weeks off work in order to recuperate, because I was determined that I would obey the doctor. As I told you I'm good at obedience when I know that what I'm instructed in is good for me. So I then spent this time recuperating, and have never had another problem since with my heart.

Was it a really serious coronary, or was it an angina attack?

No, it wasn't angina. It was what they call a myocardial infarction. And that was about 10 per cent of the front of the heart is blocked off. So I suppose you'd say it was a minor coronary and did not involve me in any angina afterwards. So it was a sort of one off. Although I discovered following that, that I've a tendency to build up cholesterol so I have always been very careful to keep the cholesterol down. And that is apparently something that runs in the family, it's a hereditary thing. But I did have an amazing experience when I was the hospital. And that was I woke up in the intensive care unit and I saw a black girl, the nurse, sitting near me. And I thought I was in Africa. And I looked around and I said, 'What has happened? What have I done?' And this girl said, 'Don't worry, Major, you'll be all right', you see. Now I'm a Commissioner by this time, and she's calling me by a much lower Salvation Army rank, and then she revealed that she was one of my students from Usher Institute. She had left school and gone to train as a nurse in Zimbabwe, and she was an outstanding student, and then she went to this hospital for postgraduate training. And here she was looking after me in the intensive care. And I sort of suddenly had a realisation, I'm going to be all right. This is a sign, a symbol. She said, 'You used to look after me and help me to be well-educated. Now I'm looking after you.' So many things in my life, people would call what a wonderful coincidence. But it was providential. But the interesting thing about that girl is she was a very clever girl, and when she finished school nursing was pretty well the only thing available to her, and she couldn't afford to go to university. So later, in Scotland, she took a degree in economics. And recently I was in Canada and she is the High Commissioner for Zimbabwe in Canada. And welcomed me to Canada. Said she was hoping to see me. Wasn't possible this time. So that's something to be proud about, isn't it?

A very significant girl in your life.

That's right. Lily Chitauro. I remember it well.

And what did you think lying there in intensive care, with this bolt from the blue, just as you were about to take on the next really big challenge there, of your career. What did you make of it in your own mind?

I surprisingly was quite submissive about the whole thing. And I just seemed to say to God, you know, 'If this is end of my life, you know, thank you, I've had a great life and it's been a wonderful life. But if I'm to recover, according to your will, I just devote the rest of my life to you and go ahead and do whatever you require from me.' It's strange. I didn't fight against it. I sometimes have talked about this to people. In fact, medical people have told me the fact that I didn't fight against it and struggle was probably helpful in my recuperation and recovery because I had a friend, a distant friend, who had a coronary almost at the same time as I did in England, and within a year he was dead. I met him one day in London, when I was down on business. And he said, 'How are you feeling?' I said, 'You know, well, I'm just going ahead as I always did and I feel the Lord has given me the strength to do that.' He said, 'Oh, aren't you distressed, aren't you worried about the future?' He was so uptight about it. And he died. So you know, I thank the Lord for giving me that acceptance of a situation, which was to teach me a very good lesson. And that was to not drive myself beyond my capacity, which I had done in Sri Lanka I think. I pushed myself too hard. I didn't obey the rules there. You know, in Sri Lanka and in the very humid tropical countries, you really should have a rest during the day. And I thought I didn't need that. So I think physically I pushed myself beyond -- over the edge. And I've learnt now. Many people would say I'm a very over-reactive person. But no, I've learnt to pace myself and to take a break, to sit down and enjoy a book, go to a concert, things like that.

Were you afraid that you were going to die? Did you really think that that might be a possibility?

Yes, I did.

But you weren't afraid about it?

No, no. No, I'm not afraid of death. Not at all. In fact, when the time comes I will welcome death, because I have such a positive faith of what happens. That it's just a door opening into another, more glorious life than the one I've had here. And I have that promise, and what God promises, he keeps his promises. Unlike some of us.

The interesting thing is that you felt that way when you were actually confronted with the real possibility that you might die. Often people can say those things in the calm of a moment like this, but in an intensive care unit, it didn't even flash on your mind for a moment that you were afraid that you might die?

No, I don't think there was a fear. I think there was a feeling that, 'Lord there were a lot of things which I'd like to have done, but if it is your will that I cease my life now, then I accept that.' It was a kind of acceptance I suppose. And if you really believe what has been taught by the Lord Christ, then you do accept that when it comes. Naturally, I suppose most people hope to live longer, but no I'd had a wonderfully full life up til then. More than most people have the pleasure of having.

But more was ahead, and so at the end of your period in Scotland, what was the next step?

Well, actually -- can I just mention something about the doctor who cared for me. I was in a public ward, because as a Salvationist and a leader I didn't have any private health care or something like that. So I was cared for by the doctor and there were a lot of students there, because it was this famous coronary area. And I've since discovered that Dr Fulton, Professor Fulton, who looked after me, was one of the great coronary people of Scotland, and the world. And he came to me and he said, 'You know,' -- he always called me Miss Burrows -- 'you know Miss Burrows, I understand why you've come to Scotland and I've seen the reports about you in the newspapers and I would like to be sure that we bring you to full health, so I will take you specially as my patient.' So he took a great interest in me. And then fairly recently I went to visit him in retirement in Scotland. And discovered, even then, what a famous man he was. So I really was well provided for. And I loved being in that big ward in Scotland. I got to know all these Glaswegian women in the beds. And they were such a chatty lot. I felt I got to understand Scots quite a lot in that very big ward, about 30, 35, beds. So it was a great experience. So even the coronary opened up a lot of doors of new knowledge for me. But then we're going to move on, aren't we? I've forgotten your question.

It was just a question of what brought your time at Scotland to an end.

Well, the appointment of myself as leader of the Salvation Army in Australia, in the southern part of Australia, that was my new appointment.

How did you hear about that, that you were going to be sent home?

That came from the General of the Salvation Army. It was General … Now can I just have a thought for a minute ... [INTERRUPTION]

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