A man of faith

West Indies Skipper Jackie Grant (Part II)

Saturday, March 1, 2031, Bridgetown, Barbados.

Good bye to Test cricket
Lindsay Geddes Grant: “Jackie was sitting on top of the world. Twenty-seven years old, married to a beautiful woman, father of one son, George Russell (born in 1933), another one due in two months, happy teaching at his alma mater and at the pinnacle of his pursuit, captain of the first West Indian side to win a test series.

“However, Jackie was conscious that there was more to life than the game of cricket. Here are his thoughts: ‘This kind of priority, however, began to disturb me more and more even though I liked cricket very much and enjoyed playing it. For me cricket was a game, not my life. Also, it was not my profession. Therefore, in conscience, I could not give it the priority that others did and also expected me to do. I began to resent the demands which cricket was making on me. Eventually my thoughts were crystallised in the words, Cricket was made for man, not man for cricket.’

“Jackie’s initial attempt to extricate himself from cricket was made in January, 1934 a week before the Inter-colonial Tournament in Trinidad. His announcement that he was unavailable was met with such an uproar, that he yielded to the unbearable pressure and agreed to play. In his heart, he knew he had only postponed making the decision. Eighteen months later, he declared – seems to be the only thing this guy was good at (audience chuckles) – that he was no longer available for international cricket. Whilst he was prepared to continue playing cricket, he was not prepared to give the time and attention that international cricket required.

“Jackie, at a relatively young age, had made a conscious decision to choose religion over cricket. The biblical words, ‘choose ye this day whom ye shall serve’ had become a real and personal issue, tugging at his heart and soul. In the end, although he had put Christ before cricket, he saw no reason to stop playing altogether.

“I think it is only fair to Jackie and you, the audience, if I backtrack a bit and fill in a gap that will help you to understand his decision, and set the stage for his later endeavours.

“When the West Indies team departed Australia, Jackie did not accompany the side but instead went to India for a month to see one of his brothers, Clifford, and his wife Dorothy who were missionaries of the United Church of Canada in Indore. From there, he proceeded to Southern Rhodesia, arriving on his 24th birthday to be reunited with his fiancée, Ida, and to take up a teaching job with the Education Department of the colony. Their seven-month separation had been kept alive by prodigious daily letter writing, an art form that unfortunately, has disappeared in this digitalized instamatic world of today. Initially, he was posted to Plumtree, some 70 miles away from his future in-laws in Bulawayo. Over the Christmas and New Year season, instead of being with Ida, he was representing Rhodesia in the Currie Cup Tournament, several hundred miles away in Johannesburg, South Africa. This game really took him places.

“A letter from the British Colonial Office of a job offer at Queen’s Royal College, Trinidad (his brother Fred, and his close personal friend, the Acting Governor-General of Trinidad and Tobago Sir Selwyn Grier had something to do with this; remember this was a hundred years ago) arrived just as Jackie was beginning to settle in the African colony, and they decided to get married and move to Trinidad. Their wedding took place on Jackie’s 25th birthday, the same day his twin Jill got married in Toronto, Canada.

“The wedding was held at a church in an area for whites. Ida, also a teacher, had invited a group of African girls from her class at the Hope Fountain Mission, a primary school for African girls run by the London Missionary Society. Ida had taught there for nine months before going to Cambridge. The experience had been racially liberating, and had made her look forward to returning there after England. Her white southern African upbringing clouded by racial mists of custom, prejudice and privilege had been challenged, and her religious faith beckoned her now.

“Meanwhile, Jackie had enjoyed the life of the privileged white during that year in Rhodesia. He lived in white segregated areas, taught in schools for white boys, worshipped in a church for whites and played cricket with only whites. He had had virtually no contact with Africans. His parents-in-law were Sir Fraser and Lady Russell, and the former was the Chief Justice of southern Rhodesia.

“In 1935, Sir Selwyn was appointed Governor of the Windward Islands, with his base in Grenada, and a few months later, he wrote to Jackie asking him if he was interested in the principalship of the Grenada Boys’ Secondary School. You have got to admit it’s tough to beat this old school tie and cricket combination; my uncle moves from the most junior master of one school to the principal of another, whilst becoming a senior government officer.

“Jackie and Ida were very involved with the church since their days in Trinidad, and during their eight years in Grenada, their faith and trust in God would be severely tested.  In September, 1938, their third child, a girl, Florence Madeline was born. A year later, their second son, Alick, only four years old, passed away after a very brief illness. On Sunday, September 3, Jackie had preached a sermon about how precious children are; ‘They are pearls of great price. Yet they are not ours. They are on loan to us from God….But whatever happens, we must love them and do the best we can for them.’

“Eight days later, Jackie later recalled, ‘Yes, our little laddie had passed on.’

Back to Africa
“The Grants would spend from 1944 to 1972 on the continent of Africa. In the middle of World War II, he was transferred to Zanzibar Island, which along with Pemba, formed the British Protectorate of Zanzibar off the coast of Tanzania, East Africa. It took almost three months to get there, with Jackie never knowing how he would get from one stop to the next, finally arriving at the end of March, 1944.  Ida and their kids would follow 15 months later.

“The school catered for Arab, Indian, African and Goan boys, no Europeans. It was Muslim land and the main language was Swahili. As an officer of the colonial government, in accordance with regulations, he had to study and pass an oral and written examination in Swahili. It was the first of three Bantu languages that Jackie, no linguist, would wrestle with. Later, he would tackle Zulu in South Africa and Chindau in Rhodesia.

“In Zanzibar, just as in Grenada, he was appointed Commissioner for Scouts. Whereas, scouting in Grenada had been along denomination lines—Roman Catholic and Anglican—there it was based on communities, the Hindus, the Bohras etc. In addition, Jackie had to cater to the demands of Head Office, on one occasion serving as Director of Education, on another being the Censor.

“In 1948, Jack and Ida decided to move on. He tendered his resignation, giving six months’ notice as required, with no fixed plans in place. After all, this was a couple of immense of faith.”

Adams College, South Africa
“It is important to note that Jackie and Ida felt that they were not doing enough in terms of their true calling, which was to do missionary work and share their faith in God.

“An oft chance enquiry by an old family friend of his in-laws about Ida, led to their arrival at Adams College, in January, 1949 which was to become the hallmark of their work in Africa. It was the oldest educational institution in the Province of Natal, South Africa. The college had opened its doors in 1853 under the auspices of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, and it welcomed young Africans, male and female, from all parts of South Africa, northern and southern Rhodesia, Kenya, Tanganyika, and Uganda. It was staffed by American missionaries and South African citizens – black and white. A few months before their arrival at the institution, the Nationalist Government under a Dr Malan had come to power in South Africa.”

(The lights in the hall slowly begin to fade. The room is in pitch darkness, Lindsay has stopped speaking, the uncanny silence is almost deafening. Then without any warning, he resumes, screaming in a harsh South African accent)


 (The audience is jolted by the sudden exclamation; slowly the lights return to their original level of brightness.)

“My apologies if I scared you but I wanted to introduce to you one of the ugliest words ever uttered by mankind on earth. It was the political doctrine of the new government, one of separation, white from black. They would introduce the Bantu Education Act in the advancement of the cause of apartheid which the Grants felt very strongly was in denial of the Christian Gospel.

“Before their arrival in South Africa, Jackie and Ida were apolitical, now with their faith being confronted head on and they had no choice but to take a stand. In the 1934 Trinidad-Barbados match, along with his brother Rolf, he had endured the scourge of bodyline bowling before it was legislated against. They had several narrow escapes, with Rolf being hit on the head once, but they weathered the storm with Rolf making a century and Jackie getting 80. Now it was a different kind of attack.

“Adams College comprised a teacher training college, a high school, an industrial department and a theological school. It was not the easiest of postings, in 1947 there had been considerable student unrest and a few of the buildings had been damaged beyond repair.

“Jackie and Ida became heavily involved through their missionary work in opposing apartheid, and eventually received a visit in January, 1954, from five Special Branch officers who searched the principal’s office for evidence of subversive activity. The visit served as a warning of things to come.

“In September, Jackie made a speech at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Durban opposing the transfer of the college as was required by the Bantu Act. In a no-holds-barred speech, Jackie waded into the Nationalist Government’s policy of apartheid. Here was a white man of Scottish and Canadian ancestry, West Indian by birth and upbringing, raised in a God-fearing home, himself the beneficiary of the privilege of a white skin, taking a stand as a human being and opposing the impending arrival of a system of extreme subjugation.

“Here are a few excerpts from his disapproval in principle of the transfer of the mission schools to the government on that occasion:

‘And yet, Mr Moderator, in the realm of the Bantu Education Act that is what is happening before our very eyes today. The government is holding a veritable pistol at our heads in the Act. It is literally telling us: hand over your schools or you take the consequences.

‘It is not designed primarily to provide better education for the African or to enhance his status in our multi-racial community, but to keep him in what the powers-that-be consider his proper place.

‘To our government at this time of crisis we must say humbly, yet firmly and lovingly: So long as you consider the African as an inferior being rather than as a brother for whom Christ died, so long shall we be unable to walk with you. So long as you treat the African with contempt, so long shall we of necessity rebuke and admonish you in the name of our Lord, for our first task is to obey God rather than man.’

(Lindsay pauses and the attendees burst into thunderous applause, rising as they do so).

“Jackie would document this despicable act of the closure of Adams College in 1956, in The Liquidation of Adams College, a privately published discourse which unfortunately I was not able to secure a copy of.

“Jackie’s and Ida’s missionary work shifted to southern Rhodesia. Eventually, they encountered the wrath of the Ian Smith government, and had to leave in 1972.

His thoughts on the situation in Rhodesia were sought after by the Minority Rights Group of London, England in December, 1971 and his subsequent 20,000 word manuscript was published in early January, under the title The Africans’ Predicament in Rhodesia was well received.

“Jackie and Ida moved to America before settling in Cambridge, England. In 1973, during their tour of England, the start of a Renaissance period in West Indies cricket, Jackie attended a test match involving the West Indies for the first time since 1935.

“Alan Paton, a fellow personae non gratae with the Apartheid Government, summed up Jackie Grant in the following words:

‘He is a man with a low nature and a high calling. He is morally independent and religiously dependent. He has been driven to his knees, by grief, death, danger, fear, failure. His faith in the providence of God has at times saved him from complete despair.

‘His sacrifice of cricket, career, and possessions strengthened his faith. He knew that disobedience would have weakened it. Faith is not only useless but it is also unreal without obedience.’

“My resources for this presentation included The Wisden Cricketers Almanack, 1928 to 1936, West Indian newspapers on file at the Newspaper Library of the British Library, Colindale, London, Annual General Reports of T Geddes Grant Ltd – a lot of the Grant family photographs were taken from there, the Trinidad and Tobago Archives, UWI at St Augustine and Jackie’s autobiography Jack Grant’s Story which was published in a limited edition posthumously in 1980.

“On behalf of the Grant clan, I would like to thank the Veteran’s Committee of the Hall of Fame for nominating Jackie in the Builder’s Category and for the creation of an award in his honour, the Jackie Grant Humanitarian Award to be presented as merited, please note that it is not an annual award, to any West Indian player who excels off the field in his service to mankind over an extended period of time. Thank you for your patience and for listening.”

(The audience gives a standing ovation as a final photograph of Jackie appears on the Houdini imposter.)

Around the Web