IN THE SHADOW OF MAHATMA GANDHI
By Joan Court
Published by Selene Press
74 Sturton Street, Cambridge , CB1 2QA
208 pages Paperback Black & White Photographs
All lives are voyages; Joan Court's journey has taken her further than many. After what we would now call a "deprived childhood" involving genteel birth in 1919, the divorce of her parents, an alcoholic and abusive mother, teenage work in domestic service, a father who committed suicide and little formal education one might imagine that Joan Court's life story would be one of misery and hardship. One could not be further from the truth.
This is the tale of a girl who did pull herself up by her own bootstraps with a little help now and again. Sent for two years to a convent school in Torquay, a Sister stopped her reading the Life of Saint Theresa, Little Flower and suggested instead P C Wren's Beau Geste, later saying: "I expect great things from you one day, Joan." Another nun, this time in Cape Town, told her to train as a nurse at St Thomas's Hospital in London. The legendary Dame Alicia Lloyd accepted her for training. Then began a remarkable career, as a Nightingale Nurse before and during World War II, a midwife in London and later in India, Pakistan and the Appalachian Mountains, social work with the NSPCC and in the Civil Service, where she became one of the first experts on child abuse.
Inevitably, Joan's childhood had left its scars on her mind. Although able to complete training and university degree courses, she spent a long period in therapy and has not been good at long term relationships. Indeed, her best friends over the years have been cats. With disarming frankness we learn the intimate details of her life. Enraptured by all the colour and beauty of the Roman Catholic rituals while at the Convent, Joan joined the Quakers when at the outbreak of war she expressed pacifist sympathies to her nursing colleagues, many of whom came from military families. It was with the Friends that she went to work as a midwife in the slums of Calcutta between the end of the war and independence. Often espousing unpopular causes (she left Pakistan when her work teaching birth control attracted the authorities' disapproval), Joan has of late been active in the animal rights movement.
This book finishes when in 1977 Joan goes to Cambridge to take a degree in Social Anthropology. Those who enjoy reading this book will hope that there is to be a sequel. That encouraging Sister's confidence has been fulfilled.
John Roll Pickering.