Wednesday, January 25, 2017

"The Grandfather I Never Knew" Part 5

In the early 1950’s Idris’ wife, Iris, gave birth to Bronwyn. I wrote of this earlier in a series called “The Grandma I never Knew.’

“Iris suffered some hardships while living in Africa. In the early 1950’s they lost a child. Her name was Bronwyn. There were blood complications and she was born with Down syndrome. She did not survive long after her birth. Six years later Iris would have to sit in a nursing home, praying and waiting while their new born son was rushed to a hospital in Salisbury. His blood was rhesus negative and required a complete blood transfusion which was not possible in Umtali. 160 miles, two blow outs , a borrowed car and one police escort later, Merthyn Davies reached the hospital and one of the first ever full blood transfusions for a child in Africa was completed. Iris could thank God that this child was saved.”

I will add these edits and addendum to this account:

Firstly, that it was only two years later that Iris was waiting while her new born son Merthyn was rushed to the hospital. I have amended the original blog to reflect this. Secondly, that after the two blow outs Idris traveled in someone else's car for the last 50 miles of the journey. The police escort was a single officer on a bike who led them to the hospital. The Umtali Post should have a record of this but to date I have been unable to locate a copy of that article. Idris’ eldest son, Glyn, did not accompany them to the hospital, his sister Bronwyn had died when he was 10 and now he was 12 and his new born brother was in trouble. He didn't know how to deal with it at the time. Iris could not go to the hospital either due to her severe anemia and the fact she also needed blood transfusions. This is why she was at the nursing home, where the children were born.

My Dad, Merthyn, explained that the blood transfusion was administered through his right big toe and drained out of his left big toe. Dad rejected the transfusion and the doctor told Idris to go home and get some rest as he was not expected to survive the night. When Idris returned to the hospital the doctor told him that he wasn't sure how to tell him what had happened. Idris prepared himself for the worst. The Doctor then explained that although Merthyn had rejected the transfusion he had somehow begun to create his own blood cells and was now doing much better though not entirely out of the woods. When asked if a name had been chosen for Merthyn, Idris told him they had not chosen one yet. The Doctor asked Idris if he would consider the names of two close friends of the doctors that he had known in World War 2. Merthyn and Owen. Dad attributes his production of blood cells to the all night prayer event held by the Assemblies of God church they attended. There's also a rumor that Idris may have set a new land speed record for the trip between Umtali and Salisbury at that time.(2)

Merthyn Davies

The 1950’s was very eventful for Idris and it was sometime in this decade that he set off in a vehicle with some friends, Jesse Williams and Jim Watson(1) to try and find a place for the first ever Elim hospital in Rhodesia. The story goes that they traveled into the night and eventually down a small dirt track where they elected to stop the car and wait until it was light. While waiting, a native African stumbled across them in the pitch black and was frightened out of his wits. He had never seen a white man before and believed them to be ghosts, calling them “Toklochie” meaning something like “a spook.” Jim spoke Shona fluently and they were able to discover the man’s story. He told them that God had appeared to him a dream and told him if he walked down this dirt track he would meet men that could tell him more. The man decided to follow Jesus and Idris and his friends found the site for the hospital the very next day in Katerere in Nyanga.

While in Southern Rhodesia Idris began working on a family home. A friend and neighbor, Dick Vairy(3), was a building inspector and helped him put together a plan for the house. Every day after work he’d cycle up and continue working on it. The plan was to have it identical to their former house in Birmingham. There were two days he didn't immediately start work on the house, these were Wednesday and Sunday’s because they were church days and everything would stop for church. Building the house and maintaining it became his hobby. Merthyn learned much from his father about carpentry and painting during this time.

During the 1950’s Idris also helped start the first ever Assemblies of God church in Umtali. It began in the house that he built brick by brick. The pastor was Don Normand. Eventually Idris became an elder of this church, and then a preacher. They didn’t ordain people in the Assemblies of God, Umtali at the time. A member could become an elder and from an elder be recognized as a pastor. It was always a dream of Idris’ to become a full time minister.


Information courtesy of interviews with Glyn and Merthyn Davies in 2012/2013.

[1] Information on the beginning of Elim in Zimbabwe and the hospital can be found on the Elim website. Jessie Williams is mentioned, as is Dr. Bryan and so is the church in Katerere in Nyanga, although there is no mention of Jim Watson. Jessie also pastored a local Apostolic Faith Mission church. Mr. and Mrs. Jessie Williams are also mentioned on the "Religion in Zimbabwe" website.   Jim Watson was a friend of the families, and when Iris, Glyn and Wendy first arrived in South Africa they stayed with the Watsons. 

[2] This fact about the land speed record has not been verified, but it is certainly believed by my family. 

[3] An earlier version of this blog spelled Dick Vairy's name incorrectly. It was spelled as Varey, when I have been informed it is in fact Vairy. 


  1. Such a serious name for a little baby. That was quite the procedure (blood transfusion) for the 1950s.

    1. Yes. I have been trying to find the newspaper article on it, but so far no luck. Zimbabwe isn't the easiest place to get records out of. I will be checking the British libraries to see if they have copies of some of the old colonial records.