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What would it be like to meet John Anderson Graham, the legendary missionary who gave his name to Dr Graham’s Homes – and lifted generations of young people out of poverty? Nearly 125 years after he created his orphanage in Kalimpong, India, the idea of actually speaking to the man himself seems almost unimaginable. Yet, remarkably, there are some supporters who remember doing just that. Dr Nesta Farrow was born in Kalimpong in the 1930s, growing up at the Homes in the era when Dr Graham still lived there. She went to school at DGH, met and spoke with Dr Graham almost every day, and even attended his funeral in 1942. We asked her to share some of her fascinating memories with us.

When did you live at Dr Graham’s Homes?

I was born in Kalimpong in 1933 – I think it must have been at the mission hospital, now the Charteris Hospital. So I attended the Kindergarten and then the school itself. Together with my younger brother and sister, I lived at the Homes until I was about 14 years old. But the story of our life at DGH really begins with my mother and father some years earlier.

What was your parents’ connection to the Homes?

It all began one snowy day in 1914! My father, John Thomas Lloyd, had just graduated from university in the UK and was about to take up his first teaching post. One January morning, he went to London on an errand. It was a bitter day. He was wet and cold, and had a few hours to spare. And he found himself standing outside a church where a “Dr Graham from Kalimpong” happened to be speaking. So – mainly to get out of the cold and have a hot drink – he went in and attended the talk.

What happened next?

The talk was all about how Dr Graham had set up the Homes, and why he had done so. My father was so fascinated by it. The concept of these children who had nothing – who would otherwise have been destitute – being given a loving home, an education, and a job for life to set them up. He was so inspired by it that he went home, resigned his teaching post, and became a teacher at Dr Graham’s Homes instead. He ended up spending 40 years of his life there, eventually becoming headmaster.

Was your mother in India at that time?

My mother, Mary, actually arrived about 15 years later. She came over to work with the orphans as a teacher. By that time, the journey to Kalimpong was easier. But when my father first arrived, it involved a boat to Bombay (now Mumbai), a long train journey across India to Calcutta (now Kolkata), a smaller train up to the foothills of the Himalayas, and then the last stretch from sea level up to 5,000ft on bullock carts! So my parents met at DGH, and married, and then I landed, so to speak.

Pictured: Nesta's parents, John and Mary, on the steps of the Katherine Graham Memorial Chapel on 22 December 1932. Alongside them are Dr Graham (far left), farm manager Hugh Kelly (second left), and school superintendent James Purdie (far right).

What are your memories of Dr Graham?

My main memories are of him walking around the campus every day – you never knew when you would bump into him! He had retired from the Mission by that time, but had moved up the hill to Jubilee House on the campus, which was built for him by donations from his many friends all over the world. I remember a lovely old man, with a shock of white hair and very piercing blue eyes, who stopped and talked to everyone. He knew every child’s name. He was a friend, really.

Do you remember when he passed away?

Oh yes. And I still remember his funeral so clearly. Everybody, from all over the surrounding area, went to it. Every road and path were crowded with people wanting to come and pay their respects – not just Christians but Buddhists and others too. People just felt they had to be there. At the time, his death felt like the end of everything. But of course because he had built the place to be so self-sufficient, it carried on – as it does today.

What was it like to attend the school in those days?

It felt quite normal, really. I was always aware that I was a very lucky child because my siblings and I lived in a staff house on the campus, with our parents. But my mother and father tried to treat us like the other children as far as possible. We were each attached to a different cottage for sports and other competitive school purposes: I was in Elliot Cottage, Anne was in Bene, and John was in Calcutta! Our friends were from the resident children, or other staff children – particularly during holidays, when some children went home and others moved cottages for the duration of the holiday. For our birthdays, mum invited our friends from the cottages. We were all one big family.

Is it true your father met George Mallory on his way to Everest?

Yes – in fact he stayed at the Homes with him when they passed through Kalimpong. That would have been in 1922, during their first expedition [Mallory and climbing partner Andrew Irvine both perished in the second expedition two years later]. My father had a rather lovely Tibetan brass box that Mallory gave him. We called it “the Mallory Box”, and we used to keep all sorts of odd things in it. One of my nieces has it now.

What was life in Kalimpong like for you during the War?

It became very hard to get teaching staff. And many types of food, too. My mother tried to cook with all sorts of things in lieu of flour. In 1941, we spent six months in Australia during my father’s furlough, where he was also raising staff and funds for the Homes. Passages were hard to book by that time, so we travelled there on a cargo boat. It took eight weeks, because it stopped at every port on the south coast of Australia. By the time we returned, with a cargo load of grain to feed troops in the Middle East, Japan had just entered the war. We had deck drills on the boat every morning. One day, as we neared India, there was a great panic because an unknown ship was heading towards us with all its guns trained on us. It turned out to be a false alarm, fortunately. For us children, it was incredibly exciting. But my poor parents…!

When did you leave the Homes, Nesta?

When the War ended, my parents agreed that they would send my sister and me to boarding school in north Wales. I was OK about going to boarding school but very sad to be leaving the Homes. From then on, I lived in the UK. But I stayed in touch with many friends from Kalimpong. And we fundraised for the Homes as a family. In fact my father went all round Scotland raising funds for the Homes at one stage.

Have you ever been back to DGH?

I’ve been back once. It was in 1998 and I went with my brother, my sister, a cousin who was also born there, and various younger members of the family: 10 of us altogether. It was wonderful to be there again.

Would you like to go back again one day?

I’d love to go back. At the age of 90, I think it’s probably not going to happen. But I think if any of my children were going out again, I would love to go with them. When you’ve experienced Dr Graham’s Homes, it never leaves you. It’s such a close-knit community. It’s food and home and family, all in one. Dr Graham’s love and care are really what has made it so special.