Doris Knowles - My life as the wife of a Church Army Captain

doris kI was brought up in a Christian home, in Warboys, Huntingdonshire. When I was 13 years war was declared. I didn’t want to go into any of the forces, so I chose to go into nursing. I married quite young. We had 3 sons, and were very happy for 14 years.

Then tragedy struck. John my husband died after a stroke. The whole world dropped out of my life. I was left with 3 boys to bring up. I, who had always professed to being a Christian, had a lot of questions to answer for from my sons. I just could not think where God was in all this and why this should happen to me.

Then I met a lady 3 years later who was a great help, and she told me God was there to comfort me if only I would turn to him. I did start praying more often to God and he was there and I am sure he led me to meet him and so begin a life of work in Hostels. Without Jesus I am sure I could not have coped with all the problems we had to face.

I married Len (Captain Leonard Knowles) in 1968. He was then working for Church Army at Stafford Prison. We left our home in a quiet neighbourhood and took our boys to live in a Hostel in Birmingham. I had no idea what was in front of me (and it was as well!). There were 90 men, we had our own flat, but very close to the men, in fact our landing opened into the Hostel and there were dormitories above us so we had little privacy. I was the only lady in the building apart from the cook who came in daily.

So my life in Hostels began.

The first man I will tell you about was a perfect gentleman, but he had a drink problem. He would work for months and save his money and then drink for weeks and we would have to break his door down to get to him. One night we were woken by the police looking for one of our men. He had chopped someone with an axe. He was in his room with the axe in the locker. He served 10 years in prison. Then one evening I was in the bath and could hear a baby crying. Next thing I knew, my husband Len came in with it in his arms, it had been left on our doorstep by a young baby sitter, who thought it wasn’t looked after properly as its mother was unmarried and she had gone out with another fellow. It had its birth certificate pinned on it and all his baby food and nappies in a bag. Only an hour before it had been given out on the television a baby was missing. The police were soon round and we did get our names in the papers.

One Christmas Day the man who was going to do the cooking disappeared so who had to cope to cook 64 dinners?! That wasn’t so bad but the kitchen porter decided to keep walking round and round with a mop over his shoulder and so what with cooking and watching, him how I got through the day I shall never know! He went into a mental hospital.

One of my worst moments in the first months was when we asked someone to leave and he came back and threw bricks through our kitchen window. My husband was in bed ill at the time and his boss said this was usual. "What have I come to?" I thought. It did happen again, but 3 years later. I guess I accepted it by then.
We stayed in Birmingham for 5 years, they were tough; you were on call 24 hours a day and 7 days a week.

We then moved to West Kensington and spent 3 years there until the hostel closed. One night the police came to say someone had called to say a bomb had been planted and it would go off at 2.30am. It turned out to be a hoax.

From there we moved to Westminster. The street we lived in was 'Lords and Ladies' one end, and us and the Salvation Army at the other end. Our flat was very near to the men once again; if anyone came in drunk you knew it.

One of my worst moments was when a man threatened to punch me and called me some names which I could not mention here. I remember praying to God, “don’t let him hit me” and the Lord did listen because he did calm down.

The next move we had was to Hull, where we had a first home for 10 years - this was marvellous. We had 64 men here who were mainly attached to a mental hospital. They were the best men I have ever had to work with. I really enjoyed Hull. One occasion Len and I were asked to go to Wakefield Prison to see a man who had been at the Hostel before we went there. He was there for rape, and was hoping to come back when he was discharged. I remember going into this large room where lots of other men were with their families and wondering what they were there for - that really upset me. We had a few hair raising moments at Hull, as someone set fire to his bed, as all they thought about were their cigarettes. One man there insisted the Queen was his cousin, another man had smothered his father with a pillow but he was quite harmless really.

And so we came to Derby where we still had our problems. When I look back now and think of all the problems we have had to cope with, I know that I could not have got through, if God had not been with me and played a big part in my life.

I thank the Lord for the work he gave me to do. I am sure it made me a better person and come to know Jesus more fully.

Doris Knowles

5 May 1926 – 23 February 2017