Haskins, Minnie Louise

Remembered mainly for her poem, quoted in the royal broadcast at Christmas 1939, she was born in Kingswood, near Bristol on 12 May 1875. She had four brothers and was the eldest of five daughters. Her father was the proprietor of the Warmley Potteries (later Haskins Ltd.), which was run by her mother after her father's untimely death. The family were members of the Whitefield Tabernacle in Kingswood.

Minnie was educated at the Clarendon Collegiate School, Clifton and then informally at University College, Bristol. She gained experience as a volunteer in social work locally and at Springfield Hall Wesleyan Mission in the Lambeth slums. In 1907 she went as a missionary with the Wesleyan Missionary Society to work in the Zenana mission to women in Madras. To raise funds, in 1912 published a slender volume of poems entitled The Desert. This included the poem 'God Knows', originally written in 1908 and to which she added the familiar lines, 'I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year, 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown. Princess Elizabeth brought King George VI's attention to the poem and he used it at the close of his 1939 Christmas broadcast.

Minnie returned to Britain in 1915 because of poor health and her life took a different turn. After a few months in charge of a munition workers' hostel in Woolwich, she spent three years supervising the labour management department of a Factory in Silvertown, West Ham. In 1918 she published a second volume of poetry, The Potter. She gained a Social Science certificate and the Diploma in Sociology, both with distinction, at the LSE and became an assistant and then tutor in the Social Science Department 1919-1944. She was involved in developing what was to become the Institute of Personnel Management and edited its monthly bulletin. With Eleanor T. Kelly she published 'Foundations of Industrial Welfare' in Economica, which promoted a 'spirit of co-operation' between worker and employer. In 1928 she wrote a semi-autobiographical novel Through Beds of Stone, followed in 1932 by another novel, A Few People. Further books of poems followed: The Gate of the Year (1940) and Smoking Flax (1942). In retirement she lived in Crowborough and died there on 3 February 1957.

 And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
 'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'
 And he replied:
 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
 That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.'
 So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
 And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

(Quoted in memorials in St. George's Chapel, Windsor and in The Queen's Chapel of the Savoy)

'I was present at my aunt's house in Crowborough on Chrismas Day 1939, on short leave from my bomber squadron with my newly wedded wife and other members of the family, to listen to the King's broadcast. Minnie was so modest and inscrutable that we had no idea that she had written the poem until a little later, when one of her sisters, puzzled by the poem's familiarity, challenged Minnie, who admitted she was the author.'

John Haskins of Sevenoaks, in The Telegraph, 16 April 2002


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