Review by Dan Koon
I was privileged to meet Yvonne Gillham only once in my life, but the radiance she projected was wonderfully blinding. Seven years later I met her daughter Janis and for a dozen years after that she and I developed a friendship that lasts to this day. They say the acorn does not fall far from the tree and I think this is true in Janis’ case.
While on a cruise last year with Janis, her husband Paul, and several other friends, I had the further privilege of reading the manuscript of Commodore’s Messenger. I am certain that anyone who was at one time involved in Scientology, whether as a staff member or public parishioner, will find the book utterly enlightening. For anyone fascinated by the continuing controversies of Scientology, Commodore’s Messenger conveys an inside look into the eye of the hurricane, and by that I mean L. Ron Hubbard and his closest associates. One of these associates was Janis Gillham.
At age 12 she was thrust into a role that no one, not even L. Ron Hubbard himself, could have predicted the outcome, for within not too many years Janis and her fellow Commodore’s Messengers, as they were called, would be running the whole of International Scientology. But that is the story of a later book. Commodore’s Messenger begins by taking the reader into the life of the first family of Scientology in Australia, Yvonne and Peter Gillham and their three children, Peter Jr., Terri and Janis. Life for the Gillhams is not without its challenges in Australia, but nothing compared to what happens when the family moves to England to be nearer to the center of Scientology in East Grinstead south of London.
Things spiral out of control as Hubbard leaves England and takes to the sea, to continue his research into higher spiritual states for mankind, as he puts it, or to escape the long arm of the law as many critics contend. Yvonne and her children soon find themselves enmeshed in Hubbard’s inner circle, Yvonne with Hubbard himself as one of his trusted aides, and the children with Hubbard’s own family. When Yvonne joins the newly established Sea Organization, to support Hubbard in his seafaring adventures, her children find themselves aboard what would become the flagship of Hubbard’s burgeoning navy.
Having children underfoot does not fit well with the serious nature of Hubbard’s plans to expand Scientology’s worldwide impact. So, he determines to make these children useful. He begins using them to send messages to various parts of the organization aboard the Apollo, hence the name Commodore’s Messenger.
With this as a background, know that the story Janis has written comes from the earliest days and the epicentre of Scientology’s Sea Organization. As a messenger Janis was with Hubbard a minimum of 6 hours each and every day and often times much longer. She was privy to all his moods from sunny to thundering; as a messenger, she was intimately familiar with everything happening on board the ship as well as throughout the Scientology network.
But Janis was also her own person and as a teenager she lived a life that few of her peers could ever hope to have lived. I found myself literally agog at some of the early experiences that Sea Org members somehow survived in the organization’s early years. Hubbard’s cavalier regard for the lives of others was astonishing, as Janis relates some of the storms encountered by Sea Org vessels ill-equipped to be piloted by those with so little seamanship training. It is a wonder no one was killed.
I’ll leave you to discover the rest in what I am positive will be an entertaining, sometimes humorous, and fascinating read. Dyed-in-the-wool Scientologist, ex-Scientologist or anti-Scientology critic should avail themselves of the most detailed insider story of L. Ron Hubbard’s life at sea ever written, told by the young woman who was there every step of the way.