At age 12 Janis 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 after dealing with the banning of Scientology in Victoria.
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 epicenter of Scientology’s Sea Organization. As a messenger, Janis was with Hubbard a minimum of 6 hours a 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.
This is the first of three books.