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St. Thomas' College Bandarawela - sixty years ago

by S. O. Wijeyesekera - Daily News Saturday April 13, 2002

It was April 1942. I was 8-years-old then.

My mother took me to the Fort Railway Station to send me to St. Thomas' Preparatory School Bandarawela.

There were a few other children with Miss Blanchard in the Badulla train and we proceeded to Bandarawela.

We were met at the Bandarawela station by Mr. W. T. Keble and travelled in his vehicle to Walden Place. Our Dormitory was the Garage which was neatly arranged with the Folding Beds brought by each of us. There must have been about 15 of us as Boarders with a few more joining as Day Scholars next day for the classes held in the temporary shed built for the purpose.

I remember been taught lady of Shallot and The Boy stood on the burning Deck during our first lessons is Walden Place.

There was Doughi Perera, who was one of the day-scholars and G. C. Wicks who was a Boarder both of whom were my good friends for several years and others.

The Matron taught us Boarders to write letters back home and as I missed my mother my letters were smudged with my tears which the Matron sent to my mother with her comments.

We were in standard 3 and later we shifted to the new premises about 1/2 Kilometer from the present College premises and were joined by other older children who had been registered since January '42 and had been at the temporarily Colombo branch till the new buildings were ready. We had classes from standard one to standard six.

The new premises was the property of Mr. H. A. J. Hulugalle who also constructed the new buildings which were given to the school free of rent.

I had now made several friends and was very happy in the Boarding.

I looked forward to the weekends when we were given the freedom to loaf outside the school premises and I spent most of the time in the patnas on the hills locating Birds nests or Fishing in the numerous ponds of clear water in the Golf links.

We made Bows out of stick from the plants in the hillside and arrows out of the Mana grass stems. We used to compete as to who could shoot highest. We used to eat the bark of the cinnamon plants and the Chinese guavas found in the patnas. Also made peashooters out of the Bamboo type hollow plants found in the patnas. Our bullets were the seeds of the ganthapana bushes.

During the Butterfly seasons thousands of butterflies used to take the path of Samanalakanda through the school premises so we tired to capture the most beautiful of them and compare our luck.

I used to try my skill at throwing stones at birds and lizards and have been accurate most times until the day I aimed a stone at the Pump room which was quite a distance down the hill, when the labourer was attending to the pump, and was caned for my accuracy. At the end of each term we were selected to act in the Plays. To quote from a magazine 'Walwin Goonetilleke was a rather nervous Father bear, G. C. Wickremasinghe was a fierce little Mother bear E. Henry acted as Baby bear and S. Nanayakkara was good as Goldilocks'. I acted in Aladin and caused a laugh when I rushed to the stage with my hands up as the Genii when Aladdin brushed the lamp shouting 'Qui etes vouis, que voutez vous'.

My gang was named after Rohin Hood and Eustace Willenberg was Robin, Weeraperumal Maid Marian and Eari Victor Henry was Long John. Sarath Muttettuwagama, Vandenstraaten, Ian Gunawardena, Aubry Nathanielzs, Lucas (Greek) and several others were members of the gang. Aubrey used to tell tall stories which some of us innocents used to believe. They were mostly about the Japanese who had landed at their home in Colombo and the gun battles he had with them.

We had Assembly everyday with the attendance sometimes marked by Mr. Keble who never was able to read out the name of Muttettuwagama without faltering. We used to sing the prep school song and loudly when it came to the part of the prep school flag of 'light blue, dark blue and gleaming white'. We were taken to The Church of the ascension every Sunday walking in procession smartly in our grey shorts blue blazers grey socks blue tie and thopis.

I was in the church choir. We used to look forward to the 25 cents given to each of the choir on the last Sunday of each month. We had to stand smartly near the church gate to receive it personally from Sir Thomas Villiers.

Sir Thomas also used to invite the whole school for a day out at his residence Adisham.

Miss Blanchard who was very fond of Beaufort Weinman and myself invited us frequently to spend the weekend in her Cottage and gave us meals cooked by her and allowed us to invite two friends for the Sunday Tea when she served Cake and biscuits baked by her. As I used to get Catarrh she used to give me a drink like coriander mixed with cinnamon which I enjoyed.

We had prayer services every evening mostly conducted by Mr. Keble at which we were allowed to select our favourite hymns. Two of our favourites sung almost daily were 'There is a green hill far away' and 'Now the day is over'.

I played hockey. We were divided into two Houses and I was in red house with most of the Rohin Hood gang. The other house was White house. We had the first sports meet in the Golf links and I had been trained by my brother A. H. who was attending Royal Glendale and had won several Silver cups for his achievements in Athletics, Boxing etc. My brother had taught me to start the race slowly and keep the energy for the final yards but I forgot and ran very fast at the start and had a good lead over the others but was panting and almost crawling well before the finishing line. I could hear everyone cheering for Willenberg as he was easily catching up on me but I managed to reach the line before him and won my first trophy. It was a small shield carved crudely on a unpolished peace of wood but I was very proud of it. Of course my brothers AH and SG laughed at it as Glendale was giving silver cups to the winners at all the sports. Anyway I used to get complemented by my mother when I used to stick to my training at Prep school and eat with a fork and spoon and wear a shirt at the Table at meal times at home while they used to be bare bodied and eat with their fingers. My gentlemenry training at Prep school stood with me right throughout my life and I have been grateful to Mr. Keble for it.

When it was time to go to Glendale Bandarawela or to St. Thomas' Gurutalawela for our further education Mr. Keble called us individually and gave each of us a talk on the facts of life so that we entered the world of the Seniors with confidence when we left Prep school.

Many prep school boys of the nineteen forties reached great heights in their fields in later life. Among them Wimsy Sinnethamby, Larry Schokman R. K. de Silva, Norman Gunawardena, DAFI Ingleton, Chitrasiri Pieris, Ralph Bultgens, P.C. Munasinghe, Nalin Mendis, Lalith Perera, Rodney Bartholameusz, J. D. Piachaud, Nimal Maralande, D. S. Jayasundera, Fred Aldons, Vivian Blaze, R. F. Poulier, Haris Hulugalle and Wijitha de Silva. Also the brothers S. P. and G. C. Wickremasinghe and the Obeysekeras, Caders, Samarasinghes, Coreas, Deraniyagalas, Gunasenas, Yatawaras, Ondaatjes, etc.

"Cheer cheer Prep school boys"