Monday, September 1, 2014

A Tribute to Rev Father Harold Cuthbert Goodchild - S Thomas’ College Gurutalawa…

Rev Fr, Harold Cuthbert Goodchild - [1964-1969 & 1975-1990]

Dear Rev Fr Goodchild…… you have been a mentor a guiding light and an inspiration to all of us who were in college during the spells that you had had in this school in the hills; S Thomas’ College Gurutalawa….the first ever outbound school in this country. 

No doubt the best of times in college were during the Hayman Era and all of us here today are the products of the later eras. Nevertheless we bear much of the Hayman Era qualities, being boys that joined the college immediately after Dr. & Ms. Hayman left our shores to England.

You came in 1964 to act for Rev Fr. A J Foster who went on furlough. The arrangement being that you would return to the Ashram on Fr. Foster’s return. But the impact you made during this short period was astounding. The result was that Mr. J W Marasinghe who stepped out from scouting to concentrate more on coaching swimming had to give in, and take over the senior scouts once again.

Then the unfortunate happened on the 9th of December 1964; Rev Fr A. J Foster passed away. It was none other than you, that the college requested from the Bishop of Colombo to fill the position of College Chaplain. From here on you were to be a permanent requisite in college.

My first glimpse of you was in 1965 at S Thomas’ Prep School Bandarawela, when the senior scouts from Gurutalawa camped in the school grounds and held a campfire in front of the Blanchard dormitory where we senior boys in that school also participated. It was in that tender age that the camping bug had bitten me. I remember you saying later on; that this camp in Bandarawela was of a very high standard where a unique camp-gate was invented utilizing a coconut shell, I do have a vivid memory of that gate then.

Fr. Goodchild the House Master of Hayman Dormitory / Hockey and Football Coach

In 1967 we were transferred to S Thomas’ College Gurutalawa, and this person seen two year before at the campfire in Bandarawela is now our house master in the Hayman Dormitory in Gurutalawa. Your living quarters was next to the dormitory; the sitting room with all those cushioned chairs facing your writing table was definitely the most comfortable classroom in the whole school then. It was here that the Christian boys had their divinity classes, it was here that the strategies of how a corner pass in a Hockey game or a penalty kick in a Soccer game was planned when matches came up against competing schools in the province . The scouts practiced campfire songs here while the senior scout quartermasters calculated the food rations for their camps that were held in the dry zone jungles during school holidays. 

Every new entrant to college came into Hayman dormitory and had to be passed by you to the junior dormitories. As such you became a mentor to everyone who joined the college during your times.

Just as you were an inspiration to us…we on the other hand were your rascals, your rugger-muffins, your ruffians and at times even the hooligans….. to quote some of the terminology you used to address us when we got on your nerves. There were times when you had to induce corporal punishment on some of us and at times to the whole dormitory. This was painful to you as well, and there were times when you cried in privacy.  We knew this was not because Handapangoda had a split palm for bringing his hand to his buttocks when the cane met his bum; but for you having lost patience over us. No regrets….. we are all gathered here today because we went through the mill and are most happy of what we are thanks to your kindness and guidance.

On the lighter side we became the heroes in your quarters while you were at your evening prayers, when we passed an old post card over the sash of your tiffin cupboard sliding the fly lock at the back to feast on the left over from your dinner. We were that much a hungry lot………., spending our pocket money in Mr. Laffir’s co-op shop on rotties after sports, then to Ms. Jayawickrame’s five slices bread with the beef stew dinner and finally finishing off with your tiffin cupboard. Today we know that we were not fooling you but the food was left for the greedy and the hungry.

Fr Goodchild the Scouter.

The greatest contribution from you to the College was for scouting. If I may quote from ‘The First Fifty Years, A History of S Thomas’ College Gurutalawa 1942-1992’. Mr J W Marasinghe writing on scouting says 

I have no doubt whatsoever that the scouts who were in the Troop from middle 50’s to the end of 1980’s had experiences that no other scout in this island would have experienced. This is a bold statement to make but I believe it is to be true.” 

This is bold enough a saying but I believe it is very true and when one looks at the timeline the larger period the scouting quoted here was when you were running the Troop. 

I have been out on every camping trip during the period from 1966 to 1969. If I remember right, it was twice to Palatupana in Yala and once to Lahugala. The latter no doubt was the greatest camping experience I have had in my whole life up to now. I remember you going out to Lahugala in the college Morris Delivery Wagon the day before with a few senior scouts to prepare the modalities as it was only a single room building with an open verandah that prevailed for sleeping in the elephant infested Lahulala tank catchment. We followed you the following day by CTB bus and walked the sandy track from the road to camp about a kilometer. We had five patrols camping where we had to build our own camp toilets, a backwoodsman’s experience never to have had after that. My patrol being closest to the forest had our loo house examined by the elephants every night. They tore the jute hideaway that had to be repaired before the morning inspections where we got points for orderliness and cleanliness.

It was in these trips that you gave us your utmost knowledge and experience. I have a personal incident at this Lahugala camp that I will carry lifelong…and you too will remember now; when two elephants came very close to our camp in the night and you decided that we stalk them as close as we could without disturbing them. The wind was in the right direction blowing from them to us and we started stalking them crouched on the large rock outcrop on a clear moonlit night. All of a sudden the elephants took to their heels to the most eerie sound on an otherwise absolutely still night. I had slid my foot on a coconut shell unintentionally creating the horrendous noise that frightened the elephants away. I managed to save my cheek from the feel of your palm as you were far ahead of us. The talk the following day was on sounds in a forest and of course Ravi Dandayudapani re-created the same sound rubbing the shell on the rock.

I recall another incident in Yala where Nilar got over your nerves when you took us into the bush to see a jungle fowl that was calling close to camp. You explained to us how the hunter taps at his thigh imitating the flapping of its wings calling the bird out for confrontation; thereby luring it into the open to be shot. You were in your balloon shaped Khaki shorts and with your thigh turned pink due to the tapping in the scorching heat when Nilar also tried tapping your thigh when the bird was about to come into the open. Yes we enjoyed playing pranks with you, cos we loved to see you annoyed at times.. which we know you enjoyed as well.

In your parting letter to the Troop in 1969 you wrote thus:

“I looked upon you as my own children and I can only pray that God will keep you in his love and protection. Scouting is not only a ‘game’ or ‘activity’. It is a way of life’. I pray that you go deeper into the treasures of Scouting through reading etc., and become full grown scouts. It is not just the tests but the ‘Spirit of Scouting’ that you must catch. It is a vast family, a world–wide brotherhood, breaking down all barriers of class, colour, creed and caste.”

We have lived to your expectations and I’m sure many have mentioned to this regard. Suresh Markandan now an old salt… at one time had mentioned about how scouting came handy in his early days at sea. Neil Horadagoda a scout much senior to us living Down-under wrote to me once on the hike from Ella to Wellawaya with you in 1967 where I was the youngest participant; was to be one of the toughest he had experienced ….finding our way by the surveyor’s pegs on the current trace of the Ella –Wellawaya road. 

Fr Goodchild the Elephant Lover.

Your love for the pachyderms is but known to a few of us.  It was in 2001 when I was involved with Professor Sarath Kotagama another eminent Guru Thomian helping the Wildlife Club of S Thomas’ College Mt Lavinia to put up a stall for the 150 year celebrations.  I went to Mr. Marasinghe to get an old photograph of Fr. A J Foster to do a life size cut-out of him to felicitate his Bird-watching input at college; you spoke to me over the phone about my work with Professor on birds and expressed your fondness towards elephants. You just said   “I love them”. 

Yes you loved them I know. I recall you narrating how Erick Swan the greatest Wild-life photographer in the 50’s being killed when an elephant he tried to photograph attacked him. I remember you giving a graphic narration of the incident with the aid of a blackboard in the dining hall after dinner.

I have now found this in a different write up which I will read to you just as you did to us then:

Eric Swan was killed by a wild elephant while he was photographing on 18th September 1951. 

“A group of eight people accompanied him. It included his brother, William Blake, another photographer of repute, Stanley de Silva, the game ranger, two ladies and the labourers. The accident took place at Tamankaduwa in the Polonnaruwa district. They took some close ups of a herd of elephants numbering over 40 in the afternoon.

Later, they came across a lone elephant feeding peacefully in the ‘Villu’. As the elephant was a big specimen, Swan wanted some close ups. They left the ladies and the others on a hillock where it was safe and advanced towards the elephant whose back was turned towards them. As the wind was in their favour, they managed to get very close.

Eric Swan carried a rifle and a still camera, William Blake, a movie camera and de Silva was armed with a 12 bore shot-gun. May be it was the whirring of the movie camera or just pure coincidence, the elephant suddenly turned to face the people.

The last photograph taken by Eric Swan showed the elephant turning towards the cameras with its trunk curled up in its mouth - a sign of an elephant about to charge.

Blake recalls, he heard a shot and somebody shouting “run for your lives, she’s charging”. Blake ran towards the trees in the distance with de Silva close behind him. Eric knelt and fired at the charging elephant. When Blake looked back he saw the elephant striking Swan once with the trunk and he lay still. Then de Silva fired and it left Swan and started chasing Blake and de Silva. While running de Silva tripped and fell. He lay still and the charging elephant went past him to the dump of trees. Not finding Blake at the trees she trampled the bush around and ran away after trumpeting loudly, a couple of times.

The post-mortem showed six ribs and the skull fractured. The whole island mourned the untimely death of the wildlife photographer.”

I’m sure it was your liking for the pachyderms that you preferred the scout camps being held in Yala and Lahugala. You enjoyed the evening trips we made to the park watching the giants dig out the grasses by kicking them off the ground. The trunks whirling around while tapping the grass on their low knee-joint to rid the dirt before feeding. On the other hand we enjoyed counting them and recording the birds and animals seen to fill our log books with. Of course the dip in the Menik Ganga as the last activity for the day was to be the most refreshing.

The purpose of our visit today 

Dear Farther our visit to you today is a result of a search that went on for months trying to locate you.  And I’m sure it is the result of you considering us as your own children and your prayers for God’s love and protection towards us.

Thanks to Dr. Keerthi Mohotti we managed to contact Athula Senaratne to whom we have no words to express our gratitude for taking care of you all these years.. turning you into a nonagenarian. 
Very soon it would be the return of that very special day the 4th of September. You would be 91 years old by then. We definitely wanted to avoid visiting you on that date as we know you prefer the quiet reclusive life in tranquility devoid of crowds and parties. Athula with his devoted wife will keep you happy and content on this special day just as they have done all these years. 
In conclusion if I may quote from what Bandula Vithanage who was instrumental in making this visit fruitful, wrote of what you said at your 85th Birthday when the college paid tribute to you: 

He spoke with great affection of Sri Lanka and mentioned that although he had been invited many times to migrate to Australia, USA, UK and New Zealand he had always declined because he said there was no country like Sri Lanka and his wish was to be buried here. He requested the boys too to think twice before qualifying and leaving the country. He said the secret of his long life was work and quoted Brother Andrew who is supposed to have said that “work is life’s best recreation”. He went on to say that despite the ups and downs of life he had always experienced that if you took adequate rest and watched what you ate and worked with all your heart that was the secret of long life. He spoke with great affection of the School and exhorted the children to work hard in the classroom and the playing fields and do well and contribute to the reputation of Guru – a place like no other. He finally thanked the Headmaster and all concerned for the good wishes and the celebrations.”

Adding to this it is this different lifestyle to which the Guru Thomian has been exposed to and brought up with, that make us different from the rest. We ran miles in the rain just barefooted over the hills and valleys in the evenings when no sports were possible during the monsoon; when others would prefer to be indoors.

I’m sure many of us would also live long just as you. ……Yes we eat a little now…. for we now know what we got at collage was just what we needed, not what we wanted.  

Proof of which is evident as we all look good in our 40 looking 50’s.

Our effort today was to make you happier and most importantly to thank Athula and his loving wife for all the sacrifice that they would have made in keeping you happy all these years. 

Before I stop a humble request from all of us to Athula would be to let us and many others around the world also be gifted in joining you to what you have been all these years on your own.

Finally I still remember what you wrote on my autograph book when you left us in 1969

“Make love, the power in your life……….its fruits are slow but sure” ….  

 Of course it’s so true;

God bless you…………..

We love you………

Esto Perpetua ….

Uditha Wijesena

30th August-2014

Rev Father H C Goodchild has been with the family of Athula Senaratne; an old boy of STC Gurutalawa since his retirement. Their commitment in this endeavour of taking care of him is highly  commendable. 

In order to assist  Athula in this endeavor a few of us got together in formulating a scheme to  employ a domestic/care giver to support Fr. Goodchild.

The few of us visited Father and Athula's family on the 30th of August 2014

It turned out to be a very memorable three hours where the above tribute was read to him.

Father in general is of good health with his memory being still very sharp as before, but with a slightly failing hearing.

As it was almost 45 years since we had left school; recognizing us in our late 50's was somewhat difficult. But when introduced as to who we were by name it was a non stop reminiscence of the old collage days.

Those interested to contribute towards the scheme may contact Bandula Vithanage for further details. 

Some records of the visit:.............

V. Sellahewa, Sarath Serasinghe, Athula Thalagala, Uditha Wijesena, Bandula Vithanage, Fr, Goodchild, Thusitha Handapangoda, and Rohan Fenando [ARH]
The team and Athula Senaratne's family
He was Happy and Content
Author with Fr Goodchild

1 comment:

  1. Uditha many thanks for the inspirational blog. It brought back many memories of my college days.(1967-73)