A Stroll Down Memory Lane
S Thomas' College Gurutalawa was founded in 1942; in order to re-locate S Thomas' College Mt Lavinia, when the military issued notice to vacate the school in five days subsequent to a Japanese bomber being downed at the collage grounds on 5th April 1942. The WW II had come to Ceylon.
Mr. & Mrs. Leslie de Saram who ran a livestock farm, with an orchard and vegetable garden on a ninety acre pristine property in Gurutalawa located in the Uva Hills, gifted their property in entirety with its buildings, furniture, equipment and the livestock to Dr. R L Hayman; to whom was entrusted the task of relocating the school by the Warden of S Thomas' College.
|The old college gate is still there but a second gate is manned by uniformed security|
Part of the school in Mt Lavinia came over here while there where two other re-locations one in Mutuwal in Colombo and another at Gatambe Peradeniya in Kandy.
The farm with its produce was a great support to run a boarding school during the war. The orchard and the vegetable garden was to be a veritable Garden of Eden.
Started with fifty five boarders and two day boys the school ran with eight teachers that included a matron in charge of food and a farm manager. With the war ending in 1945 the Gatambe branch was closed down and the boys transferred to Gurutalawa. Gurutalawa was to continue as the boarding school of S Thomas' College with Dr. R L Hayman as Headmaster.
Dr Hayman contributed immensely both
physically and monetarily towards the building of the infrastructure and
development of the boarding school in Gurutalawa. In the year 1944 Mr. Shirley
D' Alwis, the then University Architect was entrusted with the designing of the
buildings of the junior dormitories and the chapel block and the result we have
today is the simple stonework buildings that we all cherish with love and care.
It was a difficult time in the country after a war; priorities in running
a school overrode completing infrastructure. Lacking funds improvised the roofs
of the new buildings to be thatched of Maana grass. A common form of roofing in
those times in the central hills in Ceylon. Later on the buildings were covered
with asbestos roofing sheets after the classroom buildings that were also
thatched with Maana grass were torched by saboteurs in November 1948. The
entire classroom blocks were destroyed in the inferno. The current classroom
block was built in 1949 with the supervision of the first Engineering
undergraduate produced from Gurutalawa. Mr. V. Tharmaratnam, who later went to
become the first millionaire as well that STC Gurutalawa produced. He formed his
own Construction and Engineering practice in Nigeria.
|The Junior Dormitories and Quadrangle with part roofs rehabilitated|
|A Fish Eye view of the Class Room Blocks|
|Entrance way to the Office and the Junior Dormitories where we played REACH|
|This farm is the gift to S Thomas' College of two well wishers of the College|
|The Beauty of it all......Dr Hayman's contribution to the school|
The life size wooden statue of St Francis of Assisi placed in the niche of the chapel tower wall that you see today when entering the school was carved by Mr. E Scott from a solid log of satinwood timber [Burutha in Sinhala]. The statue was carved to a replica of a one foot statue of the saint placed inside the chapel. Its actual height being 5 feet 6 inches and weighing 500 lbs. It had taken four years to complete in Nov 1957 having stared in Jan 1953.
Also in 1949 the old swimming bath was replaced with a new swimming pool. The work was undertaken by Architect Mr. H F Billimoria. Work is said to have progressed in snail speed creating a pessimism about its finish date. On a lighter vein it is said when a school General Knowledge paper had a question "How long will the new swimming bath be?" One student had written 25 years instead of the correct answer which is 25 meters.
|Definitely the Iconic Picture of Gurutalawa|
|Inside the chapel...only one of its kind|
It was only in 1955 the last building development of the Hayman Era had taken place. The Headmasters bungalow came up on a modified scale though with the cheapest cost. Until then Dr & Mrs. Hayman had been living an underground existence in a converted bathroom since 1948.
The Gurutalawa OBA was founded on 21st February 1959 as an enhancement to the development that the school needed to continue. The old boys of the Hayman Era where now is a position to interact in the management of the school.
Gurutalawa until 1978 had classes
from the Lower Fourth to the Upper Sixth with almost all the students who
completed the Standard Five form at St Thomas' Preparatory School Bandarawela
[STPSB] came over to Gurutalawa to continue schooling. STPSB until 1967 conducted classes from the
LKG to Standard Five only. In the year 1968 the last batch of students came
over to Gurutalawa from STPSB. The termination of student transfer from STPSB
was to be a crucial drawback on Gurutalawa. There was no other institution
similar to STPSB that produced a student to match with the standard that
Gurutalawa expected for its Lower Fourth form then.
|Drive way alongside the Chapel|
It is said that Dr Hayman had had hoped that the school will never exceed the mark or three hundred and twenty five students at any time....But went up to a four hundred and twenty five in the mid-seventies and rose to a further one thousand two hundred and fifty in 1985. This was the result of Gurutalawa having had to commence classes from the LKG to run the school.
Did this increase in number and the large school infrastructure that had to be built do any good to the school? I guess it is the answer to this question that everyone so dear and near to this school is lost for.
This question and the doubt of the type of student that would walk out from the school had lingered in the minds of many a distinguished old boy in the past. It is noted that when such distinguished personalities were called upon as Chief guests at Prize Giving’s etc. had expressed their views and concerns openly;..... Senator J P Obeysekara in the late sixties had said "The expansion of the school had gone enough and the need to concentrate on producing a quality student should be priority number one from now on"....... Mr. Bradman Weerakoon a pioneering students at Gurutalawa speaking at the 1974 Prize Giving said… "There are very many schools now to compete with....... and we will have to find a different level at which to operate S Thomas' College Gurutalawa."
These early signs of downfall in the quality of the student were to be witnessed in the late 80's. Both the staff and the student were seen to resist the Headmaster trying to get the school back to the traditional track when action taken to dispel those with large debts in school fees that was not honored even with extra-long grace periods granted for pay up. The Headmaster was earmarked to be eliminated during the unrest of 87'/89'. The most pathetic in the history of the school came by on 20th October 1989 when the Headmaster Mr. J B Gunasegaram and Mrs. Gunasegaram was gunned down inside the Headmasters bungalow.
Was it not this that Senator J P Obeysekara and Mr. Bradman Weerakoon seem to have noted and feared of when they commented thus...............?
School During Our Time
We happen to be one but the last group that came from STPSB in 1967. Having sat an entrance test for eligibility to enter Gurutalawa in December 66’ before school closed for Christmas Holidays, our parents were informed of our performances and almost all had qualified to enter Gurutalawa. We were all in Gurutalawa with other boys from Kollupitiya as well. A majority of them being the burgher boys whose parents were mostly attached to the Ceylon Government Railway who knew about the school very well having run trains in this difficult terrain. It was a new school…..with the same friends.
Unlike at Bandarawela Gurutalawa was
away from town and we had a Co-op shop for our retail purchases and the school
ran a book cupboard as a store for stationary and exercise books. The campus
here was very large with ninety acres to roam about and we felt more into
adulthood when in here than at Bandarawela. There were no ayahs in the dormitories to wake us up.
We had to be up by 6 O' clock to the school bell and be ready for prep clad in
school uniform shoes and all at the second bell at 6:40 a.m. Many were
always late with lame excuses of water running dry in the faucet etc. and ended
up with detention orders; where one had to go over to the class room block for
studies at 11 O'clock on a Saturday when
all the rest were at leisure playing. I now wonder of the frustration the Duty
Master would have had on a Saturday to walk over to the class rooms to conduct
detention at midday. The prefects in Gurutalawa had policing powers when
compared to those in Bandarawela who were more the workhorses in the classroom; sweeping floors, bringing chalk and the registers from the office and carrying chits to
other teachers. The prefects at Gurutalawa could punish
students by giving 100 to a 1000 lines to be copy written from school readers.
But this was not an issue to worry much over, as there were those who wrote
lines for others for a small fee as pocket money.
|The old Book Cupboard of J de S J is no more|
|The Book room of Keble Dorm then is no more|
Breakfast was around 7:30 in the morning followed with classes. Five periods of 40 minutes each in the morning before lunch and another three periods in the afternoon when we had tea and everyone needed to be at sports. Mr. Laffir the games prefect would heard us all to the grounds every evening. The bath bell was at 5:30 in the evening after games and it will not be wrong to say that bathing was a rare habit in those cold chilly evenings. Hot water was never heard of.
General swimming times was in the mornings of the weekends and one class every week during school hours. There was fee levying club sports for squash, tennis, ping –pong [table tennis] paddar tennis and horse riding. Bird watching and scouting was for those who were interested and both these activities I would say was of a very high standard in Gurutalawa when compared to other schools in the country then.
Scout camps extended to about five days away from school mainly during the vacations in faraway Yala or Lahugala. The experience gained definitely carry lifelong memories. Bird-watching was of high class in the orchard with all those fruiting trees where almost all the passerine migrants were to be found in the migratory season.
|Remembering Mr Chapman ...his abode|
Sunday was Sabbath and we were free to play around the dormitories. REACH was the name of the game. One had to search the hiding rest. Once seen in hiding the name would be called followed with a shout REACH. This was not enough. The spotter needed to be at a distance of ten leaps or paces to the caller. These leaps end up with unbelievably long jumping strides. However if the spotter is caught or struck by the hiding member the game stars all over again. It was so interesting and was played only in Gurutalawa as far as I can remember. Unfortunately the game was banned when one ended up with multiple fractures in the leg trying to perform an extra-long leap jump over the canal that ran alongside the junior dormitories.
Rainy days permitted no sports but we were not permitted indoors either. Everybody had to run cross -country in the rain across muddy paths crossing swollen fords and creeks. Soaked to the bone and back in warm clothes for evening prep after a bath, we all frequent the co-op shop for the hot yeast rotties gulped down with shredded coconut sambol that was chased down with hot tea.
Dr Hayman had left the country in
1964 and his successor Rev Canon A J Foster had passed away. However the
influence of the Hayman era was still alive with Mr. A K Chapman and Mr. J de S
Jayasinghe and Fr Goodchild still in school. We had the honor to be ruled over
by two Headmasters from 1967 to 1971. Dr Frank Jayasinghe and Mr. E L Perera, a
founder teacher with Dr Hayman. He now came over from Trinity College as
|The Co-op shop still looks the same but without Mr Laffir the Manager|
Dr Frank Jayasinghe [1965-1968] left for India where he had an excellent carrier in private school management; later founded the Wycherley International in Colombo. A great disciplinarian who struck the cane with the golf sweep. I remember once he caned over 50 senior students’ three cuts each for having teased the Duty Master during prep in the dining hall on a rainy day. We juniors were flabbergasted.
But some of us juniors were not so lucky with Mrs. Jayasinghe the English class teacher in the Lower Fourth. Wathuhewa and Arshad Hassanali were frequent visitors to the Headmaster with a chit from her. And they would sneak back into the class silently blushing in pain. I will not be rude in saying that she favored the burgher boys and hated Hassanali for no reason. Probably Mr. Jayasinghe knew this and Hassanali on some days walked in with a sarcastic smile on his face.
Mr. E L Perera [1968-1974] a man of short stature came over from Trinity. Before him his Trinitian nickname found the way to school. He was short enough to peep through a keyhole with ease. Every nook and corner…. and behind every closed door read the words Keyhole was here. He was different to Frank Jayasinghe and was more a preacher; conducting meditation sessions where much of the students with closed eyes were dreaming while some actually dozed off. He also taught mathematics to the senior classes. He was not happy with the cane even though he used it….his short stature never got the cane to strike where he wanted. Thus his command before corporal punishment would be “hang on the wall "....... one could not resist the giggle before pain.
But once he too went violent when Gifford Miles did a mural of a huge guitarist in charcoal on the newly painted staff room. Gifford was caned six cuts in public during assembly. Gifford a heavily built burgher boy and E L Perera just around 5 feet clad in coat and tie... was more like David meeting Goliath .
School Today at the 57th OBA
|This culvert remembers that there was a Farm here even in 1936|
|The way up to the Farm still looks the same but for the Farm itself|
|The cows gone in the meadows.....but definitely not in the Orchard|
|The poultry sheds in the farm have all gone|
|The Orchard being encroached for classroom blocks|
|The Orchard its no longer a Garden of Eden|
|The only New Building that came up during our time was the New Hayman Laboratory Building|
|The New Foster Memorial Hall that came up in 1974|
School Today at the 57th OBA
I guess if I am qualified enough to write this bit of the story when compared to people like Mr. Kamal Nilaweera who frequents very OBA all the way from the UK. My presence at OBA’s are still within the single digits. However I have risen to the call of the school when in need.
|Incumbent Headmaster Rev Nihal Fernando|
|The old filtration plant of the swimming pool|
The farm which had milk cows and poultry enriching the protein and the vitamin intake of the students has been let out on lease. The conditions are far below the standards from then in the 60’s.
It is good to note the
re-introduction of horse riding but the animals are housed in the old staff
lodgings close to the senior dormitories. This could be as a contingency plan until
proper stables are built for them in the farm area.
|New stallions housed in the old staff lodgings|
The Keble dormitory then is no more and is replaced with a complete new sub junior dormitory and this area is now dedicated for the Junior School.
I would like to note the
Headmasters address at the OBA /AGM. It is so sorry to hear of a Code of
Conduct having had to be imposed on the Old Boy of this school. It consist of
five clauses that include only Past students who could participate, meal times
not honored and most sad to have to stamp down that no alcoholic beverages to
be consumed in public within the school premises. As a result the most prestigious OBA Dinner for the very first time in the history of the school was at a Reception Hall in Boralanda. Need I comment?
|New Keble dormitory and the old water well now hidden in the growth|
|Young Old boys at the grounds|
|We older ones of the 60's now in our 60's|
One needs to understand that times have changed ever since the country's economy was liberalized in the mid 70’s, so did liberalize our social habits and attitudes. Today there is no train travelling old boy at the AGM and one cannot expect one to travel by rail in this fast moving society. But moral and responsible behavior in public towards others cannot be flouted for any reason. This was something that the society before the mid-seventies inculcated and respected with reverence.
And guess that is why we call it the Golden Seventies and the Enchanting Sixties. Of course I’m proud to say I am a product of Gurutalawa of the Sixties. But I'm aware that those who came out before me in the 50's stand above us in many ways while it is without malice that I say that there are but some who came out after us who need to wear their tie knot neater than that; or for that matter should not wear that tie at all.
In conclusion I would ask the question …
‘Whither bound Gurutalawa?’ The answer I do not know……..
Headmaster Rev Nihal Fernando will have all our blessings and moral support in getting his ambitions fulfilled in the refurbishment and rehabilitation of the infrastructure………
But none of us have addressed Mr. Bradman Weerakoon concern………”There are very many schools now to compete with....... and we will have to find a different level at which to operate S Thomas' College Gurutalawa."
We could bring back the buildings to the old glory but for the quality of the student who walks out from school?
My personal opinion is that......... It was a wrong decision to set off St Thomas’ Prep School Bandarawela as a separate S Thomas’ College in Bandarawela. This cannot be compared to Dr, Hayman requesting for Advance Level classes in Gurutalawa then in the 50’s. There definitely has no potential to have two similar schools in the Uva Province; and it will not carry any argument in comparing two similar schools in Kollupitiya and Mt Lavinia. Down in Urban Colombo there is potential for two similar schools.
It's going to be a long wait and see……we may live a few more years to see the changes taking place.
There are but two silent observers who had witnessed all what happened here in the last 74 years and will be seeing many more years of change to come.
There are but two silent observers who had witnessed all what happened here in the last 74 years and will be seeing many more years of change to come.
|The Warden's Hill and Gonagala Hill will keep watching over the school for many more years to come|