FOND MEMORIES OF THE SCHOOL BY THE SEA – R.B.WIJESINHA –
It has been my lasting privilege and life long blessing to have been made a member, student and teacher of S.Thomas’ College as far back as 1925, when the college kindergarten used to be situated on top of a rolling down adjoining the Galle Road. Those early classrooms were made up of a “Baby” class, Lower kindergarten and Upper kindergarten which comprised the entry into the collage of S. Thomas’, Mount Lavinia.
There was no Small Club ground in those happy times – just a rolling ‘down’ to the Hotel Road, Mount Lavinia. Our teachers were the dedicated and much loved and respected – Miss A Bay, Miss Ruth Jansz, Miss Gladys Perera ( later Mrs R E Jayatilake), Miss Rodrigo ( later, entered the Sisterhood of St. Margaret’s Convent. I am immensely grateful for their devotion and loving care.
1928, was big year for us as we graduated into the college proper, to become the youngest “Thomians!”.
Our classroom was the last on the eastern corner of the main building where now stands the Chapel which was built at that time. I remember the day when one of the workmen fell off the roof and had to be taken to hospital in a critical condition. What his fate was were never told!
As we progressed from class to class each year, we were blessed to be influenced by great dedicated teachers who were devoted to their calling. Among them were J H S Pieris, V P Cooke, Deutram David, E S D Ohlmus, C H Davidson, R E Jayatilake & E L Perera. They were without exception a great influence not only on my education but on my up bringing, along narrow and straight paths of right conduct, as well as teaching. They were a lasting source of influence for good and an inspiration for learning. To them all I owe a deep debt of gratitude and offer up a prayer of thanks to the Almighty for having been brought under their guidance. To Mr Cooke, I owe an extra word of praise and thanks, for he it was who took us out into the field and taught us the fundamentals of batting, bowling and fielding. He also gave us a sure grounding in Latin and Mathematics.
There were the lighter moments as well. There were times, especially on cricket match days when I was sent out of the class room, ostensibly to fetch a glass of water. If I took a little longer than necessary, no questions were asked, except to inquire “ What was the score Wijesinha”
I also remember a peculiar occurrence, when the Maths master, especially on Friday afternoons often ordered me to the back of the class and even made me stand on the form. Unable to understand at first this strange “punishment” I began to realize that from there I had a good view of the cricket ground and part of the scoreboard! So I did not protest, as it was invariably on a Friday afternoon. Mystified as I was, I was secretly pleased. My problem was solved when at the end of the period I was called up and asked “who was batting?” and “what was the score?”
So the teacher whom we were inclined to dread, suddenly was transformed into an “Angel”. I also realized this thoughtfulness, when batting in the match was my brother, Alex, who opened the innings with Douglas Bartholomeusz. The teacher concerned was none other than J P Manickasingham who had, earlier, inspired us with a sense of dread up till then!
Among those illustrious servants of the college as her Wardens, the name of De Saram looms large. In the twenty five years he served the college and dealt with her destinies he had to contend with desperate and difficult times. It was during his stewardship that the college was severely affected by a worldwide depression. The college finances were dealt a severe blow. But De Saram, blessed with a brilliant brain, devised a scheme. “The Million Six Pence Fund” which helped the school tide over those bad times, till many years later there came another disaster – the World War of 1939-1945. S.Thomas was again severely affected as the school buildings were commandeered overnight and turned into a Military Hospital.
The entire schools was disorganized and had to be evacuated, but De Saram was equal to the situation. His brilliant reaction was to find accommodation for separate parts of the school; some at Milagiriya, some at Peradeniya (Kingswood College) and as fate would have it, some at Gurutalawa which was handsomely donated by Leslie De Saram. So S.Thomas’, continued uninterrupted in four locations. It was five years before S.Thomas’ returned home to Mt.Lavinia.
On a personal note it was Warden De Saram who ordered me into the Boarding House, although my parents lived a few yards away from College. “I want your son to be a true Thomian” he explained to my father and so I came directly under the influence of Dr.Hayman, who was the Miller House Master. Dr.Hayman, among his many accomplishments, taught us to admire and appreciate and love our country. He took parties of boys to distant places like Adams’s Peak, Horton Plains, Diyatalawa, and mad us walk miles in search of ruins and waterfalls. On such a trip he made us study at least four hours a day! Mr.W.T.Keble taught us English, Father Foster taught us History and Dr.Hayman himself tutored us in Maths.
1936 was an eventful year for me, I was pitch-forked into the college First Eleven from the junior team, just a few days before the Royal Thomian Match. At practice after the first day in the first eleven, I was in a daze; I returned to the small club the next day where Mr. Harold Janz chased me back to the big club! Chosen to play in the Big Match I was faced with another problem. I had never worn long trousers. I had to go from Dormitory to Dormitory in the boarding house, begging to be given a pair of long trousers that would fit me. It was not easy, short in stature as I was. Finally I did find the pair to fit me which was graciously offered and which I had to wash myself after the match.
It was Dr.Hayman, when he was acting Warden in 1946 who invited me to join the college staff to teach English and Latin . He also made me reside in the college and take charge of Miller House. In addition he put in charge of the college Cricket Team. During that period when Warden De Saram had returned from his leave I was summoned one day to his office.
I had dropped a coloursman from the Team! A deputation had come to confront the Warden and to ask for an explanation. The Warden sent for me to find out what it was all about. He addressed me saying, “ These gentelemen claim that you have dropped a Sinhalese from the team, in which there were a majority of Tamil Boys”.
I was dumbfounded! The thought had never entered my mind. At a loss how to reply, I burst out saying “ Sir, I do not spell my name with an M at the end of it”.
The Warden suppressed a smile and remained straight faced. “ Alright Wijesinha, you may go.”
I never heard another word about the deputation again, but the Warden did ask me what the trouble was about. I explained that I had dropped a batsman whose scores were 0,0,1,0 in his last four innings!
“Well” said the Warden, “ I would have sacked you, if you had not dropped that boy!”
S.Thomas’ is still home for me. The home where I had a wonderful experience in life as a student and teacher and made lasting friendships.
ESTO PERPETUA! MY ALMA MATER!
Contributed by Wimsy Sinnathamby
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