Saturday Magazine

St. Thomas’ College, Bandarawela - Sixty years ago
by S. O. Wijeyesekera

I was one of the lucky few who were selected for the first batch of boys to St. Thomas’ Prep School, Bandarawela. My mother took me to F. X. Pereira & Sons Pettah to order the clothes listed with my admission letter. In addition to the blue shorts, white shirts, vests, stockings, shoes, jerseys, thoppi and linen, we were required to bring a pair of grey shorts, a blue blazer and a blue tie to be worn on special occasions. We also had to take our own folding camp bed and mosquito net. My mother handed me over to Miss Blanchard at Fort Railway Station for my first journey to Bandarawela. We were met by Mr. & Mrs. Keble at Bandarawela Station and taken to Walden Place. Walden Place is situated on Welimada Road, about 100 metres from the turn to the Golf Links Road, and I believe is now owned by Walkers Ltd. This is where the first batch of boys to prep school made a start. The staff occupied the bungalow and the few of us who were in the first batch of boarders had to sleep in the garage. I wrote home once a week and the start of each letter was dictated and we were asked to write the balance. In almost all my letters from Walden Place I wrote to my mother complaining of the cold in the garage and that I was very unhappy because I felt homesick. A temporary shed had been fixed on the premises to serve as a classroom. Although the ages of the boys ranged from 6 to 10 years most of the lessons were together as there were only a few of us. There was David Garvin Mack who was 6 years old and Sumithra Felix Wickremasinghe who was nearly 10 years old. Also G. C. Wickremasinghe and E. V. Henry. Douglas Perera was one of the day scholars. I was a little over 8 years when I came to Walden Place. I was in standard 3. Some of the boys who had been selected to join the Bandarawela school had to attend classes in Colombo till such time as the school buildings at the new premises were ready. My brother S. G. & cousins Lakshman and Nissanka were among those enrolled in Colombo in January ‘42.

I remember being taught Lady of Shalot and the boy stood on the burning deck in our first lessons in Warden Place.

Mr. Keble was building his home and farm on the hill off the Golf Links Road and Mr. H. A. J. Hulugalle was having buildings constructed in his premises along Golf Links Road for the school. The land and buildings were given free of rent to the school by Mr. Hulugalle. As soon as the premises were ready the boys from Walden Place and those selected and waiting in Colombo were transferred to the new premises. This was at the start of the second term on 19th May 1942. I got rid of my homesickness after I was transferred to the new premises. We had assembly every morning with attendance marked by Mr. Keble who was never able to read the name Muttettuwagama without faltering.

From the inception we had morning and evening prayers. Our favourite hymns for the evening prayers were " Now the day is over"’ "There is a green hill far away" and "Abide with me".

We had to wear our Sunday best including grey shorts, blazer and tie for our walk in procession to the Church of the Ascension. The pastor at that time was Canon Boteju. I was in the choir and we lined up outside the church every last Sunday to receive a new .25 cents coin from Sir Thomas Villiers which was sufficient in those days to buy sweets to last a number of days. Sir Thomas also invited us at least once a year to visit Adisham in Haputale.

For relaxation we had the cool fresh air of Bandarawela, which was the health resort of the country, throughout the year, catching butterflies during their pilgrimage to Adams Peak, walking on the hills and fishing with hooks made by us with pins at the several fresh and clean ponds at the bottom of the hill of our new premises and in the golf links. We played Robin Hood with Eaustace Willenberg as Robin and with Sarath Muttettuwegama, Nicolas Rose, A. Lucas, James Tyler, Aubry Nathanielsz, E. V. Henry, Vandenstraaten, Ian Gunawardena, Aubrey Nathanielsz, Weeraperumal and myself being some of the Merry Men. 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 spent a lot of our free time locating birds nests in the patnas. We used to eat the bark of the cinnamon plants and the Chinese guavas found growing wild in the patnas. I used to try my skills at throwing stones at the birds and the lizards and was accurate at most times until the day I aimed a stone at the pump room which was quite a distance at the bottom of the hill when the labourer was repairing the pump and was caned by Mr. Keble for my accuracy. We also made peashooters with a type of bamboo plant found in the patnas and used the seeds of the ganthapana plant which we used to fill our mouths with for bullets. We made bows out of the branches of the bushes in the patnas and used the stem of the mana bushes as arrows and compete as to who could shoot the highest. We also played war games with imported toy planes and soldiers sent to us by our parents.

The girls joined the school in 1944. Among them were Malini de Fonseka (Tina) youngest daughter of Major E. C. de Fonseka and Ann Marriot.

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 a good Goldilocks." I acted in Alladin and caused a laugh when I ran on to the stage with my hands raised as the Genii when Aladdin brushed the lamp shouting ‘Qui etes vous, que voulez you’.

Miss Blanchard used to invite two boarders every weekend to her English type cottage with a thatched roof at the top of the hill. Since she was very fond of me I used to have several weekends with her. Beaufort Weinman was one of my companions on most weekends. As I used to get cataarh she used to give me a drink like corriander mixed with cinnamon which I enjoyed and also enabled me to have a good night’s sleep.

Mr. Keble used to lecture to the boys on the position regarding the war which at that time was in favour of the Allies who were winning.

During the following years we started hockey and I represented the school in my final year in standard six. We also had a sports meet at the golf links in my final year. My brother A.H. who was excelling in sports at the Royal College Bandarawela branch known as Glendale coached me where I was advised to run the first part of the race slowly and sprint at the end. In my excitement at my first competition I ran fast from the start and held on at a snails pace to ward off the challenge from Willenberg who had reserved his best for the final yards and was being encouraged with loud cheers from his supporters as he was the most popular boy in the school. We were both from Red House. Red House won the meet easily from White House. I won my first trophy for my effort which was a small shield carved crudely on an unpolished piece of wood but I was very proud of it. Of course my brothers A.H & S.G. laughed at it as Glendale was giving silver cups to the winners and my brother A. H. had won quite a few at athletics, boxing and other sports. At the end of the sports meet as on all important occasions we sang the school song waving our flags of dark blue, light blue and gleaming white. I believe the school song was composed by Miss Blanchard and started with "Cheer, cheer prep school boys".

On Saturdays the boys of the forties were taken to the hill opposite our school and asked to make a small playground. I believe this is the land on which the present college stands. We are proud not only because we cut the first sods at the permanent site of the college but because the school has gone on to become one of the leading schools in the Uva Province.

When it was time to leave prep school for Glendale or Gurutalawa for our further education after standard six Mr. Keble called each boy separately and gave us a talk on the facts of life.

Among the prep school boys of the nineteen forties were Wimsy Sinnethamby, Larry Schokman, R. K. de Silva, C. F. Amerasinghe, Norman Gunawardena, DAFI Ingleton, Chitrasiri Pieris, Ralph Buulgens, 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. & G. C. Wickremasinghe, Mahen & Ralph Obeyesekera, Nihal & Haren Corea, Ralph & Ranil Deraniyagala, Percy & Sarath Gunasena J.O. & Tilak Yatawara, Maithri and Priya Samasinghe, Z. and H. Cader and P.C. and J. Ondaatje.

Some of them reached great heights in their fields later in life.