BRIEF RECOLLECTIONS OF SOME GREAT TEACHERS
“Forty years on, when afar and asunder
Parted are those who are singing today
When you look back and forgetfully wonder
What you were like in your work and your play
Then It may be there will often come o’er you
Glimpse of notes like the catch of a song
Visions of boyhood shall float them before you
Echoes of dreamland shall bear them along…..
(A verse from the Song “Forty Years On” sung at the OBA concert each year in the forties and early fifties by the choir of Richmond under the direction of the late Maj. A. F. de Saa Bandaranaike)
If we are proud to belong to a school that is 140 years old, we should be proud of its entire history: all that went to make it what it was yesterday and what it is today. To be proud of something implies that what we are proud of, is a thing of great value. It is good therefore to pause a while and think of the values, standards, ideals and traditions that guided Richmond down the years, that inspired generations of students, and made our school a thing of great value, of which we are so very proud.
In this respect rather that talk of abstractions, I should like to refer to few of my own concrete experiences at Richmond, relating to the role played in my own life by some of our great teachers.
My earliest memory of school is of the day when I joined school in the lower Kindergarten where I was one of a group of little boys and girls, all aged less than four, and all bawling away as loud as ever, fearing that they had been banished from home for all time!
Our Kindergarten teachers, like all the rest on the staff, were indeed most dedicated and devoted. We had Miss Kale the Head Teacher, Miss Gunawardane and Miss E. M. Jansz, to all of whom, standards of discipline and morality were equally important as excellence in studies. They taught us the basics of knowledge without compartmentalising knowledge. These “lessons” (not quite an appropriate word, though, to describe them) were presented so lovingly, with such intensity, dedication and involvement, that we began to Love to Learn, and to love to come to school. Music, song, Dance, Drama the wonderful beauty of Nature around us, and knowledge and discipline and social responsibility all were closely knit together in one total school experience at this impressionable age.
It was when we moved into the Primary school (or Middle School) starting with Grade II that the real ” education” began, where the dedicated staff endeavoured to bring out the best in the potential of each and every child. Let me refer to just a few memories:
The value of Humility and the Nobility of Poverty, were the subject of many a lesson and many a discussion, flowing from many an incident. Pride in one’s birth or station in life, or of one’s wealth was scorned at and condemned and of course the picture of Jesus Christ born in a cattle shed was always before us.
The Principal used to go round the school every day talking to every class for a brief while. There was this incident when on the first day of opening school, the Principal (the late Rev. A. A. Sneath) came round to our class and found his son, John, sitting in the first row, while one boy, the son of a humble worker in the school on free scholarship, was seated in the rearmost row. How angry Rev. Sneath. was with the class teacher, He ordered an immediate reversal of seating. And then he spoke a few effective and eloquent words pertinent to the incident emphasising the equality of the Principal’s son with the son of the humblest worker in the school. This incident etched itself indelibly in the minds of many of us that morning.
There were indeed, very many incidents such as this, when teachers of dignity and calibre consistently conditioned us to avoid pride in birth and station and to strive to be humble but at the same time cultivate qualities of honest persistence of hard work, and of achievement. In doing so, naturally they drew their inspiration from the Bible and the Teachings of Christ, where the Meek, the Humble and the Lowly were given pride of place. Ringing in my ears (and I am sure in the ears of others) were the often quoted words of Christ: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man , to enter the Kingdom of God”. . .
It was in Grade II (the first form of the Primary School) that we had our earliest lessons in history. And we began not with the history of the world, or of Europe, or of Britain, but the History of Sri Lanka. Our earliest history teacher was Miss L Jansz and I have clear memories of her stories from Lanka’s past, including the arrival of Vijaya, the building of the Ruwanweli Seya, the Elara – Dutugemunu war, the story of the King who changed his place with the palace guard and a host of others beside, all taken from, I believe, L. E. Blaze’s. ” History of Ceylon”. And this was contrary to popular belief in some quarters prevailing today, that missionary schools then, taught nothing of our own history. Here was a burgher lady in a Christian school teaching us to be proud of our own history and traditions.
Mr “Ikey” Abeywardane laid the Foundations of critical thought and analysis, and of serious interest in Public Affairs, and gently but purposefully he got us interested in wide reading. I first came in touch with this great man in primary IV, when I was seven years of age. Students of Richmond who had the privilege of being taught by him, will never forget him and the respect they have for him will never diminish.
“Ikey’s” lessons were a treat and a pleasure. They were an amalgam of serious discussion and instruction, mixed with ebullient fun and humour.
“Ikey” would, as a regular practice take off from the immediate subject of instruction into an interesting but inspiring discussion of some experience, some anecdote, some incident, somebody’s life story, or some aspect of history which held us enthralled. Every such discussion had some purpose or other: to cultivate a sense of civic duty, of personal morality, of unselfishness, of striving to achieve, of social cooperation, of team spirit, ;and above all of avoiding hypocrisy and being honest and honourable.
Stories of disabled or deprived people who strove against their disabilities and did well not only lor themselves but for others too, such as Helen Keller, stories of incidents of courage in adversity, stories of people who refused to compromise with their convictions, stories of tolerance of others’ opinions and even class debates such as, for example the one where we debated Indian independence with each of us cast in the role of Gandhi, Ambedkar, and other prominent actors of the drama the residuum of all this was the seriousness of interest nurtured within us and the ideals that were made part of us.
The equally interesting and equally important aspects of primary school life were the extra mural activities including drama, the Apollo Club, singing in the choir, cub scouting, cycling trips, swimming, Sports (each unto his own) agriculture and the Farmers club, and a host of others. What a rich mosaic of school life this was!
And here, the Chief inspirer, the chief organiser and motivator, was another great man on our staff the late Major A. F. De Saa Bandaranaike, a man of gargantuan reach, interest and vision, and with equally gargantuan competence and energy. He conducted the choir, auditioning each particular voice, he organised and conducted the first harmonica band in any school in Sri Lanka, he organised dramas and directed and supervised the acting; producing several plays himself and he integrated drama with music in presenting several operattas. He was the person who took over the torch of the legendary Apollo club from the late Prof. Ludowyke, along with Mr Herbert Kueneman. He enrolled Richmond in the Royal Life Saving Society (the first school in Sri Lanka to be so enrolled) and organised and conducted swimming and life saving and with all these and a host of other activities, he did his own teaching too, besides being headmaster of the Primary school
Here again, guided by the genius of Major Bandarnaike, our own personalities expanded, and different aspects of our dormant potential began to develop. What Major Bandaranaike emphasized, to quote from the hymn sung at Prize Giving was
…. “The thrill, the leap, the gladness of our pulses flowing free “…
Augmenting Major Bandaranaika’s devoted work in the Junior school, were others such as Mr R. S. Wickramasinghe. Mr Wickramasinghe launched us into the world of Science in Grade V, and into the idealism, excitement and discipline of cub scouting. In this own way, quiet Mr Wickremasinghe worked hard to strengthen the fabric of our morality and social obligations.Â
The link between the Junior School and the Senior School in my memory was that other fantastic personality and symbol of Richmond: Major F. A. de S. Adihetty. We felt his influence in Grade V in the Junior School as well as in Grade VI and VII of the Senior School.
In many ways “Major A” was the very apotheosis of all the proud and nojale traditions and ideals of Richmond. He was in his time already a legend; and he still is a legend. No boy of Richmond can forget the ideals that he dinned into our ears by constant repetition. We little realised, that these slogans which “Major A” got us all to repeat aloud and in unison, were sinking into our sub conscious through a process of auto suggestion and becoming part of ourselves. “Service is the crowning Glory of life” and many others beside! Hypocrisy and dishonesty he would not tolerate and what fury descended upon the very few who were found guilty of these sins! In the very smallest matters, he wanted discipline. We had to sit straight up in our chairs in the class and not in a slouch. The discipline of the drill field was transferred to the classroom. It was only years later, in adult life that I began to realise that “Major A” had cultivated within us an almost Prussian efficiency as well as ruthless loyalty to high standards of behaviour in approaching tasks in adult life.
I cannot think of any teacher at Richmond who could be considered as a person who merely worked for his pay. All, treated teaching as a sacred vocation and the welfare and development of the pupils was what was uppermost in their minds. Children who were weak were often helped by many of them after hours, or in their homes but not a cent, did any of them charge for these extra lessons. Teaching to them, was sacred: and in those days teachers were as poorly paid perhaps worse so than today.
And the same devotion also applied to the many others in the Senior School who taught us specialist subjects Mr C. S. Gunaratnam in Chemistry, Mr K.T. Koshy in Physics, Mr A.T. Kovoor and T. Samuel in Zoology and Botany,
Mr J. C. Thurairatnam in History, Mr H. M. Samaraweera in Geography, and many others. As an example of the selfless devotion of our teachers to Richmond, may I be permitted to talk of my own father, who taught Sinhala for over 25 years. Twice, I know, he was offered far more lucrative opportunities elsewhere: once in the cadre of the Education Department itself but he steadfastly avowed that he must serve the school he had joined and the pupils entrusted to his care, and the Church of which he was a member, and not go into better paid employment. So it was with all the others!
It was in the very senior forms, and at the University Entrance that we came under the influence of Mr E. R. de Silva, another of the giants of teaching that Sri Lanka produced, an old Richmondite himself. What a pleasure it was to hear his lectures on the Western Classics. What was remarkable about “E. R.” was his obvious competence to tackle most subjects even Sinhala; when he often stood in for senior teachers who were absent. When he got going on a subject of depth and substance it became clear that he was not only a man of wide reading but also of deep perceptiveness not to speak of his remarkable eloquence in both languages. At the school leaving level, when we were about to face the challenge of University life and adulthood, “E. R.” emerged not only as teacher but also as a friend, who was always ready to give ear to the most complicated personal problem and give good and objective but sympathetic counsel.
I have talked of only just a few of the teachers who influenced us and who virtually sacrificed their lives for us. I have not talked of yet other great men who left their mark on us such as Mr G. R. A. Fernando, and Mr A. W. Dissanayake.
They in the turn, used to speak in almost hushed tones of reverence about men like Revd. J.H. Darrell, M A (Oxon) who had caught typhoid and died while nursing sick pupils in the hostel. (Typhoid then, had been a dreaded infectious disease). Every year, the scouts of Richmond go to Dadalla cemetery to clean his grave. They used to talk similarly about Revd. W. J. T. Small, MSc. and a Tripos holder, who might have become a great scientist had he continued to live in England – but he preferred to join the Church. The teachers that we had, drew their own inspiration from these dedicated men who had made sacrifices before them .
It was this great and selfless tradition of teaching in a spirit of sacrifice and devotion that made us love our school. It was this that makes us still think of our school days with Love and nostalgia and it was this that made us what we are today. May these selfless and devoted traditions of teaching continue at Richmond !
James H. Lanerolle
Mr. James H. Lanerolle started school at Richmond in 1931. in 1945 he won the Darrell Medal, the most prestigeous medal awarded for the best academic achievement at Richmond . He also excelled in oratory, debating, literary activities and athletics. He was an Editor of the College Magazine. He was the Head Prefect in 1944. He obtained and Honour’s Degree in Political Science from the University of Ceylon . In 1951 he was selected to the Ceylon Civil Service and served as the acting Archaeological Commissioner. He was the Permanent Secretary of several Ministries including communications, shipping and aviation , tourism, power and energy. He was the Chairman of the Ceylon Electricity Board. He has also served in the Diplomatic service in Washington D.C. and in the Commonwealth Office. He is the son of Mr. W. A. Lenerolle, a devoted Teacher at Richmond College