World war memories of schoolchildren
The head or more correctly the lord and master of the school stood
right in the middle compound on an improvised platform and saluted the
Lion Flag. Sorry. It was the blue and white stripes of the Union Jack
revered in the '40s in the far flung colony. Today was a special
occasion. The Allies of whom Britain was a leading member had won the
Royal Marines training with 40 mm Bofors guns at Chatham
Camp, Colombo, Ceylon, September 1943. (pic:Wikimedia)
Curling his moustache the boss read out in a deep baritone voice, a
copy of the telegram he had just sent to the British embassy of Colombo,
to be sent to the king for winning the war. Even the Colombo address had
been fished out,after much wrangling with the local Post Master.
"Dear King George ......" it began and flowed through Oriental
rhetoric that had in the 17th Century earlier served as preamble to the
letters of the Dutch envoys to Rajasinghe Deiyo (Rajasinghe the 2nd),
such as "May you live up to 5,000 years, that is as long as the sun and
moon endure".. But times were scientifically and technologically more
advanced and one is not sure whether such impossible blessings were
actually conferred but a cascade of congratulations flowed throughout
the epistle. But the truth must be told, the poor headmaster, though
large of heart never got even an acknowledgement for his trouble.
The boys and girls of this upcountry school and elsewhere in the
island, especially the boys underwent many an adventure in the mid
1940s. The Japs could fly over the emerald mountains at any moment, they
had already bombed the lunatic part of the city and even some schools.
No one mentioned the names of the schools that were bombed for the
simple reason that not a single school was thus destroyed. As mentioned
in the last piece, the Japs were only doing it for fun,to satisfy the
whims of some statesmen here and abroad. There was no coordinated
attempt. Everything was so haphazard.
Just as there were no qualified ones to lord over English medium
schools making way for newspaper ads to induce any foreigner conversant
in English to come over and fill the vacancies, so were there many
vacancies in the upcountry schools for any adventurous and qualified
heads from the low country to fill the school head vacancies in the
upcountry. It demonstrated how far school education had lagged in the
upcountry far behind the lowlands where percolated via the Parish
schools some sort of education.
Though it was the Bible that was the main book in these schools some
lettering plus a bit of arithmetic and religion were taught that
comprised the three Rs. Though much criticism was made of the
proselytising process, at least the kids got some sort of education.
But in the highlands education had decimated to the Pirivena form
which Colebrooke Commission had found in 1833 "Not worthy of mention".
Slowly the schools in the highlands mushroomed, a good number of the
head vacancies filled by those who came from the low lands.
The schools themselves were the prototype of schools in the lowlands,
of course the evangelical aspect much diminished. Before going on, it is
pertinent to mention, that the schools or Iskolas were even nominally of
foreign origin. Some attribute Portuguese origins while some attribute
Dutch origins to the word, Iskola.
Now the new heads of these upcountry schools having come all the way
to satiate their adventurous aptitudes found the war atmosphere much to
Even schools in England, that were the direct butt of German, Italian
and Jap attacks would have fallen far behind in the mechanisms these
Lankan school heads engaged in to protect the children.. Aeroplanes
flying above the majestic mountains escalated the fury or proximity of
attacks. Circulars came in plenty from the head office in Malay Street
spelling out many a measure, mostly the protective measures.
Trenches had to be dug out in the school garden and mock attacks
staged when the Loku Iskola mahaththaya stood at his mighty table where
the black baton sparkled with the blood of young male buttocks, and blew
the whistle all children had to disappear into the segregated trenches
with their ears clogged with cotton wool.
Anyway, it was an absolute waste because not a single school was
Circulars were also sent to schools woven around "the Grow more food
campaign". Intensive warfare had led to the destruction of tanks and
dams and the decreasing harvests were further decimated due to the
disruption of food supplies from abroad. Then the govt. got the subtle
idea of putting school gardens to productive use, but with the cessation
of war, the whole experiment came to an end.
A network strengthening imperialist bonds too was spread. At school
assemblies, speeches had to be made glorifying Pax Britannica. Photos of
His Majesty George 6th were sent to all the schools and even beautiful
photos of the two daughters, Elizabeth and Marguerite. The latter, six
years older than me, died many years back of a disease sprung out of
excessive smoking. Poor Marguerite, she could not marry the man she
loved for he was a divorcee. How much times have changed! Somebody
whispers to me that today royal family members can marry a score of
divorcees and still sit on the throne.
I am not sure of the veracity of the tale. I watched a film recently
on the bombing of London during war times. Again not a single school was
bombed or did I miss some sights? Throughout it all the queen Queen Mary
sat nursing her husband, who is coughing non-stop.
"It is those cigarettes?"olde Mary explains. But till he died George
6th's fascinating figure cloaked in a blue and white uniform adorned
many an office and school. "God Save The King". But as far as I can
remember, there was no translation of this song.
Monks then as now were very militant and acted faithfully their
self-ordained role as custodians of our heritage that shut its doors on
the Georgian family. The distribution of photos of the king and family,
one monk, a writer too, told me belongs to Indoctrination techniques.
That is to propagate the love for Britain and its major family.
But the new generations of school children did not continue to be
prey to such techniques. They have struck a balance between what should
go on and what should be stalled.
The latest I read about this Second World War is this.
The aggressive party headed by Germany was known depreciatingly as
the Nazi Party.
Nazi was used as an insulting term, but it stood for the official
title which was 'The national socialist