Chapter 6 - Guruthalawa – 1951 - 1956

We packed a “trunk” with the required clothes and accessories as per the list that was given to my parents and I was ready to start a new life as a boarder in the mountains of Sri Lanka. The parting from my family at the Fort Station was a heartrenching occasion as I had never been on my own before, but with some reassuring words from Dad and Mum I boarded the Night Train and took my place in the allotted “Reserved” compartment. With a pillow to lean against we slept sitting up waking at regular intervals to take in the excitement of the happenings at the stations that we stopped at. After traveling all night we arrived at the Nanu Oya Station and transferred to a bus that took another three hours to get to St Thomas’ College, Guruthalawa.

Front Gate of STC Guruthalawa

Walking through the entrance of the College for the first time was a memorable experience. When we came back home for our holidays the reverse would take place. I was a member of “Winchester House”, the dormitory for Year 7 students. I was required to make my own bed and arrange my belongings in the bedside table. After this we attended a “Welcome Ceremony” and we were given a talk by Dr Hayman, our Head Master and informed about the rules and regulations that were part and parcel of boarding life. As I was going to a chorister, I was introduced to Father Foster, our priest and attended chapel for the first time. Lunch and Dinner was in the “Dining Room” with all other boys in the school and this again was an experience that I would come to love, as the food was plentiful and varied. I remember clearly the first night when I cried myself to sleep.

Ed at Entrance in 2002
As Father Foster’s rooms were next to Winchester House we were woken up each morning by his voice calling us to get up and attend morning chapel. The bathrooms and toilets were attached to the dormitories and this became a daily routine. We were required to keep the bathroom and toilets clean and on one occasion when one of the boys “spoilt” a toilet and did not confess to his “crime” we had an inquiry that resulted in the “culprit” being punished for not informing the House Master of his misdemeanor. The first Choir Practice was also a memorable occasion as we had a tea party at Dr & Mrs Hayman’s house when we finished. Choir Practice was taken by Mrs Scott whose husband was in charge of the College Farm and was also the Gym Master. On Sunday’s we had a morning “Communion Service” and at night “Evensong”.

The STCG Choir in 1952 At rear – Spencer Hert, G Reimers, G Bartholomeusz, Father Foster, I Jayathilaka, M Aluwihara, Allan Stuart, David Meier. Centre – D Templeton from Holland, Nigel Swami, Michael Vandestraten. Front – Ed Rowlands, W Gunawardena.

I was the “Treble” in the choir, until my voice broke, after which I became the “Alto”. Once a term, after the last “Service”, the choristers and servers used to be given a tea party that was always looked forward to. This was the start of my Christian Journey with Jesus Christ as my personal Saviour. Being on my your own and a long way from home I found that prayer and the peace it gave me was the only way to cope with life in a boarding school.

Choristers and Servers in 1952
After the first year I was transferred to the De Saram Junior Dormitory. During the year I commenced classes with Father Foster, to become Confirmed and it was a joyous occassion when Mum and Dad and the family came up from Colombo to attend my Confirmation.
After lessons in the afternoon we were expected to take part in sports. I tried boxing but was not very successful, swimming, tennis, badminton and volley ball, but could not get very interested. My favorite sports were soccer, hockey and cricket.


Back Row:- Mr Laffir, M.Idroos, R.Fernando, T.Jeganathan Middle Row:- E.Rowlands, M.Vazeer, C.V.Fernando (Capt), N.Ellawela (Vice Capt), S.R.E.Fernando Front Row:- K.D.S.Perera, G.D.Meemeduma, S.Jayathilaka

Our soccer team played games against other colleges and I recall a trip to Batticaloe on the Eastern Coast, to play the Catholic College and our stay in their boarding school. We had regular bus trips to play schools in Kandy, Bandarawela, Badulla, Nuwara Eliya, etc. These were long trips and I recall singing “Baila” songs until we were hoarse and finally fell asleep to the rhythm of the moving bus. The hockey team was also at various times traveling to other schools and the friends that I made during this period, I see on my regular visits to Sri Lanka. In those days it did not matter whether you were a Sinhalese, Tamils, Moor, Burgher or English. Your ethnic background did not matter, the camaraderie and the will to win was more important than all that other “stuff”. The inter-house sports competitions were the most important events of the year. The walk to the sport ground was past the class rooms, tennis courts, down a hill and the across a stream. The grounds were on the side of a small hill with a slight incline (definitely not level) and it was interesting playing soccer and cricket on these grounds until the hill was leveled.


Back Row:- Mr.Rose’, B.Munasinghe, E.Rowlands, N.T.S.Perera, N.C.Perera, S.Athukorale Middle Row:- N.Ellawala, S.Herft, S.Munasinghe (Capt), C.V.Fernando (Vice Capt), P.Rajendra Front Row:- K.D.S.Perera, S.R.E.Fernando, S.Jayathilaka

I joined the Hiking Club under the tutelage of Mr.A.W.R.Tennekoon and a favourite outing was a days walk to the Oya Station and back. A group of us would receive loaves of freshly baked bread and tins of sardines and drinks from the kitchen and wearing appropriate clothing and shoes walk along an unmade road taking in the views to Diyathalawa and Haputhale. We would have our lunch sitting on the station platform and make our weary way back to College, getting back in time for the evening meal. During the “Winter” season it got really cold and the challenge was to leave your towel in the wash room and make a dash down the steps until you dived into the swimming pool. You swam around until you got accustomed to the temperature of the water and after a few laps of the pool retired as fast as you could to dry yourselves and get dressed. These were invigorating times. I was interested in “Botany” and out teacher once took us on a bus trip into a tropical jungle to collect specimens of mosses, lichens, etc. I recall the constant problem of removing leeches from your legs as you walked through the damp undergrowth. When we transferred to the “Senior” dormitories, another favorite pastime was “Raiding” the farm for Chinese Guavas, Carrots and other vegetables (all forbidden fruit) that we washed and ate raw. Poor Mr.R.Peglar who had seen active service in the battle-front during the war in the Battle of Normandy tried his best to encourage us to take up Agriculture as a subject, but I was not destined to become a farmer. I recall one event when he had to operate on the stud bull to correct an infection. This was done with great finesse with the students as spectators. Once at end of one term, we went “Out of Bounds” as we were not supposed to go outside the boundaries of the College and arranged for a Chicken with Buriyani to be cooked for us by one of the shops in the Guruthalawa township and had a feast.

Ed at De Saram Junior in 2002

I learned to play the piano with Mrs Scott who was a very strict teacher. Unfortunately, the practice piano was in a small room behind what as at that time the Chemistry Laboratory and the boys would visit me during practice times and I played the favorite tunes of the day rather than practice for my piano exams. Needless to say my budding career as a pianist was cut short when I failed my piano tests with Mrs Scott. She tried her hardest to make me improve by getting me to come to her house before classes in the morning for practice, but I was not cut out to a pianist. The other cherished time was the annual prize giving day, when our parents would visit. I recall one year when two of us made a model of the Boulder Dam in Colorado from pictures in a book and by placing a mirror at the rear of the clay model made the dam appear enormous. We painted the hills and the dam wall in authentic colours and filled the dam with water. We took the first prize for modeling that year. Morning and evening prep was a time for study and dinner was eagerly anticipated.

When I left the Choir, I became a Server. I woke up early each morning and became the regular Server in the 7.00am morning Communion Service. I continued in this role until I left College. I have to thank Father Foster for the help he gave me to understand the Gospels and being my mentor during this early period of my Christian Journey.
Plaque commemorating consecration of chapel

The changes that took place during my time at St Thomas’ College, Guruthalawa is best summarized in the following extracts from an article by Mr.S.K.Wickremasighe. Quote:-

1951 - Garnier and de Saram Junior dormitories were plastered. More dormitory furniture was provided. The new library was built. A section of the guest house was enlarged to provide accommodation for married staff. A one meter spring board was fixed in the Swimming bath. A dairy room was built for the farm. Inside of Chapel looking towards the Altar The boys levelled the drill ground and volleyball court. A telephone connection was obtained.Mr. E. Scott started on the erection of the swimming bath filtration plant. A high diving stage and a three meter sprint board were erected. A ceiling was constructed for Winchester house. The nine acre pasture was leased and cleared of weeds and nine tith polangas (snakes) which resided there! The Chapel roof was decorated.

1952 - The old firewood shed was enlarged and provided with a cement floor for use as a woodwork classroom. The necessary benches and tools were purchased for the use of the classes. A temporary sheep shed was erected near the pastures. The work on the swimming bath filtration plant was finished. Swimming Pool in 2002 After the 1952 Olympics the American Diver Sammy Lee came to College and gave us all a Diving Exhibition using the newly erected high diving stage and the three metre spring board.

View of Chapel showing Statue Of St Francis of Asissi

1953 - The substitution of bunks for beds in some of the junior dormitories was begun. The object of this was not so much to increase the accommodation as to provide room for table tennis and carrom".
I recall this event and the negotiations that took place between our fellow house mates to ensure that one got the “Top Bunk”. New Bunk Beds in De Saram Junior Dormitory I must thank my “Bottom Bunk” mate, now retired Brigadier General Bandu Munasinghe, who I still meet every time I go back to Sri Lanka, for giving me the top bunk in the De Saram Junior Dormitory. Matron’s room was rebuilt, as it seemed in danger of collapse. The assault course was made. Mr Scott was the Physical Training and Gymnastics master and these were a compulsory sports. He also was in charge of the “Assault Course” and we were put through our paces climbing vertical timber walls, swinging on ropes across gaps and walking the plank and other equipment. During our spare time we would always be practicing on the “Assault Course”.

1954 - Mr. E. Scott carved the statue of St. Francis and erected it above the door of the chapel. The old tuck-shop was modified and furnished for use as a Cooperative store. On the playing field the Pavilion was built. The first half of the Headmaster’s bungalow was completed. A new sick room was constructed over the former Headmaster’s quarters and provision made for a surgery, matron’s room and an isolation ward. The woodwork shed was extended to make room for a puppet stage. The boys started work on the levelling of a site for a squash rackets court.

Inside Chapel looking to Altar

Old friends meet at the Head Master’s House in 2002 After a 42 year absence – Sanath Jayathilaka, Ed and Retired Brigadier Bandu Munasinghe.

Mr Scott was also the Woodwork Master and I enjoyed the opportunity to create something out of a block of wood. I recall making a lamp stand, a stool and some other items that I presented to my parents.

1955 - This year we concentrated on the provision of more furniture, especially for the library, the office and the dormitories. The office itself was enlarged and provided with a verandah. Another electric pump was bought and fixed. A new garage and a set of stables were erected. The bus garage was rebuilt and enlarged. A bungalow adjoining the compound was taken over and modernized for the Farm Manager. Another dormitory received its cement floor. The senior night lavatories were re-roofed. The water system was overhauled and defective pipes were replaced, specially those serving the senior dormitories. Another married quarters was extended for Mr. & Mrs. Scott.

Former Physics and Chemistry Labs with Blue Windows of Choir and Piano Room

As stated earlier, I recall having to go in the morning for piano practice to Mr & Mrs Scott’s house that was situated in a beautiful garden.. A very pleasant interlude with an opportunity to “smell the flowers”.
"A new bathroom was provided for one of the staff bungalows. A room in the filter house was improved for the use of a member of the staff and was given a ceiling. The cooperative stores were extended to provide space for the customers to sit in comfort, and the new room was furnished. The boys began work on the foundations of the squash rackets court. Work was done to improve the rain water drains. A new soakage pit was provided for the senior dormitory septic tank. Work on the second half of the Headmaster’s bungalow was begun. The carpenters’ workshop was reconstructed. The woodwork of the college was repainted. The entrance drive was improved and so were the garden paths.

1956 - The remaining senior dormitories were equipped with ceilings. New quarters for the staff were added, and existing quarters were enlarged. A cottage was built for one of the senior servants. The Headmaster’s bungalow was completed except for the provision of ceilings. The Electrical Department completed our connection with the generators at Laxapana, and considerable re-wiring was required in consequence. The fitting of low pressure fluorescent lamps in the dormitories were completed. Work on the levelling of the playing fields was begun".

After having played soccer, hockey and cricket on a ground that was sloping it was a pleasure to play our first game of hockey on a level playing field, even though we played on a clay surface.

1957 The task of levelling the playing fields was completed. The boys gave up the rammed earth method of construction for building the squash court and started making building blocks instead".
I was keen scout and enjoyed trying for the various badges that one attained after completing the required tasks. When Queen Elizabeth visited Nuwara Eliya I recall the St Thomas’ College Scout Group lining the path from the road to the Nuwara Eliya Town Hall, which at that time was situated on the grounds of the Race Course.

During the “Winter” of 1957 I had a very bad asthma attack and medicines did not help my breathing. I was moved to Colombo and transferred to St Thomas’ College, Mt Lavinia. It was a sad and unexpected farewell to Guruthalawa.

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