A Letter from Java
The following letter was printed in the August 1938 issue of the Victorian. The writer is unidentified. From his account it would seem that he was at the V.I. roughly from 1908 to 1913, during the time of the first headmaster, Mr. Bennet E. Shaw. There being no school magazine during that period, his letter gives us a rare glimpse of the V.I. in the early twentieth century.
oday is the 2nd of July and my diary says, "V.I. Sports - 4 p.m." Having an idle hour on hand and being in reminiscent mood, I am jotting down some disconnected incidents of my school days twenty-five to thirty years ago.
V.I. Sports Day then drew very much larger crowds than they do nowadays. All K.L. and its wife were present. The Sports, that is the jumping and the running, were not the chief attractions. Few cared who won which race within how many seconds. Records were not made and records were not broken, for records were not kept and no one bothered about stop watches.
The starter held a white handkerchief in his hand and shouted, "Are you ready?… Go!" - and we ran helter skelter. We needed no lanes; we knew how to elbow or trip up the runner uncomfortably near us. Microphones and loud-speakers were unknown, but then officials had powerful lungs and mighty voices.
Mr. B.E. Shaw, the then Headmaster, was the pioneer in the F.M.S. in laying emphasis on Physical Training, and all K.L. came to see the annual demonstration of this. Under Mr. L. F. Koch, little boys from Standards II and III, about a hundred strong, did exercises with wooden dumb-bells; what an effort it was for Mr. Koch to keep step with the little boys while marching! Mr. H. V. Ponniah took boys in "Wand Drill," and the late Mr. C. Candyah was in charge of those who wielded Indian Clubs.
The Cadets went through rifle drill, and when it was dark there used to be illuminated torch swinging and a decorated cycle parade. Afterwards the Chinese, Indians and Malays held parties where visitors were entertained till midnight.
We had no House System for games, but we had several teams captained by some of the leading boys in school. The inter-team football matches were real matches, not only in the art of kicking a ball through the posts, but also in the art of spraining the other boy's ankle or knee, or breaking some of his ribs. That was football - not the kind of soft play and "don't touch me" attitude you children adopt nowadays. The footballers of those days were big hefty fellows - selected chiefly for their ability to "get the man" if not the ball.
I understand that you children have inter-school matches for a cup. We had an inter-school competition also, but not for any cup. Whether we won or lost, we were rewarded with the rotan by our Headmaster. You see, our competition was in way-laying boys from other schools and beating them up, just for fun. In the end one school had to get police aid to stop the V.I. boys' fun.
But ah! You boys are better behaved, more sophisticated and quite dandy. We went to school in Chinese pyjama suits, or sarongs and bajus. Many were the pranks we played with the Chinese boys' towchangs or with their queues.
There were quite a good number of married "boys" even in Standards V and VI and the boys used to be absent because their wives or children were sick.
Teachers were not allowed to cane boys, but there was nothing to stop boys from fighting their teachers or waylaying them at night and throwing stones at them. Several teachers gave up their jobs for more congenial and profitable professions such as mining and planting.
You boys spend only four years in the V.I. Many of us spent sixteen or seventeen years there. We started in the primary and, spending two or three years in several classes, gradually came up to Standard VII, where we would have a "sit-down" strike and refuse to pass the Standard VII government examination till we had spent three or four years in that standard. You see, we loved the school so much, we were in no hurry to leave it!
Boys of those days were real he-men. They were up to a lot of mischief but stood together and helped one another in trouble. They had no polished manners but they had several sterling qualities.
I wonder if the present cadets use dummy rifles; in those days we had real police rifles. One day an Indian boy inserted a cartridge and fired his gun in his classroom. Old Shaw came to the class and found a Chinese boy handling the rifle. The Chinese boy received six strokes of the rotan and said he enjoyed the caning.
Your school arranges your geographical and football excursions for you. We were more self-reliant. We arranged our own. Once a party of V.I. boys went to Penang for a series of games. In the railway carriage were two Catholic Brothers. Many were the rude and sarcastic remarks about the Brothers made by the Chinese boys. When the train had passed Taiping one of the Brothers went up to the boys and delivered a lecture in perfect Cantonese. When the boys reached Penang they apologised to the Brothers for not having known that they understood Chinese, and the whole matter was settled in such a good spirit that the Brothers turned up at one of the matches and cheered for the V.I. boys.
One rainy day, those of you who are the sons of old V.I. boys, persuade your fathers to recount to you their school day experiences and perhaps they can tell you of several incidents I cannot or dare not relate here. Recall to them the names of B.E. Shaw, Tyte, Phillips, Dainton and Proudlock.
Time has dimmed details of several incidents, and having no V.I. boy to consult, I am content to subscribe myself,Yours faithfully,
"An Old Victorian in Java"
2nd July, 1938
P.S. School fees were five dollars a quarter. Games fees were a dollar for the whole year.
Last update on 29 October 2000.
Contributed by: Chung Chee Min