Recollections:

S. Peethamparam -
A True Victorian




t was a bright sunny Monday morning in January 1950 when, for the first time, I stepped on to the hallowed portals of the majestic neo-classical edifice, my Alma Mater, the Victoria Institution. The main entrance of this building was imposing. Outside, a crowd of bewildered and confused students had assembled, casting glances at each other and any other person who walked by. They gawked in silence though while their (future) teachers stood amidst them holding lists of names. Then one teacher after another began to call out the names of their pupils. The boys were then herded together and followed their respective teachers to the classroom which they would occupy for the year.

It was at this roll call that I first met my form master, Encik Baharuddin bin Marji, who had recently returned from the Kirkby Teachers Training College near Liverpool, England. In our classroom we were allocated seats, with the smaller ones sitting in the front rows and the taller ones at the rear of the class. Encik Baharuddin then selected one of the new boys as the Monitor. He was none other than the indomitable Othman bin Mohd Ali! This was an event that repeated itself year after year throughout my school career till I completed my School Certificate. Othman bin Mohd Ali would be my monitor in every class I was in!

Mr E. M. F. Payne was the Headmaster during my first three years in the hallowed halls of my Alma Mater. He was a very trim, slim, dapper Englishman, who always wore a suit. He had slightly receding hair. You heard him before you saw him as he patrolled the corridors. He walked with both hands at the back, every step a measured move with his eyes ever watching everything around him. I can clearly recall his walk down the steps from his office to the School Hall. He had a very intimidating presence! Mr Payne would occasionally stop to speak with one of us but it was rare as we avoided him more out of fear than anything else. He even reprimanded us for having our hands in our pockets. He caught me on one occasion when I was actually looking for my coins before heading for the tuck shop. We had Monday afternoon classes from 1.00 p.m. - 3.30 p.m. followed by House activities and school games. During such times, Mr Payne would come to the Pavilion to watch us Form One boys in our activities.

Our initial experience at the new school was one of awe. We went through a period of trepidation and fear as we familiarised ourselves with the rules and regulations that governed our lives. We obeyed them more out of fear than anything else. We were required to wear white shirts and shorts with ankle length white socks and white canvas shoes. The school badge was to be displayed at the left breast pocket of the shirt. Failure to do so resulted in a visit to the Prefects Room where we were warned and issued an “excuse chit” for the day by a Prefect. Continued violations led to being sent to the well-known Detention Class on Saturday mornings. Repeat offenders had to write lines to be handed in to the Prefects Board the following morning. We soon wised up and bought extra badges, keeping the spares in our bags or loaning them to our classmates for the day.

Upon arriving at the school each morning, we would place our books and bags in our desks. We were not allowed to remain in the classroom unless we were sweeping the floor, arranging the desks and tables, polishing the brass hinges or staining the doors. During our first two years in school we feared the Prefects as they patrolled the corridors with an air of authority. They were mostly from the School Certificate classes and wore white coats, light blue shirts with dark blue ties and leather shoes. The clip-clop of their leather shoes along the corridors signalled to us that the “Blue Shirts” were on the prowl.

Encik Baharuddin Marji soon discovered that his 1950 Form 1B boys were no angels. We were quite a mischievous bunch who engaged in naughty, though harmless, pranks. His favourite way of punishing us was to use his index and third finger to grab a piece of your upper body and squeeze and twist it. It hurt, let me tell you but he was a good and capable teacher and kind one, too. When our teacher got married, a group of us schemed to embarrass him. We took turns to write to the Radio Malaya Song Request Programme, asking for the song Wedding Samba to be played on the air to be dedicated to a certain "Encik Baharuddin." This went on for about four weeks and every morning as he entered our classroom, he would be greeted by a deafening silence and grinning faces. He would remark, "I know who the rascals are who are trying to embarrass me! But thank you!" He would sport a wry grin and the whole class would pretend to look bewildered. In later years, whenever I met him at meetings and functions, I would sing the first few lines of Wedding Samba and Encik Baharuddin would break into a grin, recalling his days as a V.I. teacher and how his pupils enjoyed teasing him.

Old Victorians of the fifties will certainly recall seeing a stocky Malay boy in national costume and songkok stride confidently up the steps to the stage on Friday morning school assemblies to receive the Cleanliness Shield from the Headmaster. This was none other than my class monitor, Othman bin Mohd Ali! This honour was an almost weekly occurrence as there was no other class that came close to challenging our class for that coveted shield.

How did we achieve this? Well, each row of the class was assigned the responsibility of polishing a certain set of the brass hinges with Brasso and with oiling the door panels with O-Cedar Oil. Every boy contributed to a fund to purchase these two items. Anyone who shirked his duty was taken to task by Othman with the threat to report him to the teacher, who would then impose heavier and extra class duties on the offenders.

The desks, too, were arranged neatly in geometrically straight lines. This was done by marking on the floors with chalk the precise locations of the table legs so they were aligned in perfect straight lines when viewed from the front and from the side. Again, those who did not cooperate with this task were reported to the Form Teacher. When the recess bell sounded, we would swing immediately into action before the Prefects arrived on their rounds. We ensured that the chairs were neatly pushed in and the legs of the desks were in the pre-marked areas. It was a quick and simple manoeuvre before we went off for the recess. The Prefects who visited our classroom to award the daily cleanliness marks were simply dazzled by the geometrically neat arrangement of the desks and chairs, the gleaming brasswork and the shiny door panels.

Even when we were in the notorious Form 5C, Othman never failed to enforce this regime. With the support of our very strict Form Teacher, Mrs. Entwisle, our class won this weekly competition hands down.

School Football Team, 1955

One of the first things that we had to learn as new Victorians was the school song. We had to commit the tune and words of the School Song to memory. Initially it was the teacher who had written the words, one Mr G. F. Jackson, who conducted the singing at the Assembly, with the evergreen Old Boy and iconic school clerk, Mr. Richard Pavee, at the school piano. Mr Jackson was a lively conductor who simply had everyone joining in. He brought the School Hall to life and uplifted our spirits as Victorians. On certain occasions he would conduct mass singing, standing on the stage and coaxing us to sing out loud and with gusto. We would have a rollicking good time. One song that he taught us was the boisterous What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor?

Indeed, we even sang outside of the School Hall. In my second year in school, we had singing lessons as part of the curriculum. Most of the songs were English folk songs, taught by a Mrs De Silva. She was a very capable teacher and made the lessons very interesting and enjoyable. Two classes were combined into one for her lessons, which were conducted in the Refectory, away from the classrooms. We learned to sing in the round and, to this day, I can still recall some of those songs we sang.

The Prefects were bound by their own code - “Upon the bearing of the Prefects depends the tone of the school“ – and it was adhered to faithfully. During my days as an ordinary pupil, the Prefects were nominated by the teaching staff subject to the approval of the Headmaster. Most of those nominated were students who had contributed in some way to the success and prestige of the school through sports and leadership. Rare were the occasions when the Headmaster did not agree with the recommendations. However, this criterion was changed over the years and, one year, it was decided that Captains of the eight School Houses should automatically qualify as Prefects. This led to subtle attempts at campaigning in order to become a Prefect. It eventually fell into disfavour after a few Captains failed to live up to the standards demanded. The selection of Prefects reverted to the original system under which the new House Captains and students nominated by the Staff were appointed with final approval by the Headmaster.

Many are unaware that a hierarchy existed in the Prefects Board, with the School Captain at the top, followed by the Vice Captain, the Honorary Secretary, the Treasurer and the Assistant Secretary. The other positions were based on the order of entry to the Board. The Prefects Room was strictly out of bounds to the ordinary Victorian and admission was either by invitation or whenever one was being disciplined by a Prefect for a misdemeanour. As a general rule the Prefects were to be in school by 7.15 a.m. daily in order to carry out their daily duties as allocated by the Board. These include patrolling the corridors of the school and the school grounds, and traffic duty to ensure the safety of those who walked, rode bicycles and motorcycles or drove.

The Prefects were generally allowed to come to class a little after the morning bell or after the recess, as they were expected to complete their duties and then return to the Prefects Room to remove their coats. They were also allowed to leave the classes five minutes before the morning recess and at the end of the day to enable them to get to their various positions to carry out their duties. These Blue Shirts were either respected or abhorred by the students. The more troublesome and mischievous students who caused trouble or disobeyed the school regulations were often dealt with by the Prefects. In cases that required serious punishment, the matter was passed to the Headmaster to deal with. The Prefects were empowered to make errant students write lines as punishment and also to send serial offenders to the Saturday morning Detention Class (sometimes playfully referred to as Dancing Class or Dee See!).

Prefects at their weekly meeting, 1954

The Friday morning Assembly was a traditional event at the school. It was the morning the whole school – the pupils and staff - gathered in the School Hall. The teachers sat on the stage of the School Hall while the students gathered at pre-assigned sections in the Hall. The First Formers sat on the floor closest to the stage while the Second, Third and Fourth Formers made up the rearguard. The Form Five students stood on the gallery as their classrooms were upstairs while the less numerous Form Six students were seated at the rear. Their chairs were provided courtesy of the Form One boys who took turns to carry in their chairs before the Assembly began. The School Prefects positioned themselves at the doors of the Hall, one per door, to supervise and maintain orderliness. The School Captain stood at the front of the Hall on the left hand side with the Vice Captain on the other side of the Hall.

The ringing of the school bell signalled the commencement of the Assembly. All students and the teaching Staff on the stage would stand to await the arrival of the Headmaster. There would be pin drop silence as we awaited the Headmaster who made his way from his office, down the stairs, and along the corridor to the stage. The School Song would then be sung with gusto with one of the teachers conducting and Mr. Pavee accompanying on the piano. The Headmaster would then take his seat, followed by the teachers. The School Captain would then request the school to sit down. Important school notices would then be read out by the School Captain, followed by various announcements and the results of any Inter School matches played over the previous week. Awards to winners of Inter House Competitions, presentation of School Colours, and appointment of new Prefects would also made. The singing of the Selangor State Anthem and, on special occasions, God save the King/Queen, marked the end of the Assembly. The school would remain standing as the Headmaster left the stage, followed by the teachers, after which the students themselves would disperse in an orderly manner to their classrooms.

Unlike the many other schools that had a mere canteen for the pupils to enjoy their morning recess or "interval" as it was called then, we had a "Refectory." It was located at the rear end of our School just beyond the School Hall and beside the road that went round the rear end of the school. The Refectory itself was a solid brick building with a number of windows and about ninety feet by fifty feet in dimension. The furniture was austere consisting of long Formica covered benches. Its capacity was some one hundred and fifty seated boys and girls.

Food and beverages, such as coffee, tea and soft drinks, could be purchased at a counter that opened into the stall. One could also buy curry puffs, bread and jam, and egg or sardine sandwiches. The latter became a popular snack when they were first introduced in the mid-1950s as they were unusually tasty! Despite the limited space in the Refectory, there was order as Prefects were on duty. They, too, had a Formica table of their own there. There was a Malay gentleman and his wife who sold Malay cakes and mee goreng, nasi lemak and other popular Malay tidbits. In a corner an Indian man sold kacang puteh and associated Indian goodies such as vadai, and masala. The stand-out food item at the Canteen was the curry laksa sold by Ah Fook, the Chinese gentleman who ran the drinks stall. As our school clerk, Richard Pavee, used to say, "V.I. laksa is good for the brains!" It was the first item to be sold out in the refectory. Having tasted it, I can attest to its quality and standing!!

The School Refectory - for eating and meeting

The Refectory was the Grand Central of the school. Boys came here to fill their bellies and to be informed of the school's activities. Outside the Refectory was a notice board on which were pinned notices of the various school fixtures. Here boys stopped by to check on the names of the team members selected. Also posted were the results of the various Interschool matches that the school had played.

In the early 1950s there was a zinc shed across the road from the Refectory and beyond it, down the slope, was a huge open play ground known as Coronation Park! Many of the Victorians who had to go to the Klang Road Bus station used to access this Park via a rear gate located close to the rear of the School Library. Today the Merdeka Stadium spawls across that same open space, robbing us of a panoramic view of Chinwoo Stadium, Birch Road and Petaling Street.

The Victorians who rode to school on their cycles parked at the shed provided by the school carpenter, Loh Weng, for a monthly fee of 50 cents. As one entered the parking area, a double tag was issued. One was attached to the bicycle and the other was retained by the owner to reclaim his machine at the end of the school day. The bicycles were thus safe during school hours. Prefects were exempt from parking fees and were allocated a special place to park their bicycles for free. After all they supervised bicycle parking as part of their school duties! When the demand for cycle places increased, a new shed was built on the vacant land between the road next to the Swimming Pool and the quadrangle. As students began riding motor bikes and scooters to school this new block also served as a parking area for these new vehicles.

Loh Weng was one enterprising carpenter who maintained all the gym benches, vaulting boxes that were used for our Physical Education Lessons. Repairs to school furniture were carried out at his tiny workshop beside the bicycle park. Loh Weng's wife, too, began sewing and selling custom designed athletic and sports shorts. These had light blue and dark blue stripes and the "V.I." initials sewn on the right hip pocket. If my memory serves me right, these shorts were designed by our P.E. Teacher, Mr Lim Hock Han, an Old Victorian and notable sprinter. Loh Weng later moved to Petaling Jaya and continued his business, taking orders from many schools in Selangor for gym benches and other accessories.

Following the traditional public school system, the V.I. encouraged participation in sports and games and for this purpose every student on admission to the school was assigned to one of the eight Houses established for the promotion of sporting competition. To ensure fair competition, the students were allocated to either the under-fifteen group or the over-fifteen group. All eight Houses fielded teams from these groups to compete against each other in the various sports. Such competitions became nurseries for the School Teams; boys showing the right skills in the House competitions were talent spotted and recruited for the School Teams.

And did we have great sportsmen. I recall vividly the Annual Athletic Sports of 1951. The last event was the Invitation 4 x 110 Yards Interschool Relay. The V.I. home crowd was watching expectantly as the school team was pitted against its deadly rival, the MBS. At the last change-over of this race, the anchor of the Methodist Boys School received the baton a full ten yards ahead of our runner. An MBS victory seemed a certainty. As the anchor of the V.I. team received his baton, a deafening roar was heard. Lifted by the voices of the Victorians, our anchor went in pursuit of the leader with grace and blistering speed. He breasted the tape one yard ahead of his rival to claim victory for the school.

He was none other than Mohamed Amin, a sportsman extraordinaire, school athlete and footballer. He was hero worshipped by all for his James Dean mannerisms, his school satchel over his shoulder, his trilby perched at an angle on his head and a distinctive gait.

After leaving the V.I., Mohamed Amin migrated to Pakistan and attained the rank of major in the Pakistani Air Force. In the sixties, Mohamed Amin represented Pakistan in soccer in the Merdeka Tournament. While in Kuala Lumpur, he made it a point to visit his Alma Mater. Mohamed Amin was a GENUINE Victorian, in that he was not an “imported” Victorian who joined from other schools, a superb athlete whom all True Victorians admired.

My school career took an important turn in 1952 when my exam results were good enough to get into the Standard Eight (Form 4 today) science stream. But somehow I was sent to the arts stream instead, to pursue an arts-based education. The only positive aspect of this was that I was re-united with my former classmates and we remained as a unit till we completed our School Certificate in 1954.

Throughout my school career I had very capable and strict teachers. We feared them but respected them for their teaching skills and ability to impart their knowledge. They displayed a sense of humour, making our learning process a thoroughly enjoyable venture. Even at this final stage in our school life, we would stand up as they entered our classroom and would sit down only after they asked us to do so. Our teachers would not tolerate any indiscipline, misbehaviour, or distraction while they taught. I recall with pride that we never gave cause for our teachers to reprimand or to punish us.

I was indeed privileged to be taught by the best teachers during my school days, by the likes of Baharuddin Marji, Lim Hock Han, Chong Yuen Shak, Harry Lau, A. L. Foenander, Ganga Singh, Mrs Hamilton, Michael Peter, Toh Boon Huah, G. de P. Bambridge, Miss Yvonne Stanley and the indomitable Mrs Mary Entwistle. While all the teachers contributed to my education and learning process, Mr Ganga Singh’s unusual and unique method of teaching English grammar and poetry and Mary Entwistle’s no-nonsense method of teaching Literature, one tempered with kindness, stand out as milestones.

Gentleman Ganga Singh definitely succeeded in imparting the complexities of the English language. My classmates were very grateful for the many grammar exercises and homework that helped us write correctly. Ganga also taught poetry and, with his booming voice and individualistic style, he made the poems come alive. Even to this very day I can recall the many poems that we learned under his tutelage.

Miss Yvonne Stanley joined the teaching staff in 1956 after graduating from University and taught English Literature to the Upper Six Arts where I was a student. She mesmerised us and many members of the staff with her beauty. (I will spare blushes of the many who were captivated by her by not naming them.) She taught us for three months prior to our completing the mandatory five terms of Post School Certificate Class. She wrote my school leaving testimonial for me and was very kind in her comments. While undergoing teacher training in Wolverhampton in 1957, I had the privilege of attending her wedding in Glasgow to Dr. Babu Patel.

There is a familiar old Victorian who had served the school longer than many Victorians. He is none other than Old Victorian, Mr. Richard Pavee, the school clerk and pianist at the weekly singing of the School Song. With his efficient manner, he and his wife, Anna Yap, kept the school administration flowing smoothly. During my schooldays anyone wanting to see the Headmaster had to see Richard Pavee first. In the sixties, he provided the music for the VIOBA Annual Dances on New Year’s Eve at the old Majestic Hotel.

A Cambridge graduate with a swimming Blue, Mrs. Mary Entwisle was the Form teacher of our notorious 5C in 1954. Within two weeks of taking over, she had us cowed, disciplined and had instilled in us a sense of courtesy. She taught us English Language and Literature and schooled us in the art of writing essays. She insisted on having two exercise books so that we always had an extra exercise book for any assignment while the other one was being marked. We normally received our marked assignments within three days of completing them with appropriate comments on our efforts. She taught us Shakespeare’s Macbeth, one of the set texts for the Cambridge School Certificate Exams. By the end of 1954, our class could literally recite the play from memory. This she achieved by asking us on a weekly basis to memorise portions of the text and then rewriting the verses from memory in class. The first time round, when many of us ignored her directions, we were packed to the famous Saturday “Dancing Class”!

Our lessons with her were also lessons in life. We were grateful to this lady for her strict ways and for teaching us etiquette - “Yes, please ma’am”, “No, thank you”, “May I please...” etc. When the Headmaster, Dr. G. E. D. Lewis asked the staff members for nominations for School Prefects, it was Mrs. Entwisle who nominated me and rallied support from other members of staff. This I learned from Dr. Lewis when I was called to his office to be told of my appointment. He told me not to let down Mrs. Entwisle’s faith in me.

Horticultural Society, 1956
Peethamparam is at front row, extreme left

While the school tuckshop did serve food, when I was in Form 6, my classmates - Earle Gow, Richard Gow, Viji Nair - and I would walk down to High Street after school for our lunch. At the front of the old Chinwoo Athletic Association in High Street, there was a rice stall. We always ordered “charp” (rice with char siew and siew yoke) at 80 cents a plate and enjoyed the generous portions. We then proceeded to the stalls close to the old Madras Theatre nearby where the vendors sold cold drinks and we would pay five cents for a three-quarter glass of lychee-flavoured drink (it was ten cents for a full glass) and then pop over to another stall for a further drink for five cents! We definitely stretched our ten cents in those days!

School Football Team, 1954

Strangely, my involvement in sports at school level only began in my School Certificate year, 1954. It was during this year that I was selected to represent the V.I. in soccer as goalkeeper and the following year I played for the Selangor Combined Schools in Inter State matches. Ironically, I owed my goalkeeping skills to an Old Boy of St John’s Institution, Kuala Lumpur – Peter De Silva as he was known in school. He played under the name of Peter Lee for the leading Chinese-based soccer club, the Selangor Chinese Recreation Club, using his mother’s surname for that purpose. Peter used to be part of the soccer playing group with me at the Circular Road playing fields. He decided to put me through the goalkeeping training techniques that the coach of his club used. The benefits were immeasurable. My goalkeeping skills also attracted the attention of the Tamilians Physical and Cultural Association (TPCA) soccer cub and I was asked to play for their Third Division team in the Football Association of Selangor League. Permission was granted by Toh Boon Huah, our V.I. soccer master. The TPCA won the Third Division Competition that year and I still have the 1955 winners’ silver medal awarded by the Football Association of Selangor to the Club Team. My goal keeping performance also earned me a place in the Selangor Combined Schools Soccer team.

In the fifties, the first Asian rugby referee in Selangor, and probably in Malaya, was Mr. Chew Ah Kong. This soft spoken and very gentle personality was the school rugby master. He did his utmost to popularise this game, conducting junior rugby coaching sessions every Tuesday for Form One and Form Two boys. He taught us to run and kick the oval ball, to pass the ball backwards and to tackle those in possession. He also forbade us from tripping others (pasang kaki!). Many of us acquired the feel of the game and enjoyed just running around with the oval ball on the school padang.

School Rugby Team, 1955
Peethamparam is seated fourth from right

It was also my classmate and friend in Form Five and also the School Rugby Captain, Moey Kum Tuck, who encouraged me to play rugby seriously in 1954. He asked me to attend the school rugby trials. However, when the school team was announced for the opening match against the REME (the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers, who were stationed just outside our school gates at the site of the present Stadium Negara), my name was not on the Refectory notice board. I was disappointed. A fortnight later, my friends excitedly informed me that I had been selected to play in the next rugby match against Technical College.

We were beaten by Technical College who had some of the very best Asian Rugby players but Mr Chew Ah Kong was pleased with my performance and included me for the next game. I weighed only ninety eight pounds when I played that first match. What a flyweight I was! However, I never shirked from tackling heavier opponents and that must have impressed Mr. Chew Ah Kong! I was a permanent member of the school team after that.

The following year I was elected Vice Captain of the School Rugby Team and I was moved to play at full back as there was no one to play this position. The place kicking after a try was scored, penalty kicks and conversions after tries all needed kicking skills similar to those for soccer balls. I was confident my goalkeeping skills would serve me well in this new position.

Rugby as a school sport only became popular in the latter half of the fifties. Previous to that, the school team's opponents were the Police Depot, the REME and the Technical College. With no other K.L. school playing rugby, we found ourselves travelling to Negri Sembilan to challenge the King George V School and St Paul’s Institution and even Tunku Mahmud School in Kuala Pilah. After Dr. G. E. D. Lewis became Headmaster, we found new opponents in Perak as well, in Anderson School, Ipoh, and the Malay College, Kuala Kangsar.

The year 1955 was a milestone in my school career as I was elected Captain of Shaw House. I was also appointed a School Prefect in February. My soccer skills were now recognised and I was awarded school colours; later in the year I got school colours for rugby. My schooling days came to an end in July 1956 after the completion of the five terms of Form Six and the results of the Entrance Exams to the University of Malaya in Singapore were released.

I failed to be selected to read arts and was left with the prospect of leaving school to seek employment. I had earlier applied to the Ministry of Education to attend the Teachers Training Courses in Liverpool and Wolverhampton, England. By a strange quirk of fate, I now received a letter from the Ministry of Education informing me that my application had been successful and that I had been offered a place in the college at Wolverhampton which trained teachers for secondary schools. Ironically, just after I had accepted that Wolverhampton offer, I received a letter from the Registrar of the University of Malaya, Mr. Foo Yeow Yoke, who had also taught at the V.I., stating that my application to read arts had now been accepted. As my parents were not able to fund my university education, I was forced to decline the offer. I now prepared to leave for Britain to begin my training under the aegis of the Institute of Education, University of Birmingham. Attired in my V.I. blazer, I was sent off at the old KL airport by V.I. School Captain Lee Choong Keet and his father whom I knew as Uncle Kong Beng.

I proudly wore my V.I. blazer everywhere in England. And that got me into strife with my seniors during the ragging period for Brinsford newcomers. When one of the Klang High School seniors threatenened to tear off my V.I. badge, I saw red and told him that ragging I would accept but bullying I would not. He kept out of my way after that and so did many other seniors who envied our Old School. In my final year at Brinsford, I sent my V.I. badge to Horne Brothers, a crest maker, in Wolverhampton to have the School Crest redone in gold thread. It cost me a spanking five guineas. It was sewn onto a new blazer by one of the Brinsford girls who did needlecraft. I wore my blazer and revitalized crest with renewed pride.

At Brinsford Lodge, I continued with my sports, playing both soccer and rugby for the College. I captained the College Rugby Team in 1957 and 1958. My Physical Education lecturer who was a rugby person arranged for me to play for the local Wolverhampton Teams as a guest player on Saturdays when there were no college fixtures. This exposure to the game only improved my playing skills. As part of the Physical Education programme in college we were encouraged to attend courses in our discipline and I attended and successfully completed the North Midlands Rugby Football Union and the Football Association of England Coaching Courses. I was awarded Coaching Certificates for both these games.

Brinsford Rugby Team, 1956-57
Peethamparam (Captain) is at centre, front row
Future VI teacher, Khaw Cheng Liam, is second from left, front row

The Practical Coaching Exams for the Rugby Union were held on a Sunday in Birmingham and as there was no public transport, I almost did not attend but a College mate of mine very kindly took me to the Wolverhampton railway station on his motor cycle to catch the train to the Birmingham train station. There, I walked to the Teachers Training College and took the Practical Coaching Exams. I had submitted a Coaching Scheme for schoolboys earlier as part of the test and so fulfilled the theoretical requirement of the exams. Very fortunately for me, one of the persons, a complete stranger, who also attended the exams offered to drive me back to the college.



On completion of the Wolverhampton Course, I returned home and was posted to the Technical Institute, Penang, in January 1959. The Principal, Mr Oh Boon Tat was a sports loving person. When he heard of my qualifications as a coach in Physical Education, he had successfully secured my posting to his school. He wanted to establish the name of the Technical Institute, then a new school, and had felt that this could be achieved through sports. I was made the teacher in charge of the school soccer, rugby and athletics teams.

Mr Oh converted a large space near the school into open field with room for an eight-lane 400-metre athletics track and a full-sized soccer and rugby pitch. He confided in me that he wanted to develop the love of sports in his school and asked me to prepare the soccer, athletics and rugby sides to compete with the established schools in Penang. To achieve this, Mr Oh attended all the training and coaching sessions conducted by me, resulting in the boys, particularly the hostelites, getting really involved.

Soon the Technical Institute possessed a successful soccer and rugby team. Mr Oh’s love for athletics saw him at the athletics track, watching and encouraging the boys as they trained with me. His presence was instrumental to the success of the school athletics squad which not only won prizes at the Penang schools meet but also at the State Athletics meet. There, in 1959, the school came of age when our sprinter won the 100 metres sprint in record time, while our middle distance champion outran more established rivals, also in record time.

Just before the Open Inter School Relay was to be run, the principal of one of the very established schools wagered with our principal that his school would win that event. Mr Oh told me of the wager. He was nervous, not because it was a hundred-dollar wager but because of the real possibility of being beaten by Penang's premier school. Just before the race, I went to our team and told the runners to do their best and especially to ensure that the baton passing was as perfect as practised. When the relay was run and won by the Technical Institute, Mr Oh personally came and congratulated our boys and handed me M$20 and asked me to take the team for dinner at a Muslim restaurant as a reward! Such was the pride of Mr. Oh in his school's achievements.

Desiring to return to Kuala Lumpur to be with my family, I applied for transfer to Kuala Lumpur in 1959. My application was very reluctantly forwarded by Mr Oh Boon Tat. I wrote to inform Dr Lewis, the then Headmaster of the V.I. of my application for transfer and indicated that I was very keen to teach at my Alma Mater and that I was a certified soccer coach and a certificated Rugby Union coach. In 1961, my transfer was approved but at the same time I was selected to attend the one-year Specialist Course in Physical Education in the STTI in Cheras. Only upon completion of this course at the end of 1961, did I return to the Alma Mater, this time as a teacher.

Dr. G. E. D. Lewis was a man of few words. He never forgot to remind me that a Welshman knew his rugby. After playing at the Selangor State rugby trials one weekend, I received a note from the school clerk the following Monday asking me to see Dr. Lewis. When I went into his office, he raised his eyes and asked me what I was trying to do at the rugby trials. When I looked puzzled, he reprimanded me for joining the three-quarters in an attacking phase. He stated that, as a full back, my role was to stay back and defend. I explained that attacking full backs were now the trend in that sport. Dr. Lewis’ response was that, as a Welshman, he knew his rugby and dismissed me from his office!!

The last European V.I. Headmaster, Mr. Alan D. Baker, was a gentleman and had a smile for every occasion. He always had a kind word for me, being an ex-rugby player and having represented Johore in Malaya Cup games. After my Malaya Cup (rugby) matches, whenever they were held at the school field, Mr. Baker and his wife would often meet me to discuss the match and my performance!

The first Asian Headmaster of the V.I. was Mr. V. Murugasu. He re-established in the school the discipline of the heyday of the fifties. The pupils knew exactly what was expected of them and he did not tolerate any form of indiscipline or rude behaviour by pupils towards the staff. Under his regime the teachers did not have any disciplinary problems with the pupils. It was Mr. Murugasu who encouraged me to proceed to University to expand my opportunities in teaching. He also made available more free time for me to study on my own.

Mr. Tan Cheng Or, who succeeded Mr. Murugasu, hailed from the famous rugby playing school, King Edward VII in Taiping. He was soft-spoken and had a continuous smile for the staff. It was this Headmaster who persuaded the Chief Education Officer of Selangor in 1970 to promote me after my role in assisting with the reception of VIPs at the First Asean Schools Soccer Championship at the Merdeka Stadium.

School Staff, 1966
Peethamparam is at extreme left in the middle row

Besides teaching academic subjects to the lower forms of the V.I., I also assisted my former class monitor, Othman, who was the teacher in charge of soccer. I also helped out in athletics and was assistant to the senior rugby master. I was also asked to take charge of the V.I. Under-15 Team. Credit must go to Othman as he had his own method of coaching and the players followed his instructions. I never interfered as my methods would have confused the players. However, whenever I was called upon, I did assist in various aspects of coaching as, in particular situations, certain skills needed to be refined.

Other colleagues also made my V.I. experience memorable. One of the topics in the History lessons in Form 3 was the founding of Kuala Lumpur and the role of Kapitan China – Yap Ah Loy - and his exploits. To enliven the lesson, I very subtly hinted that if my pupils wanted to know more about the achievement of Yap Ah Loy, they should ask my colleague, Yap Chai Seng, “who was a descendant of Kapitan China.” Naturally the students began approaching Chai Seng with questions on his ancestry. He was puzzled at these requests and it was only after some time that he found out that yours truly was the source of this rumor. He accepted this in good humour but the title “Captain” was thereafter bestowed on him by those teaching the lower secondary classes and became part of his name.

A product of one of our rival schools, St John’s Institution, himself an athlete and a sportsman, Valentine Manuel was another colleague who was feared and respected by his pupils. When he reprimanded pupils, his famous words were “Your father is an honourable man and yet you stoop to this!” His withering glare was sufficient to silence a noisy class. He has a certain claim to fame as he was the Form Teacher in 1963 to the class where the present Sultan of Brunei and his younger brother were placed as pupils. So great was his attachment to our school that he often played for the VIOBA Rugby Team. He gave his best and was accepted as a Victorian by the Old Boys!

Cikgu Othman Mohd. Ali, my classmate and class monitor, was an upright person and well respected during our schooldays. Despite his stern demeanour, Othman was a gentle person and many a time we tried to get him to laugh at our jokes or clowning simply because, once he started laughing, he could not easily stop. We enjoyed seeing him laugh till tears streamed down his eyes. Cikgu was now in charge of soccer when I joined the V.I. in 1962. He was aware that I was a certificated football coach of England and a Rugby Union coach and sought my assistance in coaching the School soccer team. The boys respected "Cikgu" as he was fondly known, on and off the field. His influence as soccer master in the school was immeasurable. I occasionally managed to make him laugh again in the Staff Room and relive my schoolboy days! After all, are we not overgrown schoolboys? I think I am!

Similarly, when the athletics team was coached by Valentine Manuel, I assisted where possible. I took the School Relay Team through their paces and in baton changing and we enjoyed success in Inter School meets and Invitation Relays at the Athletics Meets of the various schools in Kuala Lumpur. In 1963, I drove the school Relay Team to Penang to participate in the Inter School Relay at the Technical Institute in Penang at their invitation. Our School Team easily won the Race. Mr Oh Boon Tat came and congratulated the Team and spoke to me at length. At one of the Malaysian Schools Athletics Meet held at the Merdeka Stadium, I introduced Mr Oh Boon Tat to Mr V. Murugasu, who had succeeded Dr Lewis. Mr Oh remarked to Mr Murugasu that any time he was prepared to release me to Penang, he would gladly accept me back in his school. It was a compliment that I truly appreciated.

My loyalty to the school continued in the form of playing Rugby for the Victoria Institution Old Boys Association team. I renewed ties with the Old Boys of my vintage but most of the representatives of the Old Boys Team were now players who had played for the school after my departure to Britain and my teaching stint in Penang. This gave me an opportunity to meet the younger generation.

Mrs. Yiap Khin Yin (née Ong Cheng Sim) was a very quiet and charming lady member of the staff. She often encouraged me to further my studies and to be a Chartered Secretary through a correspondence course. The demands of being the Sports Secretary in the school, assisting in the coaching of the school soccer, rugby and the relay teams however prevented me from doing so.

In the 1960s one of the helpers at the Canteen was a young man known as Fong and an attractive Chinese lass only known as Ah Kum. They were the two people who collected the orders from the Teaching Staff on a daily basis and the food was brought to the Staff Room as soon as the Recess began. We were aware of Fong's interest in Ah Kum and used to tease them both. Poor Ah Kum brushed off our remarks while Fong would just grin! They never paired off and I was not aware as to what transpired after I left our Alma Mater. Who says we did not have our Romeo and Juliet saga, V.I. style !!!!

I finally decided in 1966 to sit for the Higher School Certificate exams with the purpose of proceeding to University. I sought Cheng Sim's guidance and views in English Literature whenever she had a free period in the Staff Room. I distinctly remember asking her to give me an impromptu lesson on the poet William Blake as given to her own Form Six literature students. Later, at the HSC English Literature exam, I chose to answer the question on William Blake, utilising Cheng Sim’s very ideas and thoughts and managed to secure a pass in that paper! To this day I am grateful to Cheng Sim for her help. She will no doubt recall my continually teasing her that I would marry her if she were single and her famous retort, “I am too old for you!” Typical Cheng Sim!!

In July of 1967, I was successful in getting a place as a mature student to pursue an arts degree course at the University of Malaya, Pantai Valley. On completion of the course in 1969, I returned once more to the Old School in January 1970 and taught General Paper and History to Form Six Arts, and swimming to Form 5. Most of the lads in Upper Six Arts Two, were pupils I had taught in Form Three in 1966. Rapport was easily forged as they were aware of my expectations as teacher and complied, making my teaching task easier.

My stay at the alma mater ended in 1972 when I was transferred to Sekolah Sultan Abdul Samad in Petaling Jaya. I continued to maintain ties with the school, attending the School's Speech Days and the Annual Athletic Sports and assisting as an official at the latter. As an Old Victorian, it was almost impossible not to be involved in events of the alma mater and my visits to the Old School were quite regular. I also cheered from the sidelines at many of the Inter School matches that the V.I. participated in.

Though I ceased playing rugby, my involvement in coaching continued and I introduced this game to Sekolah Sultan Abdul Samad. It was in that year that I conducted the Rugby Coaching Course for the Malayan Rugby Union using the V.I. as the base for this course. The attendees for this course were housed at the School Hostel, thanks to the kindness of the School authorities. That same year too, the English Rugby Union and the Welsh Rugby Union extended an invitation to me to attend their National Coaching Courses at Aberystwyth, North Wales. It was at this Coaching Course that I renewed ties with my coaching mentor, Ray Williams, and assisted him to coach the Welsh Youth team.

Hearing of the coaching course that I had conducted for the Malaysian Rugby Union, the English Rugby Union invited me to attend the National Coaching Course held at Lilleshall, Shropshire. They wanted to know my approach and the contents of the course conducted by me in Malaya. When I arrived at Lilleshall the attendees at the course noticed me wrapped up against the cold weather. So they were very polite and sympathetic and spoke to me in Pidgin English. At the evening of the course, the organiser called on me to address the coaches in the Auditorium. There was silence as I made my way to the rostrum. The coaches had thought that I could not speak their language and felt that they should therefore be politely quiet. They were quite shocked when I spoke in English, telling them about my course, the personnel I approached, the exams and practical sessions.

When I finished, the audience rose as one and gave me a standing ovation. As a requirement I bought the first round of beers for the coaches. They reprimanded me for pretending to be a non-English speaker. How I managed to get to my room after the session is still a mystery as I needed to wake up at 5 a.m. the following morning to catch the only train back to London.

It was at this Conference that one of the coaches passed me a plan for constructing a scrummage machine. This was used by the Rugby Union to construct one for the Malaysian National team in 1973 with all expenses absorbed by Dr Hui Weng Choon, the President of the Malaysian Rugby Union! Such was the generosity of this ex-King Edward VII Rugby Star and West Australian University fly half and a former fly half for the Selangor state team. I had the privilege playing against him in 1960 when I played as wing forward for Penang.

Many are the tales and memories of my alma mater. My association with the Old School, my former classmates and teaching colleagues have enriched my life. Whenever Old Victorians I know visit Melbourne, we meet for a get together with other Old Victorians and revel in the memories of yesteryear. And whenever I attend functions in Kuala Lumpur, such as the Biennial Reunion for Brinsford Trained Teachers, it is with pride that I wear the V.I. blazer with the School crest. Often I am reminded that the function is a Brinsford function and not a V.I. function. And I tell them that the V.I. blazer is to remind them of the premier school I came from. One can see the envy in their eyes. Yes, I am proud to be a Victorian!!!!




VI The V.I. Web Page


Created on October 22, 2014.
Last update October 22, 2014.

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