V.I. Myths Debunked


ince 1985, the VI school magazine, The Victorian, has on occasion published some special features regarding certain "facts" and "traditions" of the school. A great many of these, on closer examination, are blatantly without foundation, but unfortunately no effort was made by the school authorities at that time to correct these myths in subsequent issues of the Victorian. As a result, later editions of the Victorian kept re-quoting these myths as facts and reproducing them year after year! It is now so many years later and a few thousand Victorians have passed through the school thinking that these "facts" are true !!

Let us examine each of these claims, rationally, one by one.



MYTH 1:

"The bodies of prisoners who were said to have been tortured were also said to be strewn all over the school field. Today several tombstones lying near the school hostels bear testimony to this". The Victorian 1985, page 80.

FACT:

Grave Stone There are no reports anywhere in the school magazines after the war about bodies strewn over the school field. There is only one tombstone near the hostel. If you decipher the characters on the gravestone, you will find that they refer to a woman buried there in the reign of the Chinese emperor Kuang Hsu which was from 1875 to 1908, long before the World War II. The school is built on what used to be the Petaling Hill Chinese Cemetery before the 1930s, so the presence of a Chinese grave is not a great surprise. But it is definitely not that of a Japanese victim.

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MYTH 2:

(A) "The school planted palm trees in honour of the teachers who were killed in the war." The Victorian 1985, page 80.

(B) "....Royal Palm Trees - planted in memory of the 33 VI teachers who died in World War II" (See how a myth gets embellished over time?). The Victorian 1989, page 41; The Victorian 1997, page 13.

FACT:
(A) There is no such record in any of the school magazines. As shown in this photo taken in July 1941 (five months before the Pacific War began) palm trees are already Palm Tree flourishing in the background of this group of scouts! In fact, as reported in the Victorian of 1991, Old Boy Mr. S. Robert, when asked in an interview about these palms, said that the trees had been planted in 1928 "purely for decorative purposes".

It is a fact, however, that in 1949, some 10 yellow flame trees (peltophorum) - not palm trees - were planted in memory of some teachers and pupils who died in the war. This was reported in the 1949 Victorian. It is also confirmed by the School Captain of that time, Dato' Dr. R. S. McCoy, who remembers planting two trees himself, not in memory of anyone who died, but as School Captain and as School Hockey Captain.

(B) As reported in the Victorian of 1946, only 7 VI teachers died in World War II - G. Burgess, F. Cobb, H.D. Grundy, E.W. Reeve, A. C. Strahan, G.C. Tacchi, and T.L. White. (Their names are also on the war memorial in the V.I. Museum.) One local teacher, K. Thambirajah, died during the Japanese occupation. It is rather baffling where the number 33 came from, considering that the pre-war VI staff numbered only around twenty!

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MYTH 3:

(A) "An interesting feature about the school building is the bell which hangs from the school tower. Legend has it that the bell was from the warship Repulse which was sunk together with the Prince of Wales by the Japanese in 1941 during World War II. However, no proof substantiating this can be found" The Victorian 1985, page 80.

(B) "The School bell from HMS Malaya - presented in honour of the VI teachers who went down with the ship in World War II". The Victorian 1989, page 41; The Victorian 1997, page 13.

FACT:

HMS Malaya Bell (A) The Repulse and the Prince of Wales were indeed sunk in December 1941 in the South China Sea off Kuantan by the Japanese, which can be confirmed, without too much effort, in any war history book. However, the bell hanging under the school tower comes from the HMS Malaya. This ship fought in World Wars I and II and survived and was decommissioned after the war. The watch bell of this ship was presented to the school by British Rear Admiral H.J. Egerton in a solemn ceremony witnessed by a large gathering including the Raja Muda of Perak, the Chief Justice, and senior government officials on September 12, 1947. It was also broadcast live and filmed by the Malayan Film Unit. This entire event is chronicled on pages 3 to 8 in The Victorian of 1948 and the contents are reproduced in the article "Presentation of the HMS Malaya Watch Bell" in this web page.

(B) Since the HMS Malaya never went down, the story of VI teachers who supposedly went down with it must belong to the realm of fantasy.

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MYTH 4:

"Legend has it that if it (the HMS Malaya Bell) is rung, the whole of Kuala Lumpur will be engulfed in a disastrous flood". The Victorian 1988, page 66.

FACT:
Again, check the feature "Presentation of the HMS Malaya Watch Bell" and read carefully those three speeches. No one in his right mind, not the VI headmaster at that time, not the Admiral, not the Governor, would ever wish this disaster on the poor people of KL. (Indeed, in its first years at the VI, the Bell was rung daily by the School Captain for nothing more calamitous than the announcement of the start of school.)

At the 1947 presentation, Rear Admiral Egerton said in his speech, "... So now I will ring 8 bells to say farewell to HMS Malaya and eight more to mark the inception of a new period, when I hope this bell will be an inspiration to those who hear it struck and perhaps ponder for a moment on its past history".

The Governor, Sir Edward Gent, said this at the conclusion of his speech, "Admiral, the Government and people of Malaya gratefully accept the ship's bell as a perpetual reminder to us all of the good ship Malaya and her loyal service in His Majesty's Navy, and as a perpetual reminder to ourselves here, and to succeeding generations in this country, of our comradeship with the Royal Navy and the cause of Empire defence."

The VI headmaster, Mr F. Daniel, said, "... to be given a bell with such a history and such associations is a great privilege; but we fully realize that great privileges imply great responsibilities."

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MYTH 5:

"Tandas 206 yang terletak di sebelah kiri kantin pula telah digunakan oleh pehak Jepun sebagai tempat untuk memenggal kepala orang tawanan." The Victorian 1987, page 59.

FACT:

Hort. Society The boys' toilet, with building number 206, was built in late 1961, at the same time as the present canteen, by the then headmaster, Dr G.E.D. Lewis. This was at least 16 years after the Pacific War ended! Apart from 206 being a code word for the boys' toilet (an inside joke that dates way back to 1962), there is no history to the toilet.

This photograph, taken by me, shows members of the VI Horticultural Society posing exactly where the entrance to 206 is (that's the school incinerator at the left in the background and the school carpenter's shack on the right). The year is 1956 - eleven years after the war ended and still no 206 built yet. So how could it be around during the war?

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MYTH 6:

(A) "The School Song -
From the theme: Gaudeamus Igiuter;
Music by: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart""
The Victorian 1989, page 2; The Victorian 1990, page 2.

(B) "The School Song -
Music by: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Lyrics by: G.P. Jackson"
The Victorian 1991, page 2.

(C) "The School Song -
From the theme: 'Let Us Rejoice'
Music by: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Lyrics by: G.P. Jackson"
The Victorian 1992, page 2; The Victorian 1993, page 7; The Victorian 1994, page 12.

FACT:

G F Jackson (A) The words of the school song were composed in 1949 by Mr G. F. Jackson who was the English Literature teacher as well as the school swimming teacher. This song is printed on page 14 of The Victorian of 1949 with a footnote mentioning that it is based on the medieval students' tune (not theme) Gaudeamus Igitur (not Igiuter). Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart lived in the eighteenth century so he could not have composed Gaudeamus Igitur as he was born a few hundred years too late. Until 1989, Mozart's name has never ever been mentioned in connection with the VI school song.

(B) Same as for (A). In addition, the teacher's name is G.F. Jackson, not G.P. Jackson.

(C) Same as for (B). As for the "theme", if it means the theme of the VI School song, then it is not about rejoicing. As we all know, the school song pays tribute to the school founders and past pupils and pledges the present pupils to match them. Gaudeamus Igitur starts as follows:

Gaudeamus Igitur
Juvenus dum sumus
Post jucundam juventutum
Post molestam senectutem
Nos habebit humus
Nos habebit humus.

To anyone able to read Latin, the theme of Gaudeamus Igitur is, indeed, about rejoicing and enjoying ourselves while we are young, about life being short, about death coming quickly, and may whatever that is anti-progress perish, etc. So the theme of Gaudeamus Igitur is quite different from the theme of the VI School Song.

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MYTH 7:

"Be Yet Wiser" - The motto of the school from the proverb 'Give instruction to a wise man and he will be yet wiser" The Victorian 1989, page 41; The Victorian 1997, page 13.

FACT:

School Motto

"Be Yet Wiser" is the motto of the Seladang! It made its first appearance when the Seladang came out in October 1953. Incredibly, the school has never had a motto all this time !



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The last myth above is a good example of how easily wrong information can be transmitted. The 1997 Victorian editor carelessly reproduced what he thought was a historical truth printed in the 1989 Victorian. He could not have known better, not having been around in 1989. And so unless checked, readers of this 1997 Victorian will go through school believing this "fact", and will in turn, after a few years, transmit the "fact" to another generation of new Victorians, and so on and on.

The Victorian was first published in 1923 as a faithful chronicle of VI events and has been the primary reference source of school history. It is to be hoped that future writers and editors of The Victorian will check their facts carefully before allowing any more myths, rumours, conjectures and plain falsehoods to be published. The late Mr S. Robert, a prominent Old Victorian and a past president of the VIOBA, was concerned enough about this insidious problem that in The Victorian of 1991 he suggested that VI pupils set up a board to organise frequent talks and interviews with Old Boys who would then enlighten them regarding the VI.

It is certainly hoped that the slate has been wiped clean with this little effort here and that the correct version of VI history, minus all the distortions and embellishments, will once again prevail and that no more manufactured legends and myths will be mindlessly bandied about. We owe it to later generations of Victorians to be accurate recorders and careful custodians of VI history and to pass down to them the correct facts and traditions about the alma mater.




VI The V.I. Web Page


Created on 31 July 1998.
Last updated on 23 November 2003.

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