The Reminiscences of
Lim Hock Han
Lim Hock Han was an outstanding V.I. athlete and swimmer in his school days in the mid-nineteen forties. He was a School Prefect and Captain of Hepponstall House in the postwar era of Mr. F. Daniel. On completing his Senior Cambridge in 1948 he continued his stay at the V.I. for another nine years, passing along his sporting skills to another generation of Victorians. There is not one Victorian of that era who has not been taught either athletics, swimming or P.E. by this kindly, well-built sportsman. After his tenure at the V.I., Hock Han became a lecturer in P.E. at the Specialist Teachers' Training Institute for a couple of years, followed by a stint at the Malayan Teachers College in Pantai Valley until 1972. He then became the Sports Director at the University of Malaya until 1978, when he moved to Singapore to be a lecturer in P.E. at the Institute of Education. Since 1990, he has been enjoying his retirement with lots of travel with his wife. He still plays a mean game of tennis or squash with any younger man who is brave enough to take him on.
s a young lad at the Batu Road School I loved to swim, having taught myself at the age of ten in the Gombak River. There were no swimming instructors in those days! Although pupils of the BRS were given a weekly swimming period, I found that swimming in the river was easier as I could swim with the current. I never let my parents know whenever I went swimming in the river. I would go to the river with friends and after swimming I would ask my friends to hide my wet shorts before I went home. Once, though, my mother became suspicious when she saw the wrinkled skin on my fingers and I was caned!
My primary education at the Batu Road School was interrupted by the war in 1941. During the Japanese occupation I swam in mining pools as well. They were very dangerous and deep but again I did not let my parents know. After the war we were all 4 years overage having missed joining the V.I. during that time. Because we were so much older we all found the school desks were too small for us! From September 1945 the VI was occupied by the BMA (British Military Administration) until the end of 1946. The V.I. boys had to have their classes at the BRS, Maxwell Road School and even briefly at St John's and the Methodist Girls School before relocating back to the VI.
We functioned at the V.I. with extra afternoon sessions for about a year or so. Some lucky boys were given double or even triple promotions because, during the occupation, their rich parents had secretly sent them to private tutors. Others, like myself, had to go out to work during the Japanese Occupation. Quite a number of my classmates who had been working during the occupation had picked up the smoking habit. Unfortunately they retained this habit when they rejoined the VI after the war, smoking behind the bushes or in the school toilets. When some of us became school prefects, we were in a difficult position with respect to the smokers as they were our friends and so we just looked the other way. After the war most of the teachers had to cycle to school just like the students. Later, when cars began to be shipped to this country again, those teachers who had savings were able to buy small cars and so elevated their status accordingly.
In school I took part in athletics and swimming. Because the headmasters of my time was dedicated and spent a lot of their time in school, many Victorians followed their example and also stayed back. There was no compulsion, the students were just encouraged to come back. We were also lucky to have good facilities like the sports field and swimming pool, which the school gardeners and mandore were expected to maintain. As for the V.I. teachers - well, some were hard working, some were not, and the teaching methods of some were out of date. There was need of new blood. Some teachers were good teachers of a subject but not of people. And there were those who took good care of people but were poor in teaching a subject. In fact it was the boys who participated in extra-curricular activities who were the ones most dedicated to the school. Other schools like the M.B.S. and St. Johns had their own programmes and had the same problems - they had good and bad teachers, and good as well as uninterested students. But there was very keen competition amongst these three schools, though.
Even my swimming teacher, Mr. G. F. Jackson, who taught English Literature, was just a figurehead. I, as the School Swimming Captain in 1948 and 1949, was actually in charge and organised swimming meets for him. P.E. was merely a drill as no games were played during P.E. However, swimming took off because the students themselves were interested and organised all the activities. The first post-war swimming championships were held in 1948. A Water Carnival was held in early 1949 in honour of Mr Daniel before he left for home. It was a hit with the V.I. pupils. Pupils like Nadeswaran and Ananda Krishnan also took part in comic sketches. We had Fong Ying Hon doing a magic show, and there were pupils swimming in fancy dress and swimming with umbrellas.
The first post-war sports meet was organized in 1947. There was a lot of interest, and again it was the V.I. students who took the initiative. 1948 was the golden year for athletics for the V.I. Our school relay teams (the 4 x 110 yds and 4 x 220 yds teams) were unbeaten in all the athletic meets in Selangor. Support from a headmaster was most important and we were lucky to have Mr. F. Daniel as headmaster. He spent some money to send us to Singapore to compete at the Raffles Institution Sports Day Invitational Relay. There were about 16 teams taking part including some from Johore and for the first time we had to run heats to narrow down the field but our V.I. team triumphed over all the rest, in effect, making us the best school relay team in the whole of Malaya and Singapore. After that victory we came back and felt we were strong enough to take part in the Selangor State championships as a separate contingent in the relay as well as in other events. We were schoolboys racing against grown men!
The members of the two V.I. relay teams were Kwan Mun Soon, Mohamed Amin, Sha Soo Chai and myself. Mohd. Amin returned to Pakistani and became a PT instructor in the Pakistani Air Force. He was an all-round sportsman, playing football and rugby for the school. He was also the 1948 Victor Ludorum. We mostly trained on our own on the school field, although one or two old boys like Ho Sum Wah came occasionally to give us advice.
Those who have been to VI have a certain attachment to the school because there was a lot of extra-curricular activities. They would go back to the school in the afternoon for games and society activities. They would spend almost twelve hours in school daily. They probably spent more time at school than at home. At home, they would just have their dinner, after which they did their homework and then they went to bed. I think those were good days in the sense that we had dedicated principals. When Daniel was principal for three years, he set a good example. He was succeeded by E.M.F. Payne who was also a good principal. He made a habit of inspecting the school grounds every morning. He was very supportive of P.E. And he made sure that young teachers were sent for P.E. training. He himself would often take a short walk from his office upstairs to the gallery overlooking the Hall, lean over and watch my P.E. classes going on below.
In 1948 I was involved in two drowning cases. The first drowning victim I rescued from the water was unconscious but I managed to revive him with artificial respiration. As for the second one - I think it was an Indian boy - nobody noticed he was in difficulties until someone spotted his lifeless form under the water. I happened to be walking by when they called out for help. So I jumped in and fished him out and tried to revive him. But I knew he was already dead because when I took my hand from his back I could see blue marks on his body where my fingers had been pressing against. He must have been in the water for at least half an hour.
After that incident the Education Department came out with a ruling that all teachers in charge of swimming either had to be swimmers or have a qualified life guard in attendance. Before that some teachers in charge could not swim and were usually in their street clothes reading their newspapers while the boys frolicked away in the water.
There was actually another V.I. swimming fatality which occurred during the time of the BMA when the VI was occupied by the British military. The water in the pool was very murky at that time because the pump had not been working during the war years. Unable to see the bottom, one of the BMA staff plunged into the shallow half of the pool which was only 2 feet 6 inches deep. He knocked his head on the bottom, cracked his skull and died.
On finishing my Senior Cambridge at the end of 1948, I had intended to go out to work but the headmaster, Mr F. Daniel, asked me to stay on as a probationary teacher. In those days there were no training colleges. I did my part time teacher training in Normal Classes at VI under expatriate lecturers. From Mondays to Fridays we worked as regular teachers with an almost full load; on Saturdays we attended Normal Classes. For three years, we took subjects like literature and English. During this time I also attended 4 P.E. courses. At the end of the training in 1952 I joined as a permanent member of the V.I. staff.
In early 1949 I helped some other V.I. boys paint the names on the School Honour Boards which were to be mounted in the Library. The school carpenter, Loh Wing, had made them together with the War Memorial and other furnishings for the new school library to be declared open by Mr Anthony Eden when he visited the School. Some of the Honour Boards are still hanging in the School Hall I understand.
In 1955, Ron Casey, an American swimming coach accompanied 4 swimmers to Japan for some swimming competitions. After the events they visited Malaya, gave exhibitions and ran coaching clinics. I met Casey and helped arrange a course by him for Selangor teachers. At the end of the course Ron told me that he had recommended that I be sent to America to learn swimming coaching for 4 months. The Asia Foundation came up with the money and so I took unpaid leave from the V.I to visit the top 6 U.S. swimming colleges and institutions, mainly on the eastern seaboard from South Florida to Yale University, where I witnessed the finals of the AA championships and the intercollegiate championships. I stayed at campus guest houses and experienced the U.S. indoor season. The Americans held their competitions from December to mid-March, and so it was the best time for me to be there because all activities were in the campuses themselves. I also spent two weeks at West Point and two weeks at Annapolis which had top class facilities. In 1972 the Asia Foundation again generously sponsored me for a Master's degree in Sports Science in Oregon.
Let me say something about what I have observed of the VI of the 1990s. When the majority of a school is male, the majority of the teachers must also be men. We can't have a lady teaching, say, rugby. Sports standards have gone down in the last ten to twenty years. There is no leadership and role modelling for the V.I. boys. Unless we have more male teachers and, even more important, more male teachers interested in sports, we cannot have a high standard in this country. There has got to be sporting interest among the teachers, who must also be prepared to come back in the afternoons, three times a week to help in the coaching and organising. Without that I think most sports cannot thrive.
Last update on 16 December 2000.