The Reminiscences of Mr. A.C.J. Towers

Mr. A.C.J. Towers joined the staff of the V.I. in 1897. A keen, all-round sportsman, he is best remembered as the person who founded the V.I. Cadet Corps at the ripe old age of twenty-three. He left the V.I. in 1902 to join the Central School in Taiping as Chief European Assistant. Later he became the Secretary to three Perak mines and was dubbed the "Laird of Tasek".

Mr. Towers never forgot the V.I. as he returned to the old school from time to time bearing gifts for his beloved Cadet Corps. In 1930 he presented a silver challenge shield, named in his honour, to be awarded yearly to the best all-round platoon in the Corps.

With the VICC - 1939

Five years later he returned with an embroidered sash and a pair of gauntlets for the drum-major and a fine leopard skin apron for the bass drummer. He was invited back to the V.I. in 1939 as guest of honour at the fortieth anniversary celebrations of the V.I.C.C. In this last visit he presented a drum-major's mace of embossed silver to the Corps. Reproduced below are his reminiscences of the school as printed in the 1936 Victorian. Although Mr Towers had enclosed several photos with his recollections, only two were printed by the Victorian. These two photos are reproduced here as well.




y dear Boys of the Victoria Institution,

I have been asked by your Editorial Board to write my reminiscences (i) of the Victoria Institution in particular and (ii) of Malaya in general.

I have much pleasure in complying, to the best of my ability and recollection, with the former request in the little time I can find to spare. As to the latter (my A.C.J. Towers reminiscences of Malaya) I have almost promised Mr. Robson, of Kuala Lumpur, to write a whole book on it, and that will take some years.

I arrived in Kuala Lumpur one afternoon (I forget the exact date) in 1897, i.e. in all but forty years ago. Port Swettenham was not heard of then. I got off the boat, the old "Mary Austin" (long ago on the scrap heap) after a terrible dose of seasickness. I had the Captain's (Captain J. Boyle) cabin which was almost at the bow and, as the funnel and engine of that ship were behind the second mast, the bow was almost up in the air in relation to the stern. The consequence was that my part of the ship was performing all possible movements from pitching and rolling to that of a corkscrew opening a hole in the atmosphere.

Can you wonder at the result?

Well, the train ride was pleasant enough, through coffee estates and jungle. The Kuala Lumpur Railway Station was on the same spot as it is now but it was a very small one in comparison with the present palace. I think the Station Master's name was Newman.

That night the beautiful Government Offices opposite the padang were electrically lit for the first time, I learned, as that day marked the opening thereof. Also Sir Frank Swettenham had just been knighted and so it was quite a "gala" night. My bow to Kuala Lumpur was therefore made in a blaze of light and general jollification.

I stayed with Dr. & Mrs. Kensett on the hill just behind the present Hotel Majestic. From the top floor of this Hotel, a few months ago, I recognised a tree which stood in the garden of my old house.

I used to take a short cut through the old cemetery to town or to the Victoria Institution via Venning Road. On my last visit to K.L. I walked all over that cemetery and remembered, with a sigh, most of those whose tombstones record their last journey on earth. If I were sitting there now I should be able to write enough for your Magazine for 10 years, as each name would recall some interesting incident or incidents.

It was to the old Victoria Institution by the river that I went via Venning Road, through the old Railway Station, and across the Railway line every working day.

I succeeded Mr. W. M. Phillips who became an Assistant Inspector of Schools in Perak. The only other European Masters there at that time I think were the Head, Mr. Bennett Eyre Shaw, who became a very good friend to me, and Mr. R. F. Stainer who, later, was appointed to the old Central School, in Taiping, as Head. I followed, later, as his Chief Assistant, after being at the V.I. 5 years, to the day.

I was only 21 on arrival at K.L. and full of energy, and was amazed to find that no games, with the exception of tops, marbles and kite-flying, were indulged in by the boys.

I soon got to work and introduced football and cricket which we played on the field alongside the old main building, the only one then. Your present colours are what I selected then. I enclose an old photograph* of my slim, youthful self at the wicket on the School ground. I'm sorry I haven't a copy of the photograph of the old V.I. football team which was the champion team of Malaya for the year. I gave my only copy of that and of the old Cadet Corps and of the party of H.M.S. Brisk, to one of my old boys here - Mark Foenander - of the "Times of Malaya", for presentation to the V.I. Old Boys' Association. Mr. George Henbrey (of whom more later) is seen in the group. He played at half back with me.

After a time Mr. B. E. Shaw went on leave and the Rev. Knight Clarke, AKC, acted as Headmaster. During his regime I started what was then known as the St. Mary's Boys' Brigade which, on Mr. Shaw's return, metamorphosed into the V.I. Cadet Corps. That was the first Cadet Corps to see light in the whole of Malaya. It was amusing to hear how the boys, and even some of the Asiatic Masters, pronounced it - "Kaydet (accent on the first syllable) Corpse" !!! However, it never reached that stage for did I not take the salute some years ago when I had the honour of presenting my shield, and again, last year, when I presented the Drum Major's sash and a leopard-skin apron? I was even photographed with the Corps. Never will it be a corpse. I was so proud of that photograph that I had it incorporated in my recent brochure on the first All-Malay-School Cricket Match which I staged in Ipoh on the lst February of this year, after coaching Malay Schools for two years. I enclose a copy.

I also enclose a copy of the companion to (or forerunner of) that brochure, as it contains my cricket reminiscences in Kuala Lumpur (and elsewhere) which might interest you boys and others.

I have been a keen athlete all my life and, in my spare time, I used to go up the hill behind the old two-storeyed "Spotted Dog" to the Malay States Guides' gymnasium and parade ground, and put in a strenuous hour or two with Sergeant Instructor Natha Singh, whom some of the older boys (who are now grandfathers, possibly) will remember. I enclose a copy of a photograph* of myself with him doing the long-arm balance on the ground parallel bars (specially made for the purpose of being taken at the photographers). I weighed only 8-stone-8, - the weight at which I once used to ride. Later, when the famous Eugen Sandow trained me in strong man stunts I weighed 15-stone-5 and had 17-inch biceps and a 48-inch chest, and surprised Natha Singh (then transferred) and the prize wrestlers in the Malay States Guides in Taiping by pressing up 200 lbs. Natha Singh died some years ago in Ipoh.

My doctor has dieted me for a year and a half and brought me down to decent proportions viz: 12-stone, and now, at the age of sixty, I have given away all my "heavy artillery" - 200, 165, and 125-pounders to the Y.M.C.A., and I carry on with the "light infantry" (14-pounders) and light Indian Clubs, etc. I don't smoke and seldom take strong drink.

Well, after this digression, I must get back to the Cadet Corps. In my old photograph of the Corps will be seen Captain H. Ainslie (now a general), a fine cricketer. He called himself my Staff Officer. He commanded that portion of the Malay States Guides stationed at Kuala Lumpur. He was very keen and helped me along wonderfully and got me my sword etc. He was also so good as to present me with a set of army parallel and horizontal bars. I had these erected in my garden and enjoyed two hours every morning with them. Later, I presented them to the V.I. Cadet Corps and I was told, on a visit there some years ago, that they were still at the V.I. Gym.

In those days all masters used the cane. I thought it was rather a useless form of punishment as it in no way improved the "Corpore Sano" so I invented something that might do this. Thereafter, whenever a boy deserved a caning I sentenced him instead to so many circles of the muscle-grinder on the horizontal bar. It worked wonders. My best performer was a boy named Fernando, nicknamed Fernando Po. Skelchy (Senior) was also good. His younger brother R. R. Skelchy (also one of my old boys in the Corps) is now in Ipoh in a good position in the P.W.D.

Route marches on Saturdays and holidays were very popular with the Corps for we nearly always had, as our objective, some towkay's fruit garden or the lake gardens, with cakes and "sherbet" etc. - and, I must confess, I was as much of a boy as any of my boys, and enjoyed it quite as much.

What a wonderful thrill was mine when I saw my old Corps after a lapse of over 30 years and took the salute!

CHOIR of ST. MARY's, 
Kuala Lumpur, 1897-98 I hope I am not wearying you by enclosing yet another photograph - one of St. Mary's Choir. Note those in it besides myself:

Miss Stratton (one-time organist) is not in it although it was taken for her and presented to her. As you all know she became Mrs. Jimmy Brown, late Government Printer in succession to Mr. John Russell, father of Mr. Bob Russell, still in Kuala Lumpur. Bob and his brother, Don, were among my old boys when I had a little museum in my classroom. Bob met me at Runnymede Hotel last year and had to introduce himself to me as I had not seen him since his school days. I reminded him of my having to tie up one of his legs to his desk because he was often absentmindedly wandering about the classroom.

Mrs. Brown is now known as Mrs. Stratton-Brown.

Next we see Mr. George Henbrey who joined the Victoria Institution after a while when another building had to be put up. It was erected by Mr. San Ah Wing, now a Banker in K.L.

Mr. Henbrey and I occupied rooms upstairs while the ground floor was occupied by the lower school. He had a piano and sang very well and, as we were both musical, we enjoyed ourselves immensely, my violin and banjo coming in handy. We usually performed at Smoking Concerts at the old "Spotted Dog" after an inter-state cricket match. Often have I blackened my face, together with that comic-song singer, Mr. Claude Severn, who later became Sir Claude Severn, Colonial Secretary of Hong Kong. A brother of his (Lieut. Severn) visited us in K.L. when H.M.S. Brisk cruised about in our waters.

At Whiteaway Laidlaw's Ipoh, the other day, someone talking to the Manager suddenly called out my name. I looked at him and asked if he would favour me with his name. "George Henbrey", came the reply. His hair has grown grey and "thin on top" but, otherwise, he seems fit. He has settled down in Taiping and is two years my senior. He is the only man in the world I know of who can play his own accompaniment and sing one verse a semitone higher, another in the right key and a third a semitone lower. He used to do this at those cricket smoking concerts in K.L. and simply brought down the house. It's screamingly funny.

Another in the choir picture is Mr. H. W. Thomson. We met again in Ipoh, when he was British Resident, Perak, 28 years later, and I said goodbye to him at the Runnymede Hotel, Penang, on his way home on retirement.

Then there is Mr. A. S. Baxendale and Mr. C. R. Cormac who were Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent of the Posts and Telegraphs Department respectively. Mr. Cormac's son in a C.A. in Ipoh.

Then there is Mr. "Billy" Ridges who was Protector of Chinese. He died in Jersey some years ago while I was there.

Next we see Mr. Parsons, father of Mr. Dudley Parsons, still in K.L., and of Mr. Percy Parsons, late of K.L., whom I met in Jersey some years ago and who is now in Worthing. Mr. Jimmy Brown is also in the picture. He was a good tenor.

Mr. Walter Lott, seen there also, was one of our organists.

Then there are the boys.

Do you recognise Williams? When I was at the V.I. sports a few months ago you had a "show" on in your speech hall - Along came a stout fellow who took me to his table and introduced me to himself, his wife, grown up daughter and his son. He was, as he told me, none other than that little Williams in that choir group and now known as Dr. Williams.

Then you see Chan Sze Jin and Chan Sze Onn (both my old boys as also were Williams and the other boys in the picture). Chan Sze Jin's people complained to me that he never studied at night and was always playing. But he did not need any studying for he had a wonderful memory. I made him a Sergeant in the Cadet Corps and, one night, was much amused to find him, in uniform, in the middle of the road, giving out a string of imaginary orders to the little boys before him. He won the Queen's Scholarship and I met him in London, later, while he was reading for the bar. We attended service at St. Paul's Cathedral together one day and had a curry and rice feed later at the Trocadero Restaurant. He is now the Hon. Mr. Chan in Singapore, Barrister-at-Law, and on the Executive Council. His brother, Chan Sze Onn, is a flourishing Accountant in Singapore.

The other boys, Anchant, Brown and Mitchell, I have never heard of. Mr. W. F. Nutt, seen there, was Manager of the Straits Trading Co. Ltd.

One day in the classroom, I drew a large tiger's head on the blackboard and asked the boys to reproduce it in their exercise books. There was no drawing class then, but they had what the Headmaster called "hand-and-eye training". Mr. Shaw happened to pass by my room and he noticed the tiger's head. From that day I had a drawing class for freehand drawing and, later, a geometrical drawing class. As these subjects came into the category of extra subjects, the Government paid the school (it was not a Government School then) an extra grant per pass. The Head gave me a rise in salary on the strength of it. One of my best boys in the drawing class was a lefthander - Granville O'Hara. He is now a Government pensioner and I am still young enough to keep my nose to the grindstone! I have met other Government pensioners among my old boys e.g. Stanley Mitchell who served in the Forests Department with O'Hara, Edward Bartholomeusz of the Railways etc. etc. I got quite a shock at your School sports some years ago when a white-haired veteran came up to me and told me he was one of my old boys - and my head isn't white yet! He introduced himself as Dr. Ponniah.

I once travelled in the train from Penang to Ipoh with another old boy who used to be known as "Lady Clare". I think his name was Chye Poh but I cannot remember his surname. He was then a contractor to the Railways.

Whenever I look at that St. Mary's Choir photograph with Mr. Jimmy Brown in it I think of the old Volunteer Fire Brigade and Mr. H. F. Bellamy, its Head. Mr. Brown, although then advanced in years, used to run up the ladders like a youngster, in fact no youngster in the Brigade could touch him at it. I was roped into that Brigade very soon after my arrival and, I must confess, I didn't enjoy it. The engine was then drawn by a pair of magnificent horses. 1 was later appointed, what Mr. Bellamy (an old cricketer) called, the "Kid-glove Fireman". My duties were chiefly confined to looking after the ladies whenever we gave an "At Home". I suppose I must have been more ornamental (and a very poor ornament) than useful. However, I gave it up after a couple of years as I had my time fully occupied with cricket (I played for the State), football (I played right-half for Selangor), the Cadet Corps, gymnastics etc.

The only link with the past when I visited the V.I. recently was your veteran teacher, Mr. Thampipillay. He was a school boy when I first went to the V.I. as an Assistant Master. He should not be dubbed a "Veteran" while I am still alive and kicking, and working. Age is not determined by years but by tissues. A man is as old as he feels, and Mr. Thampipillay certainly does not look his age.

I had a curious experience one day on the K.L. Padang. I was playing in a cricket match and it was "my day out". I was making quite a decent score. I noticed an elderly gentleman sitting under a tree, all by himself, watching me play. As soon as I got out he came up to me, took me by the arm, and walked with me into the Club. But it didn't end there. He kept marching me up and down the verandah of the Club and talking to me in such a "haw-haw" tone of voice that I found the situation not only embarrassing (with everyone staring at me) but distinctly boring. I was trying to get rid of him and away to the dressing room. In a word I was "fed up to the back teeth" as the modern saying goes.

"Haw! Mistah Towahs!" he said, "and wheah did yaw leam yaw cricket?" etc. etc. etc. I said I didn't learn it but it just came to me like any other game. I fear I must have been positively rude in my attempts to choke him off.

Eventually I succeeded, after refusing a drink and saying I needed a change badly. On the way to the dressing room I asked someone who that "blighter" was, and pointed him out. "That, over there," gasped my vis-à-vis, "that's the British Resident, Mr. (late Sir) John Rodger!"

"My word!," said I, "I almost told him to go to the "hot place"! Mr. Rodger was also, of course, the Chairman of the Trustees of the Victoria Institution!

Previously I had seen him on horseback and wondered why he always took off his hat to me when I only put up my finger in return. He must known who, and what an insignificant little "nobody" I was, and I could only put down his behaviour to a very keen sense of humour. He must have enjoyed the joke. God rest his soul. He was a gentleman to his finger tips.

And now having said that, I will tell you why I left the Victoria Institution.

Sir John Rodger, in due course, became Resident of Perak.

Mr. R. F. Stainer was transferred to the Central School, Taiping, as Headmaster.

I was at a circus, one night, and a telegram was handed to me. It an invitation to go to the Central School, Taiping, as Chief European Assistant and the telegram finished up with: "Can you come at once?" This was from Sir John Rodger!

I showed it to Mr. B. E. Shaw the next morning and he said that although he was very sorry to lose me, he would not stand in my way as, whatever he was able to offer, by way of an increase, would not be as good.

He, however, said this, and I have never forgotten it: "If anything happens, you will know that you will always find a warm welcome back to the Victoria Institution at $200/- a month".

In those days that was considered quite a good salary.

I was occasionally asked by the Headmistress of the Girls' School to examine the girls when we had a holiday and they hadn't. I was delighted in putting them puzzling questions and, sometimes, even impossible ones to answer. I distinctly remember two:

(1) If 3 pencils cost 7 1/2 cents how much will 2 penholders cost?

They pulled their hair for quite a time over that and gave all sorts of funny answers.

(2) What is the difference between 7 square feet and 7 feet square?

They all put up their hands immediately, and when I said: "Write your answer", nearly all wrote: "There is no difference". Of course they were all wrong, as you know; some said something else but not one had the correct answer.

I happened to know some of their mothers and, dear me ! didn't I hear all about that nasty man, Mr. Towers! ! ! ..

I had a splendid send-off at the Railway Station when I left K.L. Crowds of boys and others turned up and yelled a "goodbye" as the train steamed out. Just before that I was presented with a gold signet ring with my monogram on it. I was told that it was subscribed for by not only the boys but those very girls I used to examine and who told their mothers etc. what a "nasty man" I was. I wore that ring until my little finger grew too big for it. My son (now in London) wears it, as his initials (first and last) "A.T." are the same as mine.

Now, I'm sure, you've all had enough, so I'll stop or you'll be echoing the chorus of "nasty man".

I duly went to Taiping and found out that Sir John Rodger had known my parents and had been their guest once upon a time.

When I left the Central School, Taiping, I had a similar send-off. This time they gave me a group photograph, with myself in it, and a large clock, a wonderful clock it has proved, as it has kept splendid time ever since, i.e. 31 years now, and has never been repaired. I have always wound it myself, and still do.

A couple of years later, he left to take up a Governorship in West Africa. I then left too and have been "living happily ever after".

When I am 100 years young I'll write you some more reminiscences.

Meanwhile, don't forget my old motto which I drilled into my old boys: MENS SANA IN CORPORE SANO.

Don't smoke or take drugs or strong drink. Take at least three pints of fresh water a day not with, but between meals and do all things in moderation - even exercise. Also brush your teeth after each meal. I have always done this. I have never had a toothache and still possess my own teeth.

I'll pass on some very useful advice, which the great Eugen Sandow gave me, and that is to keep out of tournaments and competitions, particularly later in life, because you might be "off colour" on the appointed day. In order to do justice to yourself on such a day, therefore, you put on an extra spurt, you "force" yourself as it were. Therein lies the danger to your heart. That "overdoing" of it tells on your heart although you may not know or feel it at the time. The cumulative effect of several repetitions sooner or later "crocks" you up.

If you carry out what I suggest and what Sandow advised me to do or, rather, refrain from doing, you'll stand a very good chance of enjoying life and living to be a gay young centenarian.

As a non-smoker for 34 years and a shunner of strong drink (although I am not a "teetotaller"), I can assure you that your staying powers will be wonderfully preserved, your taste will remain keen and you will enjoy your food, and even water, with a zest unknown to the smoker and tippler whose tongue is coated and almost deadened to taste.

Life, after all, is all too short, and why not enjoy it while it lasts? Why, for the sake of doing any (foolish) thing because "everybody's doing it", make your life a miserable, burdensome existence instead of a Song of Joy? The man of character is not the man who "goes with the crowd" because it spells "popularity" but the one who can stand out when it is the proper thing to do, popularity or no popularity. Kites rise against, not with the wind.

Answer this question honestly:

Did you enjoy your first smoke (mine made me sick) or your first taste of strong drink? Why, then, meekly follow others? That is a sign of weakness. It needs courage, my boys, to say, 'NO", and the finest thing to strengthen your will power to enable you to say that "NO" is PHYSICAL CULTURE. I speak from experience. To Sandow go out my everlasting thanks for enabling me to cast off the smoking habit. Doing it by degrees always failed. He got me to do it at once. That was a glorious battle - a battle over SELF - at the age of twenty-six, just before I got married.

May you always WIN your battles over your greatest enemy - SELF.

Yours very earnestly,
A. C. J. Towers




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