St. Thomas’ College – Matale
A hundred and forty-six years ago, in the year 1873, the verandah of a small mud-and-wattle church was the scene of a little drama when seventy-five (75) little boys and twelve (12) little girls waited in eager excitement for the opening of their first -ever school, the precursor of what was to be St. Thomas’ Matale. Matale has been a center of. Catholic activity from about 1706. It remained a mission station until 1873 when it was elevated to a full-fledged parish in which year begins also the history of the school. It was a private school run by the Church on its own funds.
Rev. Fr. Dom Giovanni OSB followed by Rev. Fr. Dom R. Fornelli OSB and Rev. Fr. Bertea Mis Ap. kept the school going between the years 1873 and 1876. The Head Master was Mr. B. Emmanuel assisted by Messrs Vanderkoon. and Anthony Paulisz and Miss Juliana Perera. They were paid a total sum of 3 pounds – 10 shillings-od, a princely salary then with no cost of living allowance and special living allowance or a Defence Levy bothering them.
Finance was not a problem for the management as the parish was fortunate in the person of that great philanthropist, Mr. Peter Englebert Ferdimndt, who gave generously towards the maintenance of the school.
In 1876 the Mixed school was split into separate Boys’ and Girls’ School by Rev. Fr. Aloysius J. M. Marrer who succeeded Fr. Bertea in that year. The Head Master of the Boys’ School was Mr. Leo de Silva, salary 2 pounds- I. shillings-od. The Girls’ School was under Miss Rosa Perera, salary, 1 pound- 10 shillings-od assisted by Miss Silva, salary -15 shillings-od. The girls school was named St.Agnes Convent School which is now known as St.Thomas Girls’ School.
MONSIGNOR PIUS FERNANDO
On the 17’h of January 1880, there arrived at Matale another priest, not a Sylvesto Benedictine like the earlier priests, but a secular priest, a Diocesan Priest , Rev. Fr. Pius Fernando, Mis. Ap. A son of Negombo, he little knew at the time of his arrival here that he was destined to spend half a century of his priestly life in Matale and finally bury his bones here, at Matale, in 1930. He retired in 1929 and was succeeded by Rev. Fr. Dom Clemont Marri OSB, a Silvestro Benedictine.
Fr. Pius, affectionately so called, and in whose hallowed memory a block of classrooms was built in 1934, the long, the long trellis walled set of classrooms facing the present forlorn Tennis Court, was a man of great foresight endowed with that wisdom that looks beyond even the distant scene.
One of the first things he did at Matale was to get the hitherto Private Schools registered under Government. Between the years 1880 and 1881 the schools ceased to be Anglo-Vernacular and were recognized for the teaching of English with 73 boys and 42 girls in the two respective schools. Mr. K. D. Fernando was installed as Head Master and Mr. D. Anthony became his assistant. Mrs. Susan Beekmeyer and Miss Rosa Maria took charge of the girls.
THE ROBINSON ERA
On the 1st September 1923 Mr. Charles Robinson was installed as the Head Master of St. Thomas’ Elementary School. He was a Man of life and zest. If his name had a magic in it to arouse curiosity and awe, his eyes had a power that could make a culprit sink to his knees unasked.
The history of the school from then on for a period of thirty five years (1923 – 1958), is the story of Mr. Robinson, for, he and the school became allied intimately, inseparably, and if I may add, irrevocably. As A P. B, Santiago writes in the Thomian Tetralogue (1943).
GG Charles Robinson of the fearless eye, His neck in thunder clothed, His hand a ferule bore, came saw and conquered”, “Charlie” so referred to by the boys under muffled breath was the reincarnation of Oliver Goldsmith’s School Master in “Deserted Village”
“A man severe he was, and stem to vieiw’ He was a terror in the corridors, but a Daniel who meted out justice tempered with mercy in his office.”
As Principal he served under many Managers to each of whom he was loyal in heart and soul. He considered them as totally committed to the advancement and progress of the school and threw himself wholeheartedly, giving them loyal service, giving them advice where and when necessary for the development of the school and of the boys, drawing from them much inspiration himself Rev. Fr. Pius Fernando was his first Manager up to 29th April 1929 when Fr. Pius retired after a period of nearly half a century as Parish Priest. Then followed a number of Oblates of the Sylvestro Benedictine Congregation in charge of the parish and as Managers of the school. Soon after Fr. Pius, Rev. Fr. Dom Clement Marri OSB took over till 1933. He was followed by Rev. Fr. Dom Romuald Baldarelli OSB who gave the school a library, a separate Principal’s Office, a small Boarding House where T.T. Johran was the first Boarder and also the Scout Troop. Then came Rev. Fr. Dom Gregory Phoebus OSB who ran a small orphanage for boys in the premises and built the grand storeyed Boarding House and Dormitory with the funds he received from his parents for a continental tour. In 1936 he was succeeded by Rev. Fr. Dom Dunstan Barsembach OSB. Among his many contributions towards the progress of the school was the introduction of Hockey.
Then came a short period of Management where the Managers were from the Diocesan or Secular Clergy, generally referred to as Missionary Apostolics. Rev. Fr. C. Soosaipillai gave the College the Physics, Chemistry and Biology Laboratories, a Wood Workshop and a Rifle Range for the Cadet Platoon. In 1950 he was succeeded by Rev. Fr. A. Lucian Perera until 1952 when his elder brother, Rev. Fr. A. Paul Perera, later Rt. Rev. Dr. A. Paul Perera ,Bishop of Kandy, took over the Parish.
The contribution of all these Priests towards the advancement of the College was immense.
The progress of a school depends on the ability of the Principal to get the full co-operation of his Managers and of the Staff Within the sacred walls of the STC was many a teacher, upright and true, imbued with a deep sense of duty, shaping and moulding with an architect’s ﬁnesse, men who one day would bear on their shoulders the destinies of Sri Lanka.
To the Chronicler and the historian all names do matter. But some names have to be written in letters of gold, sealed with devotion and preserved for posterity for they are men and women who have not merely lived but have left their stamp on the boys they moulded and the institution they served.
As memory is dim and the list is long, an effort is made here to recall as many names as possible of the wonderful band that built up the character of St. Thomas’. Messrs Joseph G. Perera, Jacob Varanakulasingham J .V.Gnanapragasam, Michael Edward Perera, Victor Ekanayake, K. M. U. Jayanetti, M. B. W. Ellepola, S. B. Ellepola, F. de S. Gunawardena, S. B. Pamunuwa, Miss. Davidson, Messers K. S. Myilvaganam, M. S. Myilvaganam, K. Chelliah Eustace A. Lobo, E. A. Perusinghe, Edward Bolling George R. Thomas, Misses Griscilda and Hyacinth Silva, Messes A. P. B. Santiago, Maurice Perera , Albert B. Mellican, Harold Dhrmadasa P. S. Chacko, M. V. Mathai, L. M. Sebastianpillai, Theodore Silva, Gerard Mudannayake, Linden Ross Berenger, J. T. F. Abeykoon, Kingsley Perera, P. B. Ekanayake, S. Arunasalam, W.B. Kaduwela, Rosary Anthony, Vincent Frenando J. Madasekera, Lt. Col. K. Balendra, H. D. Sirisena, V. D. George, E. Nadarajah, K. S. Kalpage, E. M. R. Ambanpola, M. H. Devendra, D. Jayasinghe, M. S. Sinnathamby, T. Visvalingam, George W. Somawardena, A. V. Amarasekera, Rev. Br. W. B. Paul Peiris FBM . Rev. Br. Athhanasius FBM Rev. Br. Emmanuel Fernando FBM, Messrs D. J . Francis Jayamaha, D. H. A. Subasinghe, Seneviratna Banda, R. V. A. Navaratne, Thomas Gunewardena, S. P. Balachandra, S. Manuelpillai S. Abraham, S. Tiruchelvam, Herbert Wijekoon, C. Subramaniam, T.K. Dassanayake, A. S. Jayawardena, N. Rasaratnam, P.J. Kulasingham, V. Kandavanam, Kesavarajah, Sinvanesan, Sivayoganathan, S. Thirugnanasambanthar and a glaxy of others
Messrs Sextus Wickrmasinghe, C Kulandavel, Thomas Francis, Joseph, Douglas, George, all Bursars and Geoffrey Miguel.
Messrs Naide, Jamis, Soosai (peons), S. Ponniah (Laboratory Assistant), Simon (Karyalaye Sevaka) and Carolis (Ground Boy).
It will not be irrelevant here to quote the reference made to Mr. T. F. Joseph, Bursar , in the principal’s Annual Report presented on Prize Day 1958.
“Death came to him suddenly and he was snatched away almost from his desk where he spent himself in self-sacrificing service to his Alma Mater. He kept his books with an exactness and an updatedness that was unique.”
The school was not an examination results factory, but on the contrary, a hive of activities moulding the men of tomorrow. Numerous are the activities Mr. Robinson organized and ran with consummate skill with the loyal co-operation of his staff and pupils. In those halcyon days of perfect inter-communal amity and peaceful co-existence, Sinhalese, Tamil, Muslim, Malay, Burgher and Eurasian boys mixed and mingled and put their common shoulder to the wheel, imbued with a sense of son-ship with their loving mother, their Almar Mater. Politics in those years did not interfere with the school and the staff was one united body with the Principal in the common task of licking into shape all-round personalities and producing the future citizens of Sri Lanka.
The clarion call came to them in the College Anthem Mr. Robinson composed:
Rally round the standard of your school, The Gold and Double Blue, Thomians young and Thomians old Make a formidable crew.
Loyalty to God and Country, Loyal Thomians let us be Who stand for all that’s good and great The boys of STC.
We have no place for laggards, In the ranks of STC; When at work and when at play, Dutiful lads are we.
Matches may be won or lost But a Thomian heart is free, He plays the game with a fine spirit, That keeps him full of glee
Plod on plod on at your various tasks And never look behind., Tuck up your sleeves and tackle your job ‘Tis hard and tough you’ll find
There were classes from the Junior Standards through the Middle forms to the Cambridge Senior until 1936. It was the College Form. In 1937 it gave way to the London Matriculation until it ceased to be in 1939 after the January examination of that year.
In keeping with the trends in the educational set-up of the country, the Senior School Certificate (SSC) class was introduced and the Higher School Certificate (HSC) which also served as the University Entrance (UE) Form in 1951 paving the way to the upliftment of the School to Collegiate Status
ii) Cultural/Extra-curricular Activities
‘The Thomian’ (Annual), “The Young Thomian” issued terminally by the Tamil Forum “The Monthly Visitor” issued by the Boys’ Junior Catholic Association (BJCA), The College Calendar, College Book Depot, The State Council of STC where members and ‘Ministers’ based on the State Council of the day oversaw aspects of College life rendering valuable advice and help in the proper maintenance and observation of Rules and Regulations. The College Calendar was a terminal of scheduled programmes of activities and Prize Days.
The Glee Club where once a week the boys collected for an evening of musical relaxation with song and dance under the leadership of Mr. C. R The College Choir, a trained group of boys to sing at functions, the Altar Servers’ Association where the Catholic boys were placed under a teacher (at one time it was Mr. Eustace A Lobo) and trained in the manner of officiating at Holy Mass and other liturgical celebrations’ the Society for the propagation of the Faith which gave the boys an idea of Mission, prayer and sacrifice; the Rights of the Blessed sacrament, a group of senior boys especially chosen and trained in Knightly Service to the Lord. These were sonic of the activities of the “beehive” school.
iii) Inter-House and Inter-School Sports
Inter-house and inter-school cricket matches and football matches were a great feature. Among the four houses, Austin, Bede, Clement and Pius there was keenness, a spirit of healthy rivalry, all bent on playing the game for the games’ sake. In the early years Rugger was introduced but its life span at college was short-lived. When Fr. Dunstan Barsembach (Manager) introduced Hockey it beacme a much-loved game. Inter-house Athletic Meets annually, were a great success. Almost every Thomian of the bygone years will remember with love and gratitude Mr. J. V. Gnanapragasam Lt.Col.K.Balendra and W. Theodore Silva who at different periods served as Prefect of games. Pupils of the late 1930s will recall the famous football matches between STC and Vijaya College, Matale’s greatest attraction between the two arch-rivals. They will also recall the famous referee Mr. “Bump” Nadaraj ah.
iv) The Cadet Platoon
The Cadet Corps Junior Platoon was inaugurated on the 10 December 1938 under the charge of Mr. J. B. Madasekera. In 1945 as Second Lieutenant he served under Mr. E. A. Perusinghe as his senior officer in the rank of Lieutenant. Mr. Perusinghe soon left STC Matale to join STC Gurutalawe where he rose to the rank of Captain. Mr. Madasekera took charge of the Senior Platoon in the rank of Lieutenant with Mr. A. B. Mellican under him as second Lieutenant for six years from 1945 to 1951. He retired as Company Commander in 1957 while in-charge of the Platoons at STC, at Kegalle, at Kurunegala and Ibbagamuwa.
At this point I hand over the mike to Captain Madasekera to tell the reader direct his further experiences. “The first highlight was the opening of the Science Laboratory at STC by the Rt. Hon. D. S. Senanayake, P. C., Prime Minister on 28th September 1951. The •22 Firing Range was also opened by him on the same date. Mr. B. J. Perera BSc (Eco) was the Principal then and Rev. Fr. A. Paul Perera was the Manager.
The Senior Platoon which was the only one at Matale then was constantly in demand by the Member of Parliament for State functions, like the visit of Sir John Kotelawela with Hon. Dudley Senenayeke, Sir Oliver Gunatilleke and Her Majesty the Queen.
If my memory is correct, the Junior Platoon was formed when one W. Gunewardena was Prefect of Games. He was an-officer in the C.L.I. with the rank of second Lieutenant. I remember him well as it was he who produced the famous college drama “Malini” with Messers M. E. Perera Edward Perusinghe and Theodore Silva. He was succeeded by Second Lieutenant Kingsley Perera of the C. L. I., who died in England in action during the last war with Mr. Vincent Fernando both of whom joined the R.A.F. He was followed by Colonel Perusinghe, myself, Mellcian Balendra and Thomas Gunawardena. Mellican and 1 were the only ones at Matale who were recipients of the Ceylon Army Inauguration Medal presented to us on 10th July 1956 by the then Commander, Brigadier Wijekoon on behalf of the Earl of Caithness
Some of our Cadets who distinguished themselves in later life are Milroy P.Ratwatte (Ex. Mayor of Badulla), Colonel Noel Gunewardena (First batch of Sandhurst Cadets), -Brig. S. P. Ekenayake, Percy Ekamyake, Senior Superintendent of Police), Ariyatileke (Senior Superintendent of Police, ) and Lucky Kodituwakku (I.G. of Police) in service
v) The Scout Troop
The Scout Troop 3″1 Matale (1st being Christ Church College, 2d Vijaya and 4th Zahira) was inaugurated in 1935 with F. de S. Gunawardena as Scout Master Mr. S. B. Pamunuwa as Assistant. The earliest scouts that I can recall are Peter Locke and R. Anthony. The boys wore gray shirts, black shorts and the scout hat, a scarf of dark and light blue with a gold border black stockings and shoes and green garter tabs.
Many years later the Scout Mastership fell on the shoulders of Mr. S. B. Ellepola, a Jamborite who had been a member of the Ceylon Scout Contingent to the Arrowehead Park Camp in England in 1929. As years rolled on Messrs. Harold Dharmadasa, R. Anthony and R. V. A. Navaratne became Scout Masters, all holders of the high qualification, the Scout Wood Badge. To recall the names of all the Thomians who were scouts is no easy task. However, the names that yet linger in a fast-fading memory are Marshal Alphonsus, David Gnanapragasam W. D. Gunatilleke, R. S. Guneratne, Christopher Perera, S. D. Samuel, Robin Rajendra, R- D. Daniel, Nimal Fonseka, Sarath Mananwatte, M. V. Rajah Johnny Wimalasena, A. Gopallawa, Daya Hewapathirana Daya de Alwis, A. C. Makalande, C. Weeraratne, J. B. Dissanayake, S. V. Gunaratne and many more.
They will recall the many camps at Bullers Road, Colombo, Mirigama, Dambulla, Elahera, Weragama, the Matale camp site (behind Pakkiya Vidyalayam), the smell of snakes in the Sigiriya Forest, the camps in Naula, Nalanda, Katudeniya Wiltshire, Hunnasgiriya and so on. Will they forget the many Jamborees and Jamborettes. Will they not recall nostalgic memories of the Camp fires?
vi) COLLEGE HOUSES
HARROW ,WINCHESTER, ETON AND RUGBY
As all House were named after the Public Schools of England, I think the fourth house was Rugby as it is also a famous Public School of England, even today. Rugby was founded in 1567!
Later these names were changed as follows:
• Named after Mgr. Augustine Pancrazi OSB (1877-1922). He was not a Bishop, but the Abbot of the Benedictine Monastery at Ampitiya, Kandy
• Named after Mgr. Bede Beckmeyer OSB, Bishop of Kandy (1912-1935). He had connection with Matale as boy and a young man as his mother was in charge of girls in the English section in school
• Named after Mgr. Clement Pagnani OSB, (1834-1911); Bishop of Kandy
• Named after Rec. Fr. Pius Fernando, late monsignor, who was Parish Priest of Matale from 1880 1929.
It was a matter of pride when two Senior Cadets, A. M M. Fareed and Noel Gunawardana joined the Army and were selected for training at Sandhurst, England.
Past. Pupils of STC will remember Fareed’s contribution at college for the development of Hockey, Cricket, Soccer, Volleyball and Athletics. He continued his hockey later when he played for the Army and the Defence Forces. He was Secretary of the Ceylon Hockey Federation, an International Umpire and a Selector, In retirement he did Hotel Management for twelve (12) years and in 1991 he was appointed – Honorary Consul for the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in Sri Lanka by His Majesty King Hussain, who was a colleague of his at Sandhurst. Today he holds the rank of Colonel, MIMJT, a J.P. and Honorary Consul for Jordan. His army career from the date of his enlistment in the Ceylon Army on 08.05. 1951 was one of roses, roses all the way. As Officer Cadet bearing No. C/51029, he had his initial training at Army Recruit Training Depot at Diyatalawa. He followed up this course at Officer Cadet School, Aldershot, England and then at Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. He was found ‘Above Average’ and was recommended for signals at School of Signals, Gattewick. Commissioned as Second Lieutenant he was posted to Ceylon Signals Corps, Promoted Lieutenant as the Adjutant 2(V) Sq,CSC he got his promotion as Captain on 1st November, 1957. He was then posted to HQ, CVF,
He visited India in 1965 in charge of the Army Hockey Team. He was then posted to Overseas Course in Australia in September, 1966. Promotion came his way as Major and then as Colonel. He retired after serving the Regular Army for twenty-five and a half years.
The late Lt. Colonel, K. J. T. Noel Gunawardem was enlisted in the Ceylon Army on 11th October 1949. On the very next day he was airlifted to UK and was at Mons Officer Cadet School Aldershot until December, 1949. Then he was placed at Royal Military Academy from where he was recommended for infantry. He was commissioned second Lieutenant and posted to Ceylon Light Infantry in 1951 and then to the Army Recruit Training Centre at Diyatalawa in December of that year. Promoted as Lieutenant he was posted to Ceylon Cadet Corps in 1953. Appointed Battalion Adjutant in 1955, he was promoted as Captain in 1956.
He had a stint in the Overseas service in the Congo with the United Nations Force from 1960 to 61. Then he was posted to Army Pay and Records Office and then transferred to Singha Regiment from where he was transferred to Ceylon Army Pioneer Corps. Promoted Major and appointed Acting Commanding Officer, he was then promoted Temporary Lieutenant Colonel. He retired on 16.10.1972 having served the Regular Army for twenty three years.
He passed away on 1St January 1983 and was buried at Matale with full Military Honours. May his soul, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.
It was in this same milieu that a senior student, M. M. Omardeen, and a member of the tutorial staf of STC, Vincent Fernando joined the Royal Air Force. The former had to return early on medical gourds. As for Vincent Fernando, I can do no more than quote Vincent’s elder brother Harold who was domiciled in England till his passing away on the 14th February 1997. Vincent’s decision to join the RAF was sudden. He was in the Colombo Barracks from mid 1940 with seventeen of the first recruits waiting for the ‘Gothic’. But they were off by train and got the ‘Gothic’ from Bombay on to South Africa and, Port of Spain in the West Indies. They reached London a few days before Christmas. Vincent and his friends were distributed into various RAF camps in England. I was able to gather information only from his diaries after he was reported missing in August 1943. He served on a Wellington Bomber, did thirty-two flights into enemy territory. His last trip was with the Bomber Command based at Kirmington, Norfolk.
Consisting of 740 aircraft of which 30 were lost Vincent’s among them. His plane crashed into the Waddenze near the Dutch Coast. Of all the crew only Vincent’s body was not found
In England, one of his first holidays was at Stratford-on-Avon where he was guest at a Headmaster’s home.
He enjoyed all the Plays of Shakespeare at the Globe Theatre. The host invited him to address the pupils and they quickly learnt all there was to learn about Ceylon History, Geography and all about the cultivation and manufacture of tea.
Only recently I got some news about Vincent’s last days. He had done 32 Bombing raids over Germany in summer 1943. He set off from Kimrington Airbase on the night of 2nd / 3rd August 1943 on his third flight. His flight consisted on 329 Lancasters, 235 Halifazes, 105 Stirlings, 56 Wellingtons, 5 Mosquitoes, part of a force of 740 aircraft. The operation encountered thunderstorm, lightning and severe icing and sadly, some 30 aircraft were lost including Welfington 46 in which Vincent was Air-bomber (bomb-aimer). The MIRES (Missing Research and Enquiry Service) established that Vincent’s aircraft crashed into the Waddenze between Frisian Islands and the Dutch Coast.
His name is on the Memorial Column at Runnymede on the banks of the Thames. Eternal rest grant to him 0 Lord. Amen.
I also recall a few names of those of those who answered the call of the country and served in various parts of the world, especially in the Middle East during the war. John de Silva, B.D. Peter, Peter Francis, Michael Anthony are among them.
Many were the activities that were organized for the welfare of the College during the troubled years of the War period 1939 to 1945 and after. They were indeed lean years and finance to maintain the school became a major problem. The country was put on a war footing and the Special Commissioner for Food, Sir Oliver Goonetilleke, sent out an order, a slogan to be kept in the forefront of every loyal citizen: “Dig harder for your larder”, and the staple food was substituted by whole wheat which had to he pounded before any edible food could be made of it. Manioc became a darling and a manioc and sambol lunch and dinner was a sign of respectability.
So also living in darkness or semidarkness with all street lamps shut and household lights covered with black cartridge paper cylindrical in shape was the order of the day. Headlamps in vehicles were half shaded and all torch lights had to shaded allowing only a streak of light. All this was precaution that the enemy, the Japanese, if they came on an air raid, their visibility of possible targets might be blackened.
The College had an elaborate Air Raid Precaution (ARP) Programme with selected teachers as ARP Wardens, Steel helmeted and ever on the alert for the eerie call of the “Wailing Mona”, the siren, announcing a mock air raid. The boys would be immediately marched into previously dug trenches on the sides of the church where they would lie prostrate in a crouched position covering the back of their head with their hands and biting firmly a pencil between their teeth lest in the shock of the raid they bit their tongues. The ARP Wardens and their assistants would immediately assemble their gear of water pumps and buckets and pump imaginary water and throw bucketfuls of imaginary sand on the roof of the College which was supposed to be on fire because of a raid. It was no fun. It was a serious job. These practices were necessary. A whistle would announce the end of a raid and the boys would back to their classes, prepared and ready for another siren and another raid.
The school premises were transformed into manioc plantations so that the pupils could buy at give-away prices the manioc they wished to take home to supplement the rationed rice and whole wheat their parents were entitled to draw on their coupons.
Money was in short circulation. Notes for five cents and two cents were in circulation. Cloth was on ration and so was kerosene. Times were hard. Though the Japanese did not attempt another raid on the country after their abortive attempt on Easter Sunday, April 1942, the fear they might raid again kept everybody on their toes.
“Win the War” was an inspiring slogan and every pupil and every teacher contributed all that he could do to win the war.
As stated earlier funds were in great demand to maintain and run the school. Many were the devices planned and executed as fund-raisers. The English Dramatic Society put on board plays fairly regularly. “His Highness” a comedy in two acts was a thumping success. R A. Perera, S. Nanayakkara, K.B. Ambanpola, K. P. Aluvihare, K. Mahendra, C. Wijenathan, Patrick Gomez, P. B. Kulatunga, A, S. Aluvihare and Clarence Harankhawe will recall with pleasure the roles they played in it.
A “Ways and Means Committee” explored all avenues to bring in the sorely needed money. “The Thomians Sports Club” ran the Southern Cup Sweep in 1952 to collect funds for the school very successfully with Messers W. B. Kaduwela and Anthony as Joint Sectaries, Rev. Fr. A. Lucien Perera, Treasurer and Mr. J. V. Ganapragasam as Auditor.
Mr. Robinson’s versatility enabled him to achieve much for the fame and name of the school. His Midas touch adorned everything he put his hand to. Hs critics, if there were any, did not take long to see eye to eye with him. ‘And fools who came to scoff, remained to pray.” (Oliver Goldsmith) was really true. The older generation will remember his “fearless eye” and his ardent zest for the formation of fully integrated personalities of his pupils. They will remember the “Charlie of the Theatre” and master actor of classical comedy and tragedy, the comic singer of “Gorgan’s Ola and the Effluvia that filled our house” fame. They will not forget the peak-capped cadet officer, the uniformed Rover Scout Leader (RSL) with his famous parody of ‘When Reggie comes to Matale”, in honour of His Excellency the Governor, Sir Edward Reginald Stubbs on the occasion of his visit to Matale. They will remember the leader among the Catholic community holding key posts in the Apostolic Organizations of the Parish, a layman who was in his own capacity a missionary using his Charisma to the full for which great service, His Holiness Pope Pius XII conferred on him the coveted medal “Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice” through His Excellency Monsignor James R. Knox, Delegate Apostolic, on the 11th May 1958.
The civilian community of Matale will remember with gratitude the large heartedness with which he accepted the honour of Justice of the Peace, and the spirit of service in which he carried out his duties in that office.
RETIREMENT OF ROBINSON
Mr. Robison retired in 1958 after a period of thirty-five years of distinguished service. He left his other love, his second love, his beloved St.Thomas’, leaving therein a part of his soul, in fact, a part of himself.
Many are the encomiums showered on him. It suffices to quote very Rev. Fr. Dom Gregory Phoebus OSB, Superior Major of the Sylvestor Benedictines. Writing in “The Thomian” 1957 he says this of him, “His name today is a household name in Matale, a gentlemen to his fingertips, an educationist of no mean order, and a Catholic to the very marrow of his bones”.
In a noble tribute paid to him, this architect of the school, Mr. B. J. Perera says of him, ‘When the long history of the College comes to be written it will be manifest that the greatest single factor that has contributed to the greatness of this college is Mr Robinson.
POST ROBINSON ERA
Mr. Robinson was replaced for a short period by Mr. George Denlow B.A., from St.Anthony’s College, Kandy and later by Bernard J. Perera BA B.Sc (Econ) in accordance with the Departmental Regulation that the Principal of a collegiate school should be a graduate. It was unfortunate that the Central Bank allured him in the following year. But even before he could settle down to the building up process he left school. Mr. Robinson was re-appointed Principal and continued up to 1958. It was then Rev, Fr. Dom Aidan Silva OSB B.Sc. took over the reins. He did splendidly well. Within a short space of time he addressed his to the need for expansion. Having won the hearts of the well-wishers and with the full co-operation of the Old Boys’ Association he built the present set of ten classrooms complete with a canteen parallel to Vihare Road in 1961, a labour of love. Sports received an impetus under his guidance. It was during this period that Ranjit Liyanage established a national record in the Javelin Throw.
Among the OBA Members who worked tirelessly towards this scheme were Messers S. V. Rajaratnam, Damian Paiva, S, Arunasalam, W. B. Kaduwela, R. Anthony, Glenville Abeykoon and others. They were instrumental in getting down Kumari Kamala, the well known dancer from India to give a few performance in aid of the Building Fund. Her performances drew large crowds both at the STAR THEATRE, MATALE (the present TAJ MAHAL) and at St. Anthony’s College Hall, Kandy and in Colombo.
Fr. Aidan did splendidly well and had many a dream for the up-liftment of the College. But the air was pregnant in the world of education at that time with the threat of Denominational Schools being taken over by the government or Nationalised. Ominous clouds hung over the school and the threat of a take-over was too much of a reality to be ignored.
THE TAKE OVER
The expected take over came in 1962. ‘The Assisted Schools and Training Colleges (Special Provisions) Bill came before Parliament on the 10 of October 1960. Following it, Act No. 5 of 1960 was assented to by Parliament on 17th November 1960. Then came “the most unkindest cut of all’ when by vesting Order No. 818 of 23″1 February 1962 the School Hall, all buildings connected with the school were vested in the Government. But the Church Approach Road was not vested. The complacency of the Catholics was rudely shaken when by vesting Order 818a of July 1966 the church -Approach Road was also vested. The Church protested against this and the road was divested on 20 March 1967.
If the introduction of Swabhasha in 1956 alienated the Sinhalese pupils and the Tamil and the Tamil speaking Muslim pupils, the take over put an end to all the noble ideals Denominational Schools had stood for. The seeds of inter-communal and inter-racial disharmony had been sown on the fertile soil of young generations of school-children who had learnt to live in happy peaceful co-existence. The root of the present inter-racial and inter-communal discord can be traced to this period.
MR. ROBINSON MIGRATES
Mr. Robinson migrated with his family in 1975 to Canada. At the airport, as he awaited his plane, he developed cold-feet and a numbness crept on him. He had to be seen by a doctor who gave him a injection and recommended that he be placed in a wheel-chair in the plane.
The fact that he was leaving the land of his birth for good was too much of a shock to him to bear. He wrote to me from Canada all about himself and that he expected to he acclimatized to the cold of Canada soon.
His former pupils whose ardour to erect a memorial hail remained unfulfilled for many years until on 3Oth 1991 at 10.00 am sixteen years after his death, the old school hail itself, the scene of his labours, was declared and named Robinson Memorial Hall. It will remain a silent sentinel of the greatness of the man who bestrode the world of the College “like a Colossus”.
It was the untiring work of the OBA, under the respiration of the then President of the Matale Old Thomians’ Association, Mr. J. B. Dissanayake, Member of the Central Provincial Council, that made it possible. The plaque, at the entrance to the hail was unveiled by the Chief Minister Mr. W. P. B. Dissanayake.
THE SPREADING SHADE TREE
The story of the College will not be complete unless at least passing reference is made to that giant of a tree, the GAMMALLU that stood at the College Compound, opposite the Hall almost from the inception of the school. It was a part of College history and a silent witness to the growth and development of the school down the years. The history of the College will not he complete unless the fate that befell that ancient tree, the Gammallu, is recorded. It was the Cyclone of 23rd November 1978 that felled it. It had stood with its epiphyte, the Banyan, for well-nigh a hundred years in the premises of the College. It grew with the College.
Underneath its sheltering shade many generations of school boys had sat and learnt their lessons under generations of teachers.
An aged grand father of more than seventy-five years, with tears in his eyes, recalled Joseph Master’s open air classes beneath its branches. A grandma of ninety-five years recalled how as a school girl she and her companions had played hop-scotch under the tree. “All that mighty heart is still’ was the sad observation of the writer when he saw it fallen.