THE MEMOIRS OF
DR. G.E.D. LEWIS
Headmaster 1955 - 1962
The final chapter from his memoirs, which is reproduced here with his permission, covers his time at the V.I. and recaptures the flavour of those bygone years. Many thanks are due to Penerbit Fajar Bakti Sdn Bhd for their kind permission to allow this extract to be published on this web site. The book may be purchased at RM16 a copy by contacting their customer service department at P.O. Box 7461, Pejabat Pos Besar, 40670 Shah Alam, Selangor Darul Ehsan; Tel. 03-7804-7011.
The text is reproduced verbatim from Dr Lewis' book.
Murder, Secret Societies and Merdeka: Kuala Lumpur
Democracy consists of choosing your dictators
- Anonymous British humorist
returned to Malaya after six months' leave in the United Kingdom, and as had been promised took up my appointment as Headmaster of the Victoria Institution, Kuala Lumpur on January 9, 1956.
The Victoria Institution was generally considered to be the premier school in the country, and the post as its Headmaster a much sought after appointment. The school has an interesting history; in fact its foundation might almost be described as an accident of history.
The Golden Jubilee of the reign of Queen Victoria which took place in 1887 was celebrated in great style in the growing mainly Chinese tin-mining town of Kuala Lumpur. A fund was formed, mainly with money contributed by the citizens of Kuala Lumpur for the purpose of building a permanent memorial to Queen Victioria, but when this had been done, and a statue erected in the corner of the padang, there was still a lot of money left over. So the community leaders who helped to raise the Jubilee Fund, Towkay Loke Yew, Towkay Yap Kwan Seng and Mr Thamboosamy Pillai met the British Resident Mr. W. H. Treacher, and between them they decided to establish an educational insitution in Kuala Lumpur on the lines of Raffles Institution in Singapore.
The government agreed to provide financial support, the foundation stone was laid by Mrs Treacher on August 14, 1893, and His Excellency the High Commissioner (Sir Cecil Clementi) and His Highness the Sultan of Selangor (Sir Abdul Samad) consented to become patrons of the school. His Highness also promised a donation of $1000 for the school fund. The site for the new school and the Headmaster's quarters was opposite the High Street police station, quite near to the Klang river, and the total cost about $11,500!
The school opened in July 1894, the medium of instruction was English, and the first Headmaster Mr Bennett Eyre Shaw, MA (Oxon). He was headmaster for 28 years, a record! The school expanded rapidly under his able guidance. In 1923 it moved to its present majestic buildings on Petaling Hill; while in 1929 the primary classes were transferred to a newly built school in Batu Road (Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman), the Batu Road School.
The Victoria Institution had many headmasters, but until my arrival none of them had stayed longer than three years and some much less than that, only a few months. Bennett Eyre Shaw was a notable exception. As already mentioned, he was headmaster for 28 years and so it is not surprising that the road past the school was for many years named after him, and was known as Shaw Road.
During the reign of Shaw as headmaster, and while he was on leave in 1911, there was a most unfortunate incident. The wife of the acting Headmaster, Mr W. Proudlock, was had up for murder; indeed in June 1911, Mrs Ethel Proudlock was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death. The memory of this skeleton in the V.I. cupboard has since been almost totally lost in the mist of time. The details of the tragedy were, however, published in the current issues of the Straits Times and Malay Mail, while the unfortunate event was of course a sensation and universal gossip throughout the length and breadth of the Malay Peninsula. The Malay Mail spoke of a 'tragedy which created a profound sensation in Kuala Lumpur' and reported that on April 23, 1911, Mrs Ethel Proudlock, wife of the acting headmaster of the Victoria Institution, shot on the verandah of her home a Mr William Crozier Steward, the manager of a local tin mine.
According to Mrs Proudlock while her husband was having dinner at the house of another teacher, a Mr Ambler, she was visited by an acquaintance, Mr William Crozier Steward. Steward arrived by rickshaw soon after she had dined alone dressed in a tea gown, and had instructed the rickshaw puller to wait about twenty paces from the verandah. Mrs Proudlock and Mr Steward talked about the weather and the nearby flooded river Klang; she got up to get a book from her bedroom, and then Mr Steward followed her, put out the light and tried to rape her. She stretched out her hand to switch on the light, but instead her hand came into contact with a revolver which she kept for her protection, and then she added, 'I think I must have fired twice'. But Steward was actually shot six times.
There is, however, reason to believe that Steward was Mrs Proudlock's lover, or one of her lovers, and that the meeting that evening was not a casual social call but a pre-arranged meeting. So why did a quiet woman shoot her lover six times? Of course nobody will ever know, but it has been suggested that it was not a case of attempted rape but a case of jealousy, and that Mrs Proudlock may have discovered that Steward also kept a Chinese mistress back in the mine. If it were so, it would account for the frenzied attack on Steward.
In any case, the poor Mrs Proudlock was charged with murder and sentenced on June 14, 1911, to death by hanging by Mr Justice Sercombe Smith in the High Court, Kuala Lumpur. Public opinion was of course sympathetic to Mrs Proudlock, and petitions organized for her amnesty sent to the Secretary of State for the Colonies, and to Queen Mary in London, and to the Sultan of Selangor. But the critical petition was the one signed not only by the staff and pupils of the V.I. but by 'several hundreds of the leading Chinese gentlemen of Kuala Lumpur', praying for a free pardon. As a result, shortly afterwards the following announcement was made: 'His Highness, the Sultan of Selangor has been most pleased to grant Mrs Proudlock a free pardon.' And so she sailed for England soon afterwards a free woman.
But that is not the end of this intriguing, but sad story. For in 1956 while I was Headmaster of the Victoria Institution, and I first learnt of the tragedy from an elderly but eminent lawyer in Kuala Lumpur, who had himself been a pupil at the V.I. at the time of the murder, he informed me that in his opinion Mr Steward was not shot by Mrs Proudlock, but by a jealous rival, which would account for so many shots being fired. Mrs Proudlock had then attempted to protect the unknown rival (possibly her favourite lover) by making up the story of the attempted rape and her alleged part in the shooting. The evidence to support this theory according to my legal friend was a Sikh jaga (or watchman) who, it was reported, saw a European swim across the Klang river, near the scene of the incident, a most unusual thing for a European to do with his clothes on, especially as on that day in 1911, the Klang river at Kuala Lumpur was not only full of flood water but full of crocodiles! Was the mystery swimmer across the crocodile-infested Klang river the unknown rival? We shall never know.
One final consequence of this incident, which may be of interest to those who have read some of Somerset Maugham's short stories is that it is generally believed that this tragedy which took place in 1911 at the V.I. Headmaster's house was the inspiration for his story 'The Letter'. Somerset Maugham visited Malaya and the Far East in 1922-25 and based many of his short stories on real events and skeletons in people's cupboards.
There have been many other noteworthy (but not so tragic) events in the history of the V.I. and some Old Boys still alive who can bear witness to them. Thus Mr Lee Kuan Yew (not the Prime Minister of Singapore) a member of the V.I. Board of Governors, told me of his school days when the V.I. was still located in the High Street, and how the Headmaster Major Richard Sidney would review the Cadet Corps on horseback, and also of the 1926 flood when the Headmaster G.C. Davies and his family had to be rescued from the swirling waters of the Klang river by means of a sampan, much to the delight of the schoolboys. He also remembered the great move of the V.I. from its premises in High Street to its present elevated location, in 1929, and how the boys carried their chairs with them as they marched along High Street and Birch Road to their new buildings.
I also had the pleasure in meeting that fine old gentleman R. Thampipillay. He was born in 1879, joined the V.I. as a pupil in 1895 and became a teacher in 1898. When I showed him around the school in 1957, he was delighted with the experience, and when he saw a boy at the back of a class sprawled all over like a jelly fish, said to him, 'Sit up properly, boy, this is not the MBS'; the MBS of course being our nearby Methodist Boys School who claimed to be our rivals.
The Japanese invasion and the occupation of Malaya had a devastating effect on the school, and its books and equipment were all destroyed. Among those who took a leading part in the rehabilitation of the school was its post-war Headmaster between 1946 and 1949, F. Daniel, the author of the well-known science course General Science for Malayans. His love of the V.I. amounted almost to an obsession, for he had spent most of his life in Malaya as its Senior Science Master. During his headmastership he lived on the job. He converted one of the classrooms into a flat, the classroom was in the science wing, of course!
Another who had a great love for the V.I. was E.M.F. Payne. He followed Daniel as headmaster for the period 1949-52, but had wider interests, for Payne was not only a scientist but a Malay scholar as well and the author of Basic Syntactic Structures in Standard Malay (Ph.D. Thesis). And of course as I soon discovered to my cost, those who served at the V.I. soon fell under its spell, and so I too soon became attached to it. Loyalty to the school was catching.
I played a small part in the rehabilitation of the school. I managed to recover the original brass plate, which covered the foundation stone of the V.I. and had it cleaned and put back. One day an elderly Chinese gentleman came to my office and said that there was a brass plate covered in dirt amongst some junk in his backyard which had the words 'Victoria Institution' on it. I went off immediately in my car to his place, and as soon as I saw it realized its value. I gave him twice its scrap value for it as a reward. He was very happy and the V.I. recovered a bit of its history.
I also bought one of the last rickshaws in Kuala Lumpur. I was told that a certain Chinese in Petaling Street (now Jalan Petaling) was using one of the few rickshaws left in Kuala Lumpur for carrying charcoal. I got Richard Pavee, our school secretary, to buy it from him for $100 out of school funds, and had it placed on a pedestal in one of the school corridors for posterity!
As for the history of the V.I., it was fortunate that in 1962 I was able to persuade one of our recently qualified history graduates, who was also an Old Boy, to write a history of the school, which I then made compulsory reading for all new admissions.
I also engaged in writing when I could find time, being mainly occupied on a more advanced book on the geography of Asia while I was at the V.I. While doing some field work for the book, which eventually sold over half a million copies, I visited Negri Sembilan one weekend in an attempt to find the exact location of the ancient portage which I knew existed somewhere between the rivers Serting and Muar, near Bahau. As I searched for the exact spot in the belukar, I unexpectedly came face to face with Tuanku Abdul Rahman, who had been the Yam Tuan or ruler of Negri Sembilan while I was stationed at Kuala Pilah in 1946. He was now the Agong (or King) of Malaysia - indeed its first Agong. He was wearing a sarong. It was of course a surprise for both of us. I explained what I was up to, and he told me that he had a secluded rural bungalow nearby. So he took me to his rural retreat, where he gave me a drink and I took his photograph. In due course I sent him a copy of the photograph and asked him to kindly autograph it for me. After a short while the photograph came back duly signed as requested. I was informed by his ADC that it was his last official act before he died in 1960.
The Victoria Institution was Malaya's first secondary school. After 1929, entry into the school was by a competitive examination only. At first it took the cream of its feeder schools, the Batu Road School and the Pasar Road School; later it also creamed off the best from some of the girls' schools for its sixth forms. So those who gained entry were naturally proud of their achievement and very proud of their school.
When I arrived at the Victoria Institution in 1956, it had the best science laboratories in the country and a well-deserved reputation as the leading science school in Malaya. This was due to the excellent work done by a series of headmasters, with scientific backgrounds, and all of them successful authors of scientific textbooks. They were F. Daniel, E.M.F. Payne and Arthur Atkinson. There were also several teachers who excelled as authors of science textbooks, in particular my friend, Arthur Godman. It is therefore not surprising that in 1955, of the ten V.I. candidates who passed the full Cambridge Higher School Certificate, all of them were Science students. There was not a single Arts student.
I was informed by the Director that I was being posted to the V.I. to boost the teaching of the Arts a bit, though I was determined that the teaching of Science should not suffer as a consequence of my appearance. Although the existing library was in many ways satisfactory, it was not adequate for sixth form work, especially for the Arts students. So I modernized and expanded it and air-conditioned it as well; indeed on completion it was probably the best school library in South-East Asia! I felt confident, given the calibre of our Arts students, that if they were provided with the books they would deliver the goods. And so it turned out for the results were dramatic. Within a few years we began producing large numbers of students with full Cambridge Higher School Certificates in the Arts as well as in the Sciences. And as it turned out it was eventually the Arts students who appear to have achieved the most. Thus in 1955 the score for the full Cambridge Higher School Certificate was Science 10, Arts 0; but in 1960 it was Science 26, Arts 37, and in 1961 Science 48, Arts 49, thus making a total of 97 students with the full Cambridge Higher School Certificates.
These commendable results were not just the consequence of first class science laboratories and an excellent library. They were of course due to our outstanding students and to the excellent teaching at all levels. We were fortunate in having some excellent teachers. Thus on the Science side we had Chong Yuen Shak (Physics), Sim Wong Kooi (Chemistry), Yeong Siew Mun, Yeoh Oon Chye and Miss Floyd and well as several old and experienced Raffles graduates such as Lim Eng Thye, Toh Boon Huah and the Indian graduate S.G. Ayyar.
On the Arts side we also had some good and dedicated teachers such as John Doraisamy (Economics), Dr. Jones and Saw Chu Tong (History) and Lam Kok Hon (Geography). Finally we had some lady teachers such as the lively minded Yvonne Stanley and the highly intelligent Mrs J. Devadason, and the expatriates, T.A.M. Bennett and Alec Milne who set high standards in the teaching of English. It is interesting to note that when on one occasion I had a visit from one of the UK's most experienced inspector of schools, he remarked that Chong Yuen Shak was the best teacher of physics he had ever seen! It was most unfortunate that this gifted teacher should die at an early age.
But of course all this would not have been possible unless the foundations of the pyramid had been properly built. And again we were fortunate in having excellent teachers and I will mention a few of them, especially some of whom I have fond memories.
C.R. Anantakrishnan, B.A.(Hons) Madras, was one of them. He was a gentle, dedicated teacher of mathematics, who was known to cry when his pupils failed a test. He was a veritable Mr. Chips - an Indian Mr Chips.
T. Ramachandran was another. He, too, was a dedicated teacher, who specialized in teaching small boys on their first entry into the V.I. and instilled into them an understanding of the difference between right and wrong, and in a pride in their school. He was also a keen golfer and attempted without success to improve my golf by presenting me with his driver.
Then there was a group of old hands such as Harry Lau, T.J. Appadurai, Chew Ah Kong who looked after the rugby players, Ganga Singh who had spent most of his life at the V.I. and especially Richard Pavee, the highly efficient and long-serving school secretary. There were also birds of passage such as Gorbex Singh, MBE, best known for his sporting and courageous anti-Japanese activities during the war, and a bunch of up-and-coming young teachers, many of them with roots in the Indian sub-continent such as S.T. Abraham, E.J. Lawrence now a well-known lawyer in Kuala Lumpur, Valentine Manuel, S.G. Dorairaj and Ayadurai. Some of them were hard-working, but all of them were loyal colleagues. And there were three more, our hockey expert Yap Chai Seng and the hard-working and reliable Chan Bing Fai and Ho Sai Hoong.
Later many other enthusiastic and hard-working young teachers arrived on the scene such as Patrick Ng, a gifted artist; T. Rajaratnam and S. Peethamparam both all round sportsmen; Che Hasanudin who ran our Cadet Corps with efficiency; Lim Heng Chek, an Olympic swimmer who taught our boys swimming and Che Othman bin Haji Mohd. Ali, a young dedicated teacher and a future Mr. Chips. We also acquired a whole bevy of graduate lady teachers such as Miss Wong Yook Lin, Mrs Creedy, Che Fatimah Hasimah, Che Zahirah, Mrs Yiap Khin Yin, Mrs Ee, Mrs Tan Soo Hai, Mrs Teh Khoon Heng, Mrs Swallow and Miss Fay Siebel. Finally, but by no means least we had a welcome addition to our office staff in the highly efficient Anna Yap, who joined our loyal and hard-working Richard Pavee not only in preparing the school salary sheet, but also later in wedlock.
The V.I. then was most fortunate in the quality of its staff. It ensured that we stayed in front not only academically but on the field of sport. The influx of lady teachers did us no harm, for although they could not teach our boys rugby or cricket, they were more assiduous at marking essays than the men. So what we lost on the swings we made up on the roundabouts.
But we did have one letdown. One day a number of missing school library books were found in the library peon's house - a case as the Malays would say of Pagar makan padi (the fence eats the padi). But as the English would say, 'It is the exception that proves the rule'.
It is clear from what I have said so far that the V.I. had many exceptionally gifted and brilliant students. And with over two hundred boys in the sixth forms alone, it meant that to be a prefect was an exceptional achievement. Consequently, to be a Head prefect, or School Captain as he was known at the V.I., was like being managing director of a multinational global company. The School Captains during my headmastership were as follows:
Zain Azraai (the first task I performed when I arrived at the V.I. was to sign his leaving certificate), Lee Choong Keet, Phang Kow Weng, Mustafa bin Mohd. Ali, R. Krishna, Choo Min Hsiung, Chung Choeng Hoy, and Lim Chooi Tee. (Zain Azahari bin Zainal Abidin, has clarified that Dr. Lewis is probably mistaken about signing the leaving certificate of his brother, the late Tan Sri Zain Azraai. The latter left V.I. in September 1953, more than two years before Dr Lewis joined the V.I. - CCM). To be a Vice-Captain was also a distinction and some of those I remember are Isher Singh Sekhon, Khoo Choong Keow, Kok Wee Kiat, Chong Sun Yeh and especially Gan Kong Eng. Most of them have distinguished themselves since leaving school, while some have reached high office.
Thus Zain Azraai, now Tan Sri, is Secretary-General of the Ministry of Finance; Mustafa Mohd. Ali, now a Datuk, is a director of Malaysia's largest multinational corporation - Sime Darby; Lee Choong Keet and Phang Kow Weng, medical practitioners in Sydney and Kuala Lumpur respectively, while Lim Chooi Tee heads a highly successful firm of accountants.
During my seven-year reign, literally hundreds (over a hundred per year) of V.I. boys and some girls gained admission to universities, some of them in the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the USA but most of them to the University of Malaya in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Of these, several hundreds had passed the full Cambridge Higher School Certificate, an examination conducted of course in the English language.
Some of these students achieved astonishing academic results. Thus in 1956 one boy Ooi Boon Seng was awarded distinction in all eight of the subjects he took in the Cambridge School Certificate, while in 1958 two boys, Soo Suk Suet and Indran Devadeson also got distinctions in all the eight subjects they sat. An even more astonishing result was obtained by Foo Yeow Khean in 1961, for he was awarded distinctions in all the five subjects he sat at the full Cambridge Higher School Certificate examination.
There were also many who achieved excellence at school as sportsmen and in other ways. Thus some of our outstanding players at football were Amiruddin bin Liin, Mustafa Mohd. Ali, Thiruchelvam, Zamri bin Yahaya and Gan Kong Eng; at rugby Jaafar bin Sidek, Lee Heng, Koh Ah Guan, Choo Min Hsiung and Lim Chooi Tee; at hockey Surjit Singh, Kirpal Singh, N. Sivaneethan, A. Ambikapathy, Khalid Haji Ismail; at cricket R. Sundralingam, R.Tharmalingam, S.Tharmaratnam, C. Thavaneswaran, Poon Yew Chin, Anandrajah and M. Rajasingam; at swimming Tang Lin Fook, Dickie Mei, Hoh Weng, Lam Ah Lek and How Wan Hong; at badminton Martin Lee, Choo Min Hsiung, Chan Chor Keen, and Lim Boon Kuan and finally at athletics Krishna Rajaratnam, Chan Yew Khee, Wong Yin Fook, and Gan Kong Eng. It will be noted that most of our leading performers at cricket and hockey have Indian names!
As was to be expected, the V.I. did well on the games field. Our football, hockey and cricket teams, generally speaking, got the better of the opposition. We also had good rugby teams, but found it difficult to beat the Malay College; in fact I cannot ever remember beating them at rugby for the Malays make good rugby players, just as the Indians are good at cricket and hockey.
If we excelled at anything it was probably on the running track. I introduced a cross-country run for the whole school soon after I arrived, and a system of standards for the different distances, which all boys were encouraged to achieve. Consequently we had some good relay teams.
Of course school relay teams always conjured up some hero worship, and the V.I. relay teams were no exception. Some of our best results were achieved between 1958 and 1961. Thus in 1958 the school relay team consisting of Wong Yin Fook, Lee Yuen Hon, Kok Lit Yoong and P. Nathan broke the Malayan Schools record for 4x100 metres. One of the most exciting was the relay race in 1960 against the federation Military College which we looked like winning, until our Athletics Captain Chan Yew Khee dropped the baton! But possibly our best relay team was the one consisting of Eddy Lee, Syed Nor, Ghazali Yusof and Kenny Siebel. They broke the Combined Schools Federation record for 4x400 metres in 1961 at the Merdeka Stadium.
Finally, there were those who distinguished themselves in other ways, for we had a wide range of activities, including over forty clubs and societies, such as a Cadet Corps, a Society of Drama, a Chess Club, an Aeromodelling Club, a Debating Society, a Geographical Society and so on. If a boy had a talent, we made every effort to develop it. Thus the following revealed themselves as gifted actors: Alladin Hashim, Maureen Siebel, Kok Wee Kiat, Fuziah binte Datuk Ahmad, Krishen Jit, Shirley Loo, G. Jeyanathan and the following as debaters: Kok Wee Kiat, Baljit Singh, Ooi Boon Sing, Seto Kuan Mun, Foo Yeow Khean, Sheila Sodhy and many others.
A welcome development in 1957 was the construction of a hostel for Sixth Form students, especially for those in Pahang, Terengganu and Kelantan where facilities for post school certificate studies did not exist. It was unique for it was a hostel for boys of all races. As the hostel was located within a hundred metres from my house, I got to know the boys very well. Some of the first inmates were Mustafa Mohd. Ali, Kok Wee Kiat (Selangor) and Koh Ah Guan and his brother Koh Ah Siong (from Pahang). Then later came Zamri Yahya, Zainuddin bin Awang Ngah (Pahang); Mohd. Zaman Khan, Foo Say Ghee and Tengku Halim (Kelantan) and of course many others whose names I cannot now remember.
I had some experience of hostels and found that they could be a hot bed for discontent, the trouble being usually over the quality of the food. So I delegated the running of the V.I. Hostel to the boys. It was an experiment in democracy and it worked very well. I noticed with interest that the committee in charge of food was frequently voted out of power!
One evening just before dusk I received an urgent message from the hostel. One of the hostel boys had seen a man lurking in the bushes within the hostel compound and near my house; they suspected he was a burglar. So I made my way cautiously to the scene armed with my Luger pistol, and suddenly found myself face to face with a Chinese. As soon as he saw my Luger, he suddenly produced a pistol, but as he made no move to use it, I did likewise. When I said, 'Who are you?', to my surprise he answered, 'I am a CID Officer.' And then when I asked him what he was doing in our compound, he explained apologetically that he was waiting to ambush some members of a Chinese Secret Society who were about to commit a robbery.
After this incident I decided that the hostel boys also ought to be in a position to protect themselves against any such robbers or gangsters that might present themselves. I could not arm them with shotguns, so each boy kept a long piece of wood under his bed. Zaman Khan, the hostel Captain, was in charge, and I also instructed him that if I blew my police whistle at night, he should come to my rescue with his platoon of hostel boys. Unfortunately, much to their disappointment, they were never to see action. Some of those hostel boys were and are after thirty years my best friends. But of course today they have more serious things to attend to. For example, Zaman Khan is now Head of the CID and a Datuk!
With so many talented boys at the Victoria Institution, it is not surprising that large numbers of them have had very distinguished careers. I have already mentioned two former school captains Tan Sri Zain Azraai and Datuk Mustafa Mohd. Ali, but there were many others who have had similarly distinguished careers, so I will mention a few that I know of. Among them are Ooi Boon Teck and Tan Hong Siang respectively Professor of Engineering at the University of Montreal, Canada and the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur; Ooi Boon Seng, Professor of Medicine at the University of Washington, USA; Alladin Hashim, now a Datuk and formerly Director-General of FELDA; Kok Wee Kiat, now a Datuk and former Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry; Khalid Haji Ismail, Secretary-General, Ministry of Culture and Tourism and Ahmad Shamsudin, Director of the Mines Department, Kuala Lumpur.
Then there are scores who have been successful in business such as Ti Teow Yong, Managing Director of Cycle and Carriage, Kuala Lumpur; Darwis bin Daek, Managing Director of Malayan Industrial Development and Finance; Foo Yeow Khean with IBM Australia; Nik Ibrahim Nik Kamil, Chief Executive of the New Straits Times; Gan Kong Eng, General Manager of Food Co., Singapore; Chan Yew Khee of ICI Malaya; Shirley Loo, Company Secretary, Development Bank of Singapore; Azlan Hashim, Deputy Chairman of the Arab-Malaysian Bank; Benny Yeo, Managing Director of Caldbeck McGregor; Aziz Mohamed, a Director of Boustead and so on; while others, many others, have distinguished themselves in the professions such as Koh Ah Guan, Deputy Director of the Weather Bureau; Krishen Jit, Assistant Professor of History at the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur; Kamal Din and Hajeedar Majid as architects; innumerable doctors and lawyers as well as members of the armed forces including General Tan Sri Hashim bin Mohd. Ali, Chief of the Armed Forces in Malaya.
We also had at the V.I. a few boys who were admitted by special entry. They were special cases such as sons of expatriate European government officers, sons of ambassadors and so on. They were admitted provided they passed my intelligence tests, and they all did very well. Thus Richard Forsyth, whose father had been the District Officer, Kuala Lipis during my time there and in the hectic days of the early 1950s, and John Carbonell whose father was the Commissioner of Police spent some time at the V.I., and both played cricket for our first XI. Then came Amirol Razif and his brother whose father was the Indonesian Ambassador, and Likit Hongladarum whose father was the Thai Ambassador. Likit knew next to no English when he was admitted, but he was a very popular boy and soon became fluent in English and even gained entry later on into Trinity College, Cambridge - his father's old college. I called unexpectedly to see him at Cambridge while I was on leave, and found him entertaining a pretty Swedish girl - 'teaching her English,' he explained.
But our most celebrated special entry was Hassanal Bolkiah, the eldest son of the Sultan of Brunei, and his younger brother Mohamed. I had a friendly introductory meeting with Sultan Haji Omar at his palace in Kuala Lumpur. He explained that although he himself had been a pupil at the Malay College at Kuala Kangsar, he wished his sons to go to a school where the boys were of all races, and to the Victoria Institution because it was the most famous school in Malaya! The Sultan was a fairly small man but obviously a highly intelligent and diplomatic Malay, as his complimentary remarks about the Victoria Institution would suggest. He also added that he had heard that I was a famous author of geography books, and said that he too had written some books and took me to a cupboard in the palace, where there were several piles of them; he gave me one as a gift.
The conversation was entirely in Malay, but as we were seated at a royal distance from one another, and the Sultan spoke very softly, and I was slightly deaf as a result of many Japanese bintoks (face slaps or punches) which I had acquired during the Japanese war, I had difficulty in hearing what he had to say. Fortunately the Sultan had arranged for a mutual friend, Osman bin Talib, a former MCS officer who I knew well from my Ipoh days, to be present. Osman explained that the Sultan was also worried about the personal safety of his boys, for he had read in the newspapers that there were secret society gangs at the V.I. He was worried that his boys might be kidnapped and held to ransom, so would I please agree to his sons having bodyguards while they attended school, in the classroom! Although this was a most unusual request, I readily agreed but suggested it would be better if the bodyguards' presence was discreet, and not in the classroom, and promised to make the necessary arrangements of my own to protect the two boys.
I decided that the most important thing to do was not to draw undue attention to them in any way, and to treat them like the other boys. I persuaded the two Brunei Malay bodyguards to hang about in the shaded car park near the boys' classrooms and pretend they were car drivers waiting for their owners to return. I paid no obvious public attention to the two boys, but took a number of discreet precautions, for example, entry and exit from the school compound was normally by one gate only, where a Sikh jaga lived permanently. I also gave the jaga instructions that if he heard my police whistle blown at anytime, he was to close the gate immediately. I also formed my own highly mobile force of schoolboys for use in any emergency, created in the first place for other reasons, but eminently suitable as a strike force against any thugs who might enter our compound and also more mobile than the Sultan's bodyguards! It was called Club 21, and consisted mainly of our top sportsmen.
I also got assistance from some of our Old Boys, who I allowed to use part of our grounds once a week for athletics training such as sprinting and throwing the javelin. One afternoon a gang of youths entered the school compound on bicycles on an intimidating patrol and looking for trouble. I blew my police whistle, the old jaga went to shut the gates at the main entrance, and an Old Boy with a javelin threw and narrowly missed penetrating one of the hurriedly retreating gangster trespassers! These precautions had the desired effect. We had very few undesirable intruders, for they knew that although they might be able to get in quite easily, it might not be so easy to get out!
Meanwhile the Brunei boys, as they were generally referred to, settled down to school life. Hassanal, the future Sultan of Brunei was a shy, friendly and popular boy, who endeared himself to me by becoming a promising rugby player and, indeed, played for the Under-15 School XV at a later date. Mohamed was an intelligent boy notable for his invisibility, which helped in the matter of his security.
Because Hassanal was a bit bigger than most of the other boys in the class, some of his detractors have suggested that he was in some ways immature. This was far from being the case. His early education had been partly at the hands of a private tutor, and so he had not benefited from the discipline of a regular primary education. In the circumstances he did quite well, and together with his brother, held his own in spite of our high academic standards. Apart from rugby, Hassanal's main interest was the Cadet Corps, so I was not surprised when he opted to go to the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. But I have two regrets. One is that because of calls of duty in Brunei he was not able to go on to a university such as Cambridge, and the other is that circumstances prevented him from becoming a constitutional monarch like the Malaysian Sultans.
Finally, last but not least the V.I. had as sixth form pupils about fifty or sixty girls. Far from causing problems, the girls made the school a more lively and cheerful place. They caused no dilemmas, they were hard-working and co-operative. They were almost too good to be true. Some of the outstanding ones that I can recall were Leong Siew Mun, now Chief Librarian at the University of Malaya, Loo Ngai Seong, Fuziah binte Datuk Ahmad and Aloyah binte Rahmen, all Head Girls with brains and attractive personalities. But there were many others who obviously had bright futures ahead of them. One of them was Rafidah Aziz, now Datuk Seri, and the Minister for Trade and Industry.
There was one notable development in 1956 and 1957 - the enormous Merdeka Stadium was built close by and at the back of the school. A huge hole was dug in the ground in order to create a giant sunken amphitheatre, by monster earth-moving machines which made monster-like noises. In fact the noise was so terrifying that many teachers moved their classes on to the padang. I visited the scene of this activity almost every day and got to know the ingenious chief architect in charge, S.E. Jewkes, very well. We were very tolerant of the disturbance and he very appreciative of our cooperation, and so we consequently benefited, for he built a new car park for us free from some of the excavated earth, and also levelled much rough ground that had previously been unusable!
The Malays have a saying Bunga yang harum ada juga durinya (The sweet-smelling flower also has its thorns). And so it was with the Victoria Institution, for although most of our pupils were admirable in all ways, we did in fact have a few bad eggs. For soon after my arrival, I discovered that we had a few boys who belonged to gangs associated with Chinese secret societies. Such gangs were not innocent groups of boys, but gangs with criminal activities.
Lawlessness and violence have been caused by Chinese secret societies in Malaya for over a hundred and fifty years. Consequently, when soon after my arrival at the Victoria Institution in 1956, I discovered that some of our boys were members of these gangs and extorting money from fellow schoolboys that some teachers were aware of it but had not brought the matter to my attention because they were frightened of the consequences, I decided that strong measures were called for.
My investigations also revealed that the position was more serious that I had first anticipated. Some of my gangsters belong to Gang 21, an offshoot of the Ang Bin Hoey Triad Secret Society. So recalling the old English saying 'From small acorns mighty oaks grow', I decided to nip matters in the bud and caned six boys who we discovered were members of Gang 21, though the punishment meted out did not merit the extravagant newspaper headlines which appeared in the Straits Times as follows: 'Screams ring out at Gang boys' caning'.
The Chinese Inspector in charge of the Secret Societies branch of the CID Kuala Lumpur also enlightened me on the position in Selangor. There were he said two main secret societies in Selangor: Ang Bin Hoey and Wah Kei.
The Wah Kei was a Triad society with of course a long history of criminal activities such as gang robbery, murder, intimidation and the extraction of protection money from unfortunate Chinese shopkeepers, rickshaw pullers, stallkeepers and so on. In Kuala Lumpur most of the members were Hokkiens.
It also appeared that the lawless Ang Bin Hoey had several criminal gangs associated with it. They were (i) the 08 or 108 Gang (ii) the 21 Brothers (or Gang 21) consisting mainly of Chinese, Indian and sometimes Malay youths and (iii) the 360 Gang.
The Wah Kei was a mainly Cantonese secret society, different from the Triad Ang Bin Hoey and normally in conflict with it, as each society attempted to gain ascendancy over the other. However, the Wah Kei had a less criminal record, and their clubs were frequently purely social and always anti-Communist.
Thus enlightened, I was more than ever determined to rid the V.I. of its gangster hooligans. The impending celebrations to mark the Independence of Malaya in August 1957 resulted in a police crackdown on secret societies and all known secret society gangsters were arrested. But this relatively peaceful state of affairs did not last long, for 1958 and 1959 saw a revival of secret society activity, so much so that in February 1959, Tunku Abdul Rahman, the Prime Minister, spoke at length and warned the country against the growing menace of secret societies. This coincided with a fresh outbreak of gangs at the V.I., but I had by now gained some experience of dealing with them and had formed my own gang - Club 21. Membership of Club 21 was reserved for our best athletes and achievers; it was for exceptional merit. I discovered that our juvenile gangsters belonged almost entirely to Gang 21 and the 08 Gang, so by playing one off against the other I gained much useful information.
The procedure I used was the one my own housemaster successfully used when I was at school, and that was to isolate the culprits in a separate room, persuade them to confess, and to suggest that one of them was informing on the other. But in my case I made sure that they all confessed in writing and so could not retract at a later date. I soon found that members of Gang 21 were eager to tell me which of our schoolboys were members of the 08 Gang and of their evil deeds, and vice versa!
So in due course I was able to discover the names of most of our boys who were in gangs. This time round I netted about 12 juvenile gangsters, about equally divided between Gang 21 and the 08 Gang. Most of them had been monthly subscribing members paying varying amounts to the head gangster, and indulging in various kinds of misbehaviour as well as the intimidation of their fellow schoolboys and relieving them of fountain pens, pocket money and so on. A few indulged in more serious crimes. One for example went to Bentong on a special mission to attack and beat up a member of the Wah Kei Society for a fee of fifty dollars. Favourite habitats of our boy gangsters were Imbi Road, Campbell Road, Pudu and so on. I was loath to expel such boys, but endeavoured to change their ways by the liberal administration of the old-fashioned remedy always kept in a Headmaster's office.
Of course many claimed that they had been forced to join through fear, so I decided that the only solution was to create a greater fear, and rather rashly warned that in future anybody found to be a member of Gang 21 would be caned 21 times, 08 Gang 8 times and so on. It must have had some effect for the only one caught thereafter was a member of the 08 gang. He was a rather small Chinese boy, and when I confronted him with his inevitable punishment, he admitted he was a member of a gang, but explained that the number of his gang was not 08 but .08! I was intrigued by the argument but not convinced. There were three canes in the office, for use on juvenile gangsters: a thick one, a medium one and a thin one. I allowed him to choose his cane so that there should be no animosity between us. Unfortunately he chose the thin one, that is, for him it was the worst choice.
Lyn was very much against corporal punishment, and I also found the practice of it distasteful. However, I knew I would be failing in my duty, not only to the parents but to errant boys themselves, if I did not prescribe the necessary medicine. Fortunately, it had the desired results, for although secret societies continued to flourish in Kuala Lumpur, I had no more cases of our boys joining their gangs. Other schools were not so fortunate.
Of course there was some risk involved in taking a strong line against such gangs, and I received
many threats. For example, one evening I had a telephone call and had a short conversation with
an adult voice as follows:
Such conversations were not conducive to sleep. So I took precautions. During periods when I thought I must be unpopular with the gangs, I slept with my Luger pistol under my pillow; Awang my faithful Malay servant, who was always longing for a fight, slept with a loaded shotgun near his bed; the dog was left loose at night to run around the house; and the old Sikh night watchman was encouraged to stay awake.
Nothing happened until one night, when the Sikh watchman woke me up at about 2 a.m., and explained in Malay that he had caught two orang jahat (or dangerous persons), a man and a woman, in the school car park in the dark and had brought them to me. When I asked them, out of my bedroom window, to explain their presence in the school grounds so late at night, the man (a Chinese) answered out of the darkness in perfect English, 'I am an Old Boy, sir. I am very proud of my old school and I wanted to show it to my girlfriend!'
Malaya achieved its independence or Merdeka on August 31, 1957. It was achieved in a very civilized way. Everybody took part in the celebrations. There were no riots and nobody was hurt. It was achieved without a bloody conflict because the friendly and amiable Tunku Abdul Rahman charmed the British Government in London. They found the requests of this polite and reasonable Malay difficult to resist. I had a special mug made for the V.I. to celebrate the occasion, as I thought it would be useful for holding cold drinks in a hot country. But most of the boys used it for holding water during their art lessons.
Many of the expatriate colonial officers were required to retire, but some were invited to stay. I was interviewed on that subject by the Minister of Education, Rahman Talib, who was of course an old friend, and had once worked under me as an Inspector of Malay Schools in Pahang. During the interview, he invited me to stay. I then mentioned that I had expected him to say that regretfully he wished me to retire. So when I asked him why, he replied, 'Better the devil you know, Lewis, than the one you don't!' That seemed a good reason, so I stayed another six years.
In many ways the next few years were the most interesting during my sojourn in Malaysia. Many embassies were built in Kuala Lumpur, and each embassy had at least one social function every year. So Lyn and I found ourselves invited to at least one reception a fortnight. One of them was at the invitation of the High Commissioner for New Zealand, the Maori Colonel Bennett, to meet the Prime Minister of Zealand, Mr. Nash.
There was a long queue of distinguished foreign Ambassadors, High Commissioners, Misters, Heads of Departments and so on, waiting to meet the Prime Minister of New Zealand. When Lyn and I reached Mr Nash, Colonel Bennett introduced me and added, 'Dr Lewis is a Welshman.'
The tired octogenarian Mr Nash suddenly came to life and said, 'So I suppose you think it was a try.' He was referring to a try Wales scored against New Zealand in 1911 and which has been in dispute ever since! He then went on to tell me a long story of how he had been a member of the Commonwealth War Cabinet in 1916, and how he had visited Cardiff and was met at the railway station by the Lady Mayor of Cardiff, and how he had also greeted her in the same way. The reply he said was most unexpected, for she said, 'Mr Nash, it was a try and my husband scored it.' Of course it took quite a long time to tell the story, and those in the queue behind were exhausted from waiting. Among them wee the British High Commissioner Sir G. Tory and Datuk Razak, the Deputy Prime Minister as he then was, and both of whom I knew well. They were both most inquisitive to know what we had in common, but I did not let on especially as I knew Datuk Razak's interest was hockey!
My years at the V.I. were therefore full of interest, what with a thousand of so of Malaya's best brains to take care of, the odd juvenile gangster to deal with, the occasional threat over the phone and the socially pleasant interludes at one of the innumerable receptions, and cocktail parties then prevalent in Kuala Lumpur, which some found a bore, but I found a pleasant change.
Of course we had a circle of friends that we visited from time to time. One of them whose company I always enjoyed was Captain Salleh bin Haji Sulaiman, formerly State Secretary and for a while Mentri Besar of Negri Sembilan, but now in retirement acting as a magistrate in Klang. He was a charming popular Malay, a good friend of mine, and a perfect host. He spoke perfect English, and had a great sense of humour. In the entrance hall of his house in Klang, he displayed an English bowler hat and a rolled up umbrella ready, he explained, in case he had to go to London!
Lyn and I were well aware that a first trip overseas could be a traumatic experience for young Malayan students, especially if they came from a rural background. So she often invited the occasional boy or girl on their first visit to England to dinner where she would introduce them to the mysteries of knives and forks, so that they would not be embarrassed when first confronted by an invitation to a formal European dinner party. Her advice was when in doubt, wait and see what the others do. In any case the natural good manners of most Asians and especially the Malays was always one of their greatest assets when they went overseas.
Lyn would also warn them about the peculiar habits of the English, and explain that the Englishman's reserve should not be confused with unfriendliness. She would tell them about my former schoolboy from Kuala Pilah, Noordin bin Keling, and how when he was a student in England, he once travelled for many hours from the north of England to London by train, sitting opposite a well-dressed Englishman, who said nothing all the way, but on reaching Kings Cross (in London) got up and shook Noordin warmly by the hand, commented on what a nice journey it had been, and wished him goodbye!
In 1960 my daughter Megan surprised me by passing the entrance examination for entry into St. Paul's Girls' School, London. It was rather like a boy passing the entrance examination into Form 1 at the V.I., that is, it was no small achievement. Megan had been brought up at Kuala Lipis, Pahang, and her first language was Malay (not Welsh); indeed on one occasion, I found Datuk Razak speaking to her in Malay and being highly amused about something. So when I asked him the cause for his amusement, he said she spoke very good Malay, and then with a smile, very good Pahang Malay! As Lyn had also been to St. Paul's Girls' School, we decided that it would not be right to deny her the benefits of an education at one of England's top girls' schools, so when I went on leave in 1961, we decided to leave her behind. But we soon found this a rather distressing experience, and so I decided to retire in 1962.
At about this time it became clear that in future the Victoria Institution would have to finance some of its development out of its own resources. So in 1961 I established the V.I. Endowment Fund which I hoped would in due course provide the school with a steady income. I anticipated that it would prove to be a popular way for wealthy former pupils to help their old school financially, for all donations to the fund are free of Malaysian Income Tax. I visited one of our Chinese millionaire Old Boys and he promised in due course to make a substantial contribution. Unfortunately soon after, he was killed in an air crash. When I retired, the fund held about $10,000 but that was nearly thirty years ago; today I am told by the Headmaster it is $133,000!
My last Speech Day took place in April 1962. It was attended by many distinguished guests and
visitors. The distinguished guests included: Tun Razak, the Deputy Prime Minister and Sir
Alexander Oppenheim, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Malaya. The distinguished visitors,
who were mainly parents of boys and girls at the school, included several Ambassadors and
Ministers. It was a very successful occasion. It was also a memorable occasion for me, for during
his address, my old friend Tun Razak gave me what might be described as my unexpected testimonial,
I have visited Malaysia several times since I retired, and on occasion met Tun Razak as his retirement was drawing near. So I asked him what he intended to do after his retirement. His reply, probably in jest, was, 'I hope to become the manager of the Jegka triangle.' This of course was the huge oil palm estate developed in central Pahang for the benefit of landless Malays, like my former protégé from Ulu Tembeling Mohd. Nazar, which was a huge success, and was the brainchild of Tun Razak. But he unfortunately died before his time, though I am told he managed to see his favourite English club Arsenal play a few days before he died.
My last few months in Malaysia were spent in innumerable farewell tea parties, Chinese dinners, speeches and, most dangerous of all, many Yam Sengs. It was also spent in more formal farewells, for example, a farewell with the Agong, His Majesty Syed Putra, formally the Raja of Perlis and also formerly my schoolboy at the Penang Free School in 1938-39 (see Chapter 3). It was arranged that Lyn, my daughters Megan and Rhiannon and myself should all meet him at the Agong's Istana, and he invited us to tea. I had not seen him for 23 years, when he called me 'Sir', and I called him Syed Putra, so I wondered how our meeting would go. But I needn't have worried, for as soon as we met he said, 'Let's dispense with formalities, Lewis,' and so there was no embarrassment, just typical Malay politeness.
Another most memorable farewell was when we took leave of everybody at the railway station, Kuala Lumpur on September 4, 1962. There must have been a couple of thousand friends, many of them my old staff and pupils to see us off. The platform ticket machines ran out of tickets, but as the Indian station master had a son at the Victorian Institution, he opened the floodgates and so all and sundry poured on to the departure platform for Singapore free of charge, for as he well said, "What to do, man.'
The School Cadet Corps had provided a smart Guard of Honour to see us off, and as I went round to inspect it, I spied Private Hassanal Bolkiah. As I knew he would one day be the Sultan of Brunei, and he was showing interest in my favourite game rugby, I had a word with him and gave him some suitable advice about working hard at school and not wasting his pocket money. It was only some years later that I discovered that he had done that and had become the wealthiest man in the world while I had been moving in the opposite direction.
The departure from Kuala Lumpur was a traumatic experience, for I was leaving behind not only hundreds indeed thousands of friends, and a country which had become home to me for about a quarter of a century, but also other things which had become part of my life such as 'Bangun, Tuan' (Get up, sir) from my Malay servant every morning, Sunday curries, cool misty mornings, torrential thunderstorms, house lizards and so on. But what I think I missed most of all were the ordinary unsophisticated people especially the polite Malays in their colourful sarongs, the industrious Chinese and their so-called 'sundry goods' shops, the garrulous Indians in their dhotis and last but not least the bee-like buzzing of a thousand schoolboys. And of course, I had left behind a part of myself, I mean of course, a probable son, on the slopes of that small hill in Kuala Pilah, in the care of the legendary Datuk Gaung.
Last updated on 23 November 2003.