St Andrew's Turi 1945 Part 2: After The Fire

Mon, 22/01/2018 - 10:30 -- James Oakley
St Andrew's School, Turi
St Andrew's Turi

Last week, I posted about my former school, St Andrew's Turi, and the fire there in 1944.

The school magazine also contains another section, entitled "After the fire", which depicts the blitz spirit under which the school came to terms with what had happened, and in due course re-opened.

There were not enough vacancies in the whole colony for all the children to be absorbed into other schools and we had to make immediate plans to carry on the school, if possible in temporary buildings. We tried all over the country to find a suitable building, but if we found one that would house thirty children it had no water supply, if we found another it had no doctor near it, if we found a third it required so much spent on sanitation that it was hopeless. We almost took the children’s camp in Mombasa but it was turned down by the medical authorities at that time and after many miles of fruitless search we carried on for one term with one group in the Crawley’s House at Turi, a third at Natwana where Mr. and Mrs. Wright gave us 'most of their house and turned out into other rooms themselves, and the remainder slept in the chapel or with near neighbours and came daily to school. Class rooms and dining hall did not exist and we had meals and lessons out of doors which kept us wonderfully fit. Meantime, long mud huts were made with wooden floors and the next term saw us housed in these. We called them “the cow sheds”, we had temporary bathrooms and lavatories put up and members of staff lived in lean-to huts on the ends of each “cow shed”. There were few lockers, we made wonderful camp hanging cupboards and hung towels on strings and there, in all the make—shift muddle, we got measles. Yet, with sixty—eight cases, no running water, Deitz lamps, we had not one case with complications, which speaks well for the careful nursing of the matron, Mrs. Beryl Davis, and weary staff and those kind mothers who came to help us in the grim struggle.

A camp had to be made for the Italian workmen and before they came Italian officers arrived to begin the plans. The newest specifications had to be ascertained before rebuilding was begun and then the first Italians arrived to begin the work. The slow work of digging foundations, the slow struggle to get materials well nigh drove us frantic at times and yet everyone who could help did so. Controllers did everything they could to get supplies of materials but there were labour difficulties when gangs of stone cutters would not work, when natives went from job to job caring not at all who suffered and Italians had feast days and Saint days when they did not work and Indians suffered from the same sort of excuses. We needed Orpheus with a lute but we did see the walls rise slowly and just as we began to feel that all was going well there would be another bitch and another struggle and another blow.

New staff came from England and were greeted by such primitive conditions as they never dreamed were possible, but they cheerfully buckled to and helped us. The dhobi house was merely the garden. For a long time we had no proper kitchen and camp cooking was all we could do. For three years Mr. and Mrs. Lavers had no sitting room at all and most of that time they slept in a tent and then in a small hut. Just after the fire they slept and lived in the chapel and Mr. Lavers succeeded in being very ill there. Rumour has it that Mrs. Lavers said, “Look here, if you are going to die be quick about it and then we won’t go on with the building,” and that cured him but—perhaps that is slightly exaggerated.

Of course there were amusing incidents such as the day Roly went head first into four feet of water in a ditch and Mr. Lavers turned round to see his feet. Roly did not seem to mind. He wanted the swimming bath released for fun. One night the staff had no meat course, the boy had fallen into the foundations with it; another night the junket and fruit salad went in as well but we carried on. The rains came and we skidded from “cowshed” to chapel, from tent to lean-to and we were wet of foot, damp through and through. Rain coats bought for the boys to carry trays from the temporary kitchen to meals in odd places were stolen and yet they carried on.

All the preliminary work with the Italians had to be carried on in French for none of them spoke English and we did not speak Italian, but as the weeks grew into months some of them learned English and some of us learned Italian, and often we both knew a little Swahili, but there were many odd remarks and many jokes and some- times difficulties because of the language.

One thing we shall never forget about the Italians and that was their great love of children. It was a common sight to see a big Italian sneaking some luscious macaroni to some greedy boy or a host of small boys demanding “Make me a lorry, make me a car” to the wonderful carpenters who could turn out so many delightful toys in a few moments. Many children got lovely pencil boxes, charming dolls’ furniture _ and treasures such as small people never forget made for them by by these children-loving people who often forgot that they were using time and timber which was precious to the school. But, let us forget that in the larger issue that the kindly spoiling and cheer, the lovely Neapolitan songs sung to us under the trees by a huge bonfire, the entertainments they got up for the children—these made us understand how little the Italians had ever wanted to go to war and how deeply they regretted it. Shall we ever forget Renier chuckling as he painted the Pied Piper in the corridor? Shall we ever forget the quaint instruments they made and presented to children, one guitar made entirely of matchstalks, for example. Sometimes they still write to us and always say how happily they look back to their days in Turi. Some were excellent workers, some were no so good, but all of them were sweet to children.

We were lucky in finding Dr Fioretti to design the school. He is a well-known architect in Rome. First, Lt. Bigi came as engineer, but he had a serious accident to his hand and left and then Lt. Maina took over the work. He was a ferro-concrete expert so we were lucky to have him in charge of the building of the hall.

At the beginning of December 1946, the Italians left just before the hall was completed and just as we were doing our Christmas Play, but the audience came and shared our three long years of discomfort by sitting amongst the scoffolding and the Play was given.

Then followed one of the worst times of all. No one could be found to complete the building. One contractor after another appeared, quoted, refused to undertake it or failed to cope and artisans’ wages went up and up and up. At last Mr. A. B. C. Smith came and under- took the difficult job of finishing off the work, doing the last block of classrooms and the tidying up of the grounds. We shall never be able to thank him for his quiet, cheerful efficiency under the difficulties of that task when every member of staff wanted something done first, either locker rooms or tennis courts or lights or cupboards or—but it is almost beyond detailing and most of us want to forget the trials of those months though we shall always remember Mr. Smith’s un— failing helpfulness and patience.

It is said that in times of trouble we find who are really our friends and St. Andrew’s is particularly rich in friends. From the first sweet gestures right on we have met such helpfulness and kindness as can never be told in its entirety. There was the small girl who sent a letter which we shall always keep, “When I heard the school was burnt I cried as if my heart would break and I am enclosing all the pocket money I have left to help to build the new school.” The coins had been filched from the envelope but did that matter when such thoughts had come instead? There were wonderful cheques from parents and friends to help, one of £2,000 to be repaid without interest when convenient and each sent with a letter so kind as to reduce one almost to tears. There was an unknown missionary who volunteered to collect small gifts of equipment from various missions to replenish the stock of pencils, pens, chalk, which was so difficult to get, there was a generous offer to help for equipment and books from the firm that always supplied us by doing so at cost price, there was the unexpected letter from the British Council stating that £300 worth of books was on its way to begin the new library. That was a wonderful gesture to the children of Kenya. We lost over 7,000 books in the fire and that in war time when books were so difficult to get. No wonder we read and re-read the letter from the British Council with eyes that blinked. Then came another surprise when a cheque arrived from the “Friends of the School in the EAWL in England” and that cheque has been used to furnish the children’s library. A later cheque arrived from the Scottish Branch of the same organisation and it was used for the library book shelves. One parent furnished the new staff room, another provided cushions for the staff, others gave lockers, pictures, chairs for the kindergarten, curtains, books and so the school had gradually got its “pretties” and with them the children have learned much of what Generosity means. Let us hope they will, in their day, give as has been given to them.

Slowly the gardens are growing now. One old boy wrote, “Please make the garden lovely again. I have forgotten most of all I learned at Turi but I always remember the beautiful garden”. Well, we hope it will be beautiful before long, it is a different garden, it needs must be more formal, but at least it can be colourful once we get heavy rains and have time for compost.

Will the school ever be finished? Who can tell? We want to extend the playing fields, there is the land available but these things take time—and they take money so they may be rather slow in coming but a little at a time can be, and is being done, and that encouragement and patience shown by parents during our most difficult and trying months will not fail us in the next few years. If any parents can find a kindly millionaire wishing to endow a school—and stranger things have happened—he, the parent, AND the millionaire, will be very welcomed!

Well, the school was eventually finished. Those who laboured through mud and ashes to try to keep the show on the road would be amazed (shanga, even) to see the school today.

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