St Andrew's Turi 1945 Part 3: Reopening

Mon, 29/01/2018 - 10:42 -- James Oakley
St Andrew's School, Turi
St Andrew's Turi

Two weeks ago, I posted about my former school, St Andrew's Turi, and the fire there in 1944.

Last week, I followed this with the account, "After the Fire", of what happened next.

Finally, the school was re-opened. The governor, Sir Philip Mitchell, tells of the events on Saturday 28th February 1948 when the school was formally re-opened.

Frustratingly, although the account makes mentions of His Excellency, nowhere is he introduced by name. However, this can probably deduced. The Governor of the Colony and Protectorate of Kenya at the time was Sir Philip Euen Mitchell. The report in the magazine makes a mention of "His Excellency and Lady Mitchell", so I believe Sir Philip was the guest of honour the day.

A lovely, sunny day helped to make the rather dry country of Turi and Molo look its best as the large crowd of between 400 and 500 people gathered on the front terrace of the School for the ceremony. The white coaches of the Governor’s train in the station, which is close to the School, and the Union Jack flying from the flagpole on the front terrace, with the blue and white Saint Andrew’s flag flying from the front balcony, all combined to lend an air of expectancy to the scene.

The new buildings, set above the rows of terraces in front, looked most imposing and solid, testifying to the careful planning by Mr. and Mrs. Lavers, and the excellence of the work carried out by Dr Fioretti, the Italian architect, Lt. Maina, the engineer in charge, and the Italian workmen under them. These Italians certainly put much of their innate love for children into a work of enduring worth to a Colony with a great future before it, and the result is there for all to see. The parts left unfinished when the Italians left so suddenly in December 1946 were finally executed by Mr. A. B. C. Smith, late of Kibwezi, in a manner which fits in with the whole work, and the school owes a debt of gratitude to Mr. Smith for his able carrying out of difficult works.

Promptly at 3.0 p.m. His Excellency arrived at the west door of the Big Hall, where he was met by Mr. and Mrs. Lavers, supported by the P.C., Rift Valley, and Mrs. Morgan, the Right Reverend the Bishop of Mombasa, the Hon. Walter Trench, M.L.C, and Mr. Noad, D.C., Nakuru.

His Excellency and Mr. Lavers led the way through the school to the front terrace, where they took up their stand on the steps before the front door, as the Police Band played “God Save the King”. The Bishop then said a prayer, followed by a blessing on the school and its work, the Governor declared the school open, turned the key in the front door, and entered the hall, where he signed the visitors’ book.

The party then made a formal tour of inspection of the school, as the visitors and children made their way to the Big Hall for the remainder of the ceremony. His Excellency was much interested in the murals, some painted by Italians, some by Kenya girls, and one by a child of eleven, still at the school, and in the layout of the sanatorium.

Having taken their places on the stage in the Big Hall, an address of welcome was given by Mr. Lavers, after the signing of the school hymn, a prayer by the Bishop of Mombasa, and the Lord’s Prayer had been said by all.

Mr ("Pa") Lavers then gave his speech of welcome:

We welcome His Excellency here to-day with real gratitude for his kindness in coming to wind up three and a half years of hard endeavour.

Four years ago to-night, we were burned out, so it is, really, out first anniversary of the fire, although nearly four years ago, thanks to that extra day in Leap Year, without which, perhaps, we should have had no fire—and no new buildings.

Looking back, I well remember that night. The Guides from Saint George’s School coming down with stretchers and first-aid apparatus—and their disappointment at finding no casualties on whom to perform. The buckets of tea they brought down—of which I had more than my fair share once when they found me. I remember too, meeting my wife, when the whole school was ablaze from end to end, and together we heard the children singing “Count your blessings” as the flames and sparks soared into the sky. We couldn't see any blessings at all at that moment.

I remember the food and shelter given to us all the next day by Miss Brennand and Saint George’s, for which we shall ever be grateful.

But, above all, I remember my wonderful staff on that night. Being the only man on the place, I thought there might be panic, or at least some inefficiency, but those loyal women were the equals of any highly trained crew anywhere, and I hereby pay them my highest tribute in public.

I remember, too, the people from Molo coming, from far and wide, just so soon as the news was ’phoned round, to collect children and take them away to their homes for shelter, which no longer existed at Turi. By eleven o’clock that Tuesday morning, there remained hardly a child at Turi-——all were safely and quietly housed in other people’s homes to await collection by their parents.

‘The then Chief Secretary, Mr. Rennie, as he then was, was due to visit the school officially at 10.30 am. that Tuesday morning. Punctually on the dot, his car, flying the Union Jack, appeared, and he emerged to be confronted by a wide area of smoking ruins, a Headmistress lame and strangely clad, and a Headmaster in pyjamas, unshaven and considerably blackened. Mr. Rennie asked what he could do to help, and I asked him, when he got back to Nairobi, to tell all his controllers to open their cellars and stores wide for me when I should need materials for rebuilding?

I think, looking round, that they must have done so, but only I — and they — can know how much they grew to hate the sight of me as I turned up in Nairobi, demanding unheard-of masses of material'

What to do for the future? That was the great question, not easy of solution. The few children who remained were out on the farm of Mr. and Mrs. Trench, with a member of staff, having lessons and a wonderful time, but there were only about 15 among the 120 children here at the time who could be accommodated in other schools, and something HAD to be done without delay for those who could afford no break in their education.

There were three courses open to us. To retire to the farm and live safely. To build temporarily and carry on while the need persisted in acute form, which seemed a waste of material in short supply, or to build permanently for the future of the Colony. As seems always the case, the limiting factor was cash. Where, and how to get it .> Many parents offered financial help, and one child from a school for older pupils sent us the balance of her pocket money. Leg. Co. had been disbanded, and Sir Henry Moore was leaving. There was no-one who could sign a document for aid on the scale needed.

We finally decided. to build for the future, put in everything we had got, and began with official blessings but no signatures, trusting that all would be honoured in the future.

Obviously the only way was to engage Italian labour, and with the few obtained at first, we began the camp for the P.O.Ws, then temporary quarters for the school.

Meanwhile, we had been engaged in the search for somewhere to carry on for those would afford no break. We even visited Mombasa, where the Likoni Children’s Holiday Camp was turned down by the Medical people, and the Naval Camp at English Point by Whitehall.

We came back, rather despondcnt, and then Mr. and Mrs. Claude Wright, of Hoey’s Bridge, offered their home. They turned out of their home into buildings outside, and took two forms with two members of staff, and looked after them all and gave them a wonderful time. We shall never forget their kindness. We rented Mr. Craw- ley’s house up on the hill, where Mr. and Mrs. Hutton now live, and with children and staff living out with “Simpy”——you all know Miss Simpson as “Simpy”, and remember her cottage——with Mr. and Mrs. Underwood, Mr. and Mrs. Duirs, the Owens and others, we managed to carry on for some, at any rate, of the children. Other members of staff lived on the site of the old school, in repaired huts, while we had tents on the tennis courts. It was hard work for the grown-ups, but heaven for the children.

The Italian architect and engineer arrived. We began their camp and the temporary school, without which we obviously could not carry on, and we gathered stores of materials to guard against the possibility of having a labour force idle. The camp was finished, the temporary quarters for the school were finished, and used, and finally, on 14th July, 1944, we laid the first foundations of the present buildings—laid by the Head Girl and Head Boy, and blessed by our Padre from Nakuru.

Thus began a period of the hardest work I have ever done in my life, and it was the same for all of us. ‘

How my valiant staff stood up to the appalling conditions under which we had to carry on, I do not know. How the new members from England, coming out to relieve those who had been with us all through the war and who wanted, very naturally, to get back to see how their people had fared throughout the war, managed to knuckle down to the difficulties, I do not know, but surmount everything they all did, with the result that the education of those children went on, here, on the site, right through. the rebuilding operations. Things were so difficult at times that somewhere in the foundations there lie the remains of a meat course of our staff dinner, and a pudding course, dropped there by the servant who fell into the trench on his way to us with the food.

One point I must make, and that is the wonderful and loyal co-operation of the parents during this time. Never a murmur of com- plaint all through, when accommodation was, literally, awful—we called the dormitories the “cowsheds”—-—and it was this backing of us by you whose children we were educating which made the whole thing possible, impossible of realisation though it seemed at times.

But, at some of the worst times, you, Your Excellency, visited us and by your interest and presence, just gave us the extra zest to grip anew the tangled ropes for a stronger heave once again.

We thank you, Your Excellency, for your continued interest, and most sincerely for being here today, and all that remains now is to see that the work goes on, uninterrupted into the future, with still closer co—operation between us and our parents”.

His Excellency then made a speech in reply:

I am very glad that my wife and I are here with you for the opening ceremony of your fine new school buildings. We have seen these buildings several times while they were being built, and are all the more happy to be present to—day, when the work is complete.

I remember on my first visit being greatly struck by a remark that was made to me by the Italian prisoner—of—war architect who was in charge of the work. He said, “It is a tragic thing that our countries, traditional friends for so long, should be at war. We know that it is a ghastly mistake and ought never to have happened. Now we hope that in building this school for the children of British people here in Kenya we may put into it something of the friendship in which we Italians feel for the British, the old friendship between our countries, which we pray will be re-created soon."

I hope indeed that built into the stone and mortar of these buildings there is something of that spirit of friendship, a spirit which is so badly needed throughout the world to—day.

Already many generations of Kenya children have been at this school and many more will follow, we hope, for a very long time to come. They will, I suppose, carry away with them some knowledge of school subjects, but what is far more important — l hope and believe that they will also carry away the spirit of courage, happiness, charity and understanding which is the finest flower of Christian family life and Christian school working together in mutual confidence and collaboration on their great task.

You children who are now here at school, if you stay in this country: as I hope nearly all of you will, have before you a life of great opportunity and responsibility which it would be unreasonable to expect you to foresee or understand fully to-day, so young are you. Nor, indeed, is there any need for you to puzzle your heads with all these difficult things now. Time enough for that later. Now you have your school life and your lessons and your games and the holidays and your home life and all the lovely things you look forward to so much, all the blessings — and remember they are blessings—of the life that you live, as you pass through this school and on to schools of a more advanced kind and then in many cases to colleges and so out into the world which lies before you. There will be plenty of people to teach you Latin and History and Arithmetic and French and Science and all that, and if you are sensible you will learn as much as you can all the time, for learning is great fun and there is nothing more enjoyable than knowing about things; but also you will be learning from your parents and teachers and from each other much greater things—to be happy, steadfast, faithful, just and brave. It is above all things important for us to learn these lessons here in this country, where people of so many different kinds find themselves living together, and where we have to set an example to others.

The care and teaching of children is a tremendous responsibility and those who have taken up the teaching profession have my warmest sympathy and admiration. I believe there are very few of us who do not reckon among the most remarkable people that they have ever known some master or mistress who taught them when they were young. My old housemaster, R. F. Cholmeley, has just died. I have been influenced throughout the whole of my life by his fine character, his kindliness, his charity, and his unshakeable staunchness to what he believed to be right. You who teach know all this well enough, and you know, too, that whatever the world may be going to be in the future, you will have had a very large share in the making of it, for the pupils of to-day are the men and women of to-morrow.

And what a world it could be — indeed, it will be — especially in this country, when these little people grow up, and, looking boldly and fearlessly at their problems, at the great human diversities and complexities that surround us, are able to see the truth and to bear themselves resolutely in the spirit of the faith in which you and their parents are bringing them up. The young men and women of our time and nation , the children we see around us to—day are surely the best stuff that we have ever bred in our long island history, and we may well look forward with courage and confidence to the time when they take over the helm from us. And if there are so many fine young folks about us to—day, it is to the homes that have been established in the Colony that the credit is due; and upon those homes hangs the whole future of what we are trying to do here. For we are not here merely to earn our livings; merely to develop our farms or businesses or to work our way up in the service to which we happen to belong; merely to enjoy our— selves and to have a good time; whether we like it or not—and of course we like it—we are here for a much greater, more inspiring purpose, we have a much greater load of responsibility, for we have to lead this at present rather tangled muddle of people towards the great Kenya — the great East Africa, indeed—to the building of which we have set our hands.

We need not try to find all the answers now ; we need not lose our sleep and spoil our digestions by worrying about our rather silly old friend, “the ultimate solution”. We need only to have faith, and make sure that our homes and our schools are worthy of the task ; we have only to shew forth, not only with our lips but in our lives, that we are able for the service we are engaged upon, and the future will take care of itself—or rather Providence will take care of the future; and this Kenya which we all love will be a great and happy country.

Here, to-day, we have a simple act in the general task, to declare formally open the new buildings of one school which is certainly worthy, which has certainly shown forth in its life that it is able for the task; and I do so very gladly, wishing Mr. and Mrs. Lavers, their colleagues and their pupils great happiness and success and never-ending opportunities for service to Kenya, to its people, and to the King, our master.

The account of the day's proceedings then continues:

The Head Boy then called for “Three cheers for His Excellency”, which were delivered with great gusto, and the party then came down from the stage, to a row of chairs in the front of the audience, and a short Dancing Display was given by some of Madame Zerkowitz’s pupils.

The standard of this display was something unseen in East Africa before and would have been difficult of attainment by any school in England. One child of eleven gave her own interpretation of Debussy’s ballet from “La Petite Suite”, which met with great applause. A group of dances, called “A Winter Phantasy”, led by a group of penguins, gave scope for several solos, and a charming ballet which might have been called “Les Sylphides”.

The last group, “The Wizard and his Toys”, was spectacular in colour and performance, and gave the “tinies” their chance.

Tea was set out under the trees on the edge of the Playing Fields, with the Police Band out on the field, playing martial airs. His Excellency and Lady Mitchell were able to renew many old acquaintanceships, in an atmosphere which reminded many of those present, irresistibly, of garden parties in England, in an age which is, unfortunately, but a nostalgic memory for those who are lucky enough to have experienced it.

At about five o’clock, “God Save the King” was played by the Band, as His Excellency took his departure, being seen oil" by Mr. and Mrs. Lavers from a point near the Sanatorium.

The school was then thrown open for inspection by visitors, and much admiration was expressed by all for the spaciousness and airiness this newest, and ideal, addition to the Colony’s educational buildings. Incidentally, it does not seem to be known generally that at Saint Andrew’s School is the only Froebel Training Centre for Student Teachers in the whole of the British Empire where the London Certificate may be gained, as it has been by quite a number of Kenya girls already. Surely this should prove of inestimable value to the Colony in the future, and is a great feather in the cap of this rapidly developing part of the Empire?

The whole ceremony went through with that smooth finish, telling of perfect organisation which we have come to expect at these functions at Turi, and the beholder was greatly struck by the happy, carefree relations between School and Parents, which must lead to a much easier and deeper co-operation between school and home, so utterly necessary to-day?

A Special Service for Parents was held in the School Chapel on Sunday morning at 9.0 a.m., which many parents attended.

The service was taken by the Headmaster, Mr. Lavers, and the sermon by the Bishop of Mombasa, which was most inspiring, led on directly from His Excellency’s address of the day before, and must be of great help to all concerned in Education and the welfare of children.

In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that the Governor’s address at the Opening Ceremony on Saturday, and the Bishop’s sermon in the School Chapel on Sunday morning, be read attentively by all.

I plan to post the text of the Bishop's sermon next week.

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