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The Kalimpong Association


Memories of Kalimpong

                    Schooldays at Dr Graham's 1943 - 1952

By Pat Hardie (nee Wilsone)

I can recall my first day in Mansfield Cottage. It was a cold February afternoon and some girls were sitting around the fire in the dining room waiting for teatime. One of them said, “buns in the store room”, and I thought we were going to have buns for tea. In fact the bun referred to was Mansfield’s housemother, Aunty Ella Horgan, whose nickname was ‘Bun’, and who was to be my mentor for the next ten years. All the cottage staff were called “Aunty” by the children.

The year was 1943, I was 6 years old, and had just spent three weeks in the Steele Memorial Hospital, which was a requirement of all new children admitted to the Homes. There was a very large intake of new children that year, with both the downstairs wards and the Isolation Block filled. There was a war raging, and some of the children were from families who had left Burma following the Japanese occupation of that country. In 1945, when the War with Japan ended, the news was relayed by a messenger on foot to each cottage. To celebrate, the whole school enjoyed a meal of pork curry and rice on the school playground. The biggest treat was eating off banana leaves with our fingers!

I had my whole education in the Homes, starting in Kindergarten 1 and finishing in Senior Cambridge. I can recall the names of all my teachers, and still have most of the prize books I received by “General Proficiency”. Fellow-Mansfieldites remember me as a bookworm, and I think I was in trouble more often for reading a book when I should have been studying or doing some other task, than for any other misdemeanour. Most of the teachers and cottage staff were dedicated to their work and to the children. Discipline was strict, and corporal punishment was usual. The punishment (other than corporal) could sometimes outweigh the misdemeanour.

The regime of cottage life, schoolwork and after-school activities of athletics, games or swimming, we all took in our stride. The girls in the cottage ranged in age from 5 – 18 years. Daily cleaning in cottage was an important part of the routine. All the children participated in the cleaning tasks. The weekly rota of cottage work was divided into three groups: small, middle-size and big girls. My earliest task was cleaning the dining room windows. My least favourite, as a senior, was “kitchen girl”, which required being woken at 5.00 a.m. to light the solid fuel kitchen stove for cooking the day’s meals for the cottage. In winter one had to work by the light of a hurricane lantern as no electricity was generated at that time of day. I remember that on one occasion I could not get the fire to light, and was duly admonished. At the end of the week as kitchen girl, you were given a special breakfast in bed on Sunday morning.

Scholastic achievement was commended, but it was equally important to get a good school report. We were also encouraged to participate in other out-of-school activities; I sang in the Church Choir, and was in the Girl Guides. There was Girl Guides and Bulbuls for the girls, and Cadets, Scouts and Cubs for the boys.

Religion naturally played an important part in our lives: morning and evening prayers each day in the cottage, and Church on Sunday mornings. It is still wonderful to hear and sing all those lovely hymns which formed part of our worship. On Sundays there was also Sunday School, Confirmation Classes (for Church of England children), Christian Endeavour and Youth for Christ when visiting evangelists held meetings, often in Kalimpong town.

During the mid-year school holidays in May and September we sometimes went on picnics and outings but, during week-ends, we entertained ourselves on the cottage compound or down the khudside. We were imaginative and innovative in our play as there were few toys or other equipment. A cottage party or celebration brought great excitement and meant collecting ferns and greenery from the khudside to decorate the cottage. From Mansfield we enjoyed wonderful views of Mt Kanchenjunga, and the snow capped Himalayas, and occasionally we would have aspiring artist visitors to the cottage to paint the view, particularly the spectacular sunrises and sunsets.

In fact life in the cottage was extremely sheltered. In my ten years in the Homes I can remember visiting Kalimpong town on very few occasions. I did not visit Darjeeling until 1960, 8 years after leaving the Homes.

Many of the children did not go home for the long winter vacation, December – February. Some of the cottages would be closed and the remaining children from those cottages would move to another cottage for the holiday. My two brothers and I spent only one Christmas in the Homes. I recall the happy celebrations, tucking my pillowcase at the foot of my bed on Christmas eve and waking early next morning to find it filled with goodies. In the evening Father Christmas visited and gave each of us a present from under the big Christmas tree. We went camping by the Rilli river for two weeks in January, when we slept in tents and spent carefree days wandering along the almost-dry riverbed looking for rough garnets, catching fiddler fish, and discovering waterholes where the more adventurous would dive and swim.

Mansfield had some fine swimmers and athletes, though I was never in that league. Girls like Mona Owen, Mary Orchard, Meggie Johnston, Patsy Harris to name a few, won for us the Sports and Swimming Shields, sometimes both in the same year. Except for health reasons, we were all expected to learn to swim and participate in all games and sports. Every child was fiercely loyal to their own cottage and made every effort to win, or collect points for the cottage. All inter-cottage competitions were taken seriously, and the annual Swimming Gala and Sports Day were highlights of the year.

The Homes Birthday celebrations each September brought huge excitement. At the Speech Day assembly, often with a VIP present, we especially looked forward to the reading of the Birthday greetings and messages from OGBs in India and around the world. I remember that Mr James Purdie always ready the greetings. He was the Homes Superintendent for a few years (the title predated that of “Principal”). Mr Purdie was much loved by the children and OGBs in that era. The annual treat of Buns and Jelabies which followed the Speeches would be enjoyed on the school playground, and was followed in the evening by a special School Concert.

During my 10 years in Kalimpong the children wore no shoes. For those of us who went home for the winter holiday, immediately on our return our shoes were locked away, along with our home clothes, and we wore only clothes that were provided by the Homes; these of course included the special school, church and sports uniforms. At the end of the year, those of us who were going home would be allowed to wear our shoes for a week or two so as to get used to them again. Apart from the occasional thorn in the foot or painful ulcer under the foot, we all survivrd those barefoot days and thohought nothing of it. We were known as the school where the children wore no shoes. In cold weather, astubbed toe could be extremely painful. We ran up and down stone steps and along stony footpathe to school with alacrity.

Indian Independance Day, August 15, 1947, was celebrated with great enthusiasm; the raising of the Indian Tricolour on the MacRobert Clocktower, and singing the new National Anthem"Jana Gana Mana" which we had been rehearsing for weeks. After Indian Independence, the name of the school was chnged from "St Andrew's Colonial Homes" to "Dr Graham's Homes".

The partition of Bengal into West Bengal and East Pakistan in 1947 made the journey between Calcutta and Kalimpong a difficult experience for many years. It had always been a long journey: by train from Calcutta to Siliguri, then the delightful "Toy Train" (The Darjeeling Himalayan Railway) to Geille Khola, followed by a bus journey for the final few miles to to the Homes. After the Partition, the journey between Calcutta and Siliguri took us by train to an unmade slippery jetty or ghat on one of the channels of the mighty Ganges river where we boarded a ferry (sometimes late at night). The end of the ferry crossing (I cannot remember how long this took) brought us to another rough jetty and then another train journey which eventually brought us to Siliguri. All credit must go to the staff who had charge of us motley crowd of children in such difficult conditions. I never experienced the bridge which was built to eliminate the ferry crossing.

One experience of pre-Independence India which I vividly recall was getting on the school train from Sealdah Station in Calcutta at the end of the winter holiday. This was during the anti-British "Quit India" movement. That day there was much rioting in Calcutta, and my brothers and I walked with our parents to Sealdah. There was no transport as the rioting mobs were everywhere). Along the roads we kept being stopped and made to say "Jai Hind" (Long live India). My mother always insisted on us wearing "solar topee" sunhats in Calcutta's sunshine, and we were told to remove them. Shortly after arriving at the station and safely boarding the train, the rioters tried to stop the train from leaving the station. Tear gas was fired by the military and we all sat on the train with tears streaming down our faces. While it was a frightening experience, I do not recall feeling threatened. Eventually the train did leave. Our parents later told us that everyone at the station that day had to spend the night there as the situation was so volatile. Naturally enough, many of the children who should have travelled with us did not return to the school until later.

The celebrations for the Homes Golden Jubilee in 1950 were eagerly anticipated, but a few weeks earlier, the whole Kalimpong region experienced severe monsoon rains. Three days of continuous monsoon rains brought landslides all over the district, including a large one at the back of Birissa Cottage and the Guide Den. The road to the plains was cut off and took several months to be repaired. The Golden Jubilee celebrations were dampened and many would-be visitors were unable to travel to Kalimpong. As part of the celebrations, a pageant of Dr Graham's life was staged, with Mr Cyril Robins, an Old Homes Boy, who was also the Art Master, taking the part of Dr. Graham.

Thw 1950 landslides also brought about the demise of the "Toy Train", the Kalimpong section of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway whose 2-foot guage steam railway journeythrough the beautiful Teesta valley used to form an exciting part of every holiday journey. At some places the train would hug the hillside on one side while on the other was a precipitous drop to the mighty Teesta River. After the landslides, the line was never repaired or replaced.

Our well-remembered Headmaster, Mr. J.T. "Burra" Lloyd, introduced the annual Eisteddfodd competion, a Welsh celebration of music and drama, and every cottage participated. The last Eisteddfodd took place in 1951. Mr Lloyd's final year as headmaster, and the large trophy shield was won by Mansfield that year, and remained in the cottage for many years.

The Homes received many VIP visitors. Whwn Lady Mountbatten, Patroness of the Homes made one of her visits, Mansfield was chosen as the girls' cottages for her to look over. The girls lined up in front of the cottage and curtseyed to her as she walked past, and that evening we were given a special tea. In my final school year the Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, visited the Homes accompanied by his daughter, Mrs Indira Ghandi, and the Chief Minister of West Bengal, Dr B.C. Roy. Another visitor was the then-teenage Dalai Lama, making his first sojourn out of Tibet.

Both my brothers and I look back on many happy years in Kalimpong, and still retain our links through old friends and by attending reunions. I regret that I never met Dr. Graham, who died the year before I went to the Homes. My mother, who was an orphan, was educated in the homes from 1915 to 1926, and I can remember her showing me Dr. Grahams obituary in the Calcutta "Statesman" newspaper when he died in 1942 and telling me about him.

I regard the Homes in Kalimpong as a unique institution, and I am grateful for the education and training it gave me. I feel certain many of the experiences I have related here were unusual for one's schooldays.

I have been happy to be associated with the Homes for the past 30 years by serving on committees and on the Kalimpong Association Charitable trust; for a few years I was also editor of the Association Newsletter. Long may the Homes continue to provide for the less advantaged children of India, especially in these fast-changing and increasingly competitive times.

-- Pat Hardie 

More articles

   Lyonpo's Speech
   Robert Harding's Memories
   Thuten Kesang's Birthday trip.
   Robert Street's Journey
   Memories of Kalimpong - Pat Hardie
   A brief History - Pat Hardie
   Dr Kalaam's Speech
   Miss Prentice's Pictures
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page updated 10th July 2014