- Ewart "Fatz" Walters
Calabar, January 1952
Calabar, clearly was in my future. My grandfather, the Reverend John McRubie Walters of Jericho, St. Catherine, was a Baptist minister, well respected by his children. Calabar College was started to train young men for the Baptist ministry and my own father had spent a year there before deciding to commit his life to teaching instead of the ministry.
Calabar High School was established for the education of the sons of Baptist Ministers and it was thought that even though I was only a grandson, it would be unthinkable for me to be educated elsewhere. Besides, it soon became apparent that while a cousin, Geoffrey Parke, would soon be leaving Calabar, another cousin, Maurice James, was entering Calabar in January 1952--the same time as I was. I would have company.
If that was not enough, the country bus on which I made my incursions to the city, wended its way down Slipe Pen Road to its terminus at Princess and Heywood Streets. It often stopped just across from Calabar, and my pre-teen-age eyes took in everything from the bus window: the main two-storey building with the bell tower, the headmaster's office in a bungalow on the right, the chapel on the left, the mango tree that separated it from the headmaster's cottage, and the neighbours--the Salvation Army School for the Blind on the south and Calabar Grocery on Studley Park Road on the north.
I secured a place at Calabar and left my home in the hills of St. Andrew to become a boarder there in the second week of January 1952. I was placed in Form 2A with 31 other boys, and would now be studying Latin, Spanish, Algebra, Geometry and Biology, in addition to anything I had done before. With me in 2A were friends with whom I have maintained contact all my life. Among these were Orville Green, Howard "Peter" Blackwood, John Levermore, Gervais Clark and Norman Girvan. They were all day boys.
Except for T. A. M. "Grantus" Grant, the Latin master, Robert "Bengeh" Nicholson (a Guyanese) and Mr. Fong Kong, the Spanish masters, Noel "Sleepy" White, the History master, and "Congru" Isaacs, who taught Geography and Math, all the teachers were white and from England or Scotland.
The headmaster, Walter Murray-White, was known to all as "Dopey" or D-White (to distinguish him from “Sleepy White” which was what we called Noel White our dormitory master). D-White was a short Englishman who wore grey flannels, taught Math and preached the occasional sermon that always ended, "...and because right is right, to follow right were wisdom in the scorn of consequence." He drove a Vauxhall Velox and smoked Royal Blend cigarettes right down to the very end, the evidence badly staining his fingernails.
His Deputy, the Reverend Cyril Woodyatt, "Woody", was a slow-talking, pipe-smoking, slightly absent-minded Scotsman with a short fuse, who wore khaki shorts and taught Math. He once told a boy, "I fought the Germans and I'll fight you too!" Mrs. Woodyatt also taught Math and, later, played the piano for our Student Christian Movement singing group. Their son, Dennis, was a quiet, pleasant fellow who was in Fifth or Sixth Form when I arrived.
Mrs. Foster-Davis (Mrs. Murray-White’s sister)--an Englishwoman who married a Jamaican White man--smiled and taught English to the lower forms. Frank Ogle presided over the laboratory and ensured that our boyhood curiosity did not flourish. I mean, we were not allowed to touch anything unless he told us to, and he did not speak much. Mrs. Ogle taught Art. Rev. Walter "Fodgy" Foster was the senior Literature master. All he did was to make us read the text in class but when we accused him of taking money under false pretences that he was teaching, he was able to point to the fact that his results in Literature were quite high.
Harry Drayton was a White (high brown?) Guyanese who taught Science, always referred to Richard Henriques as "Dear Boy," and got investigated by the police shortly after he returned to the island once from a conference in Bucharest, presumably with literature which attracted the unwelcome attention of the authorities. I am not sure what came of that and he later acquired a car of indeterminable vintage which he called "Jezebel." However, he disappeared along with Jezebel not long after we arrived at the new school.
As new boys we were assigned to the small dormitory upstairs the wing of classrooms nearest to Studley Park Road. There were about 20 of us, including two Cubans--Soler and Gomez--who, like so many of their compatriots of the day, had come to Jamaica for an education in English. In the big dormitory were two other Cubans, Julio Jay and Grau, and somewhere else on the compound was the rest of the Spanish-speaking contingent, Don Stratman and Carlos Williams from Panama, and McIntosh, a Jamaican who knew Spanish.
Also boarding at the time were the sprinters, Burchell "Cobra" Russell, Roy Greenland and Louis "Studebaker" Seaton, and the up-and-coming quarter-miler, Lloyd Goodleigh. (I should pause and explain for those who do not know that the 1949-52 Studebaker motorcar featured a styling in which the rear window was very similar to the windshield, and the trunk was elongated to make the back look just like the front. In fact, the back was so long, you had difficulty telling whether the car was coming or going. Like many sprint athletes, Louis Seaton was blessed with an exceptionally protuberant bottom. Hence, "Studebaker.")
At Calabar, I encountered some new words and a different way of speaking. First was “cabbo,” which was the toilet. The tuck shop was the place you bought tuck, or lunch. “Streeties” were the boys on the streets who apparently were unable to go to school. If you had done something remarkable, someone might say admiringly, “Bwoy, you not lovely!” And then there was this interesting way of shortening sentences, as in, “You going drama festival?”
By September 1952, our surroundings would change. With the move to 61 Red Hills Road, we would swap acres of "police macca" for even more acres of sandflies and mosquitoes; Mother B and her famous Tuck Shop for one run by Sixth Formers; a small swimming pool for no pool at all; easy access to King Steet and shopping on a Saturday for long walks the hot, dreary length of Dunrobin Avenue to catch the bus on Constant Spring Road. We would also swap disparate sleeping facilities at Stello (our name for the hostel at Chetolah Park, and the two dormitories on the main premises, for a large, modern dormitory with Masters’ quarters nearby. And we would leave behind the cozy, charming chapel to endure, Reverend Jelleyman's endless prayers of invocation and sermons in "The Cage," a concrete surface enclosed with mesh wire, which served variously as lounge, assembly hall, chapel and pavilion, at least until a new chapel was built between the school and the Theological College, about 1956.
For me, the chapel at Slipe Pen Road was the essence of Calabar. For us boarders, evening chapel was a feature which day boys, those lesser creatures with whom we shared it in the mornings, were not privileged to enjoy. There were four outstanding things about the chapel. One was the pipe organ nestled into an alcove on the southern side and played gloriously by Big Aljoe and, later, Trevor Wellington. The second was the short hymn that we intoned every evening after prayer:
"God be in my head, and in my understanding.
God be in mine eyes, and in my looking.
God be in my mouth, and in my speaking.
God be in my heart, and in my thinking.
God be at mine end, and at my departing."
The third was an impressive, dark mahogany structure into which a cross of a lighter shade of wood was fixed. Finally, there was the brass plate into which were engraved the words of Henry Newbolt:
"This is the chapel: here my son
Your father thought the thoughts of youth
And heard the words that one by one
The touch of life has turned to truth...
To set the cause above renown
To love the game beyond the prize
To honour, while you strike him down,
The foe that comes with fearless eyes...
Henceforth the School and you are one
And what you are, the race shall be."
One of the inhabitants of Stello was Percy Broderick, who served as Minister of Agriculture for a time in the 1980s. Another was the young Englishman, the Reverend David W.F. Jelleyman, known to all as "Jelly." Broderick told of Jelley's great love for football, even when Broderick and others kept feeding him ‘pop’ after ‘pop.’ Broderick also told of how Jelley's love for football was exceeded only by his love for his bicycle, a solid, upright, gent's Phillips, with a wicker basket in front (both bicycle and basket made in the 17th century!). For years, Jelly made the trip--in the hot Sunday morning sun--to Nine Miles (where he preached) and back, on his faithful bicycle, often declining offers of rides in a car. But one morning, Stello's inhabitants were awakened early, before dawn, to a tale of woe. Jelly was in distress.
"What's the matter Mr. Jelleyman? Is your father dead?" the boys said they asked.
"No. Worse than that!" was the reported reply. Well, what could be worse than the death of a father? The boys immediately understood and questioned him again.
"Is your mother dead?" they persisted.
"No. Worse than that!" they reported he said.
"Well, what then?"
"My bicycle! They've stolen my bicycle!" was the astonishing reply. And, they swore, he had visited the nearby Admiral Town Police Station to report the unsustainable loss--in his pyjamas.
To speak of Admiral Town is to remember Jones Town, and one of the more astonishing things my young eyes encountered in Kingston. Normally, we were in bed and lights were turned out by 8.00 p.m. This night, for whatever reason, I was up on the lawns at around midnight. Suddenly, I heard and saw the drays, the mules pulling them at full gallop, coming up Studley Park Road from Jones Town. The masked drivers were in great haste and did not tarry much at the stop sign before resuming their journey down Slipe Pen Road.
As they hurried off, I heard some Streeties shout at the departing dray drivers, "Ah know yuh! Yuh coulda mask, a know yuh!" I had no idea what was going on, although the phrase "Ah know yuh!" had been in vogue in Border for over a year. The devastating Hurricane Charlie of Friday August 17, 1951, was the occasion for the receipt of many donations from the United States including thousands of striped "T" shirts. It seems every one of the shirts was striped the same way and had the same colours. And so, whenever anyone wore one of those shirts he or she was greeted with the shout, "Ah know yuh!"
But these draymen were, to all appearances, shirtless. So, something else was going on here. Soon, I was filled in. These men had what was considered to be an occupation so shameful that it had to be carried out at dead of night. Theirs was the job of descending--naked, I was told--into the toilet pits to remove the contents, place them into the covered dray-carts and hustle them off to the Pumping Station at Darling Street for processing. They burned old tyres on the drays to suppress the stink and, above all, they tried as best they could to avoid recognition. That is why the shout, "Ah know yuh!" usually resulted in an attempt to urge the mules on to even greater speed!
But, back to Calabar and Jelly. It was obvious, in the telling of the various tales about Jelly, that he was held in some affection--if some bemusement--in the boys' hearts. Not so Jelly's boss, the Rev. Keith Tucker, President of the College. A bumptious little Englishman, he kept himself remote from the boys and did all he could to keep us away from the Theological College. Later, at Red Hills Road, the College was separated from the High School by the new chapel, and an orange grove with about four dozen fruitful trees. To the boys he found admiring the oranges even from a "safe" distance, Tucker insisted that the fruit were not ripe and that when they were, they were for the College students. We knew better. Students such as Sam Reid, Zeph Dawnes, the McKenzies, Moncreiffe and Dudley Stokes, were too busy with their devotions or watching the Shortwood College girls when they visited on Sunday evenings, to bother about the oranges which were, indeed green of skin, but ripe and sweet inside. So it was that on many a night, after we had put the smaller boys to bed and returned to the Library for our additional hour or so of "prep," we visited the forbidden grove and returned with pockets bulging with citric booty.
One night, after such a raid, we paused beside the chapel to peel and eat the citric spoils when the whispered shout went up. "Somebody coming!"
Now, Calabar in the Fifties had an excellent record in track, winning Champs twice and always being near the top. The company of orange-grove raiders that night included speedsters such as the superb quarter-miler Lloyd Goodleigh, later with the National Workers Union; Glen Gutzmore, later in business in New Jersey and Florida; and Milton “17” Bernard, later a top dental practitioner in Maryland– among others.
Me? I was on the cricket team and the swimming team, and made it eventually to the track team not by any blazing pair of spikes, but by limited virtue of occasional prowess in shot putt and discus. I mean, in this company I was outclassed. But, we all took off! What is more, by the time we had secured our spoils and taken off, one of our number had identified our pursuer as none other than the new student who had won the Theological Students’ race on Sports Day, a week or so prior, in spectacular fashion.
Spectacular? With the starter’s gun, this Theological student was up off the blocks and was leading Sam Reid and the others at 30 yards in the 100 yards dash. Apparently, in his haste to don his track apparel, he had forgotten the words of the hymn, “How firm a foundation,” for he had to break stride at 35 yards to make emergency repair at the front of his shorts when something went wildly amiss. Repair having been made, he looked up only to see his colleagues all well ahead of him. Believing steadfastly in the words, “No man having set his hand to the plough and looking back is fit for the kingdom of Heaven,” he put his head down, caught up with the pack and was again leading at 80 yards when, oops… it happened again!
To the amazement of all the spectators, male and female, clustered near the finish line, his hasty repair had proven weakling to the task and, again, something was visibly amiss. With his colleagues now breathing down his neck and the finish line only 20 yards away, could he re-establish decorum and still win?
Clearly, he did not think so. For him, this was not a matter of enduring to the end; this was a race for the swift. With pumping arms and high knee-lifts, he ignored the shrieks of amazement and crashed through the tape, victor and champion. (I should hasten to add that this was not the time when the word “flash” came into vogue at Calabar. That word had been in regular use for several years. It was used simply to describe the act of beating a competitor in a race, e.g., “Greenland flashed Kennedy in the 200.”)
With all the foregoing in mind, fear lent me wings. Recalling every piece of advice the great Olympian Herb McKenley ever gave about sprinting, I took off with the crowd of sprinters and found that not even the great Lloyd Goodleigh could flash me on this occasion. Not wishing to press my luck, however, I took refuge in a plum tree, halfway between the scene of the crime and the dormitory, while the Theological student chased the others, who were headed for the anonymity of the dormitory.
When the school moved to Red Hills Road from Slipe Pen Road in 1952, there was neither cricket pitch nor swimming pool. We boys dug excavations for both, and we pushed wheelbarrow load after wheelbarrow load of concrete to help reduce the cost of building our new pool. It was in swimming that I encountered my first really big disappointment. I was, one year, the school’s leading breast-stroke swimmer in Class III and looked with great anticipation to competing against other schools in the swimming champs.
Less than a month before Champs, however, “Sleepy” White, our dormitory master and swimming coach, told me that I was five days too old for Class III and would have to compete in Class III. Of course, I recognised the school’s honesty and, swallowing my disappointment, I swam a relay leg in a losing Class II effort.
The man who made the greatest impression on me at Calabar was Neville Dawes, who came along soon after the move to Red Hills Road. Just back to Jamaica from Oxford University with an MA degree, rare in those days, he was a new breed of teacher--a man with impeccable qualifications and Black dignity, that played out much more through his actions than his words. Never aloof, he came to the nets to practise cricket with us, displaying in the process a fine and wristy late-cut. He was, for me, dormitory master, scoutmaster, drama tutor, History teacher and English teacher. His teaching style was easy and effective. He would simply sit and talk to us, enthralling us in a conversation, about Bismarck and his policy of blood and iron, his eyes rolling with the pleasure of imparting while we sat and drank in every word. He never made us feel remote or incapable. If there was an anecdote which would brighten the history, he told it. I was, for that year, completely enthralled and focussed, ending the year at a dizzying third place in the form.
By the time Mr. Dawes came to Calabar, a number of the senior boarders had mastered the art of stealing Masters’ supper. Let me quickly establish that the quality of Masters’ supper was superior. Let me also state that supper was at six o’ clock and that the Masters were supposed to have supper with the boys. But, sometimes they were late and sometimes they did not come in at all. At 7:00 pm, the dining room doors were locked. The watchman kept the keys. By an unspoken code, we gave the Masters until 8:30 pm. After that, you might say, “dawg nyam yuh suppah.”
One night, one of our number, having wormed his way through the kitchen hatch and into the darkened, abandoned dining room--this was not breaking, only entering-- was alarmed by the sound of approaching footsteps. He quickly dived under the Masters’ table, which was covered by a cloth that hung low down on all sides, and almost collided with . . . the watchman who, having felt a little peckish himself, had gone to get some Masters’ supper, only to be frightened into hiding when the boy approached. We never heard what happened to the other set of approaching footsteps.
Most Masters blamed the boys when they found themselves supperless. Not so, Neville Dawes. Whenever his supper was missing, he could be seen walking all the way across the playing fields to the headmaster’s house. Next thing we knew, D-White was backing out his Vauxhall Velox and driving “Dawsie” off campus to Dairy Products or Rainbow restaurant in Half-Way-Tree, for supper. Mr. Dawes never said a word to us about this, but the dignity of his approach was not lost on us.
When he left Calabar, Mr. Dawes was succeeded by another Jamaican graduate from a major English university, in the person of John Hearne, MA. But, Mr. Hearne, who was then enjoying acclaim from the publication of his novels Voices Under the Window and Stranger at the Gates, did not take advantage of the fact that his celebrity status had given him willing hero worshippers among us. Unlike Mr. Dawes, however, Mr. Hearne was remote and employed the distant lecturing style common to some university lecturers.
Just before I entered Calabar, my voracious reading brought me to the story of Lord Baden-Powell’s book, Scouting For Boys. I was entranced. And when I got to Calabar and discovered there was a Scout troop, I joined at once. The time allotted for scouting coincided nicely with Friday-night prep, and so that was an additional incentive. Known as 44th St. Andrew, it was a Sea Scout troop and we were supposed to have a boat at Doncaster, which was also the home of the Scout Shop. But, although we kept the name and though we wore the blue uniform of the sea troops, and although I actually saw the boat and sat in it--on the beach--we never went to sea in that boat or in anything else. Official school caution it was. By the time the school moved to Red Hills Road, we had abandoned our Sea Scout past and began wearing the khaki uniform. I was a member of the Hound patrol and my first patrol leader was a man who later became Prime Minister of Jamaica—Percival (“P.J.”) Patterson. Later, when he left school, I was happy to become the patrol leader.
Scouting has a number of attributes that I believe go far beyond the scout craft of trying knots and reading compasses, and I believe that this was one very strong influence on my life. The Scout pledge is: “On my honour, I promise to do my duty to God and the Queen, to help other people at all times and to obey the Scout Law.” While I never quite got the hang of smiling and whistling under all difficulties, which is part of the Law, I can say that the part about helping other people at all times struck a chord, and so did that other one--“A Scout’s honour is to be trusted.” It also helped that I had as Scoutmaster, at different times, my Uncle Clement and Neville Dawes. Combined, Scouting, cricket and the Student Christian Movement (SCM)--which occupied Friday nights when I left the Scout troop—ended up having a very positive influence on me.
In many ways, this essay is also a lament for the demise of boarding school life. We had to line up on a Saturday morning for exeats, documents which constituted proof that we had permission to be off the premises. Who can forget the mighty purchasing power of two shillings and six pence--the average weekly pocket money of the early 1950s? Who can forget the evening when, having received permission to attend the Wolmer’s Girls School Fair, a group of boarders went there, and then on to indulge in the musical offerings of “Tom The Great Sebastian” at the Silver Slipper Club, only to be picked up later at the door by the headmaster--his unfiltered Royal Blend cigarette burning right down to his nicotine-stained fingernails--as each miserable wretch descended to the silent gloom of his waiting car? Who can forget the garage which served for many years as our Physics and Chemistry laboratory?
Then there was the night at the end of term, when the dozen of us remaining had to take swift refuge on the roof of the dormitory while an irate Red Hills Road father, mistakenly believing that one of our number had insulted his daughter, raked his drawn sword– yes, sword!– in uncontrolled fury across the mesh wire of “The Cage,” where we sometimes assembled.
Who can forget that we never won the Sunlight Cup in cricket, but that we played on, loving the game beyond the prize and exalting at all times the highest spirit of sportsmanship? These are the memories I treasure of Calabar. These are my memories of myself.