Kampung Kirkby First To Hear Of Merdeka Date

By Julian Matthews
Published in The Star Merdeka Supplement, August 31, 2005

On a chilly winter’s day on February 7, 1956, about 300 students of Malayan Teachers’ Training College in Kirkby, Liverpool were told to assemble in the hall to receive a Malayan delegation from London.

The students, aged between 17 and 21, had no inkling at that time they were about to become a part of history.

“Every time a dignitary came, it was customary for us to dress up in our traditional finest,” recalls Chiam Tah Wen, a Kirkby student then.

“That day the ladies were in their sarong kebayas, cheongsams, sarees and Punjabi costumes and we were smartly dressed in our college blazers or baju melayu and songkok. The hall was decorated with various state and Federation of Malaya flags,” said Chiam.

Kirkby
PRECIOUS MEMORIES: The significance of the Kirkby announcement in February 1956 only struck Chiam much later at a rally on Aug 31, 1957 in Kuala Lumpur.

According to The Panduan, the college magazine at the time, the students and staff had “taken great pains” to decorate the compound. “Palm trees and potted flower plants lined the entrance. Flags and buntings adorned the hall. And all the students had put on their best multi-coloured national dresses…”

Moments later, beflagged black Humber Super Snipe limousines drew up at the hall. Alighting from them were the then Chief Minister of Malaya Tunku Abdul Rahman and the then Education Minister Dato’ Abdul Razak.

Tunku had taken the 340-km journey up from London fresh from meetings with the British government.

“When Tunku’s turn came on stage, he said the talks had went well,” said Chiam. “He then made the announcement that we would be getting our independence and the date was August 31st, 1957.

“There was a roar in the hall and we all clapped and cheered. Tunku then cried ‘Merdeka!’ and we all stood up and shouted very loudly in return ‘Merdeka!’ at least three times. Even the ‘orang puteh‘ lecturers stood up and cheered along. It was a very exciting moment,” he said.

It was perhaps the first time the cries of Merdeka! had ever been heard on British soil.

Kirkby
Zainal: ‘I think we were too young to know the implications of that day’

“I think we were too young to know the implications of that day,” said Zainal Arshad, 70, who was in Kirkby from 1954-56 and remembers the hall erupting and the euphoria of the moment when the announcement was made.

“We didn’t understand what independence meant. I was only 20-years-old back then. We only knew it was a happy occasion and we had reason to be proud,” said Zainal.

Chiam said it was only after he graduated, returned to Malaya, and later took part in the rally on Aug 31st, 1957 in Kuala Lumpur, that the significance of the event dawned on him.

“When I heard Tunku repeat the Merdeka cry in front of thousands in Kuala Lumpur, then it struck me emotionally. Especially recalling the incident in Kirkby, over a year and a half earlier. Then I knew what independence meant,” he said.

Read more

Yes, sir, I’m from Kirkby

Published in Star Education, The Star, August 28, 2005

The Malayan Teachers’ Training College in Kirkby, Liverpool, existed for a short 11 years, between 1951-62, but changed the lives of its trainees and the nation forever, reports JULIAN MATTHEWS.

RETIRED headmaster Zainal Abidin Abdul Manaf, 72, leafs through a photograph album. In it are faded black and white photographs, some over 50 years old and no bigger than a matchbook, but neatly captioned by the fastidious Zainal. “That’s my mother and I on the train to KL before I boarded the plane,” said Zainal who, in his neat white shirt, had the brash look of a college freshman.

Andersonians At Kirkby
Kirkbyites from Anderson School, Ipoh at Kirkby. Note the huge, black heating pipes snaking their way through college. –-Photos courtesy of Zainal Abidin Manaf

Zainal was only 20 years old in 1953 when he was selected with five others from Anderson School in Ipoh, to attend a two-year course at the Malayan Teachers’ Training College in Kirkby, Liverpool.Between 1951 and 1962, 150 trainees from thousands of applicants were selected annually to attend Kirkby, a college set up specifically to meet the demand for trained teachers in Malaya back then (see sidebar Close to their hearts).

“At the time, going to Britain was something great,” said Zainal. “My parents were very proud and excited. We were given a RM500 allowance for clothing and we went to Whiteways (the only ready-made winter clothes store in Ipoh back then) and bought enough thick clothes for the two-year stay there,” he said.

Another Kirkbyite Tan Sri G. Vadiveloo said being selected was like “a dream come true.”

“I was elated. It was something special. My thinking then was that only the affluent went to London. How could an ordinary person like me go?”

The former president of the Malaysian Senate and one-time MIC secretary-general is the son of a Malayan Railways chargeman in Sentul.

”My brother and I were breadwinners for the family when the call to Kirkby came. Despite this, they gave me all the encouragement. The prestige of being ‘London-trained’ was there,” he said.

Plane jitters
The teacher trainees came from diverse backgrounds, from across Malaya. For the majority, it was their first time on a plane. “I was only 17 years old,” said Moira Hew, 68, who remembered they took off on a four-propeller British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) plane from Sungei Besi airport.

“It was the first time I’d seen an aeroplane, let alone been in one!” Hew confessed she fainted when she got on board and had to be revived.

“All of us were excited and laughing but on take-off everyone was quiet; some were even praying,” recalled Zainal. The plane to London stopped at “exotic” cities for the occupants like Rangoon, Calcutta, Karachi, Nicosia (Cyprus) and Rome.

“I remember seeing grapes for the first time at a restaurant during a stopover in Rome,” said Datin Ramlah Ahmad. “I also insisted on having Turkish coffee there; I remember how bitter it was,” she laughed. After the four- or five-day journey, the trainees made their way to Kirkby, 340km from London.

Zainal at Kirkby
Everyone celebrated each other’s festivals and there was no racial divide.

Read more

Kirkby: Close to their hearts

By Julian Matthews
Published in Star Education, The Star, Sunday August 28, 2005
(Sidebar to “Yes, sir, I’m from Kirkby”)

Originally called the Kirkby Fields Hostel, the buildings at Kirkby were first established as housing for munitions factory workers during World War 2.

Kirkby
VADIVELOO: We were a close-knit group. There were no racial remarks, cliques, or the polarisation we sometimes see today.

It was set up far enough from the Mersey River to escape the intense bombing suffered by Liverpool and other Merseyside cities.After the war, Britain needed to alleviate a severe shortage of teachers in the country and Kirkby was converted to become one of 55 temporary emergency colleges for that purpose.

In 1951, the last of the courses for British teachers was completed at Kirkby.

Meanwhile, in Malaya, the school population was expanding rapidly and there was also an urgent need for trained teachers, especially in rural schools. When the offer for Kirkby came up, the government of the day grabbed it.

Negotiations were made by the Federation of Malaya and the British Colonial Office to set up a college to train future teachers from Malaya there.

Kirkby
HEW: I am quite proud to say that I am the fierce, horn-rimmed bespectacled teacher Lat often draws.

The rationale back then was that it was better to have a whole college rather than distribute students across many colleges in Britain. Despite some protest on the expense, the plans went ahead.

Unique experiment
The pioneer principal of the college Robert Williams had noted: “By any standard, it was a unique move in the history of education. Never before had any government in the world set up its own college in Britain.”

The Malayan Teachers Training College in Kirkby accepted its first batch of 150 students on January 2, 1952.

They arrived on a cold wintry day after a three-week journey on the steamship SS Chusan.

After that, 150 trainees arrived every September in four-propeller planes. About 1,500 teachers and over 300 teacher-trainers were trained in Kirkby before the college was shut down in 1962.

Sadly, the Kirkby College that became so dear to the teachers who trained there is no more.

Read more

Tags