89 Calabar

Ewart “Fatz” Walters attended Calabar from 1952 to 1958. He currently resides in Ottawa Canada where he is a senior Federal public servant as well as the publisher of a monthly community newspaper, The Spectrum, which is available at blackottawa411.com .

Ewart can be reached at spectrum@storm.caThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . 

by Ewart Walters 

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 “Zunto”James, was entering Calabar in January 1952 – the same time as I was. I would have company.

If that was not enough, the St. Andrew Special, 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, Winston McCalla, Richard Henriquez, Gervais Clark and Norman Girvan. They were all day boys.

Except for “Grantus” the Latin master, “Bengeh” and Mr. Fong Kong, the Spanish masters, “Sleepy”, the History master, and “Congru” 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 bald, rotund, 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 smiled and taught English to the lower forms. Mr. Ogle, a gaunt, no-nonsense figure, 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. Mr. Drayton was a white Jamaican who taught science, 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. However, he disappeared by the time we arrived at the new school on Red Hills Road.

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 Gomez and Soler, two Cubans 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 and Grau, and somewhere else on the compound was the rest of the Spanish-speaking contingent, Stratman and Carlos Williams (from Panama), and McIntosh, a Jamaican who knew Spanish. Also boarding at the time were the sprinters, Burchell “Cobra” Russell (younger brother of the Rev. Horace Russell), Roy Greenland and Louis “Studebaker” Seaton, and the up and coming quarter-miler Lloyd Goodleigh. I should explain that the 1949-52 Studebaker sedan featured a styling in which the rear windshield was an exact replica of the front, and the trunk was elongated and designed 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 the tag “Studebaker”.

Jamaica owes a deep debt of gratitude to its teachers, and none more so than those men and women who climbed mountains and forded streams to bring the light of education to children in schools in the very remote parts of the island. It is rural Jamaica in which these teachers made their mark. It was a time when there was not very much choice for children leaving school; they could become postmistresses or policemen (no women police yet) or teachers. The teachers’ colleges were just about 60 years old; Bethlehem Training College for women was founded in 1861. The other teacher training institutions were the Mico College, Shortwood College and St. Joseph’s College, all but Mico training women.

In those days teachers had a remote existence. There was no rural electricity, no telephones. Post offices were the only transmitters of communication and while some of them could send and receive telegrams, many did not. Transportation was haphazard. While there was a train service to some parishes, there were very few cars and fewer buses, at least until after the Second World War. There were hospitals and doctors, but more often than not these were not within easy reach. There was no radio, no television. There was no access to secondary education except by four scholarships to the few schools that existed. It was indeed a different Jamaica, especially in the first half of the 20th Century.

Teachers played a central role in the community. Apart from being in charge of the school and the learning that that implied, the teacher, especially the head teacher, was actually the hub around which most of the community’s activities revolved. Teachers signed papers, arranged concerts, prepared children for exams, taught music mostly without a musical instrument, organised 4H Clubs, boy scout and girl guide troops, and organised games and excursions (outings) to places of interest in the island. They were also lay preachers, led choirs in the churches, gave advice to child and parent, and in some cases, helped bright students to be placed in institutions of learning abroad.

Most of the elementary schools were run by the churches; the Moravians and the Baptists were prominent in educating the slaves and ex-slaves after the Emancipation of slavery in 1838.

For a long time, teacher’s salaries remained in the hands of the managers, who were usually parsons. Head teachers of elementary schools, as primary schools were called then, would go to the bank in Kingston or rural towns like Montego Bay at the end of the month to change the one cheque on which teachers’ salaries were paid. He or she (and it was usually he) would bring their cash back to the assistant teachers, having had the various allotments made out right at the bank. Later, when assistant teachers got their own cheques the head teacher did not have to do this. But before that time, the teachers’ pay was given to the manager, and there were many young women in Jamaica in those days that worked as assistant teachers and never received their pay and couldn’t say anything about it. As indicated above, most of the schools then were church schools, and the yearning of many teachers was to work in a government school where the manager would have less direct control over their lives and their money.

When political parties developed around the beginning of the fourth decade, many teachers supported the Peoples National Party because they respected its leader Norman Washington Manley and his focus on education that produced the first big educational breakthrough in 1957 when his government established the Common Entrance examination. This increased the number of grant-aided secondary schools to 41 and thus provided thousands of free secondary school places for children of poor Jamaicans.

Although there was for many years a body called the Jamaica Union of Teachers that was able to assist teachers when the inevitable difficulties with a manager arose, there was no teachers’ union as such. This changed as late as April 1964 when the Jamaica Teachers Association came into being.

As head teacher of an elementary school as primary schools were called then, Papa would go to the bank in Kingston at the end of the month. Papa was going to the bank to change the one cheque on which teachers’ salaries were paid. He would bring their cash back to the assistant teachers, having had the various allotments made out right at the bank. Later, when assistants got their own cheques he did not have to do this. Before that, the teachers’ pay was given to the Manager, and there are many young women in Jamaica in those days who worked as assistant teachers who never received their pay and couldn’t say anything about it. Most of the schools in Jamaica then were church schools and the yearning of many teachers was to work in a government school where the Manager would have a little less direct control over their lives and their money. In government schools like Paisley (Border) and Morant Bay, individual cheques were made out to each teacher, and the Manager had nothing to do with the pay.

When former Mico men went to Kingston on a Saturday in the 1940’s and 1950’s to buy supplies or change cheques, they invariably clustered on King Street. The Western side of King Street between South Parade and Barry Street, just north of where Sasso’s store used to be, was a favourite place. There they would gather, in tropical suits and felt hats, and talk about their schools, their managers and so on. Eventually, one of them would notice me. Now this could be a good thing or a bad thing. The good thing was that some of them would give me a shilling. “Hold that,” they would say, place the coin in my grateful hands, and return to loftier matters. But then, there was the OTHER thing. There was, in those days, something known as mentals. These had nothing to do with escapees from the madhouse or lunatic asylum which later came to be called Bellevue. The reference was to mental arithmetic which bright students were expected to master. You were presented orally with a problem (example: if apples are 4 shillings and six pence per dozen what is the price of 17) which you were expected to work out in your head and give the answer. Needless to say, although I was frequently at the head of my class, I could not be considered bright since mathematics was the bane of my existence and, as for mentals, I suppose I just had a mental block! Worse was the effect this exercise had on my poor father whose incapacity for teaching had now been clearly demonstrated to his peers right there on King Street for all to see. After all, this was his SON who did not know how to do a simple mental. What about his other students! When his peers had left him alone with me again, he would quietly tell me what the answer was and explain how to work it out. It never stuck.

But back to the visit to the bank. The bank was the Bank of Nova Scotia on King Street by Tower Street. A fine structure with marble everywhere, it was established in Kingston in the 1880s, and – so important was Kingston in international commerce – before the Bank of Nova Scotia established a branch in Toronto! These visits were my first exposure to white people. All the tellers and managers were white. The only Jamaicans who worked there were the messengers who rode sturdy Phillips bicycles and wore a brown khaki uniform. Among these was a man who Papa knew by the name of Milton.

To get to the bank, we had to take the train. These trains were not your diesel-electric locomotives. These were the real thing, steam trains that burnt coal and had a man with a shovel whose job it was to make sure there was enough fire under the boiler to keep the water boiling and the train running. And they ran on time. Indeed, all the stations kept the same time and until the advent of the radio stations, with the BBC News, Jamaica was run on Railway Time. On these trains there was an additional reason for you to keep your head inside, because there was always some coal dust or something flying from the engine to lodge in your eye. Since the Jamaica Government Railway did not have a line through Brixton Hill, and this was before buses started running, we had to make the trip to the train station at Four Paths in the taxi which was owned and operated by Mr. Saxa Dyer. Many was the night, coming home from Four Paths in the taxi, that I spent looking up at the stars through the windshield from my cramped position beside the floor-mounted gear lever, since I was too small to see the road and fields.

I don’t remember what year it was that I first saw the bus but I clearly remember seeing it, all red and green and marvellous as it made its first journey past the house at Brixton Hill, Clarendon, one evening, a cloud of dust from the gravel road trailing lazily after it. The next day it came again, and the next. Eventually, I came to know it as The Magnet bus, Magnet No. 3, I think it was, and it bore the legend “Kingston to Thompson Town”. It was one of the earliest in what was to become perhaps Jamaica’s largest fleet of country buses and the proprietor was Bromley Johnson, a neat little man in a felt hat. We eventually began taking the bus rather than the train as this way we did not have to change from train to taxi. The bus parked at the Coronation Market after circling Parade and on its outward journey in the afternoons, it began from Coronation Market and drove east to circle Parade before heading out on its westward journey. Bromley Johnson’s efforts in rural transportation were complimented by those of Mr. Lindsay (Tiger Transport), Mr. Panton (Mayflower and Enterprise), a Mr. Martin, and smaller operators like Mr. Love whose bus was appropriately called “Romance” and Mr. Eccles whose bus was “The Grey Panther”. Bus services sprang up all over the island in the forties and fifties, with names such as “War Time”, “Clarendon Comet”, “St. Andrew Special”, “Port Maria Special”, “Spotlight,” “Herolin” and “Blue Danube”. All these buses had wooden bodies and most were built locally and lovingly by one Mr. Kenneth Soares at a site on Victoria Avenue, across from the Palace cinema and not far from Lindsay’s Rose Garden headquarters on East Queen Street. There was also another builder of bus bodies on Cargill Avenue, just off Half-Way-Tree Road. Between them, and until the coming of the US built White “Chi-Chi” buses, so called because of the distinctive sneezing noise of their air brakes, they built the majority of bus bodies in Jamaica in those days. The main need for the rural bus service was to carry farm wives and farm produce to the markets at Redemption Ground, Chigafoot, Solas and the already mentioned Coronation.

I have mentioned “country buses.” There were also “town buses”. In Kingston, there were “Pam” and “Bronx” and a series of ancient Diamond T buses which I believe were owned by Lindsay and which were forerunners to the US-made White buses of Jamaica Utilities Ltd. The Diamond T’s were the stuff of legend and romance. The driver was right up front but the gearbox was way behind him and so they had to create an “L” shaped gear lever so that he could change the gears without leaving his seat each time. Those drivers became very pretty at changing those gears with flourish, accompanied by much double-clutching and you would see small boys walking around trying to replicate their actions as they reached a little behind them to change into third gear. These were replaced by Jamaica Omnibus Services and their Leyland Olympic, Leyland Royal Tiger and later, Leyland National units from England (the Jolly series), before chaos returned to urban transportation in Kingston in the 1980s, and it was dawg nyam dawg and every man for himself. Of course, along with the buses in the forties and fifties, there were the tramcars of the Jamaica Public Service Company, with their headquarters on Orange Street, a little above North Street. Although I remember riding on the trams, they were gone by the time I began transporting myself around Kingston.