THE event around the quiet residential area of Granborne Chase in Kirkby, Liverpool, was fast turning into a carnival. It wasn’t every day the residents saw a group of excited flag-waving senior citizens in colourful costumes invading their neighbourhood.
These were former students of the Malayan Teachers Training College (MTTC) Kirkby, who had embarked on a long trip down memory lane to see the site of their alma mater; the place that had done much to make a monumental difference in their lives and that of those they touched.
More than sixty years ago, that was the former World War II munition barracks that became home to nearly 2,000 young, impressionable Malayan teenagers. Many a memory was relived about their sojourn to the local groceries, their visits to foster parents and secret rendezvous in Kirkby Woods, which was nowhere to be found.
“Kampung Kirkby” was no more, but memories were aplenty and still fresh. A plaque draped in a Malaysian flag stood on the edge of the green facing the junction.
This was where the main hall was situated. On Feb 7, 1956, the young students received a group of very important people there; Malaya’s Merdeka Mission headed by the then-chief minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman, who surprised them with an announcement about the impending independence of Malaya.
As befitting a sharing of experience between Malaysia and Kirkby, the plaque was unveiled by the President of the Kirkby Alumni Association, Datuk VL Kandan and the Mayor of Knowsley, Councillor Frank Walsh, followed by the national anthem and the college song, leaving not a dry eye in the crowd.
The residents joined in the celebration, some bringing out drinks, many curious to know about the event.
Earlier, the group was taken to the Kirkby Centre, where they walked up the stairs lined with Malaysian flags, leading to a hall celebrating Kirkby’s Malayan Connection.
Black and white pictures of students in their college blazers, some sitting smartly with their teachers posing for their albums while others showed them in their classrooms.
There were yelps of laughter and excitement whenever someone recognised their young selves in the pictures.
There were much walking down memory lanes as off springs of lecturers and staff brought out more black and white photographs.
Mary Boyle, 76, brought with her a few precious black and white photographs of a young man, Yusuf Idris, then 21, who became part of her family.
“My father, James Joseph Blake, was a soldier in Malaya and he said the Malayans were very kind to him.
“He was captured and made prisoner-of-war by the Japanese. When he knew the college was set up for Malayan teachers, he went and told them that he wanted to repay their kindness,” said Mary, who was then 12 when the college was established.
She added: “My father said they were welcome to stay with us during their breaks or weekends.
Three of them regularly stayed with us and we visited them.
Sadly, now we have lost touch,” she added.
Carol Whittaker, daughter of art teacher Margaret Hodge, was visibly moved to meet so many of her mother’s students.
She had handed over boxes of her mother’s paintings and drawings, depicting Malayan children in their villages, to the Archive Resource Knowsley (ARK). These were used as reading resources, published by MacMillans in the fifties.
“My mother really enjoyed her time with them, whenever she talked about her time with Malayan students, it was always with great joy, great joy,” said Carol of her mother, who died four years ago on the day of her former students’ visit.
Lin Rice from the ARK, who is instrumental to the success of the project, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, said it took 12 years for the project to come to fruition.
“What happened today is beyond our wildest dreams. So, today is really a wonderful occasion that marks the beginning of the history of this site, the people who attended the college, being shared with the people of Kirkby,” said Rice.
No one could be happier than Datuk VL Kandan, who said, monumental changes had taken place since the arrival of 149 students on New Year’s Day in 1952.
“What has not changed, in spite of all these years , is the extraordinary Kirkby spirit, moulded by the thrill and charm of being welcomed in a foreign land with a very different culture. Kirkby College remains the same in our hearts, deeply etched in our memory.
It is an emotional landmark that will not fade away,” he said, echoing the sentiments of the 25 Kirkbyites there.
The event on Aug 31, 2017, at the historic site is the result of a shared experience that will see the young generations learning more about the history of their forefathers.
Kampung Kirkby will forever hold the memories.