Tuesday, January 27, 2009

This photo taken more than 50 years ago, is produced to rekindle the nostalgia of cold morning of 25th January 1955, i.e Chinese New Year Day at Kirkby College. That memorable Year of the Goat and eventful Dragon Dance procession was a thing of the past but can still be remembered by most of us, the septuagenarian Kirkbyites.

In heralding simultaneously the traditional Festive Celebration in Malaya, the Kirkby Dragon Dance Troupe comprising of Chinese students of classes 1953 – 54, clad smartly in Mr Wooley’s black, woollen, track tops and white pants, went around the college premises with great excitement and enthusiasm. The beating of the small drum, handed down by our seniors, had awakened the residents. They peeked curiously out of their windows at the Dragon Troupe, cheering and shouting “Happy New Year”.

Every member had once in their life time opportunity to outshine their skills in beating to near perfection the correct rhythm of the typical tune and manoeuvring dexterously the tiny dragon head along the cemented paths between the black gloomy blocks of Kirkby campus buildings.


The Tunku at Kirkby. Behind him is Tunku Yusof Jewa (with songkok),
his nephew, a student at Kirkby (1956 - 58).


Kirkby, February 7, 1956 –

The Chief Minister of the Federation of Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman Putra today made the historic announcement that his country would be fully independent on 31st August 1957.

Addressing about 300 Malayan students, lecturers and certain high ranking officials at the Malayan Teachers’ Training College in Kirkby near Liverpool, the Tunku said, “For the next few months, the new greeting at meetings in our country will be ‘Merdeka!’. ”

“I can now make the disclosure that I have just returned form the Constitutional Talks with the Government of Her Majesty. The talks went off very well indeed – so well, in fact, what we had set our minds to get, we got. Other matters which we discussed have been settled amicably. The talks began in an atmosphere of friendliness and cordiality and ended on that very happy note yesterday afternoon.”

A beaming Tunku then announced, for the first time to the world, that the country’s independence or Merdeka would be on 31st August 1957. The jubilant students, standing up immediately, began clapping and enthusiastically shouting, “Merdeka! Merdeka! Merdeka!” amidst a battery of flashing cameras and whirring cine film gadgets of all sizes.

When the clapping and shouts of joy had somewhat subsided, the Tunku, smiling broadly, told the students, “I knew you would be happy to hear it.”

Speaking without notes, the charismatic Prince told the audience that when he and his team had first set out from Malaya, there had been two parties – those representing the Alliance, and those representing the Rulers. But, by the time they had arrived in England, there were not two parties but one.

“We had reached London determined to obtain self-government and independence, and had been prepared to quarrel about it. But, after the talks had gone on for no more than a day, we found that we had won over Her Majesty’s Government to our side,” added the Tunku.

When the intermittent clapping and cries of jubilance had stopped, the Tunku continued, “Important tasks still lie ahead. Our independence is won. We must retain it all costs. We had worked hard to get it. We must work very much harder to retain it. We have enemies all around us. There are also enemies within.”

On a historic note, the Tunku told the audience that a remarkable coincidence had recently been brought to his attention by an article in a Malayan Magazine. He said, “It was one hundred and seventy years ago that the first Treaty had been signed between Malaya and England, between one of my own ancestors, the King or Sultan of Kedah, and Captain Francis Light, to cede off Penang Island. That was in 1786. It is now 1956. I have just concluded negotiations that would result in the return not only of Penang but of the whole country.” This resulted in another salvo of clapping and shouts of “Merdeka!”

The students and staff had been told on advance of the impending visit of the Tunku and his party which included Education Minister Dato’ Abdul Razak, but one had the slightest inclination that the Tunku would make such a historic announcement at the Kirkby College, even before leaving for Malaya which was waiting eagerly for his return.

As part of the preparation to welcome the high ranking visitors, the Kirkbyites (as the students call themselves) and the staff of the College had taken great pains to decorate the compound and the Main Assembly Hall. 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 – sarong, kebayas, saris, Punjabi costumes and cheongsams. Many were in their freshly ironed three piece lounge suits and smart College blazers, with the colourful crest sewn on it.

Waiting to welcome the visitors were Sir Dr. James Mountford, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Liverpool, who was the Chairman of the Board of Governors of the College and other members of the Board, the Principal Mr. G.J Gurney and his staff and members of the Students Council.

As soon as the visitors and everyone had taken their seats in the Hall, the students with a thunderous united voice sang the College song, “The Golden Chersonese.”

One of the highlights of the historic occasion was a special speech by Dato’ Abdul Razak, who outlined the history of the development of education in Malaya and how it had progressed over the years. The setting up of the Kirkby College itself was part and parcel of the rapid progress of education in the country, he explained.

The students and other guests were then shown a film of the historic meeting of the Tunku with Chin Peng, the general-secretary of the Communist Party of Malaya, a clandestine terrorist organization.

By a sheer coincidence, among the audience during Tunku’s visit was a student, Tunku Abdul Aziz bin Tunku Ibrahim (1954 – 56), a Student Councilor and the Editor of the College Magazine, The Panduan. His father, Tunku Ibrahim was the OCPD of Police Headquarters in Jitra, North Kedah, who had accompanied the Tunku to the Baling Talks with Communist Party of Malaya headed by Chin Peng. Tunku Abdul Aziz was the founder of Transparency International and now one of the Vice President of DAP.

BY: GERARD TAN (Son of Amy Lai, Kirkby 1952-54)

Kirkby is located located 10 miles north-east of Liverpool, in the metropolitan Borough of Knowsley and Merseyside County.
It was founded in circa 870 AD, settled from 1086 AD with a early population of 70 people, headed by Molyneux family. From the 16th century, the land where the college stood was fields which formed part of the lands of the Molyneux family (subsequently created the Earl of Sefton in 1771).

First railway line 1848, was built from Liverpool to Bury, passing Kirkby. East Lancashire road was built in 1935.

The college site (56 acres) was sold by the 7TH Earl of Sefton (together with other land to the north east and south west of Kirkby) to The Minister of Supply. The Minister of Supply was the minister in the British Government responsible for the Ministry of Supply, which existed to co-ordinate the supply of equipment to the British National Armed Forces during World War Two.

Royal Ordinance Factory (ROF Kirkby), a Ministry of Supply’s ammunitions factory, was built before the war in 1939 and completed in 1941. At its peak the factory employed 20,000 workers.

Kirkby Fields Hostel was built nearby to accommodate around 1,000 workers from the factory. The hostel also opened its doors to all to help alleviate the housing shortage during the war. The workers hostel occupied the same grounds of the Kirkby College.

At the end of WWII, the Board of Education established an Emergency College at Kirkby Fields Hostel, to address the shortage of teachers in the country. In 1947 the 52nd Emergency College (out of 55) opened in Kirkby. The last Emergency College course was completed in 1951.

In 2nd January 1952, the first batch of Malayan students arrived at Kirkby College. The college trained about 1500 teachers and 405 teacher trainers. In December 1962 saw the last of the Malayan students and closing of MTTC Kirkby or Kirkby College.

Kirkby Urban District was gazetted in 1949 as a new town and a Kirkby District Council created in 1957. Kirkby’s neighbouring towns: Bebington, Birkenhead, Bootle, Crosby, Fazakerly, Formby, Halewood, Heswall, Hoylake, Huyton, Maghull, rescott, Rainhill, Southport, St Helens, Wallasay, Whiston.

In 1963 the easternmost part of the site was conveyed by the Minister of Aviation to the Urban District Council of Kirkby. In 1979, the remainder of the site (approx 25 acres) was then sold by The Secretary of State for Defence to Knowsley Borough Council for £15,000.

In the mid 1990’s, the land holdings were split across three new titles, presumably to accord with the different housing developers. The south western part of the land was developed by Redrow Homes (Lancashire) Limited, the eastern part by McLean Homes North West & Cheshire Limited and the northern part by Rivermead Homes Limited

The ground where the MTTC once stood is now a residential area and populated by houses.

Kirkby’s current population is about 41,000, with peak about 52,00 in 1961.

Monday, January 26, 2009


When told by the English “escort” who had been accompanying us from Tilbury Port, London, (they turned out to be our future lecturers) that our final destination was just a few minutes away from the Kirkby Railway Station, we suddenly found new vigour to put extra “oomph” in our strides and couldn’t wait to see what our home for almost two years would be like. We had great and high expectations. After all, this was England, the nation that had once ruled vast portions of the Earth. It was Great Britain, architect of magnificent buildings and planners of mighty cities.

A brisk walk took us to the college campus. What confronted us was a cluster of dismal-looking black, longish single-storied blocks. Was this our campus? Shock and horror! And as though that was not depressing enough, long, zigzagging, fat, black pipes threateningly loomed high above our heads, as we trod and slipped and slipped and trod and made our way in the college “campus”, our home-to-be. Neither gardens nor greenery did we see anywhere. Compounded by the biting and howling wintry wind and the dark and damp evening sky, the scenery that frowned upon us completely shattered our dream.

Contrary to the mirth and laughter on board the ship and elsewhere, surprisingly, almost every one of us was silent, absorbed in his or her own thought. But, later during dinner we somewhat regained our traditional Malayan spirit and composure when we were served hot rice and crab curry. Yes! Hot crab curry similar to that back home! We learnt later that a local major shipping company, the Blue Funnel Shipping Line, which had close-connections with Malaya, had seconded five of their cooks who knew a thing or two about Asian cooking.

I was not sure whether it was the depressing cold, the sudden home-sickness, the tiredness, the first-day blues or the crab curry, which made me sleepy. But no sooner had I slipped into my comfortable single bed (which was made up like a sleeping bag) in my very own heated room (thanks, as we learnt later, due to the fat, ugly overhead pipes), when I fell asleep, “sleep, beloved from pole to pole, slip into my soul!”

The next few days were Majlis Suai Kenal (Orientation Week), so to speak. Upon entering the Hall, we were surprised to read “Selamat Datang Ke Kampong Kirkby” pasted on the backdrop of the stage. We were officially introduced to all lecturers, getting to know the lecturers personally, getting to know the various locations of the lecture rooms, the Library, the “Quiet Room”, the Assembly Hall, the Sick Bay, the Recreation Hall, the Dining Hall, and the Principal’s Office and the administration staff. We also familiarised ourselves with sporting facilities such as the indoor and outdoor courts and the “Padang” (playing field) below which a thousand rabbits had burrowed their homes.

Despite our earlier shock at the sight of the College, after a while we became very fond of the campus and equally fond of all the people helping to run the college. The cleaning maids, the kitchen helpers, the gardeners, the bus drivers, the office staff, all became part of our family. Kirkby was our home away from home. All the students were Malayan and we became a united community and turned our college into a little Malaya. It became our beloved “Kampong Kirkby” (Kirkby Village).

And on the 7th January 1952, the pioneer students of the Malayan Teachers’ Training College, Kirkby, assembled in the Assembly Hall and were formally welcomed by the Board of Governors of the College, headed by Sir J.F Mountford, Vice-Chancellor of the University or Liverpool. Nine months later, the second groups of students arrived, making the total enrolment of 300 teacher trainees. Ten months later, on 17th November, 1952, the Malayan Teachers Training College, Kirkby, fondly referred to as The Kirkby College, was officially opened by the Right Honourable Mr. Oliver Lyttelton, Secretary of State for the British Colonies.

The subjects we had to learn were rather exacting and varied. Principles of Education, Child Psychology, Health Education, English, Malay Language and so on. And we could choose an optional subject too such as maths, science, music, woodwork, physical education or art and craft.

A much-talked about activity was a project undertaken by the students from the Woodwork Department. With advice from some staff and one or two dockyard workers, the students showed their skill by building a boat or sampan. They named it ‘The Harimau’ (Malayan Tiger). The whole college was excited when the Principal, Mr. Robert Williams and his wife were invited to launch it and row it along the Liverpool Canal. We watched breathlessly, it didn’t sink! We gave a thunderous applause. For the first time, we saw our strict Vice-Principal, Mr. G.J Gurney actually laughing loudly and clapping. It was a great day.

In Kampong Kirkby, we students organized many interesting social activities, including folk and social dances. We presented stage performance called Malayan Medley to display our multi-cultural talents by performing Malay, Chinese, Indian and Portuguese dances and wide variety of songs in several languages. Every year the College staged several successful Malayan Plays and the locals were invited to see the play performed in the Hall. Through these cultural performances the name “Kampong Kirkby” spread throughout Merseyside and we received invitation from various organizations in Liverpool to perform cultural dances.

We organized special celebrations during Hari Raya, Chinese New Year, Deepavali and Christmas. In order to share the festival and joy, we invited not only our lecturers but also many friends around Kirkby and Liverpool.

Although we were in Kirkby for just about two years, we were exposed to an all-round life-long educational experience. It was an exciting and practical down-to-earth exposure. Beside academic subjects and intensive professional training to become teachers, we also learnt the importance of cultivating a humanistic and caring society, and the importance of living together in a tolerant and united close-knit community. One had to experience it to really know what it meant for a group of young Malayans to be housed in one campus for two years to be trained as teachers in the foreign land almost 8,000 miles from Malaya.