Alan Smith's essay - "Princo"
"Princo" by D. Alan Smith
The Prince of Wales School, Kenya Colony (1958-1961)
To properly describe the "Princo" I turned to the school prospectus for the Prince of Wales School, Nairobi, dated May 1955, which describes the school in the following glowing terms.
"The school is five miles from Nairobi and stands in its own grounds of about 150 acres at a height of 5,900 feet. The main buildings, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, were completed in 1931. Four of the six senior houses of 50-60 boys each are accommodated in new and well-planned boarding blocks built since 1943. A sanatorium containing 25 beds was added in 1945. For younger boarders there is a junior and an intermediate house in temporary buildings that are due to be replaced by further new boarding blocks in 1956 or 1957. There are in all about 460 boarders and in addition 100 dayboys are divided among the boarding houses. The main school is equipped with classrooms, library, lecture theatre, art room, music room and gymnasium. There are additional temporary classrooms and a temporary school hall. A new science block and woodworking and metalworking shops were opened in 1955. A proper school chapel has been planned and will be built soon."
By the time I entered Princo in 1958, the Junior and Intermediate houses were still temporary, as also were many of the classrooms and the school hall. The school chapel was eventually built in 1958, and the old school hall was replaced with a new modern one in 1963. The school was built in extensive attractive grounds, with a main drive through an avenue of jacaranda trees leading to the fine, whitewashed main buildings with their clock tower and quadrangle. The six school boarding houses comprising dormitories, prep and recreation rooms and adjoining dining rooms were named after various famous explorers or builders of the British Empire, Scott, Clive, Rhodes, Nicholson, Hawke and Grigg. In the mid 1960's Intermediate house was renamed Fletcher House, in honour of one of the schools longest serving and hardworking head masters, Mr. P. Fletcher (1945-1959) who among the boys of that time was affectionately remembered as Flakey.
The subsidised fees were forty-one pounds per term for boarding and tuition. Boys whose parents lived in Uganda were given free rail travel warrants for travel to and from school via E.A.R. & H. and boys who lived within Kenya were granted one quarter single rail fares. Parents were required to provide pocket money to enable each boy to contribute twenty shillings to the school fund every term. The prospectus advised that if strict economy were exercised, fifty-five shillings per term would be sufficient to cover essential subscriptions, expenses and pocket money. There was a tuck shop in the school grounds and most boys spent the majority of their pocket money on soft drinks, toffee bars and potato chips. There were occasions to spend pocket money outside the school with rare visits to the movies although the opportunities to do so were few. Leave out for boarders was usually limited to Sundays and half term break, when a boy was given leave to go out with his parents or authorised friends from 10.15am after Sunday morning service until 6.30pm. Occasionally full leave Sundays allowed boys to leave directly after breakfast at about 8.00am.
My parents lived in distant Uganda in my early days at Princo, consequently during my first year (1958) I had few opportunities to leave school during each term. A few of my friends at Junior House found that for those boys interested, an opportunity to have a trip out of school every weekend was available to a Sunday School group called the Crusaders, which was held at a hall outside the school every Sunday afternoon, and we were allowed to attend. The attraction was not preferentially the hour of bible readings and the hymn singing, but the great spread of cakes and deserts for afternoon tea the church ladies laid out on various tables, which we ravenous boys dived upon afterwards.
I was a sometimes rather obnoxious 13-year-old, a typical early teenage state that fortunately I grew out of as I advanced to my senior house. Our academic efforts were controlled by satis reports issued constantly by each teacher. It was a fiendish device to ensure we improved on the previous term's studies or to prevent "slacking". A few non-satis reports could result in summary corporal punishment at the order of the housemaster. I enjoyed most sports and had a fair degree of success in athletics, hockey, soccer and rugby. Rugby was a new sport to me, since it was not included nor permitted at our primary school.
I had many friends, most of them being in the same dormitory as me in Junior House then later at Rhodes House. In Junior, some old friends from primary school (Nakuru Primary School) were in my dorm, John (Noj) Sparkes (Scott), Chris Farey (Hawke), Andy MacIntyre (Rhodes), David Humphreys (Clive), Peter Jenner (Grigg), Tony Dingwall (Hawke) and Mike Somerford (Clive). From my start at Rhodes House in 1959, I became great friends also with Geoff Lovell, Lex Mantheakis, Steve Jenkins, and Lionel (Rhino) Hartley, as we were all in the same dorm, and invariably in the same sports teams.
My second year at Princo was 1959 and I moved up to Rhodes House.
Rhodes House had a reputation for its boxing prowess, encouraged much to my dismay, by the Rhodes assistant housemaster, Mr Hogg and the PT master, Jonnie Riddell. Compared to nowadays, there was scant regard for safety and head protection. I gained some interest and bravado in boxing, but I was the same weight and height as two top class boxers, Sean King (Rhodes) who broke my nose during a practise session at Rhodes House, and in PT class Jonnie Riddell pitted me relentlessly against the Kenya Junior champion, Frank Perry. I made a deal with Frank that we should spar box only through the three compulsory rounds of boxing. That didn't please Jonnie Riddell and he insisted we box in earnest. For the remaining two rounds I tried unsuccessfully to dodge Frank's rapid gloves. I was also pitted against my friend Geoff Lovell, whose boxing technique could best be described as haymaking. I invariably ended up on the floor, and I might add to this day I hate boxing.
In sports at Rhodes, Andy MacIntyre was an excellent cricketer and a good spin bowler. He was similarly an ace three-quarter back in rugby, and one of the few players I have ever known who could torpedo-kick the ball to touch with great accuracy. I enjoyed rugby and played as a wing in the Rhodes 1st XV team (a position I played at Londiani RF club with John Ballantyne of Rhodes House, and subsequently with various teams in England and New Zealand in later years). I was ankle tapped during a late season rugby game and I was sidelined for most of the remainder of my final year at Princo with a knee ligament injury. Nevertheless I can attribute the team building spirit of various sports instilled in us at Princo has been very helpful for me in later years.
Rhodes House had its own internal sports event. Each year we had a cycle (pushy) rally around the school grounds. It was really a time trial, eg: the boy with the fastest time around the whole course was the winner. During practise, I fell off my bike as I tried to go too fast over a dip and on the loose gravel by the school hall, badly grazing my back as I skidded along the ground. I think one of the Fenwick boys was the winner in my last year. In my last year at Princo, Steve Jenkins and I had a weekend pass to cycle into Nairobi to see a movie. I was trying hard to catch up with Steve as we cycled along Princess Elizabeth Highway. The axel on my bike suddenly seized up and I flew up over the kerb and crashed heavily into a power pole. I was okay but the pushy was a total write off.
I seem to recollect that it was compulsory to do a minimum 2 years training one or two evenings per week in either the CCF or the School Band. My friend Lex Mantheakis opted for playing the tenor drum and subsequently the bass drum in the bugle band, whereas I joined the CCF. My final exam in CCF was not the most successful. Most of the boys in the squad conspired to avoid yet another year of CCF by deliberately failing the square bashing "exam". The Kenya Regiment sergeant who was supervising declared my (failed) effort at parade ground control of the squad was the worst he had seen in years. I had the squad of cadets in a state of total confusion.
No doubt we all had our favourites of various teachers and housemasters. Our history teacher was Mr Reid who instilled in me a keen interest in things historical. The walls of his classroom were covered in magazine photos of historical events particularly of the Russian Revolution. Agatha Ridley and alternately Mr Horley were my English teachers. Mr. R.S. Earl was our geography teacher with a dry sense of humour. I look at the water as it spirals out through the plughole in a washstand, and recollect his comment in geography class - "When you boys are having your annual bath, if you are in the Northern Hemisphere you will note the water rotates anti-clockwise as it drains out of the bath". One of our maths teachers was Mr Hurst whose sight was not the best. He wore thick lens spectacles, one pair for outdoor use and another for use in the classroom. On one occasion the whole class played a practical joke on him, knowing very well his eyesight was not good. As he entered the class we all pretended we were staring at something fascinating on the ceiling. Mr Hurst was wearing his long distance glasses and gazed at the ceiling with us, but could see nothing. Meanwhile he searched for his short- range lenses and then continued to search the ceiling while asking what we were looking at. Upon looking back at us he found to his surprise we all diligently had our eyes down and fixed on our maths books, among suppressed hoots of laughter. I regret that was not the only prank played on poor old Mr Hurst. Some bright joker who obviously found maths not his best subject burnt a leather shoelace and left it smouldering and attached to one of the unused desks at the back of the class. Mr Hurst eventually noticed the foul smell that eventually crept through the class during the maths lesson. He strode up each desk aisle asking what was that strange smell and consequently someone was sent to the Headmaster office for perpetrating the amusing little prank. In the music department, in our first year Bertie Lockhart sought a dozen or more of the juniors to sing as trebles in the school choir. We deliberately made our voices sound broken during the choir-singing test while he walked up and down in front of a line of us as we sang, and in disappointment he eliminated us if our voices were unsuitably uneven, croaky or cracked. While visiting Loch Lomond several years after leaving school, an old couple who ran a B&B that I stayed at knew Bertie very well.
Two or three times per term an outdated movie ("the flicks"), was shown in the school hall at 7 pm on Saturday nights. I have a clear memory in my eagerness to get a good seat of running in the dark like the wind all the way down from Rhodes to the school hall, a distance of approximately three quarters of a mile. I recollect a Saturday night skiffle night where various senior boys tried their hand at the 1960's equivalent of a karaoke night, of various renditions of Elvis Presley, Buddy Holly and Lonny Donegan songs and a reasonably presentable version of 'Bebopper Lula'.
Although in reality I do not remember my last day at Princo, I can picture myself on a Sunday sitting on the lawn in the late afternoon sun in front of the house dorm, and listening to any one of a score of early 1960's pop songs playing on a transistor radio, the tunes evoking a time warp of memories. It is end of term and one by one my friends are being collected and driven away by their parents. My train is due to leave the following day and take me up-country to Londiani, my last home of many in this pleasant land of far horizons and its own special magic - Kenya.