Popular Posts

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Malayan Teachers' Training College, Kirkby. Liverpool: Reliving memories

Malayan Teachers' Training College, Kirkby, Liverpool: Reliving memories
( Part 1: The Journey )


 Kuala Lumpur to Liverpool

A sunny, December morning of  1958, found me walking with mixed emotion towards a waiting BOAC plane at the Sungai Besi airport in Kuala Lumpur.  Halfway across the tarmac I paused to look and wave at the indistinct figures at the viewing gallery as my mum, uncle and auntie were among the many other parents, relatives and friends who were watching their loved ones boarding a plane that would transport us 8,000 miles to our new home at the Malayan Teachers' Training College in Kirkby, Liverpool.  

Boarding the plane

I remember before embarking for Kirkby College all of us were given six hundred dollars, a princely sum then, to purchase warm clothes and other essential items. 

My friends, Mimi Foo and Lean Aing, recall the joy and excitement of being selected for the two year teaching course in Kirkby. Here are their interesting and eloquent accounts of their preparation for the trip.

" I remember going to Penang “Whiteaways”, the only English department store at that time, to do my shopping.  I bought a twin-set (knitted top plus a cardigan), a woollen overcoat and nylon stockings & woollen gloves. That took more than ½ of my clothing allowance!  Had two cheong-sams tailored to fit my slim 102lbs.  Packed all these into a new suitcase for my first-ever flight overseas.
Thanks to the warm clothes, I was prepared for the cold wintry weather on arrival in London in January 1959.  Some of my colleagues were freezing in their cheong-sams, kebayas and saris.  Many of them were going to wait till they got to Liverpool/Kirkby to buy warm clothes, not realising that it was freezing upon arrival in UK.
Those of us who were selected to go to Kirkby College were really fortunate, embarking on a full Government scholarship which gave us a once-in-a-lifetime experience that we will never forget and enabling us to develop friendships that continue to this day."

Mimi Foo Saw Imm  1959 - 1960

 "My memory bank has overflowed with so much stuff over decades that some happenings and incidents have fallen through the cracks. However, there are moments that remain vivid to this very day.

The day when I received the letter informing me that I had been selected to enter MTTC Kirkby in Liverpool was truly a momentous one, it was that One Shining Moment in a young person's life.... an offer which would be life-changing.

What followed was a blur of hurried preparations of medical examinations, application for an international passport & of course getting prepared for the two year course in Kirkby. The only knowledge of life in England had been gleaned from watching the movies. There was not much first-hand and in -depth knowledge of what life would be actually like in a temperate country. The excitement and anticipation and limited time frame for preparation was exhilarating especially when we were presented with an allowance of 600 dollars.

My mother was most encouraging and supportive in getting a suitable wardrobe for my two year stay overseas. We made a trip to Penang from Ipoh to do some shopping for essentials. Whiteaways and Robinson's were THE department stores to get affordable overcoat, thermal underwear, gloves & sturdy suitcases. We bought a powder blue overcoat and three pieces of luggage.... a large brown suitcase, a smaller blue suitcase and a matching blue vanity case which was in vogue in those days.

Back home in Ipoh, my mum's friend knitted two cardigans for me, a red one and a yellow one with matching sweater. The luxury items were some brocade cheongsam & Mandarin jackets for formal functions. My mum's friend who had stayed in UK before advised me to have a perm, a curly mop, citing that it would be expensive to have our hair done in UK and the perm should last two years.  After some months in college, my Block 10 Block Representative, Saw Seok Lay, was kind enough to give me a haircut, reverting to the gamin look minus the curls."

Cheah Lean Aing  1959/60

Once on board the plane, finding myself surrounded by strangers, a twinge of apprehension gripped me. As soon as the plane was air-borne two brothers, John and Lawrence came to introduce themselves while around me I could hear boisterous laughter and see young, smiling faces. In the company of 149 jovial and   high-spirited young Malayans my initial apprehension soon disappeared. While our first group left on December 1958, the second group left on 7th January 1959.
My friend, Robert who was on board the second flight  remember the journey as he was entrusted with a heavy responsibility.   
"  I was up the front of the plane playing my important duty for Rosalyn Chew's fiance' --I sat next to her, guarding unwelcome wolves who might want to get fresh with Roz who was engaged before leaving for Kirkby. Others on the plane was mainly from Penang and Perak -- people I recall vividly are Tien Chong, Lean Aing, Vincent Lowe, Bella Ho, Joo Suat, Peggy Fong, Susan Lau, Lye Meng, Lionel Koh and Kam Hon."  

My friend, Ooi-tee,  who was also on board the second flight can  recall another incident.
" The plane had just taken off from Karachi when the cabin was filled with the long crow of a rooster and the bleat of a sheep. I traced the source of the barnyard noises to two turbaned individuals. The stewardess warned them to stop the racket, but her warning fell on deaf ears. The captain was duly summoned and he warned them that they would be sent home from Bahrain if they did not stop their barnyard noises. Teary eyed, they watched in stunned silence as the captain calmly strode back to the cockpit with their seized passports"


The BOAC plane which ferried us to London
As there was no direct flight to London those days, we had to make a number of stopovers along the way.

Our flight route

 Our first stopover was at Bangkok airport where we were able  to stretch our weary legs while those with cameras took the opportunity to take snapshots of their new-found  friends.

A bevy of beauties.  Notice Lean Aing's curly, whirly hairdo and the vanity cases carried by the ladies. Photo courtesy of Robert Tay

 The plane then made a night stopover in Calcutta and we all checked into a  hotel.

Robert: " I remember, I was put in a very large room, all alone by myself."

   At dusk we took a stroll along a street to take in the sights and sounds of the city. I noticed the street was filled with a seething mass of humanity.  Unattended cows, settled comfortably in the middle of the street while others wandered aimlessly among the bustling crowd. Street sleepers could be seen getting ready for the night. 

A seething mass of humanity. Photo credit: Calcutta 1959. by Che Guevera
While those of us on the first flight made stopovers at Bahrain and Rome, those on the second flight, I was told by my friend, Ooi-tee, made a further stopover at Karachi.

Stopover at Karachi
Standing  L to R:: Manasseh, Ramakrishnan, Tan Ooi Tee, Balwant Singh
Kneeling: Cheng Swee, Ajit Singh
Photo courtesy of Ooi-tee

At Karachi Airport
Lto R: Teong Kooi, Lye Meng, Monica, Siew Leng
Photo courtesy of Ooi-tee

At Karachi Airport
From Lto R: Tan Ooi Tee, Cheng Swee, Monica Phang, Amy Grace Tekkah
Lau Siew Suan, Chow Lye Meng
Photo courtesy of Ooi-tee, 

 When we landed in Rome, we could feel a sudden chill and there was a buzz of excitement when some of us spotted ice particles on the plane's glass windows.

We arrived at Gatwick airport in the middle of a bitterly cold English winter and boarded a  train for the long journey to Liverpool. After five decades, all I can remember about the journey is the hiss and chug of the engine and the occasional long, lonesome blast of the horn as the steam locomotive made its way through the cold and dreary winter night.

A British steam locomotive. Photo credit: Tony Woodward archive

 Those in the second group was met on their arrival at Gatwick airport by Mr. Struthers who guided them to a waiting coach and accompanied them on the long night journey to Kirkby College.

Mr. Struthers welcoming the students on board a coach at Gatwick Airport (Jan 8, 1959)
Photo courtesy of Ooi-tee.

Arrival at 'kampung Kirkby'

As the coach that transported us from the railway station rolled through the main gate and came to a halt at the campus ground, all I could see through the veil of low-hanging  fog was the murky shapes of  buildings that resemble an army barrack. ( later I learned during the War the place was used as accommodation for army and police personnel; medical students; hospital workers; and lorry drivers). 

'Kampung Kirkby' , Liverpool

Our seniors in the welcoming committee were on hand to welcome and assist us. Our luggage was efficiently and expediently delivered to our respective rooms and we soon found ourselves following doggedly  behind their confident footsteps as they guided us to our rooms. Each of us was allotted a room which was furnished with a single bed, a metal wardrobe, a writing table and a chair. A hot water pipe which ran along one side of the wall provided us the much needed heat through the cold winter night.

Outside the room, light snow was drifting down from a grey, darkening sky and although  excited and enthralled at the magical sight, I had one eye on the bed with its irresistible warmth and comfort. The moment I was left alone in the room, I changed hurriedly into my long johns, put on extra warm clothing and tugged myself under the layers of woolen blankets.     

Hope the below slideshow on 'MTTC, Kirkby, Liverpool: Reliving Memories' will rekindle fond memories of your college days. Many thanks to Ooi Tee, Vin Quen and others for their contributions. 

More recollections of the journey

Kirkbyites from the other batches too have fond memories of the journey to Kirkby College, Liverpool. They are gracious enough to share their own experiences and personal recollections.  

“ I remember leaving for Kirkby sometime in August 1953 by Arganot plane. We flew from Kuala Lumpur to Colombo where we put up for the night. We stayed at Mount Lavinia Hotel, located in Mount Lavinia with a fine view of the beach and bay.. First ever experience of staying in a posh hotel, single room, and being treated like a king. Then next morning to Karachi ( stop for fuelling) and food, then on to Beirut (fuel stop) more food, then Lebanon (fuel stop) and food and then on to Rome ( fuel) and breakfast. And finally to London. Stayed in London for a couple of nights and then off to Liverpool Lime Street Station by train. From Lime Street by coach to Kirkby to be received “ with a very warm reception” . And finally to our room. “

Satish 1953-1955

“ We left for Kirkby on 13th January 1958 which is exactly 60 years ago. After a brief stopover in Bangkok we flew to Calcutta where we stayed  the night at the Great Eastern Hotel.  I remember, among those on the flights were T. Balasubramaniam , C Ramanathan, N Velusamy, Ramaah, M Pasupathy and N Nadarajah.”

Nadarajah 1958-1959

Related articles: Click below links

Part 2:

Kirkby College, Liverpool : Orientation and sickbay

Part 3:

Academic work and teaching practice

Other articles on Kirkby College which were published in The Star Lifestyle. Please click below links.

Lessons for life

Moments to savour

Precious memories


  1. An engaging account! Looking forward to the next instalment.

  2. I am so delighted to find this information! I am reading Mr J Kennedy's "A History of Malaya", and see he was an instructor at the college.

    1. Hi, thanks for visiting this blog. Glad to be able to supply the little info about the late Mr. J. Kennedy. It was a pleasure and delight to meet the ever-smiling author of 'A History of Malaya'. If you have not been to Malaysia, I hope you will be able to make a trip to see the country.

  3. Hello - I would very much like to make contact with any ex students of Kirkby College who may be interested in sharing their memories of Kirkby with us, over here in Kirkby. Looking forward to hearing from ex students> Kate Higgins

    1. Hello, Ms Higgins,thanks for visiting this blog. I hope the Kirbyites will respond to your request and share their memories of Kirkby. I will also inform my friends about your request.

    2. Thank you so much. I hope to hear soon.

    3. Hello, Ms Higgins. Appreciate if you can contact Datuk Kandan at the below email address, as soon as possible

    4. Thank you very much for your latest reply - I have now sent the email. Regards Kate

    5. Thanks for the prompt reply, Ms Higgins. I hope the info Datuk Kandan has forBTw you will be of interest to you. BTW are you the author of the book, 'Liverpool to Kirkby Fields'. I read the synopsis and find it very interesting. Will try to get a copy. Do keep in touch. My email address is

      Regards Wan