The Long March

By Mohamed Muhsin

 

Ninety years to this day in 1914 it’s hard to imagine that a small provincial school nestled in the picturesque highlands in Kandy, Sri Lanka would have felt compelled to lend its support to the first world war, which had just broken out.  The Principal of the school was Rev. A. G. Fraser, an educationist with an extraordinary passion to make Trinity College Kandy the best school of all.  To him, a school that does not play its role in the shaping of a country’s future, of its culture and its heritage is missing a huge opportunity. He provided the leadership to capitalize on this opportunity.  His drive and his courage were not for the faint-hearted.

And so, in 1914 he went to the British Governor of Sri Lanka (then under colonial rule) and volunteered to participate in a contingent of Ceylonese (as Sri Lankans were then called) to the war front.  In order to demonstrate his commitment, he organized what has gone down in the annals of the school as the famous Long March to Colombo (November 27 and 28, 1914).

He, together with five teachers and 22 students, covered the distance of 72 miles by two night marches of 36 miles each.  While the Governor appreciated the offer from Trinity College, he was not convinced that he could enlist a school.  And so, several students and masters enlisted from Trinity as private individuals.  Of them, 13 gave their lives, while many were wounded, gassed, or taken prisoner.  It was a very sad outcome for a principal and a school that had shown such courage.

In recognition of Trinity’s war effort, the King of England presented to the school a captured German machine gun, which was ceremonially unveiled by the Governor in 1919.  Those who visit Trinity will find a special enclosure by the quadrangle where this machine gun was ceremonially placed.

This remains a living testimonial to the spirit of Trinity, to its ability not only to shine as a school that builds young men of character and good citizenry, but also a school that can take the high road to interweave itself into the fabric of the national consciousness.

Writing about what happened nearly a century ago might seem to some as reminiscing on the ancient.  But it is important to recognize that history has an important bearing on the character of a school.  Trinity today continues to be an important player in the country’s educational system.  It is also an important player in the political system with so many Ministers – including the Minister of Finance and the Minister of Foreign Affairs being products of a school that generates leaders and good citizens.

Having visited the school just two months ago under the leadership of the new Principal, Rev. Rod Gilbert, I am very pleased with the manner in which the true spirit of Trinity is being re-kindled. I have to acknowledge the drive and initiative that has also been brought to this effort by Mohan Samarakoon, who has taken on the administration.  It remains for us as Old Boys of the school to support the reform efforts so that the dream of visionaries such as Fraser will be truly realized and sustained for the next century, as Trinity triumphantly takes its Long March into the future.

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