Perhaps I should use this occasion to emphasise a point which has been very sore with me for a longtime, and that is the burden of the cost of books which parents have to bear. I feel quite certain that something can be done, and must be done, to relieve these parents. It is an unnecessary burden which they are called upon to shoulder while a few people enrich themselves in the process. That is why, as President of Sierra Leone, I gave my support to a project designed to expand and modernise the Government Printing Press. The new equipment includes machines to rule and make exercise books and, as a result, we are now producing at least a very large proportion of the stationery used in our schools, saving foreign currency for the country and reducing the expenses of parents. We now also produce some text books.
Not so long ago I met one of our students recently returned from Russia and we were discussing the subject he had been studying. The pamphlet which he showed me on the subject was a cyclostyled one; in other words, cyclostyled copies had been made from the original text, and that is what he said his class used. Copyright laws do not make it possible for us to do that here, but! certainly know that the price parents have to meet could be halved, if not quartered, if both the writing and production of more text books took place in Sierra Leone. Somebody has gone so far as to say that our boys and girls here pay more for their books than the undergraduates in Oxford; and here there are only a very few libraries, whereas in Oxford or Cambridge there are libraries everywherç to help students.
On Thursday nights after school we used to go to prayer meetings in the E.U.B. Church in Regent Road. On Sunday evenings, too, we would attend the same church and we would enjoy the march along Regent Road. We certainly had some big men in school in those days because as we marched along the street we would hear some of the children shout: “Look dem big pa way day go school”
But after school hours most of my time was taken up playing football. I was very keen and became pretty good at the game, for! was eventually picked for the school team to play regular matches against other secondary schools and Fourah Bay College. When I first started playing! was so small that the sleeves of my jersey covered my hands.
This had its advantages for if! happened to handle the ball the referee rarely noticed it! I remember, too, a football match we played against the Grammar School at the recreation grounds when one of our players, Kamara, a big hefty chap, charged a lean youth from the Grammar School and threw him violently to the ground. His uncle who was standing on the lines went and picked up the boy from the ground and said to him: “Cah we go home yah; mek den Mende pa ya nor kill you for me”
! might have grown equally fond of cricket had! not been put off the game by an accident that happened to me. I was playing long-stop for a very fast bowler. To help stop the ball and to protect myself from injury, ! had a piece of board which! held over my forehead as soon as the ball had passed the batsman. On this occasion I mis-timed the ball and lowered the board just as it reached me. The result was a severe crack on my forehead which nearly knocked me unconscious. I decided there and then that this was not my sort of game and have never touched a cricket bat since.
One little amusement was to go ‘pump riding’. There were huge pieces of flat stone in the bed of a little brook. So we used to go along and sit down and propel ourselves along the surface of the rock, heading downstream. It took quite a bit of dexterity to avoid danger but boys never think of things like that. We enjoyed it very much indeed.
Foreign troops who were stationed at Kortright, near where Fourah Bay College now stands, used to provide us with a lot of fun. Some West Indian soldiers who used to wear long trousers and boots, would often roll past our school blind drunk helping to test our powers of mimicry as we tried to imitate their ‘Bajan’ accent. I remember once that four white soldiers got very tight and lost their way home. In their confusion they ended up in our school and accidentally entered one of the dormitories. Some of the boys, woken up by the noise, thought the soldiers where ghosts. A dreadful noise broke out as frightened schoolboys and drunken soldiers encountered each other, and eventually the police had to be brought in to escort the men out of the building.
The four terms corresponded to the four quarters of the year, with a short break after the first and third terms and a fortnight’s break in the middle of the year. In December we had a long holiday of one month, so that all the boys could get home at least once a year to see their families. I can remember feeling like a tremendous man of the world whenever I met my old friends in Moyamba.
When we were about to go home, we, the freshers, were always supplied by some of the senior boys with a sheet of long English words for which we paid a considerable price out of our meagre pocket money. These were the words which we would use up-country to show the boys left behind that we had come from Freetown and had had some education. We would dress up in the morning and sit in a chair after having eaten a lot of cassava, and then begin to shout out a lot of big English words. Young boys would collect around us, presenting a scene that resembled the old Greek orators lecturing. One such sentence for which I paid a penny (which was big money in those days) read something like this: “Agitate the tintinabulary summons”, meaning:
Ring the bell”. Oc “The conflagration extended its devastating career”, meaning in ordinary English: “The fire spread”. The principal heard about some of these exploits of ours and on our return to school he would line up those found guilty and give them six strokes each. But we had satisfied ourselves and achieved our objective. The poor boys back home had a lot of specious regard for us, so we did not mind the punishment!
December was the official end of the school year, and it was then that graduation day was celebrated. For six years I had watched each generation of boys go onto the platform to receive their certificates. For some reason it seemed as if I would never walk that path, mount the few steps and be handed that important bit of papec it seemed such a distant attainment. But of course one day the time came for me to graduate from the Albert Academy. It came to me as quite a shock. I had become used to the protective walls of my school. I felt young and foolish and hardly able to cope with the demands of the real world. I kept asking myself anxiously: was I really equipped to leave school and earn my own living? Had I really learnt enough? Would I disgrace my family and teachers by the inadequacy of my knowledge?
My graduation day, my last day in the Albert Academy, was to be on December 1st, 1922. Apart from my school fees, which were difficult enough for my father to find, I had to have special graduation clothes made and extra money for the festivities. In order to find the necessary money, my father had to send one of his wives, Mammie Nancy, to Freetown for a whole month to sell cupfuls of rice; and goodness knows what sacrifices he and the other members of my family must have made besides. Nevertheless I know that, when I stood up to give my oration, it must have been a very satisfying moment for my parents who had both come down to Freetown. For my father it represented the answer to a prayer, the reward for years of hard work and self denial. For as long as I live I shall never cease to be grateful to him for the opportunities he made possible for me by the sheer sweat of his labour and his great faith in me.
Knowing what importance my parents put on this very special day I could not help but feel nervous. Each graduating pupil was required to deliver an oration, and I had taken a lot of trouble in the preparation of my speech. The chairman of the occasion was the Governor of Sierra Leone, who had only recently been appointed. His name was Sir Alexander Slater and he was a strong critic of secondary schools in Freetown. He believed that these schools neglected to train their pupils to use their hands and that they put too strong an emphasis on subjects like Latin and Greek. But our Freetown schools were very proud of their high standard of scholarship and learning and resented his suggestion that priority should be given to an industrial or manual education. Many Africans interpreted this to mean their activities should be limited to agricultural or general labouring, so that they would be kept forever as the labourers rather than the leaders of their own country. Not surprisingly, Sir Alexander was not a popular figure.
The subject of my oration was ‘The Awakening of Afric and well I remember my final rousing sentences. I urged my fellow students to strive onwards— “Never look back until, like Caesar of old, you will be able to say ‘Veni, Vidi, Vici’ — ‘I came, I saw, I conquered!” As I sat down, exhilarated as young men often are at their first taste of public speaking, I hoped that my parents were thinking to themselves that their sacrifice had all been worth while, and that I had made good use of my education.
The ceremony ended with the singing of our school song:
The golden glow of December’s Day
Rests o’er the verdant hills,
And the sunlight falls with mellow ray
On fields and laughing rills.
But ere its last beams fade away
Beyond the mountains high,
Our izps must bravely say
The parting words — Goodbye.
Kind friends and parents gathered here
Our gratitude is yours
For all your care and sympathy
Which endlessly endures.
We trust the future may perfect
The works your hands have wrought,
And may they bring good gjfts to you
These years that swiftly fly.
When the graduation ceremony had finally ended my parents prepared a big dish of food which I shared with some of my friends. It was a very happy meal, all of us elated with the excitement of the busy day. We ate and ate until there was nothing left, and it seemed appropriate that after those first days of hunger when our tummies rumbled from dawn until dusk our school days should end on this note of plenty