From Gangway to Gharry … A Bright New World
Author: Ow Wei Mei
The Fairfield Methodist Schools Alumni Association
280 pages. $30
Available from Fairfield Methodist Secondary School
(Tel: 6778-8702, General Office)
WHAT caught my eye when the book was first handed to me were the unique cover design and the title which read: From Gangway to Gharry … A Bright New World.
This is The Fairfield Story spanning 117 years of history and told in 280 pages. The writer, alumna Ow Wei Mei, took on the very daunting task of researching and writing this very awesome story within the six months given to complete the task.
For everyone who has passed through the school portal, this is a must-read for it captures vividly so much of what is little and not known about the school.
For every past and present student, and every one who is a part of the church, it will open to you the hearts of the women who caught the vision and answered the call to go and so, they have opened up to many women and later, also men – A bright new world.
The story begins in 1886, and traverses three continents … the first Methodist missionary in Singapore, the Rev William F. Oldham, in recognition of the great need for girls’ education in Singapore, had appealed to the Woman’s Foreign Missionary Society (WFMS) in Minneapolis, Minnesota “to help start a girls’ school or two in Singapore”. In answer to prayer, God had prepared an Australian missionary woman who had arrived in Madras for mission work in India, to be appointed to Singapore instead. Miss Sophia Blackmore arrived in 1887 to begin His work here.
The perseverance of the “English Missie” Miss Blackmore in getting the conservative Peranakan women to agree to send their little girls to the school she would start, paid off and in August 1888, Treats from the Fairfield story her dream of a school for girls began with eight little Chinese Nonya girls in attendance in the front room of a Cross Street house.
The heartaches and challenges that faced the women pioneers (1888 to1911)in getting the school off the ground are relived in four captivating chapters. The section closes with the school finally given the site at 178 Neil Road and the excitement of moving into its very own premises and a new name!
What stands out in the next six chapters covering 1912 to 1941 are the beautiful pictures capturing the old school façade and building, and activities of the old school days that will never be seen if not for the writing of this book.
Catch glimpses of the school as it settles in its new home. Find out how the name “Fairfield” came to be. Look out for the rare “treat” in store in the Chapter “Fairfield in Pictures, 1914” which presents the diary and pictures taken by American missionary teacher Grace Webster.
The rest of the section takes you through the special place of music and singing in Fairfield – a legacy that remains to this day, and gives insight to Fairfield girls of the 1920s and Fairfield teachers of the 1930s. It ends on a solemn note with lines from a 1941 essay by a Standard 6 pupil, Eunice Thio, who described how World War II was affecting her and those around her.
The post-war growth period (1945 to 1959) captures a part of the history not known to many of us. The rich history behind Fairfield Afternoon School unfolds here, and how it then merged with the Morning School in 1961 which by then had been renamed the Fairfield Methodist Girls’ School. For those of us who entered the school after 1961, we took for granted that school was alternating years of morning and afternoon sessions!
The Sixties Onwards (1960 to1982) traces new heights reached and the battle for a new location. What stood out for me in this section was the historic announcement on Founder’s Day 1982 by then Minister of State for Education, Dr Tay Eng Soon, “The move of your school to its new premises at Dover Road next year will be a challenging one … For the first time, it will be taking in boys.
Your school will gradually become co-educational.” So the BOYS came in 1983 and the dawning of a new era (1983 to 2005) – from a single school under one roof to becoming two schools – Fairfield Methodist Secondary and Fairfield Methodist Primary, both with new principals, and going co-educational. Relive 100 years of history and the Secondary School’s dream to go single session and also to be granted autonomy.
The section closes with the changing of the guard for both schools at the start of the 21st century.
The energy, commitment and dedication of those who serve have never ceased and you will feel the pace in the pages. The book closes with a very special chapter – memories captured by Fairsians spanning 1930s to 1990s. Space would not permit more to be said.
To those who have served and left a lasting influence in the lives of the little pupils they taught, the Master’s commendation rings out loud, “Well done good and faithful servants …”
Diana Chee-Chung is an alumna of Fairfield Methodist Girls’ School.
READ ALL ABOUT …
♦ THE challenges women pioneers faced in getting the school off the ground.
♦ HOW the school was finally given the site at 178 Neil Road.
♦ HOW the name “Fairfield” came to be.
♦ THE rich history behind Fairfield Afternoon School.
♦ HOW Fairfield Afternoon School merged with the Morning School.
♦ HOW the name Fairfield Methodist Girls’ School came to be.
♦ WHEN and why Fairfield became co-educational.
♦ WHEN and how Fairfield became two schools.