On your mark! Set! GONE! – By Earl John

The story below by Earl John shows the energy, drive, direction and collaboration of our fore-parents.  They nurtured the youth and cared for the aged (Archer Home for senior citizens).   We must celebrate the work of the African Development Association, ADA.  I read it at The Commemoration Committee meeting and others recently and they all said to me that it should be publicized …. it had ‘value’.

Tom Dalgety

On your mark! Set! GONE! By Earl John


In the 1930s Queenstown Roman Catholic School (‘Queenstown R.C’) was situated exactly where it is today – at the southeastern corner of Albert and Crown Streets, where the latter continues from Third Street, Alberttown, going in an easterly direction.

The only other school in the Queenstown ward was the Comenius Moravian Church School, with whom we had to share the playing field known as the ‘Queenstown Pasture’, bounded by Crown on the north, Oronoque on the east, and Almond Street on the south. On the west began a housing area which stretched further westward towards Albert Street.

My family lived directly opposite the school, in Crown, neighbouring Sadler’s bakery –then an institution famous for its buns and coconut biscuits – situated at the corner lot which now appears to be an unused basketball court.    

I took advantage of its proximity regularly to arrive before the school-gate was opened, so that I could beat the other determined consumers to where the luscious yellow plums had fallen from the tree that towered over the eastern end of the school building. The branches of the plum tree, which outlived several generations of pupils, also cast a protective shadow over the nearby outdoor toilet facilities. Sadly this plum incentive to early attendance has since disappeared.

In classes of hardly more than thirty, we sat together about four or five in rows of wooden benches, facing a blackboard standing on easels, which we were called upon in turn to clean, when it was fully covered in chalked text that had to be replaced. We wrote on slates with ‘slate’ pencils.

The relatively small size of the class proved a mixed blessing since, so far as I was concerned, we got too much individual attention from the teacher, usually at times of attempted mischief.

On the lower flat where the ‘early’ classes were located, the complement of teachers included: the slightly built, but personable Miss Fields who wore her ‘good hair’ (as my mother would say) in small curls; the tall, busting, imperious Miss Archer who was said to be a great pastry-maker; and Mr. London-Williams whose attempts to be overpowering did not match his slothful actions, but naturally amiable disposition. Contrasting this African contingent was the tall, sturdily built and handsome Portuguese Mr. Bascombe, who was always running his hands through his strikingly wavy hair, gesturing his unpredictable temper. We were not surprised when he left to join the electricity company where later he rose to a position of some power.

The upper-flat of the building housed from third to sixth standard classes, where we scribbled in exercise books. The pens we used sometimes had ’14 carat’ nibs which we continuously dipped into ink-wells which fitted into writing desks designed to accommodate them. In addition to the Headteacher, there was ‘Mr. Burnham’, who gravitated to being referred to as ‘Charlie’. He was what they called ‘light skinned’. I remember him not so much because he was about the same height as my father, but more for the way he thumped the back of my head with a heavy left hand, in a determined effort to ensure his lesson sank in, rather more than trying to be punitive. Somehow he always gave the impression of being under constant stress. In those days all the male teachers wore suits and ties. Charlie’s shirts never seemed to be devoid of dirt around the collar; while the cuffs were, more often than not, frayed. However, he contrived always to ‘walk with a spring’, presumably to make up for his short stature.

Teacher Mr. Albert, on the other hand, seemed almost indecipherable, if not inscrutable, behind his thick-lensed spectacles. It was as if he preferred not to be noticed, for fear of being associated with the Aberttown Police Station, located south on the same block (where it still is); or perhaps because he felt guilty about the minimal impact his efforts as a teacher had so far made.

Not so for Ms. Evertz, the most memorable and oldest of the spinster brood of teachers. She too was Portuguese, small, compact in stature, always well groomed, with prematurely wrinkled features peering out of the fashionably oversized horn-rimmed spectacles of the day. Her religious activism had a direct impact on those who came under her very articulate tutelage. As perhaps the most devout Catholic in the Queenstown ward, her attitude of differentiation towards non-Catholics like myself was occasionally a source of dismay, and even embarrassment, to the more balanced Headteacher who supervised her.

Ms. Evertz identified much more with ‘Holy Mary, Mother of God’ than with ‘Jesus Christ, Son of Our Lord’. She conducted the statutory sessions in the Catholic Catechism, attended significantly by my Portuguese colleagues – De Mattos, Gordyck, Gonsalves, Texeira, Figueira – remindful of the Portuguese prominence in the Catholic Church at the time.

Like others, I related much more warmly to the refreshingly young and quite aesthetic visage of the teaching assistant named Miss McLean. She was later to marry one of B.G’s rare athletes – a weightlifting champion, Dean Bacchus. She herself was what was described as ‘red skinned’. Little could I have dreamt that years later we would meet again, when I had graduated to an executive position in Bookers Sugar Estates, as she, then widowed Mrs. Bacchus, mother of seven daughters, served as a most effective confidential secretary to my boss at the time, Harold Davis. Her figure which showed little of the effects of motherhood was still one for adult, presumptuous contemplation.

All the above staff reported to the respected Headteacher Mr. Percival Loncke, who though not necessarily of great physical stature, projected an imposing image of discipline which both teachers and pupils unhesitatingly accepted, probably because of the powers then invested in headteachers. As to be expected, the pupils concocted the appellation ‘Lonckey’ but were careful not to attempt a relevant rhyme, until we were well clear of the school compound.

I remember when at a low point, battered by Burnham, and ostracised by Evertz, I rushed from school one afternoon to my father who was still at work in his Cummings Street tinsmith shop just two blocks south, in the bottom flat of a property owned by Sgt. Deygoo of the Police Force, to complain of my perceived ill-treatment, not expecting his reaction the next day. He carried me direct to the ‘schoolmaster’, to protest my complaint and authorised him to give me any hiding my indiscipline deserved. ‘Schoolmaster’ Loncke grinned gleefully, his protruding teeth displaying relish of once more being able to justify his well earned reputation for generously unleashing his notorious ‘strap’ – even for late-coming.

But there was an interesting contrast to the ‘schoolmaster’, as he would transform into an angelic human being once off the school premises, relocated in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, Brickdam, where he enthralled the congregation with his fine accompaniment on the organ.

‘Lonckey’s’ musical skills contrived to reshape the schoolmaster’s ‘strap’ into a delicate, flexible bow, with which he induced from his violin beautiful chords of famous classical pieces, as lead player in the Princessville Orchestra –  a devoted group of musicians who informally competed with the equally recognised Georgetown Philharmonic Orchestra, for the trained ear. That he was also a lovable family man could be judged from a handsome brood of son and three daughters, who themselves became avid musicians.

The Government County Scholarship provided entry into Queen’s College and Bishops’ High School, respectively the mecca of education, for boys and girls, who achieved the highest pass marks required in the individual counties of Berbice, Demerara and Essequibo. The level of winning points was lower in Berbice, and even lower in Essequibo, than in Demerara – presumably in acknowledgement of the different grades of education in those two counties. There were only 24 scholarships to be shared. One reason I didn’t achieve my share was that I actually brought one of my answer sheets out of the examination room.

I finally made it to Queen’s via a middle scholarship earned  while attending one of several new private secondary schools that were opened during the years of World War II (1940 – 1945) – Washington High School, later renamed, B.G Education Trust. It’s location is now identifiable as an empty lot in Charlotte Street, immediately west of the Cheddi Jagan Dentistry Clinic, between Camp and Wellington Streets.

So often as I travelled past my grounding primary school, only slightly remodeled and expanded over the past seven decades, I would remark that playing space as barely encroached upon by a moderately sized (new) structure on the southern perimeter. I recalled the regular ‘physical training’ exercises conducted by the unlikely Miss Fields. We could only imagine that someone made an exotic connection between ‘Fields’ and ‘playing fields’. However, her fragrant presence (even in open air) was sufficient incentive for us boys to try jumping higher than the other, to the point of breathlessness, if only to catch her indifferent matronly eye.

Surprisingly, at the insistence of the ungainly Mr. London-Williams, the school established three Houses – A, B & C – to encourage more active participation in sports – for boys only, of course. The games were going to be played out on the public Queenstown ‘Pasture’, which could be accessed through the broken southern perimeter fence of the school compound into the alley-way and heading about 200 yards east.

I had not heard any announcement of a selection committee, but was simply instructed to report to the ‘Pasture’ to represent ‘B’ House against ‘C’ House, in the first match of the School’s House Cricket Competition.

Our team’s captain had already represented ‘Queenstown R.C’ in the inter-primary school competition, along with George Sohan and Frank DePollity, all outstanding performers. Cecil ‘Bruiser’ Thomas went on to become a successful batsman for the Demerara Cricket Cub (located one block east of Queenstown ‘Pasture’) in First Division Cricket; and next represented British Guiana not only at cricket, but also at football, hockey and table tennis. George Sohan also became a prolific first division batsman while playing for the East Indians Cricket Club (EICC).

This was going to be my first game on a pitch with two wickets. My potential as a cricketer having been correctly evaluated, I was sent in as No. eleven batsman, padded, for the first time outside my fantasy, on the left leg only. Imagine the total consternation of my team, and that of the opposing side, when I top-scored with eleven out of a total of twenty-nine runs –  which was so easily surpassed by ‘C’ House, that they declared and sent us in to bat a second time, intent on an outright win: all in a half day.

To my astonishment my first innings success earned me one of the opening positions – this time with both legs padded. This quickly proved an impediment, as oversized as the pads were, it wasn’t difficult for the very first ball to penetrate the gap between my immobile legs, and rattle the stumps for a resounding ‘duck’. I scrambled off the field, almost forgetting to unbuckle and hand over the pads to the next batsman. Not even the inspirational ‘Bruiser’ could convince me to return to Queenstown ‘Pasture’, certainly not for cricket. I, though reluctantly, did peak occasionally at Cedric and Clarence Wiltshire, brothers who excelled at inter-school football and went on to make their mark at the national level.

Sometime later I made my own mark at the Demerara Cricket Ground, Queenstown, as an opening bowler, presaging my extended career in that capacity in the QC team which played first division cricket at the time. There I was also a fully padded-up No. eleven batsman, and shared my biggest last wicket partnership with Frank (Squeaky) Mongul – getting four out of a total of thirty four runs – at the Bourda test ground against the Georgetown Cricket Club team. One reason was that we were then the two fastest runners in Queens, I being the open sprint champion for two consecutive years. Frank later qualified as a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine.

What a streak! From Queenstown R.C to Queen’s College! From Queenstown Pasture to Bourda!


Washington High School was founded in 1942, by Principal Aubrey P. Alleyne, who later became the first Speaker of the House, when Guyana achieved independence, which I always thought was an interesting selection, given the fact he was ‘hard of hearing’ (at a time when hearing aids were not available), and he had to lean forward in our fourth form to listen to the conjugation of the Latin: amo, amas, amat – his favourite subject. ‘Ochro’ as he was known across the private secondary school system, showed ample evidence of his effective teaching style by producing three successive middle-school scholarship winners to Queens College: Dr. Vibert Shury, long since retired as Head of the Public Health Division of the Mayor and City Council of Georgetown; Dr. Desmond Broomes who has also retired as Professor of Mathematics, UWI, Cavehill, Barbados; and this lowly author.


It is little known that the building first occupied by Washington High School was called ‘The Auditorium’, owned by a small group (25) of essentially Guyanese artisans who were formally registered as the African Development Association (ADA). Outstanding members of the executive included Ferdinand C Archer, founder member and lifetime Secretary/Treasurer, and Samuel John, who remained the Association’s President for over twenty-five years. The first, a tailor, was my godfather, and the latter my tinsmith father. I tried in vain to convince myself that they played no part in ‘Ochro’ offering me a scholarship to Washington High School. In any case none of the players had any reason for regret.


Another structure still standing on the southern side of Durban Street, immediately west of its intersection with Cemetery Road, and appropriately named ARCHER’S HOME, (for senior citizens) was erected by the ADA well before I was born, and initially named ‘The Charity Home’ – now a fitting legacy of a generation who had found its identity.



— Post #1256

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  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 04/03/2012 at 4:35 pm

    Earl John, thanks for that journey down Memory Lane.

    I grew up in the same block with the Queenstown RC School, on the Almond Street side. Our family later moved to Oronoque Street, opposite the Good Shepherd Anglican Convent and School. I recall having to get up early in the morning to buy bread at Sadler’s Bakery.

    Before the construction of Our Lady of Fatima RC Church, at the corner of North Road and New Garden Street, I also recall attending Sunday Mass on the top floor of Queenstown RC School.

  • Vince McBean  On 04/03/2012 at 10:02 pm

    What a well written, delightful sojourn down an intimately familiar memory lane.
    I too, spent several unforgettable pre-common entrance years at “Lonckie” school where my mother was Deputy Headmistress. My last year would have been 1972, but amazingly Mr. London-Williams was very much a fixture during my time there. Given the time line of Earl’s narrative it would seem that Mr. London-Williams’ career would have spanned almost 40 years at Queenstown.
    I recall his stiff-legged gait, reportedly resulting from an old “cork ball” strike on his knee.
    Great stuff Earl. Happy to see you’ve retained your sharp wit, insightful mind and entertaining diction as always. – Vince McBean (formerly of CARICOM Secretariat).

  • Julian Evans  On 06/27/2013 at 11:35 am

    This is Julian Evans
    What a wonderful piece of writing. For the very first time I have read the history of Queestown RC and am overjoyed.I remembered you Vince McBean (above writer). Your mum thought me in Std 1 and you went on to St. Stanislaus College.
    My days at Queenstown RC were also memorable and I can recall my favourite teacher was Mrs. Bahadur who was transferred from Our Lady of Fatima RC after it was closed by the Ministry of Education. My headteacher during those times was Mrs. Sheila King after Mrs. Vieria had left. However, Mrs. Glasgow unlocked my potential and was awarded South Georgetown Secondary School – missing out by just a few marks at commom entrance exam that would have sent me to St. Joseph’s High. During my time at Queenstown, there was no pasture, but a large playing field where we enjoyed physical education with Teacher Assistant, Mr. Duke, followed by a short burst to the school vendor (can’t remebered her name) for her fruity flavoured ‘flutie’ – my favourite flaavour being tamarind, and not forgetting the boiled channa with ’nuff sour’. Those were the days!!!!!!
    After leaving Queenstown, I went on to South Georgetown Secondary with a rewarding 8 subjects GCE & CXC with 2 distinctions, then my B.Sc at University of Guyana, M.Sc at University of Aberdeen (UK) and Dip. in Management at University of East London. So indeed the history of Quenstown RC did made me feel proud and thanks for bringing back those childhood memories.


  • By jordan retro 13 on 11/25/2013 at 10:24 am

    jordan retro 13

    On your mark! Set! GONE! – By Earl John | Guyanese Online

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