“Many believe he was an officer who stumbled upon the halls of this school. On the contrary, he knew where he was going; he was on his way to a fresh adventure, to his first job, as an Assistant Master at Trinity”.
When Major Gordon Burrows and Trinity crossed paths in 1946, Trinity was undergoing many major reformations and changes, such as the Church Missionary Society deciding to hand over control of the School to an independent Board of Governors in 1940, the appointment of Mr C.E. Simithraaratchy the first Ceylonese and Old Boy as Principal, and the construction of the new College Hall, (which was gifted by AHT de Soysa, an Old Boy) to replace the Old Hall which was demolished to make way for the new Hall.
G.A.E Burrows was born on 20th February 1915 in Forest Hill, South London, where his father was curate at the local Presbyterian Church. He was the second of four children – 2 boys and 2 girls. When he was studying for the Ministry to be a Priest, War broke out and he joined the British Army as an Intelligence officer in the Royal Intelligence Corps. During the period of the Second World War, the South East Asia Command (SEAC) was created by the Allies in August 1943 and was based in Delhi. Major Gordon Burrows served in Lord Louis Mountbatten’s staff as an Intelligence officer after the SEAC headquarters moved in April 1944 to Peradeniya Gardens in Ceylon. He rose to the position of Chief Intelligence Officer to Lord Louis Mountbatten. The SEAC at the time was a crucial command post for the co-ordination of most defenses of allied forces. Also, the recapture of Burma by England was coordinated by the SEAC.
During his time at SEAC, Major Gordon Burrows went to Church on Sundays at St Paul’s, Kandy. There he got to know members of the local community, some of whom became lifelong friends. This proved seminal, for it was one of them who suggested to him, after the war had ended, that he consider staying in Kandy, becoming a school-teacher.
He was an Intelligence officer, a Teacher, a Housemaster and finally Co-Vice Principal at Trinity College. He had also risen through the ranks during the World War II to become a Major. After the war ended, Major Gordon Burrows stayed in Ceylon as it was then known. He fell in love with the beauty of the island amidst all chaos in the world.
Playing the piano at the College hall
Whilst he was an army officer, he once played the piano as part of a recital at the College Hall, for he was a concert-quality pianist. Here he met Mr. Simitharachchy with whom he was acquainted. After being invited to spend another year in Ceylon, in 1946 he agreed to stay working as a Latin teacher at College. He returned to England in 1947 to consider whether his decision was not spontaneous and what he really wanted to do with his life, whether to teach in Ceylon, or not. Yet, Trinity had got under his skin in that brief period of time and so, having given serious thought to being lured by the burning hot sun, the golden beaches, and the bright moon, in all of which he never lost his delight, Maj. Gordon Burrows returned to Trinity in 1949 as Co-Vice Principal, taking up residence within the school premises.
A natural born teacher
For fourteen more years he laboured here at College educating young Trinitians in Latin and English, and being the natural born teacher he was, Mr. Burrows (as addressed at the time) enjoyed teaching as did his students have the same enjoyment of learning. Mr. Burrows did not waste a moment of the boys’ constant pursuit of curiosity and was remarkable in inspiring others with his own enthusiasm. While his methods of teaching were unorthodox, to say the least, his results were always spectacular.
At times when the boys did well in his lessons of Latin, they were taken by Mr. Burrows to the swimming pool in what was then called the King’s Pavilion, today the Kandy President’s House. It was the Kandy Residence of Ceylon’s Governor, Lord Soulbury. This was possible due to the special relationship that Mr. Gordon Burrows had with the British Administration.
Mr. Burrows had been here four years when he went off home on his first holiday. Although he returned single, a few were let into the secret that he was soon flying back to get married. Trinity waited in trepidation …. but none need have worried. When he went on furlough from College to return to the United Kingdom, the best thing that Mr. Burrows ever did for himself was to get married. They were married on 3rd September 1954 in Ballymoney, Northern Ireland at the Presbyterian Church there, and soon after arriving in England they sailed by ship for their honeymoon, a two-week voyage, from Southampton to Colombo. He returned with the demure”Mrs. Pat” (as she was known to the boys) as his bride, and he also received his appointment as the House Master of Alison House. Mr. Burrows along with Mrs. Pat were extremely good towards the boys and looked after the Alisonians very well. “Mrs. Pat” was a foster mother to all the Alisonians as remembered by those who had the privilege of growing up under the care of Mr. & Mrs. Burrows.
For with the continuation of teaching at College, Mr Burrows was successful in raising a family of his own on this little island which he so adored. In fact, they gave a Ceylonese name to each of their children, their two sons being named Peter Ananda and Michael Rohan and the daughter being named Alison Sriyani.
Many were the eventful days for Mr Burrows and his family . One such was recalled by an old boy of the time, Mr Sriyantha Simon Senaratna.
“I recall an incident when I was a senior Alisonian and a Prefect of the House. Peter as a little child, got onto the ledge of the Alison building and started walking along the ledge to our and Mr. & Mrs. Burrows’ absolute horror. We were at the bottom holding sheets to catch him if he fell, but thank God he reached the railing and safety”.
Major Burrows and the Choir
If Mr. Burrows brought freshness to the classroom, to the Choir he brought dedication and a true sense of its real role in worship in the Chapel. Gone were the days when they were a group of shanghaied singers, partly due to a lengthy period of absence of leadership following Ms.Valesca Reimann’s departure from school in 1940. Maj Burrows instead made the boys into a disciplined group of singers who sang because they enjoyed it, were conscious of their responsibilities and were willing to practice the long and arduous hours that Mr. Burrows demanded so as to reach that pitch of perfection he insisted on.
On 1st December, 1950, the BBC World Service broadcast Trinity’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols to the world on the “World Service” as part of its Christmas Programme.
The Chapel would come alive on the day of the Carol Service, carefully and beautifully lit up and filled with students, parents, past pupils and staff.
Under his care the Carol Service became the much loved occasion that it is today, but to him it was only one of many services throughout the year for which the Choir practiced hard and regularly. And so, a chorister of his, Maj. Richard Hermon said
“For my part, my memories of the choir are plentiful and happy !! I joined the choir solely to cut Prep on Thursdays, as that was when choir practice was held. I remember the trips to S Thomas’ College, Mt Lavinia where we stayed when we participated in the festival of Choral Music at Royal College. On Sunday, the Trinity and Thomian Choirs both sang at the Sunday Service at the Thomian Chapel, where Rev Boyer Yin was the Chaplain and Choir Master”.
One year they rendered the magnificent six part work ‘Hosanna to the son of David’ by Thomas Weelkes.
For being a wonderful musician and having played voluntaries at Chapel before and after each service, mainly the music of his favourite composer Bach, he had quite the affinity for rugger as well, as mentioned by Mr Errol Fernando.
“The day Major Burrows twisted his ankle playing rugger and was unable to play the hymn in Chapel, he handed me a copy of his English Hymnal and asked me to play at Chapel the next morning. The hymn was “Soldiers of Christ, arise” – Hymn number 479!
I was about 15 years old and I wasn’t just nervous, I was absolutely petrified! I probably didn’t sleep much that night.
The next morning I arrived at Chapel like a man about to be executed. I somehow managed to get through my ordeal and my version of the story is that the keys of the piano were awash with my sweat!
As soon as Chapel was over I went up to Major Burrows thinking that I never wanted to put myself through that torture ever again. However, when I handed the hymn book to him he refused to accept it. All he said was,
“Keep the book, Errol. I want you to play in Chapel from now on! “
Mr. Burrows, prior to taking the Trinity College Choir to its position of eminence, was the Choir Master at St. Paul’s College which was then adjacent to the more familiar St. Paul’s Church. That School was unique in that it was on land literally adjacent to the Temple of the Sacred Tooth Relic (Sri Dalada Maligawa) and remained so until the School was moved away later in the twentieth century.
The success that he achieved in the spheres of teaching and music is primarily a tribute to his powers of inspiration. This stood him in good stead in the many roles that he was called upon to play, whether it be organising Social Service activities, teaching younger boys rugger or dealing with the hundred and one problems attendant on his being in charge of the Boarding House as a whole. He was always available in the performance of his duties, and to all who sought his help. As he was always willing to give hours of patient listening to anyone whether it be a student, a member of staff or a school labourer, he was equally at home in the Vice Regal Lodge in New Delhi, as he would be, for example, attending the wedding of a labourer of the school.
Mr. Burrows had significant influence in the (British-controlled) agency houses in Colombo, an extensive network of friends in the administrative service and in the plantation and mercantile sectors. His connections made a difference to Trinitians. When the time came for students to secure jobs, Mr. Burrows was able to open doors for them to make their way to job opportunities. His choices of those recommended were, to the best of our knowledge, very good and none of them betrayed his faith in them.
Life after Trinity
Mr. Burrows left his teaching at Trinity College after seventeen years in 1963 with a heavy heart. He had a genuine love of Sri Lanka and its peoples, and was proud to possess Honorary Citizenship of Ceylon. The government’s plan to abolish English-stream in schools led to him and “Mrs. Pat” having to take their three children, Peter Ananda, Michael Rohan and Alison Sriyani, back to the UK for their education.
In preparation for this upheaval, he sought suitable employment when on leave in the UK in 1961. Teaching was the obvious choice, and he had toured many well-known English schools previously, while on a British Council-sponsored information gathering exercise, which may or may not have informed the direction of travel at Trinity in some ways. However, he met a man called Harry Holland in 1961 who was setting up a new organization in England to run courses preparing Europeans for overseas work. Harry was an eye surgeon in Peshawar (Pakistan), as his father had been too, carrying out thousands of cataract operations over the years on people from far and wide and transforming lives. He was a man with a mission, but he had been horrified at the lack of knowledge of Europeans arriving to work in Pakistan and Asia about culture, history and political background. How could one work in a country without this understanding and appreciation, and let it be said, respect for local peoples? He was determined to set up a briefing centre in England. This was the Overseas Service College, which later became the Centre for International Briefing, based at Farnham Castle in Surrey. Many were the Trinitians who visited him at Farnham Castle.
Gordon Burrows and his family had a very happy time at the Castle. It was ideal for Mr. Burrows, especially as it meant he was able to tour Asia widely every two or three years to keep up to date with contacts and see first-hand what was happening from Pakistan to Indonesia, Thailand to Fiji. Sri Lanka was always a central stop. In 1966 he was delighted to gain a rare visa to visit China, then under Chairman Mao’s leadership, where any small group of visitors were shepherded carefully throughout their visit.
GAEB’s postcards home, which he knew would have to pass the censor’s eyes first, were masterly to those who were able to read between the lines. All his postcards got through unchanged. He also made his first visit to Japan. He said he had not enjoyed it. Doubtless, his experience was coloured by war and his SEAC days in Kandy.
A certain cricket team was touring the UK in 1983.This sparked off a lot of interest amongst the Old Boys living there. On a suggestion made by Major Burrows, a collective decision was taken to set up an Old Boys’ Association in England. Major Burrows agreed to be the first Chairman and the TCK OBA (UK) was thus born in 1984.
In other areas post-TCK, alongside his work, he served as a Governor of a local primary school for a few years, kept in constant touch with Trinity College and its former pupils, writing countless references as they moved from studies to jobs in various continents, and continued his music, enjoying singing in the local parish church choir each week, having a pint of beer after choir practice, and always playing the piano at home, especially J S Bach.
He died peacefully on 21 December 1990 aged 75, in his bed at home in Farnham, having had cancer. He had refused all hospital treatment in order to be at home, where Mrs. Pat cared unstintingly for him. In the weeks before he died, he spent hours on the telephone, contacting and saying good bye to all his many friends around the world, in conversations full of warmth, laughter and shared recollections. To him, as he said, death was simply ‘slipping my moorings’.
With regards to all the information and personal anecdotes shared on Mr Burrows, we are ever grateful to
- Mr Errol Fernando (accompanist of the Choir, 1957-1964)
- Mr Peter Ananda Burrows (Son of Mr. & Mrs. Burrows)
- Maj Richard Hermon (Student & Alisonian)
- Mr Emil Van der Poorten (Student )
- Mr Sriyantha Simon Senaratna (Chorister & Alisonian)
- Ms Thilini Dias Sumanasekara (Curator of the College Archives and Museum)
- Mr Lasantha Tennekoon (Choirmaster of Trinity College, Kandy)
Today Mrs Pat Burrows lives in Oxford with her son Michael not far from the home of her other son Peter. Daughter Alison lives in Ireland.
Trinity is grateful to Major Gordon Burrows and his family for what they have been to several generations of Trinitians. They have left an indelible mark on the life of this school and indeed on the lives of Trinitians, past present and even on the lives of Trinitians of the future.
- 1964. 1963 College Magazine. Trinity College. Kandy, Sri Lanka: Trinity College Press, pp.23 and 24.
- 1992. The Monograph Of Trinity. Trinity College Old Boys Association Colombo, pp.Page 108 and 109.
- Trinity College Kandy OBA UK. n.d. About Us. [online] Available at: <https://www.tckobauk.com/>.
- The Centenary Number
Article by Uthsara Dissanayake (Student)