The St Clement Church and My Boy Scout Days

 

‘I was inducted into the Boy Scouts movement by my good friend Garbeth when we were in Sixth Standard…’ 

From time to time I drive past St Clement Church, Curepipe, situated in a street of the same name. For a good while I had seen it in a shoddy state, and I wondered whether it had been left in abandon. But recently, I saw a transformation, in that it appeared that renovation works had been carried out. And then I read an article accompanied by pictures in the Weekend newspaper which confirmed that the church had indeed received a makeover. I was both relieved and gladdened, as much as I had felt sad on seeing the earlier decrepit state in which it had remained for quite some time.

This fact and the passing of my old scoutmaster last year – Mr Regis Pavaday about whom I had written in July 2014 following a visit to him — triggered memories of my association with the St Clement Church and of the Boy Scouts Troop there. It was one of the several Troops forming part of the Mauritius Diocesan Boy Scouts Association (M.D.B.S.A), and I had been a member of the St Clement Troop for several years, starting in 1957.

I was inducted into the Boy Scouts movement by my good friend Garbeth when we were in Sixth Standard at the Curepipe Road Church of England Aided School, popularly known as ‘L’école Baichoo’ and which later (after cyclones Alix and Carol had razed the ‘longère’ type school building to the ground) became the Hugh Otter Barry Government Primary School. Garbeth was from Vacoas, and at first I joined the Troop there, in 1956. The scoutmaster was also a Mr Pavaday, though I do not remember his first name. Our meeting ground was a plot of land situated behind Reverend Bagnall’s house that faced the main road, and as with all Boy Scouts meeting, it was on Saturday afternoons that we met.

Meetings used to last till late afternoon, beginning with a roll-call punctually at 2 pm and an inspection by the scoutmaster as we fell in line standing at attention. Our uniforms, badges and scarves were checked and adjustments made. By the by – because my father could not buy all the paraphernalia at one go – I also sported my Boy Scouts cap, belt with the circular metal clasp in front with its lily motif, my whistle at the end of the white cord strung across the shoulder if I remember correctly, and the khaki-coloured stockings to match the uniform made of khaki also.

We learned to greet each other by shaking the left hand and saying ‘Akela’ while holding the index and middle fingers of the right hand in a V-shape just above the shoulder and standing with legs together: we had to bear ourselves smartly at all times. The meeting always started with a short prayer, and reading from a book by the founder of the movement, Lord Baden Powell. This was then followed by a series of activities that were meant to bond us as well as to develop our manual and observational skills. One that I remember best is how to make various types of knots, and this has stood me in good stead throughout my life, not least when during my training as a surgeon I realized that the reef knot which we use during suturing was a mainstay of our art.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time spent with my Vacoas friends, but like all good things that must come to an end that chunk of my budding teenage years found closure too. I do not remember exactly the circumstances that led me to join the St Clement Troop, but that’s where I found myself in 1957 – by then I was in Form I at the Royal College Curepipe — with another group of friends from my neighbourhood in Curepipe Road and some from further afield in Curepipe too. My friend Garbeth went on to attend St Andrew’s College, and I never heard about or met him again until nearly 35 years later.

The ‘Old Boy’ network

I was then at the Jeetoo Hospital, and had submitted some modifications to be brought to the outpatient department so as to relieve the crowded waiting room and provide adequate space for seeing orthopaedic emergencies. It had been nearly three years that the plan of works was submitted, and every time I enquired the reply was: it’s the Ministry (of Health) that is delaying, it’s the Ministry of Works (or whatever it was called then, in the early 1990s) that is responsible and so on. One day out of ‘fed-uppishness’ I decided to call the Ministry of Works and was put through to the Chief Engineer. Imagine my pleasant surprise when it was Garbeth who answered! Two days later he was at the hospital, and we greeted each other like old school friends in Mauritius do. By the following week the construction started and was soon over.

The British call this the ‘Old Boy’ network. I have never stopped shuddering at the thought of having to depend on an ‘Old Boy’ network to get work needed for the country and the people done. Simultaneously, I have never ceased praying for such work to be done on a merits or needs basis rather than having to fall on ‘connections’ – old or new. So if one does not have ‘connections’ the country, or a faceless citizen goes to the dogs? Who will bring the corrective to this state of affairs? – that, alas, continues.

Anyways, my first Scoutmaster at Curepipe was Mr Sydney Cabon. I think he was employed at the Highlands Sugar Estate, for once he took us to his house there. It was a single, longish room as I remember, but that met his needs as he was a bachelor.

He was a very dynamic and enthusiastic Scoutmaster, committed to the Boy Scout cause. He was himself very skilled at many things, including cooking, the rudiments of which we learnt from him when we went camping. Before that we had had to learn how to light a fire – no gas in those days! We had to collect the dry bamboo sticks and other firewood, and set up a cooking place by arranging stones in a U-shape. And blow with our mouth – there was no phoukni – or fan with a piece of carton or folded paper to keep the flames going initially.

One of the places we went to was Le Chaland, soon to be the site of a hotel complex. There were hardly any people, and we had an embarrass de choix in selecting a camp site. As soon as we reached, we got down to organizing our logistics if I may put it this way. There was a division of labour and tasks had been allocated in a briefing prior to departure. Some of us began to put up the tents, the stronger ones were assigned to dig a trench and put up a curtain of tarpaulin that would delimit the toilet area, others went looking for stones for the fireplace to be set up in a suitable ‘kitchen’ space.

Every morning there would be an inspection and we had to be ready and dressed up in our uniform before we raised the flag on a makeshift pole. Marks would be allocated and the Troop that topped for the day would be awarded some prize. Reverend Bagnall, Head of Diocesan Boy Scouts, came over one day, and we thought we deserved the prize, but he obviously had another opinion. Frustration bred naughtiness amongst us, and we thought we would show him what at dinner time.

Boyz will be boyz

We ate our food immediately after cooking so it wouldn’t get cold, by the light of the dying flames and if we were lucky, moonlight. That evening there wasn’t any, and the trick we played on the unsuspecting Reverend was to lace the cucumber salad with finely chopped green chillies which stuck to the equally thin cucumber slices amidst similarly chopped onion pieces. Rev Bagnall was cosily propped up against a tree as the scoutmaster – who wasn’t into our secret – served him the plate of rice, red beans, some vegetable and then the salad.

He went straight for the salad, and very soon a hissing sound came from his mouth even as his face turned lobster-red with profuse sweating. He pulled out first a handkerchief to wipe his face, then a torch from his pocket and we watched with suppressed glee as he tried to pick out and separate the chilli pieces, to no avail! He quickly took a couple of mouthfuls of the plain rice and asked for some water. He had hardly eaten anything before he excused himself hurriedly out of our sight even as we burst into guffaws!

What to do, boyz will be boyz!

Another seaside we went to was Volmar. I don’t remember at which spot the bus stopped and we had to walk the rest of the way, but there was definitely quite a bit to cover. One of us had come by bicycle, on which we loaded some of our stuff. What I recall was that there was not a single human being to be seen. I remember plenty of bushes reaching almost to the shore line, and the white sand. Beyond that, and the fact that we had a great time, I have no recollection to speak of – such is the phenomenon of memory that accompanies aging.

But I have good souvenirs of the years at St Clement. We used to meet in the vestry, again on Saturday afternoons. The area adjoining the church is wooded, with a little river and also a clearing, la plaine. That’s where we carried out all our outdoor activities; I managed to reach Second Class in the Boy Scouts hierarchy and was very proud to have my badge displayed on my shirt sleeve on the left hand side.

Silent night, holy night

We were a mixed group of friends from all communities, and our activities at Christmas time included singing Christmas carols and attending midnight mass. To this day I love to listen to ‘Ave Maria’ and to ‘Silent night, holy night’. A couple of times I also joined the choir. Thus, in addition to subtly but overtly being inculcated the spirit of team effort, and the values of punctuality, discipline, honesty, helping others through mandatory ‘good action’ and being always ready to face life’s challenges in line with the Boy Scouts’ motto ‘Be Prepared’, we also learned to respect each other’s culture and partake of what was the best in them.

I think that it was when I was in Form III that Mr Sydney Cabon left for England, and we corresponded over a certain period. He had joined the Scouts in Marylebone, and was quiet active with them. He even sent me a few Boy Scouts magazines published there. As these things happen, after a while we lost contact. He was replaced by Mr Tony Dhondee, and in due course it was Mr Regis Pavaday who took over. When I was in Form V other interests and matters took priority, such as science and the concern of future career, and I found myself drifting away until I finally stopped attending the meetings. However, I kept in touch with the friends, several of whom lived in my locality. I came across a couple of them in my later years after I had returned home from studies abroad. Sadly, a few of them have already passed away, but this is the course of life isn’t it, and there’s nothing we can do but to accept the reality.

A significant part of what I am today I owe to my training in the Boy Scout movement, and in my humble opinion the authorities should encourage the revival of this movement big time. It will no doubt be one of the best ways to engage the youth and to take them away from the scourges to which they are falling prey, such as drugs and stealing. Nobody can recite the Scout’s prayer, its complete version reproduced below, regularly in their growing years without being deeply touched, and transformed by it.

RN Gopee

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A Scout’s Prayer

Our Father, make us Trustworthy, for there are those who trust us.
Make us Loyal, for through loyalty we reach our highest ideals.
Teach us to be Helpful, for through helpfulness do we forget our selfness.
Make us Friendly, for there are so many who need a friend.
Train us in Courtesy, for courtesy is the carpet on life’s floor.
Make us kind for kindness is the oil in the cogs of life’s machinery.
Insist upon our Obedience, for victory comes only to him who obeys.
Make us Cheerful, for cheerfulness is the green grass among the rocks in the path of life.
Train us in Thrift, for thrifty habits brighten our future.
Make us Brave; brave in the dark and brave in the light; but save us from becoming fakers in bravery.
Help us to be Clean – clean in thoughts, in speech, and in deed. And may we remember that our bodies are Thy holy temples, and that any abuse thereof is to tamper with Thy Great Plans.
Above all, O God, help us to be Reverent toward all things which Thou hast made for our enjoyment when we are in Thy great out-of-doors, among the trees, along the streams, and on the Hillsides. May we know it was Thee who made the waters to flow, the trees to reach heavenward, the mountains to endure to all ages.
In all these things we ask that Thou wilt help us. And may we never forget the Scout Oath to which we all have pledged ourselves, so that through Thy help we may live these points of our Scout Law.

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