Saturday, 5 January 2008

Down Memory Lane

I have always been fascinated by the history of BBGS, and grateful to the extraordinary women who were our school’s early pioneers. They dedicated their entire lives to build the BBGS legacy that we are proud to call our own today. This is why we must constantly strive to live up to the ideals that have been sown so many years ago.

This is the story of Miss Ma, one of those early pioneers. This extract is taken from her article published in the BBGS Centenary Magazine, May 1993.

Down Memory Lane
By Miss Ma Tak Yan
Ex-student, ex-teacher & first headmistress of BBGS Primary 2

I treasure the earliest memories of my old school where I spent 55 years of my life, first as a pupil, then a teacher and finally as headmistress. It is also the school where two brothers, six sisters, my adopted daughter and eleven nieces received their education.

I joined BBGS in 1922 when I was five years old (at that time there was no fixed age for admission). Although it was called a girls’ school, boys were also admitted. However, they had to leave and join a boys’ school after completing Standard 2.

During my student days, BBGS was under four fine Christian headmistresses who endeavoured to live and teach the faith which they professed. The first was Miss Luke and when she went on leave, Miss O’Connor took over the helm. Then came Miss E. Prouse, a disciplinarian who instilled a healthy fear of authority in students but was much respected by everyone. She is also fondly remembered as the person from whom we learned to do fine embroidery. When she went on furlough, our dear Miss M. Glasgow became our headmistress.

The early Davidson Road days

In those early days, BBGS operated from the Chinese Gospel Hall. This was a small wooden building in Davidson Road. Four classes were held in the main building, each occupying one corner of the Hall with the headmistress’ desk beside the main door. Two other classes were held in the vestry.

Lack of space and facilities did not dampen the enthusiasm displayed by Miss Prouse. As there was no playing field, she made full use of whatever space there was in front of the church building to teach us folk dancing, which I thoroughly enjoyed, and club drill. These activities made up for the sports of which we were deprived.

There was great fun when the school broke up at the end of the year. We always had a very interesting concert which was held in the church building. A wooden stage was erected in the vestry by my father, Mr Ma Tham Shun, who was the pastor of the Chinese Gospel Hall. There were singing items and plays and parents were treated to Christmas carols and hymns which students sang with gusto.

BBGS was established as a mission school by the Brethren Assembly. Its aim was not only to provide much needed education particularly for young girls, but also to give them the opportunity to learn the love of God and to acquire good values. Scripture was taught the first thing in the morning from 8 a.m. to 8.30 a.m. I enjoyed the Bible lessons given by some of our missionaries like Miss Shirtliff, Miss Falconer and Miss Daws. Students were encouraged to memorise Bible passages such as Psalm 23, Isaiah 53 and John 14. The teaching of the Word of God has certainly not been in vain and many students have gone on to make valuable contributions to society.

Moving to Bukit Bintang Road

It was a red-letter day when we moved to our own school building on Bukit Bintang Road in 1929. It was still called the Chinese Girls’ School for some time after that. I clearly remembered scrubbing the floors of the classrooms and painting our desks. Standards 7, 8 and 9 (Forms 3, 4 and 5) occupied the classroom next to the headmistress’ office. Woe betide us when we made noise which was immediately silenced by the sound of the press-bell in Miss Prouse’s office.

When I entered Form 5, there were only two pupils – Lizzie Tan and myself. When my classmate fell ill (which she often did), poor me was the only one answering Miss Glasgow’s Literature and Bible Knowledge questions. There were terrifying moments when I failed to answer any of them correctly. This made me more or less memorise every word in the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles so that I could perform well.

Our school was in the limelight when our Badminton Team won the coveted Silver Trophy for four consecutive years in the Selangor Inter-School Badminton Tournament held at the Victoria Institution hall. There were three singles players (I was one of them) and two doubles players. Miss Prouse was very concerned that we should not only perform well but also set an example in sportsmanship. Students, therefore, were strictly instructed not to show delight when our opponents lost a point!

Torture Chamber

When I became a teacher in 1934, the importance of maintaining strict discipline was impressed on me by Miss Prouse with whom I shared a classroom. My class occupied half the room while her class the other half. I used to call that classroom my “Torture Chamber” for while I was teaching my class, I had a pair of blue eyes focused on me from the other end of the room.

In 1936, our school participated in the King George V Silver Jubilee Celebrations held at the former Stadium on Circular Road (now known as Jalan Pekeliling). I was given the task of training the participants for the Maypole Dancing. Imagine my relief when the performers received loud applause from the audience.

Then came the Japanese

During the Japanese Occupation in 1942, we had to study Japanese. I cannot imagine how I managed to teach Algebra (Dai-su) in Japanese! The classes were small and were made up of girls from St. Mary’s and Pudu English schools which amalgamated with BBGS and operated at our school, then called Bukit Bintang Gakko (meaning school in Japanese)

Mrs de Silva from the Pudu English School was the headmistress and we worked in harmony with the teachers from these two schools. However, Miss Prouse and Miss Glasgow, who served the school until the last possible moment, were captured by the Japanese army and interned in Palembang. Miss Prouse did not survive the internment and passed away from malaria six months before the war ended. We will certainly not forget the courage and sacrifice of people such as these. Miss Glasgow returned to BBGS as the headmistress until 1957.

After the Japanese surrender on August 15, 1945, it was a day of great rejoicing when we returned to BBGS in September 1945 to teach in English again The school was denuded of furniture because the Japanese soldiers who camped there had used our chairs and desks for firewood. They also converted the School Hall into a kitchen. Anyone who joined the school had to bring her own desk and chair and we had an interesting assortment of classroom furniture.

The call to be headmistress

I was appointed headmistress of Primary School 2 in 1958, and there were about 1000 pupils under my care. It was a huge responsibility and I recalled the lessons of those years as a class teacher under Miss Prouse and later under Miss Glasgow. Miss Glasgow, in particular, taught me the importance of applying Christian principles and values in discharging my responsibilities. I was privileged to have their own shining example to follow – how to be caring and dedicated but at the same time, to be strict.

I also had the help and the support of a very efficient senior assistant Mrs Bux (nee Wong Sau Lan), a conscientious senior teacher, Mrs Lim Peng Nyun (who succeeded me when I retired and a very capable and industrious school clerk, Mrs Lim Ngoh Moi. These factors enabled me to cope with the challenge and difficulties of the job until my retirement in January 1977.


My retirement in January 1977 marked the end of my teaching career. It was a sad day for me to leave the school and to hand over the reins to others. However, I am thankful for the precious memories I have of BBGS and am always delighted when I hear of the successes achieved by my former students and their contributions to society. BBGS has produced generations of students of fine calibre. I am very proud that three of my students, Miss E.M. Cooke, Mrs Lim Peng Nyun and Mrs Siew Pick Yoke, who became headmistresses of BBGS.


Anonymous said...

Hi there , I really appreciate this blog the past current stories....
your link has been very popular in facebook....I personally have put your link in BBGS MAGAZINE MEMORIES Face Book Group....bye the way do you have a face book ?

Joanna Yeoh said...

Thanks so much for your support, Shehnaaz. This is just a small way for me to repay BBGS for all that she has done for me. You can find my Facebook details at