Welcome to Hermonites Reunited Website

 Pillars of MH Pictures Salad Days
Hermonites Join In Songs Reunion Community Center

Reverend and Mrs. JOHN JOHNSTON

We first made contact with India in November 1952 (on Nehru’s birthday – a good omen!) when we arrived by ship from Australia at Bombay, on our way to Assam as Missionary probationers with the Australian Baptist Missionary Society. Soon, in March 1953,we made contact with MH, because the Mission required us to attend the Language School, then located at MH, using Fernhill and some of the cottages.

Val Hutchinson, as she was then, was already a trained teacher so she became even more involved with the school. The American Methodist Mission to which Miss Knowles etc. belonged had almost decided to close the school because they no longer had children to send there (they started using Woodstock in Mussoorie). But several other Missions wanted it to keep going, so a new committee was formed, to make MH a United Mission school. The last American Principal, Rev.George Workman, was there in 1953 and did a good job keeping the school together, and reorganising the accounts etc., (not many people know about him I find). Interestingly, in the light of Mrs, Murray’s later well-known musical gifts, Mrs Workman too was a very good musician, and a lovely lady. Part of the new arrangements was for the supporting missions to provide either a subsidy, or a staff member. So Val found herself “loaned” to the school, and spent a very satisfying year, teaching senior English and being senior girls’ matron. We were engaged to be married at the end of the year, so naturally I took an interest in what was going on in the school, as much as in doing Bengali! This also meant I came to know some of the students, and became interested in the idea of making “teaching” my contribution to the Mission. We can look back on that year, to remember some of the old timers among old scholars when they were children! So to cut a long story short, soon after our marriage in Calcutta, we returned to Australia, and I did teacher training until 1959, when we accepted an invitation to join Mr.Stewart at Mount Hermon.

By the time we returned to Darjeeling there were 3 little Johnstons, Michael, Carol and Christine, and they, with Jenni born in 1961, and Lyndy in 1965, became very much part of MH. They all look back on their years there as among the best of their lives. When we left after 12 years to “retire”to Australia in 1971, first Christine in 1975 and then Jenni in 1976, asked to be allowed to go back for a year on their own. So when I returned to become Principal in 1978, we had connections which had never really been severed for 25 years. The years 1978 to 1989 have quite different memories from our first period and I find myself getting confused about what happened when!! But it was a moving experience to visit the school from our “voluntary” year with Dr.Graham’s Homes in 2000, and find some of the ISC class were the last I had enrolled in KG back in 1989! I realized, when we visited again in 2001, that it was the first time since 1953 that there were no students at all in the assembly whom we had known….very sad! Even then, I did know Mr.Fernandez’ son Anil who had been a baby boy in 1989, but not a “student” then!

1959 to 1970 and 1978 to1989

Mr.Stewart placed us in charge of the boys’ dorms at Fernhill, along with Mr.& Mrs.Mathai, who became our very good friends – and their children Shantha, Walsa, Mon, George and Nilima, were our children’s constant playmates. I was made class teacher of class 9 and retained that job until 1963, when I was made Senior Master. I can look at the class 9 photos of those years and remember almost all the faces…..a very warm, happy period of my life.. Mrs.Johnston too had some classes as well as being very busy with the dorm work, dhobi etc.and looking after the family. My teaching also involved alternating the 10/11 Bio classes with Mrs.Dam, and scripture with Mr.Stewart. The great feature of MH in those years, and for many yeas to come right up to the 80s, was the variety of out-of-class activities in which all the staff seemed to be involved. Trekking and Camping were popular because many of the boarders did not go home for the May and Sept Holidays, in the days before easy “Plane Parties”.

One of the first big events around then was the building of the swimming pool in 1960. Being put in charge of Swimming gave me a satisfying “sporting” interest, which suited my blind-eye lack of skill with ball games! And of course the Swimming Gala became a major feature over the years. Mr.Stewart became famous in the district as a football umpire, and Mr.Murray played both football and cricket. Mr.Mathai was keen on Table tennis and basketball, and I think all of us had sessions of trekking and camping. Mr.Hendry made a big contribution to woodwork and other hobbies and Mr.Burn was famous for his photography interest. And I must not forget the ladies who looked after girls’ sports…athletics, basketball, netball, Bulbuls and Guides, camps and Treks…. in the hand of Mrs.Rongong, Miss Bilcliffe, MissMcGillivray, Sister Digby and others.

Another feature which flourished every year was the “MAJOR PRODUCTION”. I think almost every staff member in those years had some part to play in producing quite outstanding stage shows….Costumes, make-up, sets etc. This was true right up until 1989, when “The Winslow Boy” was put on by Mrs.Johnston and Mr.Mervyn Baptist in the midst of the difficulties caused by the GNLF movement. Naturally I can remember all the shows of the 80s when I was “in charge” and therefore responsible to see all went well. How fortunate I was to have Mr.Blackmore as director of many of them, and Roslyn Rongong/Namgyal and Raj David as musicians for the great Musicals we had. The list includes:- 79..A quite fantastic Concert (starring John Glasby, Raj David, Digby Barrow,Sara Bunce among others) 80 Sound of Music(Emma Masand a star soloist as Maria) 81Anne of Green Gables (Many will remember John Duncan’s dramatic death in the role of old Matthew) 82 She stoops to conquer,( directed by Steve Lewis while Mr.Blackmore was away); 83 Scrooge (Mr.Blackmore’s version of Dickens’ “Christmas Carol”, with music composed by Christopher Masand); 84 Ruddigore (somewhat disrupted by the beginnings of the GNLF disturbances); 85 Summer Song (for which I actually got to be the pianist! and Rajashri Basumatari was discovered as a brilliant soloist) 86 My Fair Lady (one of the best in all my 25 years at MH) 87Brigadoon; 88 Carousel( which yielded the going home day song “Don’t be afraid of the storm”) 89 The Winslow Boy… I remember Firdausi Rahman having the leading girl’s role in no less than three years 86, 87 and 88.

For those who were at MH in the 60s & 70s I can’t supply all the titles, but those that come to mind include: HMS Pinafore; See How They Run; Iolanthe; School and Crossbones; MacBeth (in Tibetan costumes); Oliver; Midsummer nights Dream; The Prodigious Snob;

Salad Days (which yielded the going home day song, “We said we wouldn’t look back”);

The Mikado; Gondoliers; King and I; Fiddler on the roof ….and there must be two or three others I did not see during our gap away in Australia and Mussoorie, 1971 to1977. In the 50s and early 60s we had the benefit of Mr.Stewart’s friendship with Geoffrey and Laura Kendal and their later famous daughters, Jennifer and Felicity. Their company, known as Shakspeareana, put on such classics as Hamlet, Othello, Merchant of Venus , Twelfth Night and Shaw’s “St.Joan” and, to the great delight of everyone, actually lived at the school (in the hospital) and gave valuable advice to our efforts. All the big boys were in love with Felicity! Jennifer later married Sashi Kapoor and brought him to MH on one occasion.

Almost as important as the “MP” were the Class plays and Chapel plays, where many of the stars of the MPs had their first try on stage. I experienced these first hand as Class 9 teacher, and later when I became Principal was able to appreciate how much I owed to the staff in this area. Other equally important activities were the Quizzes, Debates, Elocutions, and House Singing, all of which depended so much on the gifts and willing spirit of the staff. (I think Miss Mitchell’s beautifully painted “magic piano” for Salad Days is still in the school somewhere, and Henry Soggee’s backdrop paintings remained from year to year) . Singing and Elocution alternated between “vernacular” and “English”, so even the “dayscholar” language teachers had an active role and were always willing helpers. Even to mention these things throws up a host of memories of individuals and special items. I can still picture my Nines doing “The summoning of Everyman” as a Chapel Play which almost matched an MP( I think Anjali was “Faith”!)……… how often we saw “The Monkey’s Paw” as a Class Play !!

The other big excitement in our early years was the construction of the Stewart Building in 1963, which provided lovely new labs for Mr.Darr,(Physics) Mr Mathai,(Chem.), Mr.Murray (Geog,- with Miss Russell and Mr.Blackmore later) and Mrs.Dam and myself (Bio) Our family had to say a sad farewell to Fernhill in order to take charge of the new dorms. I had quite an argument with “Boss” over that!! It was called the “New Block” at first, but when Mr.Stewart left it was rightly named in his honour.

When we returned in 1978 we found the dhobi Ghat spring had been tapped by Mr.Murray, and to make full use of this benefit, over the next few years we constructed additional tanks, which made MH among the best off among Darjeeling schools in the dry season.(Boarders will say “wow! How bad they must have been!!) Another new arrival in those years was the “Round Building” set up as an additional boys’ dorm. Over the Rose Garden. Here too I was fortunate to gain the services of Mr. Wadkar as Sports master, and to be able to place him and Mrs.Wadkar in charge of Round Building…..if you visit MH you will find them still there doing a great job! A powerful generator and a genuine 35mm Movie Projector were other important additions in the late 70s and early 80s

One of the most important aspects of my purpose in being in India was to share the message of Life I believed I had found for myself in Jesus Christ. In this connection it was always a joy to see how children of every faith cheerfully took part in “Christian” activities like Chapel and HiC. On the other hand, I too came to appreciate what the culture and beliefs of India had to offer me, and to love my Hindu, Bhuddist, Muslim, Sikh, Parsi and Jain students and friends. I think fondly our Parsi friend and counsellor, Dr.Master. Our own family have always maintained they were given a great gift in this modern world, to know first hand that the important thing about people is not what their background is, but what kind of people they are. Four items in this connection stand out in my memory –1) The Easter Play on Good Friday morning, before Easter holidays officially started; 2) Some marvellous Carol Services put on by Mrs.Murray, then later Raj David and others; 3) I always had to make the class play roster work out so KG,1 & 2 would do the Christmas play, under Mrs.Williams,( then later Mrs.Masand and Mrs Rongong) 4) the marvellous succession of music teachers who were responsible for the Chapel Choirs.. and for myself, the sheer joy of the morning hymn at assemblies.

One other personal memory for me and the family involves the dwellings we had at MH……first Fernhill, then Stewart building, then Trees and finally Grace Cottage. Every one of these could warrant a paragraph to itself, since each had a special connection with the lives of our children as they grew up. All the cottages on the estate held personal memories. For example, I recall the time in 1968 when the terrible floods washed away the Anderson bridge, and Mt.Hermon Estate suffered a lot of damage. Mr.Daniels was nearly washed away with Boronia cottage that night, and I only just managed to escape being drowned in a mudslide from the road above!

No account of the things that were special to us over the years would be complete without coming to the Teachers’ Training College (TTC), begun by Mr.Murray in the early 70s, and coming to its full flourishing when we arrived in 1978. Mrs.Johnston in particular found her most rewarding efforts there, and more than 200 teachers all over India look back with gratitude to the solid training in methods and classroom management they received from her. I was officially “Principal” of the College, and took a great deal of pleasure in the association I was able to have with so many fine young men and women. When I finally left MH at the end of 1989, ALL my staff in the Juniour School were our own graduates from the TTC. Later it was a big thrill to work “under” Henry Soggee as Principal of Mount Home School, Coonoor, in my retirement years’ work between 1994 and 2000. He was the first TTC boy I met, as he joined in 1978, and has done a fine job at my other “MHS”. We arrived in the thick of the changes that followed Mr, Murray’s establishment of the College; new College building where log cabin cottage used to be; the Murray Hostel below the road to town; and the reorganising of the kitchen and dining room, which was needed to accommodate young men and women separately from the school. Although the arrangement later came under criticism from some old scholars, I can confidently say the underground dining room and kitchen worked well while Mr.Gardner was in charge, and I actively kept an eye on things “down under”.

One final matter is lying before me here in my notes; the list of over 200 boys and girls who were PREFECTS during the years I was Principal, and I know Mr.Stewart and Mr.Murray would each have similar lists for the decades of their care. I cannot go into that on this occasion, but later may post a list of those to whom I am ever grateful for their loyalty and hard work. We would have found it much harder to manage during the upsets of the GNLF agitation without their solid, sensible, support.

Now if I think of any more this will be much too long! Sufficient to say you will gather that the word “regret” is not in the vocabulary of our thinking about MH – except regret at having to leave! Perhaps if enough old scholars bother to read it all, we may get a flood of reminiscences, adding to and correcting what I have said.