The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Ethiopia in 1951 - 1954

Author - Barbara Wingard

Peter and Barbara Wingard taught English at the General Wingate School from 1951-54. After home leave they returned to Ethiopia where Peter became an English teaching advisor to the Ministry of Education. Peter Wingard died in 2000.

We arrived early in September, at the end of the rainy season, to see masses of yellow Meskel daisies from the plane. Waving hands soon identified teachers from the General Wingate School where we were to spend the next three years. As we drove from the air-port we tried to take in the many new sights and names - Churchill Avenue, the Piazza with the King George bar, and the nearby State Bank of Ethiopia, then on past the Post Office through the busy road to Gulele.

The drive up to the school was lined with tall waving eucalyptus trees, the first we had ever seen. As the headmaster, Alec Heyring, and the senior master, Herbert Warrington, had not yet returned from leave, we were looked after by the acting head, John Fitzgerald. He and his wife, along with the Regans gave us a most warm welcome. With two weeks before the students came back, we had time to get to know our new colleagues and to take stock of our new surroundings. We were delighted with our wooden bungalow and the newly built school, recently opened by the widow of General Wingate.

The General Wingate School at this time, save for two Ethiopian teachers of Amharic, was staffed by British teachers appointed by the British Council and paid by the Ethiopian Ministry of Education. In addition there were two locally appointed teachers, namely the Swiss Roger Sauter, who taught French, and Badie Salib, an Egyptian who was in charge of chemistry and general science. Two officials from the Ministry came out to the school once a month to pay us our salary in cash.

The students, who ranged in age from 13 to 20+, were prepared for the external matriculation examination of London University. In addition to English language, the students were examined in mathematics and the science subjects, as well as English literature, geography and history. There was hardly any connection with their Ethiopian background and culture, which at this distance in time seems quite incredible. A priest from the local church came to give religious instruction to the assembled school once a week. Despite this heavy workload, the students had time for energetic games of football under the enthusiastic direction of Leslie Casbon.

There was also a great interest in drama. In addition to plays in English produced by the staff, the students put on their own religious plays in Amharic. Amateur dramatics and music were flourishing activities for the expatriate community. Gilbert & Sullivan operas organised by Mrs Christine Sandford, the headmistress of the English School, were an annual event. Her students took part in the chorus and the solo parts were sung by expats. The orchestra was an international mixture of very good local Armenian musicians, an Italian cellist, an American flautist, and an excellent Dutch violinist.

We gave performances at the English School and at the Wingate, but the final one was in town at the Adowa cinema. As there was no piano in the cinema, the Sandfords had their old grand piano carried the considerable distance from the school to the town by six Gurage porters. To this day, hearing a snatch of a tune from one of the operas we performed, brings back a flood of memories of the people who took part in those incredible productions.

The other great interest for many foreign teachers was making trips to remoter parts of Ethiopia. Without doubt the best one we made was to see the thirteenth century rock churches of Lalibela. This was a five day journey, two of which were northwards by car to Dessie, then on to Waldia. There we hired mules and muleteers for our party of six and our camping baggage, for a most strenuous three day ride. It was all worthwhile in order to see these most amazing churches and to experience a way of life that was nearer to the Middle Ages rather than the twentieth century. In 1995 we revisited Lalibela and found that despite the easy journey by plane and tourist accommodation, the religious atmosphere still prevailed.

Our return to Ethiopia in 1995, after 40 years, was to celebrate the golden jubilee of the General Wingate School and to revisit places we had seen so many years ago. It was at times overwhelming to take in so many of the changes that had taken place since our departure in 1958. Most moving of all was meeting up with former Wingate students and hearing about their lives and careers. We felt privileged to have contributed to their education and to have had the experience of living in such a beautiful and interesting country.

First Published in News File Spring 2013

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