Lest we forget, in these times of political uncertainty and worry, this famous school located in Georgetown, is 90 years old this month. Before we venture into the story behind Armitage school, I wish to remind you that Armitage was opened in January 1927 by Governor Sir Cecil Armitage, whom the new school was named after.
Although popular wisdom has it that the school was for ‘sons of chiefs’, there was never a time when the school catered solely for sons of chiefs. It is true that chiefs were honoured with a school to educate their children, yet Armitage was more for protectorate children than specifically for sons of chiefs. However, at its earliest days chiefs patronised the chiefs. Chief Cherno Bandeh of Fulladu West (1925-1951) sent his son Makang to Armitage; Mama Tamba sent his son Sheriff; while Jewru Krubally chief of Basse (1924-1962) sent his son Ansumana to Armitage in the first years of the school. Other sons of chiefs like Sheriff Dibba also went to Armitage. Matarr Ceesay and Mama Tamba Jammeh, famous colonial era chiefs also went to Armitage, so did their children and grandchildren.
While Governor Armitage was seen as the originator of Armitage, his officials played critical roles in the development of the school. The early kundas (boys’ dormitories) of the school were named after these British officials who assisted in the development of the school.
This kunda was named after Major RW Macklin, the Travelling Commissioner for McCarthy Island Province. He played a big role in establishing Armitage. An eloquent tribute to his outstanding contribution is contained in a letter dated 27 January 1927 addressed to the Secretary of State for the Colonies at 10 Downing Street in London by CRM Workman, Colonial Secretary in Bathurst. The letter reads: ‘The Travelling Commissioner Macklin will supervise the general arrangement of the school and it is to his energy and enthusiasm that this interesting experiment owes its inception’.
This kunda was named after William Temple Hamlyn, who was inspector of schools for the Gambia at the founding of Armitage. He was the one who in 1926 wrote a memo to Governor Armitage pleading ‘for the serious consideration of the question of starting a government school at Georgetown similar to the Muhammedan school in Bathurst, but suited more to the needs of a protectorate school in the subjects of its instruction’.
Captain Saunders was an agricultural officer at the Agric experiment farm at Yoroberikunda near Georgetown. He devoted a lot of times giving the school true meaning in the dreams of its founders. He introduced the teaching of agricultural science and the scout troupe at Armitage. He died in 1943.
Sir John Gray was Chief justice of the Gambia until 1942 and he gave the school a lot of support. A keen historian, he wrote magisterial History of The Gambia published in 1940.
While these Europeans associated with Armitage were given the honour of names, the pioneer Gambian staff and headmasters such as its first principal Simon Gomez, 1927-1931; MC Nying assistant master and M Jagne, MD Salla etc. have not yet been given such a honour. All the same, Governor Armitage deserves the recognition for his foresightedness!
I am sure in the coming days and months; more ex-pupils will be sharing their memories of Armitage High School.