KIRKBY (Liverpool): Granborne Chase here is a smart residential area with detached houses, beautiful gardens and a park for its residents. But this was not how a group of Kirkbyites, former students of the Malayan Teachers’ Training College (MTTC) in the 1950s, remember it.

From 1952 to 1962, the site of the former World War 2 munitions barracks served as a college for 1,900 young Malayans.

The MTTC in Kirkby was one of two Malayan teachers’ training colleges in England. The other was Brinsford College in Wolverhampton.

Yesterday, literally, on a trip down memory lane, the group of former students, now in their 80s and late 70s, who had arrived from Malaysia, the United States and Australia, stood excitedly around the park, reminiscing their times there.

A plaque, still covered with a Malaysian flag, stood facing the road where the entrance of the college used to be.

The spot holds a great significance to them, as that was where Tunku Abdul Rahman met the students and announced Malaya’s Independence.

The day, Feb 7, 1956, is still fresh in the mind of Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim, 84, who was a student of the college from 1954 to 1956.

“It was a blisteringly cold February day. We were standing out here, waiting for his arrival. A convoy of black Humbers, British government cars in those days, arrived. And, when he alighted, he was received by the principal,” said Abdul Aziz.

The then chief minister Tunku Abdul Rahman had arrived with members of the Merdeka mission, fresh from a successful discussion at Lancaster House in London.

“It came as a complete surprise. I knew they had a successful meeting in Lancaster House and we had expected him to say the usual, that students should ‘work hard and play hard’.

“Then, all of a sudden, without looking at notes or anything like that, he announced that they had a successful discussion in London and, God willing, he said, Malaya would become an independent country on Aug 31, 1957,” added Abdul Aziz.

MTTC Kirkby alumni president Datuk V.L. Kandan, 80, who was present with 300 other students on the day of the announcement, said there was a stunned silence for a while, and then they all joined in Tunku and the party and shouted “Merdeka!” three times.

“I remember the members of the Merdeka Mission included Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Haji Omar Ong Yoke Lin, Tun V.T. Sambanthan and Tun Sardon Jubir.

“Sambanthan came up to me and said, ‘keep the light burning’,” said Kandan, who was at the college from 1955 to 1957.

Kandan was instrumental in bringing the group back to mark the 60th Merdeka celebration.

The trip down memory lane had been made possible by the cooperation between the Kirkby alumni and the Archive Resource for Knowsley, which had been gathering information about Kirkby village for their records.

The excitement in the greens of Granborne Chase had attracted a small crowd of residents; one remembered seeing the group of Malayan students alighting the train at Kirkby station, some had heard their parents talking about the college.

The residents of Granborne Chase will be among those present at the unveiling ceremony of a plaque today and they will be a part of the Malaysian history.

As Abdul Aziz aptly put it: “In a sense we have passed on something precious to a new community of people. The memory still remains as strong as ever. This is all about sharing.”

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Kirkbyites gather at site where Tunku Abdul Rahman announced impending Merdeka
Tunku Abdul Aziz and Dato VL Kandan who were present on the day announcement was made.

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