Monday, 21 November 2011

OFA: 1922 or 1923?

When exactly was the Old Frees' Association in Penang founded? The year is commonly accepted by all and sundry at the Association as 1923. The present OFA logo is simply that of the badge of the Penang Free School contained within two concentric circles that proclaimed the name of the association and the year of its founding.

Earlier today, I was reading a short account of the OFA's history, written in 1966 by Mr Tan Kiar Lew, himself an Old Boy and a former teacher at the School (and, as I understand it, also a former headmaster of Westlands School), from which I'd like to reproduce an excerpt.

"....Apparently nothing happened till six years later when a meeting, held on 20th February 1923, attended by over a hundred Old Frees and teachers of the School adopted a resolution, moved by the late Hon'ble Mr Yeoh Guan Seok, and seconded by the late Mr Quah Beng Kee, to form the OFA confining membership to Old Frees and teachers with over five years' service in the School. A committee was then set up to draft the rules of the Association, Messrs HR Cheeseman, Khoo Heng Kok and Tan Kiar Lew were elected members of this committee.

"The second meeting was called on 17th April 1923 when the rules recommended by the committee were adopted with some amendments. The following were then elected to serve till 31st March 1924: The Hon'ble Mr Yeoh Guan Seok (President) Messrs Khoo Sian Ewe and MHM Noordin (Vice-Presidents), Mr Khoo Heng Kok (Hon Secretary), Mr Tan Kiar Lew (Hon Asst Secretary) Dr Ong Huck Chye (Hon Treasurer) Mr Ooi Thean Soo (Hon Auditor) Mr E Mohd Hashim (Sports Captain) and Messrs HR Cheeseman, HH Abdoolcader, Quah Beng Kee, Lim Keong Lay, Ong Boon Swee, SM Joonos, Drs Lim Guan Cheng and AO Merican (Committee Members)."

"No. 10 Leith Street (next door to Sin Pin Jit Poe) was occupied by the Association as the first Club house officially opened on October 21, 1923 coinciding with the 107th Anniversary of the School...."

But it's very perplexing, you know. I've just uncovered a newspaper item that appeared on Page 8 of The Straits Times, 25 October 1925 edition, which reported: "On the 109th anniversary of the Free School and the third anniversary of the Old Frees' Association, Old Frees from all parts of the Colony have been holding a re-union at Penang. The premises No. 10, Leith Street were dressed with flags and bunting, and illuminated with myriads of coloured lights. Mr. Khoo Sian Ewe, the President of the Association, was the host at a dinner on Wednesday."

The meaning of the word "anniversary" as I understand it from the dictionaries is that an anniversary is "the date on which an event had occurred in some previous year." Now if 1925 was considered the third anniversary of the OFA, why, was the Association founded in 1922 and not 1923? Surely, some records may be wrong somewhere? Can Mr Tan Kiar Lew's written account be missing something or could The Straits Times be mistaken? Problem was, even until 1930, this anomaly was not cleared up because in the Malayan Saturday Post of 8 November 1930, it was reported that the eighth anniversary of the Old Frees' Association was celebrated on "Tuesday 21st Oct, 1930." There was even a photograph to show the "8th Anniversary" clearly.

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