Slim School

Stat Lux In Monte

"Upon the hill top stands a guiding light"


Photos and Memories 


 Major William Harrison and Betty Harrison.


I would like to thank Willie Harrison the son of Major William (Bill) Harrison and Betty Harrison for making available the documents and photos on this web page and also thank Katie Crammen sister of Willie Harrison for her assistance in compiling the following documents.


How it all began.

 Major William (Bill) Harrison was the first headmaster of Slim school and was instrumental in its inception with Mrs Betty Harrison who became the school Headmistress.

Bill and Elizabeth Harrison at Slim

Bill and Betty Harrison 1951

Below is Major Bill Harrison's memoir of how the school came into being. Unfortunately due to the passage of time this is all that is left of the original document. 

Click here to download copy of original document below

Below is a transcript of the original document above.

Slim School

In November 1950, I was serving as SOIII (Education) at HQ Malaya in Kuala Lumpur, when I was asked whether I would like the post of Headmaster of a boarding school to be founded in the Cameron Highlands. 

This was the period known as the Emergency, where the British Army was deployed in putting down a communist insurgency, to create the conditions in which power could be handed over to the Malayan people. Concern was expressed that the children of military families were suffering educationally because of the abbreviated school hours that were possible in the climate on the plains and the solution was to be the establishment of a school in the Cameron Highlands used by the Army as a “Change of Air Station”. The proposal had been discussed in a desultory fashion over many months until General Sir John Harding, the General Officer in Charge lost patience and ordered that the new school would be open in January 1951 and declared, moreover, that he would perform the opening ceremony himself. In the short time available, there was no possibility of recruiting a civilian head teacher from Britain and that was the reason that the offer was made to me. I accepted without hesitation. 

In the first week of December, I was a member of the party that included Colonel Bedall, Majors Eddie Walters, Lloyd Thomas, John Kane and one or two others, sent for a first look at the school buildings that had already been purchased, unseen, from Miss Griffith-Jones, with the aim of determining what work would be needed to convert them for our purpose. To say that we were dismayed by the sight of the ramshackle structure that met our eyes is an understatement. It was decided that because of the short time available before General Harding was to come, the work would be undertaken in two phases. Phase One, to be completed by January, would make the buildings acceptable for the GOC’s official opening. Work on Phase Two would begin immediately after. The words “Phase Two” became a joke among my civilian colleagues thereafter because, over the next three years of my tenure of the post, not one brick was laid. Once the staff officers had satisfied the General that the school was launched, they felt free to turn their attention to more pressing matters. 

The first few weeks before the children arrived in January were a nightmare. Not only did the buildings have to be gutted but furniture and equipment was delivered in profusion while there was nowhere to store it. Soon, the first members of staff arrived, Isabel Onion and Eve Pringle. They were joined by Warrant Officer Coward and Sergeant John Fiddler.

Bill Harrison

Headmaster, Slim School 1950 - 53   

Webmaster's note:

Unfortunately due to the passage of time the remainder of the above document has been lost.



Below is copy of Betty Harrison's Memoir of how the school came into being..

(This document was written in about 2010 whilst Betty Harrison was studying for her 3rd degree).

 Click here to download copy of original document below

Below is a transcript of the original document above.

The Chicken Hut School 

(As remembered by Betty Harrison)

Come! Come! Come quickly. Big men! Sim hammered on my bedroom door. I'd been washing my hair, sticky from the burning heat of the October afternoon. I wrapped a towel round my head and went downstairs, to find 3 senior officers in my sitting room. Overawed and disadvantaged by my ridiculous turban, I offered them tea and waited to hear why they had come. Something to do with the house perhaps, for we had just moved in and already white ants were eating their way through the walls from the bungalow next door. 

Are you comfortable here?” said one. “Ghastly hot.” said another. “You were a teacher I believe? Which University?” drawled the Brigadier. “Cambridge man myself.” 

I was new to army life and understood little of its protocol, other than that it was a man's world where it was wise to watch and listen. Bookish women did not go down well. I was wary. 

Light began to dawn. Cambridge? Was this the Chief Education Officer from Singapore, who was said to have once got on the wrong train in Peterborough, and finding himself stranded in Cambridge, thereafter claimed that city as his alma mater? It was rumoured that he was the natural son of a former monarch, who had endowed him with a rank he had not earned. Lately, the word was that he was being harried by the General, a real soldier, about the proposal for a secondary school in the cool climate of the hills, where a full day could be worked. The plans were supposed to be well advanced but so far existed only in the Brigadier's imagination and a pass-the-parcel file moving from desk to civil service desk. The scheme sounded like hard work and it would cost money.

Splendid.” said the General “Let's have the opening ceremony in January then. Nineteenth suit you? We'll settle the details before the Christmas break” Sir!” said the Brigadier, an emperor about to lose his clothes, red tabs and all. 

Having satisfied themselves that I could speak the King’s English, and had no children, my visitors left, hurrying away from bandit country over the Causeway back to Singapore. This was 1950 and Malaya was at war. The Japanese had left four years earlier but now there was a different enemy engaged in a last ditch attempt to take the Peninsula for Communist China. 

Rattling over the potholes, the staff car was hot and smelled of feet and the driver’s patchouli hair oil. The Brigadier was tetchy. How had he landed up in this God-awful place waiting to be shot at?   

No time to recruit in England.” he said. “She'll have to do. Harrison can be headmaster and she can teach. Two for the price of one. Keep the costs down.”   

Yes, but where?” said the Colonel.  

Wasn't there a boarding school in the Camerons?”   

It closed before the war, Sir. It's been empty for 10 years.” 

Buy it,” said the Command Secretary. “Send the engineers up. Give it a lick of paint. Furniture. Say for a hundred. Call it Phase One. Start a file for Phase Two - work we can leave until later.” Much later, he thought. Not before I go back to England. 

It's a school, Sir. Won't they need books?” the Captain cleared his throat timidly.

Books? What sort of books? Oh well, yes I suppose so. Whatever we can find here.,” said the Brigadier. “They’ll have to manage until we can get some shipped out. Six months at least. I've got an old Gestetner they can have. Improvise. They'll have to improvise.”   

Er, they Sir? Who Sir?”   

Oh for God’s sake man. Just get on with it.”  The Brigadier's gin sling was waiting for him at the Club. “We've got two teachers. Find some more. There will be a few graduates in the primary schools and among the Education Corps sergeants. It's got to look like a proper school when Harding goes up to open it. We've got six weeks.” After that they're on their own, he thought. It's four hundred miles from Singapore.   

The school turned out to be a collection of near derelict wooden buildings, and the lick of paint was a wholesale gutting and re-roofing, with new kitchens and bathrooms and a central hall.  

Bloody chicken huts” said the Sapper Major. 

By early December we were four thousand feet up in the Highlands where the cool air was compensation for the chaos all around us. Sim Yap Seang and his family came with us to take charge of catering and he recruited two young brothers Wong and Wah, with wide moon-washed faces, from a nearby Kampong to help in the kitchen. Other locals turned up looking for jobs. There was Violet, a convent girl, whom Reverend Mother had married off to an elderly Indian husband to avoid worse things when the Japanese were advancing. There was Jane, who had been left behind by a Dutch family at the same time. She had been their servant, perhaps slave, brought from Africa. “My mother done gone finish” she says. “I stay.” She stationed herself outside the headmaster’s office, coming to tell me who had gone in there, especially if they were female. “What that matron in there long time no come out?” she says, and I suppose that the Dutch Twan's roving eye had called for such surveillance.  

Matron, sent up from Singapore, was a tall Anglo-Indian lady, impressively bosomed and of commanding presence. “I was housekeeper to Lord Millearn at Government House before he went back to Youkay”, Mrs Playfair announced. She did not see herself dispensing pills or sticking plasters on grubby knees, nor did she approve of the lack of hierarchy. We were a diverse community, a mixture of races, roles and ranks, where from the beginning what everyone contributed was valued and respected. Two army sergeants, a musician and a geographer turned up and one by one, civilian teachers plucked from the jobs they had come out to do, began to arrive. Up there on the hilltop, we set about making a school, a little oasis of how things ought to be. 

Out there on three sides, there was thick jungle, hiding place for a dwindling guerrilla army of desperate men. The British had come back to help in the rebuilding of a plundered economy and to support the civil power towards independence, Merdeka, when Malaya would become Malaysia. The bandits were not yet ready to acknowledge that theirs was a lost cause.  

It is January 1951 and in less than two months we have created classrooms and teaching materials. Fed with oozing black ink, the Gestetner has been busy. We have scrubbed floors, set out beds, lockers, desks and chairs. Now we are labeling places in the dining hall. Tomorrow we must look as if we have been here forever, for the children must believe that we can keep them safe, that we know what we are doing. None of which is true. The adventure has begun. Our chapter in a forgotten war.   

I am sitting in my orange chair in the late afternoon, waiting for the rumble of armoured vehicles climbing from the village past the scarlet flame trees and the rock wall hung with glistening pitcher plants, purple and green in the sunlight. The memory is like an old photograph, fading at the edges, but the centre is as sharp as if the Box Brownie had taken it yesterday. The black and white dog who has recently moved in, is sitting at my feet and she hears the noise first. There is a squeak of brakes and the clang of metal doors and I am outside with David, Bill, John, Eve and everyone who has come running to catch the moment. A sweaty tangle of twelve and thirteen year olds, blinking at the light, spills from the darkness of the iron “coffins”. “Hello Miss,” says Edmund*, all big teeth and pebble glasses. “This is my friend Derek* and his brother Stuart*. They are twins, and this is Brenda* and Edith*. And Miss, where's the toilet? I'm bursting.” 

I see them still in my mind’s eye, bemused pale ghosts from the past, crumpled and anxious. Even the twins, identical Just Williams, are too tired to be hatching any of their little ruses for the moment. Born during the blitz, their soldier fathers seldom at home, these children have come out on troopships to army camps where many have been taught to use guns because nowhere is safe, though we pretend it is. Some have been traveling for two days from Johore, past rice fields, rubber plantations and pineapple groves, glimpsed now and then through the thick grey smoke of the old steam train, wheezing its way north on its single track. Some have come in trucks under armed guard with planes roaring above to scout for dangers ahead. They have lain on oily floors when the wagons have driven through terrorist strongholds, and it has been hot, steaming hot, until at last they have come together at Tapah to travel in convoy up the mountain and to the Cameron Highlands. Five more hours and they will be there. The winding road curls into horseshoe bends cut through high cliffs where wild orchids and trumpet vines tumble down the rocks, and where an ambush always threatens.   

How will these children sleep tonight in their new beds, under blankets instead of mosquito nets, the whirr of ceiling fans replaced by the rattle of rain on the tin roofs and the tick-tocking of the nightjar from his tree by the kitchen? Edmond dreams of the dead bandit he saw being brought out of the jungle, slung on a pole because the paths are narrow and because the villagers must see that the man who killed their children when he was refused money has been caught.   

We are up at seven, eating breakfast at eight and in assembly at nine. There are lessons all morning, games in the afternoon, prep and clubs in the evening, a conventional structure for an unconventional school. We teach without books, out of what we know, and somehow between us we can cover the curriculum. We share our enthusiasm for fencing, country dancing, drama and singing. Soon there will be a school farm with pocket money shares in pigs and hens housed in the old stables. It is a world without television, computers and mobile phones and we must entertain ourselves. The Art Room is always open, where David, his white coat stiff with paint, nurtures talent by encouragement, amid a chaos of paper, paint jars and empty coffee cups. He invents nicknames, sometimes scurrilous, and the children love him for it. He is friends with John, the musician who is making a programme for the opening ceremony, peering at his score through army issue, steel rimmed glasses. His civilian clothes seem to have been dug from the bottom of a musty kit bag. Where he has come from, this unlikely soldier, to pour such music from his stubby fingers? David is suggesting hymns and John crashes out “For All the Saints”, and they roar the words, shouting with delight at the noise they are making. Eve, good girl guide, is teaching some children a sword dance, and Alan is setting up an exhibition boxing match between Kulraj and Jagindra, the youngest of our six Gurkha boys. Thin arms and big gloves flailing, they launch mighty blows and miss each other, toppling over in a giggling heap.  

We are preparing for the big day. We are improvising. Two weeks into the term and we are ready for the little General, hero of the Italian campaign, when he comes to open the school. He tours the classrooms and the dormitories, firing questions at the Brigadier and striding ahead before he can answer. The children are waiting in the hall, pretending to be a real school in their white shirts and red ties. The visiting party pauses outside to look across at the old hill station, still with its golf course and scatter of leave bungalows. There is the Smokehouse, mock Tudor country house, set in its garden of English roses, where the hosts regaled their guests with stories of Changi, where they were both interned. Violet is hovering by the hybiscus hedge in her best sari, sweet jasmine wound into her long black plait. She is wafting a straw brush with a sweeping backhand to look as if she is working. Jane, self-appointed bodyguard to the Headmaster, stands a few feet behind him rocking back and forth, on spread bare feet. She is ecstatic when General Sir John Harding shakes her hand, though her other hand flies up to her mouth to cover a near toothless grin.  

The ceremony in the Hall is brief. The General expresses his pleasure at being asked to open the school, though he has invited himself. He announces that the school is to be called after Field Marshall Sir William Slim who has sent his good wishes from Australia where he is now Governor General. Not to be outdone, the Brigadier rises to his feet. “This day, the 19th of January 1951, this day will henceforth be known as Founders Day.” He hears himself rallying the troops at Agincourt. “It will be celebrated every year by a half holiday and I'm pleased to tell you that I have approved a design for a school crest, which will bear the motto: ‘Stat Lux in Monte’. I'm sure you will agree with me” he says to the sea of blank faces, “that it is a most appropriate phrase.” The children applauded enthusiastically, though they have no more idea than he has what the Latin words mean.   

That night the lights are on all around the perimeter fence, because we were under siege. The Malay guards have disappeared and are replaced by Gordon Highlanders, ready for a fight. We are woken by gunfire and must rouse the children and crawl to the safety of the hall where there are no windows. We lie on the floor until the shooting stops and the guard commander gives us the all clear. School starts at nine as usual next morning and the children are reassured that the guards have been firing at lights seen in the jungle west of the school, possibly glow worms rather than bandits. The Headmaster is getting on with his history lesson when a truck delivering rations backfires in the playground outside. Lizzie Twigger, crisp little ginger plaits shaking with suppressed laughter, puts her hand up. “Yes Lizzie?” “Glow worms, Sir?” she says.   

Most of us will be at Slim School for the next three years and then our places will be taken by other teachers and other children until the terrorists are defeated and the Emergency is over. Peace will come, and independence safely achieved, the soldiers and their families will go home. A lifetime later, the children will find each other again and we shall meet and remember how it once was. Astonishingly, they will say that of all their school experiences elsewhere, those in the Chicken Hut School were the best. When it closed in 1964 Field Marshall Slim wrote:  

The school lives on in all those boys and girls who have passed through it into the world. Schools are like men. It is not important how they live but what they do with the years that are granted and Slim School has achieved a great deal.”  

Betty Harrison

Slim School 1950 to 1953.



Whilst Betty Harrison was officially designated Headmistress this in fact was a full time unpaid position. As mentioned in Betty's memoir a typical military solution of "two for the price of one". This voluntary service was the beginning of a pattern of voluntary service which interleaved her paid work throughout her life. Amongst other things she founded and worked for The York Women's Counselling Service  (Go to this link to read a tribute to Betty) Betty had retrained as a psychotherapist when she reached mandatory retirement age from teaching. She had incredible energy and was still working two weeks before she died at the age of 87.


*Webmaster Notes:

I believe the twins Derek and Stuart are the Walker twins.

Edmond is Edmond Hammond.

Brenda is Brenda Baldwin

Edith is Edith Peacock



Bill and Betty Harrisons Photos from Slim 1950 to 1953.

1 School Opening 

2 School Opening 

3 School Opening 

4 School Opening 

5 General Harding at Slim January 1951. 

6 Slim Staff 1951. 

7 Staff and Pupils January 1951. 

8 The Gurkha Pupils 1951 

9 The Gurkha Pupils names 

10 Group of Pupils. Need names please. 

11 Mr Sim Yap Seang Catering Manager 1951 to 1964 

12 Country Dancing 

13 The Harrisons with the Sultan of Pehang 

14 Bill and Betty Harrison at play. 

15 Bill and Betty Harrison at Smoke House. 

16 Certificate of appreciation presented to Bill Harrison on leaving Slim School. 

An interesting aside regarding the above certificate. Out of the blue in March of 2014 I received an email from a couple living in Robin Hood's Bay in the North Yorks Moors National Park who had bought a cottage from Bill and Betty Harrison. 

They had been up in the attic having a clear out and found the certificate. It had lain undisturbed for over 30 YEARS before being discovered! I put them in touch with Katie Harrison, Bill and Betty's daughter and the certificate returned to the family after it's long hiatus. That's serendipity.


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