Dear Diego, Thanks for your flattering comments. I am happy for my comments to be published on the website. Sadly, I have no photographs – none at all from that era. My father used an 8mm movie camera but, of course, he did not ever take any pictures at the school. I did not have a camera as a child.
I have noticed that almost all the information on the website post-dates the Suez crisis. The contrast between the Lebanon pre and post Suez is huge. Before Suez, it was a paradise. I was given far too much freedom by my parents. I was an ‘only child’ and sought company to compensate. I used to walk to and from school from Rue Sadate, through backstreets between Rue Hamra and the school and never felt in any danger. I got to know local shopkeepers and sometimes stopped to play football with Lebanese children. The AUB grounds were a favourite place to play cowboys and indians with cap guns. We must have driven lecturers mad with the noise we made outside open classroom windows.
I feel very sad about all that has happened in the Lebanon. Let’s hope real peace returns soon.
Hello to all who have connections with what was, in the 1950s, the Salesian School for Boys. I believe I can claim to have been the first, English-speaking pupil. I arrived in Beirut, aged 9, in December 1954 with my parents, on holiday from a UK boarding school, which I hated. I persuaded my parents to explore school options in Beirut. There was a French school, an American school and the Salesian School. I really don’t know why my parents chose the Salesian school because, when I started attending, there was only one English-speaking priest/teacher – whose name I cannot remember – I was 10 years old.
Very quickly, the class grew in number – I was joined by Australians (I think a New Zealander) and more British pupils. My memories of these early days at the school are imprecise, but I believe we numbered around 12 within a few weeks. I do not remember how the pupils were ‘recruited’, but I think it was by word-of-mouth in the Anglophone community in Beirut.
Initially, we were taught by Father Bius – the best and most erudite teacher I have ever known. He could draw an accurate map of the middle-east on the blackboard freehand, in seconds. He brought history to life in an inspiring way. In the playground, we used to play a game that became a great favourite. Pupils would take turns to chant:” Father Bee-eye-you-ess”. In response, Father Bius would throw a tennis ball very quickly and with great accuracy at the pupil. He often hit his target.
Baseball was the main sport. I enjoyed it and hated cricket, which was the ‘norm’ in the UK.
Not long after I started at the school (perhaps after 2 months), Brother Dell arrived from America. The Salesian order was making a real effort to meet the pupils’ needs. Brother Dell brought ’program learning’ in the form of workbooks that pupils worked through at their own pace. These books contained lessons, practice examples and final tests for each section. Pupils self-corrected the practice examples and the teacher corrected the end-of-section test. The books were based on the American grade system and it was possible to progress through more than one grade in an academic year.
Brother Dell started the boy scouts troop. Democracy prevailed. I was elected a patrol leader, did a bad job, and was replaced. We worked for ‘badges’ and wore a very correct scout uniform.
In view of the fact that the school was really an ‘Italian School’, it was natural that we were taught Italian. I now speak French and English, but have retained little Italian. The Anglophone section of the school had almost no contact with the Italian section of the school which, in retrospect, I find sad.
The school was very firmly a boys school. The photographs on the website of female pupils astonished me. There was a girls school, run by Nuns, not far away, on the other side of the Bristol Hotel. We ‘boys’ went to the girls school to rehearse for our annual concert, which took place in the girls school assembly hall. It had a ‘proper’ stage. The transition to a mixed-gender school would have been something I would have enjoyed – but it must have happened long after I left the school.
When the Suez crisis occurred, life changed forever. It spilled over into the Lebanon and acts of terrorism became common in Beirut. I had to stop attending school because travelling anywhere in Beirut was too dangerous – especially if one was British. After a few months, my parents and I departed on a Swedish cargo-passenger ship. Beirut airport had ceased to function. A few hours after we sailed from Beirut, the ship was diverted to Alexandria – not the first choice of a Scottish family after all that had happened in Suez! We spent a week below decks in Alexandria, surrounded by Soviet Union warships.
As a child, I travelled a great deal with my parents. Altogether, I attended seven schools. The Salesian school (for Boys) in Beirut was the best school I attended. I was happy, had good friends, made good academic progress and revelled in the liberal atmosphere. There was never a suggestion of corporal punishment – it was irrelevant. The worst punishment was to know you had disappointed your teacher. As a (lapsed) protestant, I was never under any pressure to participate in religious observation religion simply did not feature in the classroom.
I feel I owe a deep debt of gratitude to the Salesian order and all those who were so tolerant and accommodating. Life in Beirut was great. I had American, French, Lebanese and British friends and we enjoyed amazing freedom. Many happy days were spent at the Sporting Club, swimming and snorkelling as far as the Pigeon Rocks.
If anyone reading this would like to contact me, I have supplied my email address.
Andrew Robertson (email@example.com)
After his comment being published, I thought that it should be published also as a featured article and wrote to him asking permission.
Please find hereafter his reply and the whole comment again, ciao.