“Fate is just a helping hand from God while our destiny lies in us.”
A lot has been written about fate and destiny, and lately I’ve reflected on these subjects, as I look back on my high school days at Naparima College in San Fernando , Trinidad, and at a significant event that occurred in my life which had a lasting effect on me, and possibly on the lives of many.
I’ve always felt that it was part of my destiny to attend Naparima College.
A favorite relative, my cousin Elmo Lenard (now deceased ) taught French Language there for many years, and my first home was on Broadway ( now Independence Avenue) almost at the base of Naparima College Hill.
The school campus was my back yard, and we even wandered around the campus as small children, playing under the large samaan trees before we moved to the country, New Grant in 1953, when I was about eight.
I entered Form 2A Sp, Naparima College San Fernando, in 1958. I believe the school year began in January back then, if memory serves.
Growing up in post war Trinidad, we were strongly influenced by movies and stories from World War Two, some of which were, in retrospect WWII Allied propaganda.
An avid reader of adventure stories as a boy, I was especially entranced by the exploits of the Gallant Few, the Royal Air Force pilots who saved Britain by defeating Hitler’s Luftwaffe in the Battle of Britain.
My heroes were the fictional Air force ace “Biggles” – James Bigglesworth – a pilot and adventurer, and the title character and main hero of the Biggles adventure books written by W. E. Johns; and the real life hero Sir Douglas Bader, the legendary RAF pilot who lost both his legs in a plane crash, yet became one of Britain’s most celebrated air aces of World War II.
Back then, I often daydreamed of flying into the clouds with my heroes, so in 1961 when I saw an add in the local newspaper accepting applications for apprenticeships in the Royal Air Force I was very excited.
As we Naparima alumni know, my Naparima experience was to have a profound influence on my entire life.
However, by 1961, I was still a student, but I was struggling to keep up in class.
Unbeknownst to me my eyesight was pretty bad, and though I had no difficulty reading, everything more than a few feet away was a blur, especially the chalkboard .
This was affecting my studies, so I was very happy when my application to the RAF was accepted.
Out of the hundreds who were interviewed and tested, I made the final cut of eight applicants who were to be interviewed for the final selection.
We were interviewed by a panel that was led by another renowned Royal Air Force Ace, Air Vice Marshall Claude Vincent, a Trinidadian who rose to become one of the Highest ranking Officers in the RAF.
During the war, Air Vice Marshal Vincent had commanded the 4th Army Corps and the 7th Indian division in Burma, and, he had received the surrender of Japanese General Seishiro Itagaki and his 100,000 man army.
I remember chatting with Air Vice Marshal Vincent about Sir Douglas Bader, the Air Ace who was also a friend of the Air Vice Marshal.
And so, to my immense joy, I passed the interview, was accepted as a candidate for Royal Air Force apprenticeship.
The deal was we’d be going to England to be trained, with the possibility of attending the Royal Air Force Academy at Cranwell for flight training.
Out of the hundreds who applied, five of us were chosen to go to England, and after the formality of routine medical examination, we’d be on our way.
One of the other boys and I decided to take advantage of the Texaco apprenticeship program if we could, since our departure date would be some time in the future.
The work experience would be great, we thought, and the apprentice wages, though small would certainly help.
To my great disappointment, the news came that out of the five finalists, only three would be going to England.
Two of us had failed the medical.
I was told that because of my poor eyesight I was disqualified.
This was probably the most significant disappointment of my life, and was a life changing event.
I was very disillusioned, and I accepted my fall back position of a Texaco apprenticeship in the electrical department, which turned out not to be too bad a deal, since it gave me a background in technology that enabled me to a successful career, via the US Army, in electrical, electronics and computer technology.
I knew the other boy who also failed the medical, though we weren’t close.
I knew of him and his family.
He was a student at Presentation College named Patrick Manning, and his family was well known in San Fernando, since he and his sister were reputed to be excellent students, or as we said back then, they were very “bright”.
Patrick also failed the medical test, because of a congenital heart problem, with which it was rumored that his whole family was afflicted.
As a consolation prize, Patrick continued his education, later entered politics, and was destined to lead a major political party in Trinidad , The Peoples National Movement (PNM), and to serve two terms as Prime Minister of his nation.
Like I said, Fate .. Destiny.
Consider how our histories would have been different if I , and especially Patrick Manning had passed that medical test!
Patrick Augustus Mervyn Manning served two terms as the fourth and sixth Prime Minister of Trinidad and Tobago.
He passed away on July 2nd , 2016.
(17 August 1946 – 2 July 2016)
May he Rest in Peace