30 August 2020
In 1986, a retired Anglican clergyman Revd John Hamer-Howorth and his wife Kitty were flying out of Brisbane to the UK for a holiday, via Singapore, when he suffered a heart attack. At Eastshore Hospital for treatment, the pastor from St Matthew’s Church in Queensland found a friend in Mrs Margaret Ludick, our church member, who was visiting the ward.
Margaret told Vicar Dave Stitt about Revd John. Revd Dave then went with Iris Chua to visit him. As Revd John could not fly out for at least a month, Revd Dave offered the empty rooms in the vicarage as he and Dee were living in the Timothy Centre side of the building.
One afternoon, while Revd John and Kitty were in the Sanctuary with Iris, she felt led to ask him to design a stained glass for the round window, after she found out that he and his wife were skilled glass artisans. Iris suggested the Armour of God as that was the sermon series for three months. She recalled: “They were all excited. We went to Katong Shopping Centre and got mahjong paper and pencils for them to start work. One week later, the doctor was surprised at his improvement and said he could fly home to Australia. I guess the inspiration for the window had renewed his hope.”
Iris added: “Three months later, I received a phone call from Revd John in Toowoomba asking when I was going to collect the completed work. Praise the Lord, we had a member, Mrs Beatrice Fong, who was working with Singapore Airlines then. She managed to get free baggage allowance for me to carry the heavy artwork back to Singapore.” Revd John passed away from a massive heart attack the next year, in February 1987.
8 February 2017
Two olive trees were planted to mark the 80th anniversary. They were later determined to belong to the elaeocarpus serratus family, also commonly known as Ceylon Olives or Veralu in Sinhalese. Colin Chee, who landscapes the Church garden, recounts the planting as a testimony to God’s grace:
“A pasar malam (night market) plant vendor bought two olive trees while on holiday in Australia 10 years ago. In Singapore, he found no buyers. When he had to close down his nursery, he gave the trees to our church gardener, Chua Boon Hoe. Chua quietly kept them at the back of St Hilda’s Church for two years. One tree died after the transfer.
“In the middle of last year, Chua asked if we wanted an olive tree. I told him no, but said it was okay to leave it in our grounds. In January, our 80th Anniversary Steering Committee was wondering what best to do to mark the Vicar’s induction and the new season ahead.
“I remembered the olive tree. Everyone excitedly agreed that planting an olive tree would be of symbolic significance. Vicar Wong Tak Meng asked if we could find a second olive tree to fulfill Zechariah’s vision of the oil from two olive trees permanently lighting up the golden lampstand, as in Zechariah 4:3. We said we needed powerful prayers as olive trees are not commercially imported into Singapore!
“Well, God had a gracious surprise. Later in January, Chua told me the dead olive tree had sprouted a new shoot! He had not offered the sapling because he thought we would not be interested. Although Chua wanted to give us the plants, we insisted on buying them as in 1 Chronicles 21:23-26 where King David insisted on paying the full price for land whch was offered free to him by Ornan to erect an altar to the Lord.
“How God answers our prayers! Praise Him that we were able to plant the full complement of two Ceylon Olive trees to His glory!”
(An Excerpt from our 80th Anniversary Book in 2014)
‘As in Nehemiah 8:10, the joy of the Lord has been His special gift to St Hilda’s Church since its founding in 1934. This spiritual heritage of faith, hope and love has not changed through the dark years of the War till now. We go forward with the same spirit of joy that was evident when young Revd John Hayter was in charge of St Hilda’s in 1942*:
“St Hilda’s Mission Church at Katong, always in the past an alive and active little church; and there, from small beginnings, we built up together a congregation with a markedly strong ‘family’ sense. There were few people who had not some small niche in the organisation, and they worked admirably as a team.”
Hayter remembers “parish breakfasts in the room above the church; a Sunday school of over l00 children; an unforgettable Christmas in 1942, finishing with a social in the school hall on Boxing night…150 people listening to the Bishop and the priest-in-charge singing comic songs; …a really beautiful and most moving performance of John Drinkwater’s The Travelling Man, produced and performed by three members of the congregation…it was difficult to remember — we were only too ready to forget! — that we were in an enemy-occupied country.”
In 2014, 80 years later, St Hilda’s continues to have breakfasts in the Manna House, a Sunday school of over 200 children, clergy performing and singing comic songs at Malam Ketawa, and performances by an enthusiastic congregation.
God is over us all. As always.’
(Written on 10 April 2002 and updated on 15 May 2014)
Too few of us know that the founders of our beloved St Hilda’s Church and School were faced with the gravest perils of their lives not long after St Hilda’s was established. In the depth of apparent hopelessness and the reasonable prospect their own physical death, their thoughts and hearts were occupied with concerns and hopes for the ministry they started at No. 41 Ceylon Road.
In 2001, then Vicar Tan Piah asked me to investigate the legal history of No. 41 Ceylon Road, the property on which St Hilda’s Church sits. Never did I expect that the inscrutable handwritten legal documents with their dry legal prose, would reveal the faith, hope and love of men of God.
The story which I shall unfold will centre on the deeds of the Venerable Graham White, Archdeacon of Singapore. However, I believe he could not have acted alone and without the counsel, assistance and support of other like-minded Christians, and his story and deeds are very much the story and deeds of these anonymous saints as well.
No. 41 Ceylon Road, then known as Nos. 14, 20 and 22 Fowlie Road, was purchased by Graham White on 21 September 1936 for the sum of Straits Settlement Dollars $15,000. He put down a cash sum of $3,000 and financed the rest by mortgaging the property to one Herbert Murray Hodges for $12,000.
About four years later, on 18 July 1940, Graham White borrowed another sum of $5,000 from the Colonial Secretary Straits Settlement and executed a second mortgage of the Property in favour of the Colonial Secretary. The loan to Mr Hodges was then still outstanding at $8,000. Therefore, the total sum outstanding on the two mortgages came up to $13,000. In the second mortgage, the property was described as “St Hilda’s Katong School, No. 41 Ceylon Road”, clearly suggesting that the School was an on-going concern by then.
How did Graham White raise the cash amount of $3,000 in 1936 for the down payment on the purchase of No. 41 Ceylon Road? (Donations from well-wishers and supporters for the idea of starting St Hilda’s School…) How did he manage to finance the periodic repayments to Herbert Murray Hodges? (People supported the St Hilda’s School ministry…) Why did he borrow another sum of $5,000 and encumber the property with a second mortgage? (To pay off the loan on the 1st mortgage? … For renovations or to build extensions to the existing building…) These questions came to my mind when I uncovered the facts. The italics are my guesses.
On 22 November 1941, Mr Hodges executed a legal document to release the property from the first mortgage, for by then, the $12,000 loan Mr Hodges made to Graham White five years ago in 1936 was fully paid up. The Colonial Secretary was left as the sole mortgagee.
On 15 February 1942, the British surrendered to the Japanese and Japanese Occupation of Singapore began.
British clergymen were not spared from internment. Graham White was interned in 1942. Later in 1943, Rev. John Hayter, then priest-in-charge of St Hilda’s Church, and Bishop John Wilson were also interned.
In the course of investigating the legal history of St Hilda’s Church, I had the rare privilege of being allowed to sight a legal document entitled ”Declaration of Trust concerning St Hilda’s Church & School in the Parish of Katong Singapore”. Written in neat long hand on both sides of pages bounded into a booklet, the document was dated 11 November 1944 and signed by Graham White, whose address was given as “Sime Road Internment Camp, Singapore”, with two English solicitors as his witnesses.
Graham White’s Declaration of Trust is a most intriguing document. It is what is legally known as a “trust deed”. The aim of Graham White’s Declaration of Trust was to dictate how the property at No. 41 Ceylon Road should be used. By virtue of the Declaration of Trust, Graham White declared himself no longer the owner but a Trustee of No. 41 Ceylon Road.
In law, an owner has full powers and discretion to use his property in any way he thinks fit. However, a Trustee is merely a custodian of the property. A Trustee’s powers over use of the property under his name will be limited by the terms of the trust deed. The individual acting as the Trustee may change from time to time – it will not matter. For the Trustee, whoever he is, can deal with the trust property only in accordance with what the trust deed has determined.
What is interesting about Graham White’s trust deed is that it made use of a quintessentially English legal concept of a “perpetual trust for charitable purposes”. Graham White’s Declaration of Trust stated that No. 41 Ceylon Road would henceforth be trust property, belonging to no one, but to purposes. Those purposes were specified as follows:
… of providing a church or place of public worship according to the doctrine and usage of the Anglican Church – that is to say the church in the Colony of the Straits Settlement which was founded by and in communion with the Church of England – and a school for the education of children of all races and creeds whether Christian or non Christian as in the Trust Instrument more particularly declared.
Under English law, such purposes are regarded as “charitable purposes”. Trusts for charitable purposes are, under English law, permitted to go on forever without ever reverting to the ownership of a person. By contrast, trusts for non-charitable purposes are not allowed to carry on in perpetuity but have to end at some point in time and revert to the ownership of a person.
As I pondered the significance of an English legal document written during Japanese Occupation by an incarcerated clergyman, it struck me that to make use of a very English legal concept of a trust for purposes is, in itself, a demonstration of faith and hope – an exercise of faith that the Japanese Occupation would be temporary, that English law would return, and that the Declaration of Trust would eventually be recognized and legally enforceable.
What is more, to dictate, as Graham White did in his Declaration of Trust, that No. 41 Ceylon Road should be dedicated for the purposes of an Anglican church and of a school for Christians and non-Christians, is to demonstrate the boldness to believe, despite his own circumstances of being an imprisoned clergyman, that God’s purposes will prevail in the end.
At what must have been their darkest hour, Graham White and his counselors dared to hope and believe that their lengthy discussions, efforts and carefully drawn up plans for the vision for No. 41 Ceylon Road would not be a futile exercise. They had the confidence to trust in God that their ministry in St Hilda’s Church and School would carry on even if they did not.
Legally speaking, Graham White was, by executing the Declaration of Trust, converting No. 41 Ceylon Road into a trust property, to be forever used for the purposes of an Anglican church and of a school for Christians and non-Christians. I think it would not be wrong to say that spiritually, he was claiming No. 41 Ceylon Road for God’s purposes.
On 1 April 1945, Graham White executed his Last Will in the presence of two English solicitors. In his Last Will, Graham White gave his residential address as “Sime Road Internment Camp, Singapore”.
Graham White passed away on 8 May 1945 at the Sime Road Internment Camp. He had died six months after he executed the Declaration of Trust and one month after he executed his Last Will. On 15 August 1945, Japan announced its surrender to the Allies, and on 4 September 1945, the Japanese forces surrendered Singapore to the British, ending the Japanese Occupation of Singapore. Graham White did not survive long enough to see the end of the war.
Was it fortuitous that Graham White managed to make his Last Will just before he died? Or did he get down to making his Last Will on 1 April 1945 because he knew he was dying and he had better set his estate in order so that people who were depending on him would not be left stranded?
St Hilda’s School outgrew its premises in 1988. Today, it stands proudly in the satellite town of Tampines in huge premises provided and substantially funded by the Government of Singapore, unabashedly bearing its emblem as a Christian school.
Our beloved St Hilda’s Church has continued to shine as a beacon of faith, hope and light in the community.
The ministry of school and church started by Graham White at No. 41 Ceylon Road have not only survived his earthly demise, it has flourished gloriously for Christ. Graham White’s legal documents, premised on the return of English law and the freedom to worship Christ openly, was not written in vain.
I am inspired by the daring and faith of Graham White and his co-visionaries. In the darkness of apparent hopelessness, they had the courage to hope for a better tomorrow and to keep faith enough to muster the focus to draw up plans for a future.
It is fitting that we, the inheritors of No. 41 Ceylon Road, recognize Graham White and his compatriots for who they really are – unsung war heroes in our own backyard and men of faith, hope and love for God’s purposes, in particular, the ministry of St Hilda’s Church and School.
EDITOR’S NOTE. 8 January 2015. Paragraph 6. Subsequent research by the St Hilda’s 80th Anniversary book team suggests that Archdeacon Graham White had very likely dipped into his personal savings to make the $3,000 down payment for the property on which St Hilda’s Church now stands. In his undated account of church history, the late Ian Hope quoted St Hilda’s vicar during the war years, Revd John Handy, as having said that the archdeacon had “bought” the Ceylon Road property with his personal savings. The late Mr Hope, who was a well-known broadcaster in Singapore during the pre-independence years, was a church member during the war years.
St Hilda’s is an Anglican church of the Diocese of Singapore. It was founded in 1934 when Archdeacon Graham White took over the running of a private school for boys called Bethel English School.
Worship services were held on the ground floor of a stately but worn looking two-storey wooden bungalow while school classes were held upstairs. In 1935, the Archdeacon rented another house in the compound and started a school for girls.
In 1936, Archdeacon Graham White purchased, it is believed with his own savings, the plot of land on 41 Ceylon Road, Katong, along with its two buildings, that served both as a school for boys and girls and as St Hilda’s Church.
By serving as both a meeting place for believers and, from 1950, as an all-girls’ school, it extended God’s kingdom into a growing neighbourhood. The latter covered an area that stretched for about 6.5 kilometers along the south coast from Tanjong Rhu through Katong to Siglap, and inland for about 1.5 kilometers into Tanjong Katong, Joo Chiat, Teluk Kurau and Frankel. The church grew steadily and became a homely family church.
During the Japanese Occupation from 1942 to 1945, St Hilda’s was a sanctuary of peace, faith and hope to many fear-stricken people. During that time, however, Archdeacon White and his wife were interned first in Changi Prison and later in Sime Road Internment Camp. There they died in 1945, a few months before the end of the war in September.
Six months before he passed away, Archdeacon White wrote a Trust Deed in November 1944. It details his vision and legacy for St Hilda’s – to be a church or place of public worship (of Anglican denomination) as well as a school for children of all races, cultures and religions.
In the early months of the war, St Hilda’s was under the care of Revd Yeh Hua Fen who served from March to June 1942. Because the Diocese had no money then to pay Revd Yeh, Revd John Hayter took over as Priest-in-Charge for a brief nine months before he was himself incarcerated in 1943.
In anticipation of this, Lay Reader John Handy was ordained and appointed Priest-in-Charge of St Hilda’s. He continued God’s work throughout the war years. After the war, together with his parishioners, he raised $60,000 to build a new chapel in place of the old bungalow.
On 26 January 1949, Bishop Leonard Wilson laid the foundation stone for the new chapel. Later in the year, on 17 November, during St. Hilda’s Patronal Festival, Bishop Henry Wolfe Baines consecrated the present church building. We now refer to the chapel as the Sanctuary.
After more than half a century, St Hilda’s can be characterised as a church of sacramental, evangelical and charismatic believers.
The church, in keeping with the teachings of Jesus Christ, continues to administer the two sacraments of the Lord’s institution — Baptism and Holy Communion — as well as other sacramental rites.
The church also affirms the importance of the Bible as the authoritative word of God for faith and conduct. Evangelism by word and deed is also taught and promoted.
As a charismatic church we believe that the Holy Spirit empowers members for witness and service, and the priesthood of believers is greatly encouraged.
St. Hilda’s has continued to flourish. Today it holds a prominent ecumenical position in the east of Singapore.
The church enjoys strong ties with St Hilda’s Kindergarten, St Hilda’s Primary and Secondary Schools, and St. Hilda’s Community Services Centre. In addition, it shares its premises with a spiritual partner, Tung Ling Bible School, which is committed to Christian teaching and inspiration.