Maj.(rtd.) Geoffrey Langlands (92) - Teaching the Hindu Kush


Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer


Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
Well it seems the old major is set to retire:

[h=1]British major and founder of remote Pakistan school to retire, aged 94[/h][h=2]He has survived being kidnapped by armed tribesmen, was on first name terms with two of the country's military dictators and by some counts educated half of Pakistan's government.[/h]
Major Geoffrey Langlands' extraordinary life has followed the twists and turns of Pakistan's history Photo: JULIAN SIMMONDS

By Rob Crilly, Islamabad

3:49PM BST 11 Jun 2012


Now at the age of 94 and five years after launching the search for a successor to run the remote, mountain school he founded, Major Geoffrey Langlands is finally ready to retire.

The school is in North Waziristan, a tribal region that borders Afghanistan that has become a haven for Taliban fighters and al-Qaeda terrorists.

In September, a new British principal is due to fly into the remote mountains of the Hindu Kush while Major Langlands will leave for Lahore and a suite of rooms of rooms set aside for him at the prestigious Aitchison College where he used to teach.

"It won't be all rest," he told The Daily Telegraph. "There's a biography I'm working on and I'll still be raising funds to ensure the future of the school.

"No, I don't think I could stop completely."

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His is an extraordinary life that has followed the twists and turns of Pakistan's history.
After seeing action with 4 Commando in France, he volunteered to join the British Indian army and stayed on as India and Pakistan endured the bloody upheaval of partition in 1947.
He spent six years as an adviser to the new Pakistan Army before taking the job at Aitchison College, educating the young men who would grow up to run the country.
In the 1980s, when education authorities needed someone to take over a newly established school in North Waziristan they turned to Major Langlands, with his reputation as a Mr Chips-style master known for instilling British values of duty and punctuality in his young charges.
Even then the mountainous area had its dangers.
The new headmaster was kidnapped by militiamen trying to overturn a disputed election result. They figured General Zia ul-Haq, the president, would reverse the outcome if he knew one of his friends had been snatched.
It is an episode that Major Langlands shrugs off as educational rather than traumatic. "It was all part of the experience," he joked.
The following year, he moved to his present school in Chitral, where he pays himself the modest sum of £40 a week and rises before dawn to a bowl of Quaker Oats porridge followed by poached eggs.
His alumni include high-ranking politicians, military officers as well as thousands of young men and women who otherwise would have received only a basic education – making him something of a national treasure in his adopted homeland.
The remote location and bitter winters of the Hindu Kush make it a difficult posting. To one side, lies the border with Afghanistan. On the other is the Swat Valley, where Taliban fighters threatened to close on Islamabad in 2009.
That insecurity has deterred potential replacements.
In the past two years four different candidates were offered the job but each backed out at the last minute, much to Major Langlands' bemusement.
"They just couldn't dream of coming to Pakistan," he said. "One of them actually wrote in his final letter that he thought Pakistan was supposed to be getting better and better but found out it was getting worse and worse.
"But that is what has kept me here, the idea of getting my little bit better and better."
All being well, Carey Schofield, 58, an author who is known in Pakistan for a book that looked deep inside the country's military, will take over the reins later this year.
Major Langlands said the staff had insisted on another "Britisher".
"She is extraordinary. To begin with she's a lady and she's not a teacher," he said by telephone from Chitral, a note of surprise edging into his reserved English tone.
[h=1]Major Geoffrey Langlands, 94, leaves his post in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province after 60 years[/h][h=2]Geoffrey Langlands has long been waiting for a British successor to run the remote Pakistani school he founded. Now he’s handing over – to a woman.[/h]
'The elders said, 'Look, you can’t kidnap the principal.’ So the kidnappers agreed to release me on condition that nothing was done against them.' Photo: Asad Zaidi

By Neil Tweedie

6:30AM BST 13 Jun 2012

Geoffrey Langlands began teaching in the autumn of 1936. It was at a public school in Croydon and the abdication crisis was being played out in the newspapers. His salary: £5 a month. Seventy-six years later and Major Langlands has seen some improvement in pay. As principal of the college that carries his name, he now earns £40 a week. Fortunately, £40 goes a bit further in the Hindu Kush than it does in Croydon.

Langlands is an institution, a living relic of British India. When the officers of the Indian Army packed their bags and climbed aboard the troopships in 1947, leaving a fractured subcontinent, immersed in the blood of communal violence, the former commando stayed on, first as an adviser to the fledgling Pakistani Army, before resuming a career in education interrupted by the Second World War. Pakistan has been his home ever since, the country he loves, but not the country on his passport. That remains the United Kingdom.

Now, at last, this tutor to a good portion of the Pakistani elite, including the cricketer-turned-politician Imran Khan, can look forward to putting his feet up. Those in Britain who fret about the raising of the retirement age should spare a thought for the Major. He has had to wait until the age of 94 to find someone to succeed him at Langlands School and College, the distinctly British institution he founded in the remote, mountainous principality of Chitral. The area, in the far north-west of Pakistan, borders Afghanistan. Candidates for the job (Langlands wanted a British principal to maintain the school’s ethos) have melted away, one after the other, fearing kidnap and murder. Never one to desert his post, the Major – who never married, and was himself kidnapped by tribesmen in 1988 – has hung on, waiting for the right man.

“They just couldn’t dream of coming to Pakistan,” he said of previous applicants. “One of them wrote in his final letter that he thought Pakistan was supposed to be getting better but found out it was getting worse. But that is what has kept me here: the idea of getting my little bit better and better.”

Eventually, though, Langlands found the right man. A woman.

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Carey Schofield is an unlikely successor. A journalist, specialising in military and international affairs, she has never taught for a living, but so impressed was she by the college that she decided to take it on.
“I met Major Langlands a couple of years ago, when I was helping to organise a cricket match in aid of the school,” she says. “I was struck by his energy and verve. I thought he would turn up in the afternoon as the guest of honour, but instead he was there before nine in the morning, sorting out chairs and tents and caterers.
“I was asked to help find a replacement for the Major. He wanted a young British Army officer to take on the job. But somehow the idea emerged that perhaps a woman could do it just as well as a man.
“Chitral is a magical place. I can’t imagine anyone who has been there not wanting to stay. The climate is lovely, the mountains very beautiful and the people relaxed and friendly. They are very proud of being Chitrali, of their history as a princely state, and of their language.”
There are some 1,000 boys and girls at the college, which nestles in the foothills of the Kush, the great western arm of the Himalayas. Sixty-five years after the end of the Raj, Pakistani parents still choose to educate their children, in English, in the British style – though a style long abandoned in Britain itself. Good manners and a respect for one’s teachers are taken for granted at Langlands.
“I have been a governor at a number of state primary schools in London,” says Miss Schofield, “and the overwhelming issue, all the time, was discipline. So the junior schoolchildren in Chitral were a revelation to me. They are eager to learn, enjoy coming to school and think themselves lucky to be at Langlands.”
The Major will hand over to Miss Schofield in September and retire to Aitchison College – Pakistan’s Eton – in Lahore. So will end his daily routine, beginning with a breakfast of poached eggs and Quaker Oats washed down by Lipton’s tea. Never less than smartly turned out, he then takes the short walk to the school and morning assembly.
Why was it important to recruit a Briton?
“Everyone here has said, 'If you can get an English principal, get one.’ What people remember from British rule is that it went, on the whole, smoothly – that, ever since Partition, everything has gone wrong. People very often say to me, 'Oh the British should come back.’ They wouldn’t really want that, though.”
Born in Hull in 1917, the Major lost his father to the influenza epidemic of 1918. His mother, left with three children to look after, died of cancer when he was 10. The headmaster of King’s College Taunton, a family friend, offered him a free place at the school.
“I’ve always taken life as it comes,” he says, “that these things happen and you just make the most of it. I’ve always been happy, even when things were going wrong.”
Langlands began working life as a mathematics teacher at a public school before joining up on the outbreak of war. He was subsequently posted to 4 Commando, taking part in the disastrous amphibious raid on Dieppe in 1942. The following year he was selected for officer training and posted to the Indian army.
“When independence came, they asked British officers to volunteer to stay on for one year to train up the new army. I had every intention of returning home but volunteered to stay behind for a while.”
One year with the Pakistani army turned to seven. It was the commander-in-chief of the army who suggested to Langlands that he should stay on and put his educational expertise to good use in civilian life. He began teaching at Aitchison in 1954, moving to a school in North-West Frontier Province in 1979. The dramatic high came in 1988 when he was kidnapped by tribesmen in search of ransom.
“They took me to their village. I had to walk six and a half hours in the mountains, in mid-winter. I walked into the hut and found there were three prisoners there already. They had been there for four and a half months. I was the VIP. The military could not assault the village because we would have been killed, so they got a party of elders to approach the kidnappers. They said, 'Look, you can’t kidnap the principal.’ So they agreed to release me on condition that nothing was done against them.”
Chitral has remained relatively free of Taliban infiltration but there have been sporadic attacks and some kidnappings.
“The threat is very slight at the moment, because the ordinary Chitrali do not allow these strange people to come in,” says the Major.
Miss Schofield, 58, is equally confident about her safety.
“Invariably, when English people hear that someone is going to live in Pakistan, they talk about the security situation. This really does not seem to me to be an issue. Chitral has not had the sort of violence seen elsewhere in the frontier.”
She looks forward with excitement to her new task.
“The teachers are utterly devoted to the school and determined that it shall survive. It offers children from Chitral the possibility of a first-class education and the chance to get into the best universities in Pakistan and abroad. Taking over from Major Langlands is, of course, daunting. He is irreplaceable. He is a living legend in Pakistan.”
Does the living legend miss Britain?
“No. Chitral feels like home. I wouldn’t have the money to retire back to the UK and I have so many friends here. Britain is very different. It’s everyone for himself. The idea of service is still strong in Pakistan.”
And the cricket test? Who does he support?
“Pakistan, of course. The day that Pakistan won the international in Australia, when they beat England in the final, my staff came to me and said, 'Oh, sorry, your team lost.’ I said they didn’t have to be sorry. How could I be sad when the captain of the Pakistani team was my student? The final happened as I wanted: England and Pakistan, and Pakistan won. Perfect.”
Major Geoffrey Langlands, 94, leaves his post in Pakistan's North-West Frontier Province after 60 years - Telegraph
There is a charity near me who send teachers out ot places (generally 3rd world) to 'teach the teachers'... their ages (admttedly not as old as this gent) are generally quite old. 60 - 70s.


Book Reviewer
I remember reading a piece in the Guardian about him a few years ago (see link) and was struck then by this bit;
In return, Langlands has a fierce loyalty to Pakistan. In the 1965 war with India he raised a militia among the gardeners and cooks of Aitchison. It didn't last long – when an Indian plane zoomed overhead "they hid under the banyan trees".
You can't fault his have-a-go spirit.

He has been kidnapped and taken tea with princesses: a British major's life teaching in Pakistan's Hindu Kush | World news | The Guardian


Kit Reviewer
Book Reviewer
That's the article that switched me on to this remarkable character way back in '09 (see first post). The more I have read about him the more impressed I am about his resilience, determination and integrity. He is the epitomy of the old fashioned English pedagogue.
He'd fail Tebbit's cricket test. Not that I imagine he'd give the slightest ****.


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