When Mildred died a short while ago, and tributes came in from the four corners, I was struck with a sense that I didn't really know her. It was like viewing her for the first time as a person who had survived so much.
Her life seemed like a Broadway Show, but when the show is over the story does not stop for us, because it is about our lives; when the show is over our responsibilities do not end; when the show is over, whether we like it or not, we are part of the story.
Stories of who you are strengthen you. You see all the ways life is lead and you see the things that connect you with them.
And this was the reason for this web site...we cannot afford to let these stories go unspoken...
THEY ARE OUR LIVING HISTORY
Mildred loved writing, she had a way with words and she wrote in her journal daily, but today all it said was "JUST THE OLD WOMAN" Yesterday and the day before were the same four words "JUST THE OLD WOMAN!" but as we went through her albums and journals we discovered this:
Mildred Cook was an Anglo Indian, one of those descendants of British Colonialists and their 'native' wives or mistresses, who were left behind when the British sailed away. They were the abandoned children of the Raj, who lived in an India in which they had no place, and so when Mildred finished her school she was sent to a teachers College in Wimbledon, England.
It was here that she met and went out with a young Englishman whom we only know as Alec. Alec invited Mildred home to meet his parents. After that meeting Mildred did not hear from Alec again, till by chance she met him on the street where he casually told her that his parents did not want a 'coloured girl' in the family.
Mildred completed her teachers training at Wimbledon where she specialised in P.E. and applied to several countries for teaching positions. She and her friend Joan Hendry from Scotland were offered teaching positions in South Africa. Mildred and Joan prepared excitedly for their journey to this new country, and then, a few days before departure, Mildred was informed that she could not work in South Africa because of the apartheid laws. The staff at the school she was due to teach at did not know she was 'coloured'.
Mildred returned to India, hurt and confused.
At this time the British started building schools for the Anglo Indians, because they, the Anglo Indians had 'proved their loyalty to the crown' and were used as intermediaries between the 'Burrah Sahibs" and their Indian subjects. One such school was Barnes High being built to cater for the Anglo Indian. This was where Mildred started her teaching career and it was also here that she was to meet and marry Louise Jerome Fernandes. A fun loving East Indian who was the burser at the school. Louise Jerome was twenty years Mildred's senior, but only he could keep up with our Mildred!
In a journal entry Mildred writes, 'Ours was a "thorny" courtship because my mother,who was a very 'racist' Anglo Indian was appalled at my marrying an East Indian. She used every ruse imaginable to wean me away. To make quite certain she would not succeed we were secretly married in the registry office in May. Both of us wanted a church wedding so we had one in September. Mother threatened that she would wear black because I was marrying a black man - she turned up in cream!"
Mildred soon became Assistant Principal of Barnes which catered for 500 boarders and 2000 day students, and was then appointed Assistant Principal in an even bigger and more prestigious school in Bombay. The Cathedral, which catered for Anglo Indians and rich Indian businessmen's children and children from foreign embassies. Mildred and Jerome had three children, two girls and a boy who all attended Barnes High School. The Anglo Indians had won the constitutional right to representation in parliament and so it was that Mildred became a member of the legislative Assembly (M.L.A.) A position she enjoyed immensely, and, because she had 'the gift of the gab' was an instant success!!
(Mrs Ferny as MLA with members of the Anglo Indian Community)
However, despite winning certain rights in parliament, the Anglo Indians were a problem community. They had no clear cut idea of who they really were and this prompted Mildred and her family to migrate to Australia.
A new country, a new culture...a fresh start!!
Mildred accepted a teaching position at SydneyChurch of England Girls Grammar School, Wollongong, Australia where she taught English and Literature to Years 11 and 12. When S.C.E.G.G.S closed its doors she moved to The Illawarra Grammar School, Wollongong and continued to teach her favourite subjects - English and Literature.
In the latter part of her teaching career she accepted the position of Assistant Principal at St Francis of Assisi School in Warrawong, New South Wales,Australia
When Mildred retired she moved into a beautiful unit at St Luke's retirement Village in Dapto,New South Wales, Australia. She loved this little place she called home. She kept in contact with her many friends and made sure her family wanted for nothing.
Mrs Ferny visited the Kings in India after she retired.
above..l to r..Mr and Mrs King, Mrs Ferny, Harriet and Jamil Joshua
below..Mrs Fernandes after she retired.
Do you have any memories of Mrs Ferny/Cookie? Please let us know.
Send us photos, anecdotes,stories anything....but please contact us... we'd just love to include it on this website....OR leave us a message on our message board.
WHAT THE PEOPLE SAY.........
A BIG HEARTED PERSON
RICHARD SELVERAJ TELLS US:
I was admitted to Barnes, which became my second home from 1961-1972. Apparently my Dad was not doing so well and they were constantly changing homes so my Grand Father made Mum stay with him in Manmad and he then suggested to put me into Barnes. As my Dad couldn't afford the fees they had to find a way out to get me there, they contacted Mr. Coles who suggested that they should join the Anglo Indian association, as my Dad was not an Anglo it was difficult, Mrs. Cookie Fernandes helped us out. She made Mum a member and then got me admitted (there was a lot of resentment at this action of hers and sad to say it came from members of the family), but Mrs. Fernie was such a big hearted person that she fought them and got me admitted and this action of hers not only helped me but also my younger brother and sister Roger & Lorraine who ended up studying in Barnes.
VIVACIOUS AND CHARMING
(Symonds) writes..... I've known Mildred Fernandes since commencing Barnes High School Devlali, INDIA from age 5 to 16 years. I left there to pursue a career in nursing in New Delhi, India. I am sure many ex Barnes students have fond memories of Mildred who started there as our Physical Instruction Teacher and ended up as Head Mistress.
Mildred was a vivacious and charming teacher and was loved by one and all. It was Mildred's deciding vote that led to my becoming School Captain during my last year at Barnes.
When arriving in Australia, after a few years of searching, I found Mildred in Dapto, NSW, Australia. We corresponded for 11 years and I loved receiving her intelligent and newsy letters.
The last time I visited Mildred was in 1999. I'm sure she recognised me by her unmistakable smile.
MYRTLE GONSALVAS (Mildred's niece) writes.....
Above: Mildred and Myrtle with Myrtle's two sons Keith and Mark in India
Below: Myrtle and Mildred in Australia
Barnes has been a second home to me...Both Aunty Mildred and Uncle Jerome were both greatly respected and loved by the staff and also the domestics.
It was great being in Barnes where I taught and it was Aunty Mildred who helped and guided me. Her passing has left me with a great sense of loss.
A 'WITH IT' PERSON
LILIAN KINGSTON (Baden) Writes
I was a prefect of Edith Cavell House. At that time we always affectionately referred to Mrs Fernandes as "Fernie".
Without exaggeration, of all the teachers I can recall throughout those many years I spent in boarding school, Fernie always occupied a very special place in my heart.
I think what I liked most about Fernie was that she was a very "with it" person, unlike her predecessor, "Mother Bailey". She was the first person I met who had actually lived in England, and she would keep me and my peers enthralled talking about her experiences in that country. She didn't put on airs or talk down to us, which made us feel comfortable in her presence - more like a friend than a teacher.
I think Fernie knew I was a lost cause as far as sewing was concerned because, to get out of doing this irksome chore, I would pretend I didn't know how to sew something, and she would take over to show me and then keep going and going until most of it was done. In the meantime, my class mates and I would ply her with questions to occupy her and keep us entertained. I'm sure she knew what we were up to, but she never let on because that would have spoiled the magic of her classes.
I remember one day she was telling us about a movie she had seen, and from her excellent description of a dress worn by the star, I absolutely had to have such a dress. On another occasion, the Inspector of Schools was visiting and we senior girls had to prepare the lunch he was to eat in company with the head master, Mr Coles. Unfortunately Fernie entrusted me with cooking the fried rice, and I made such a hash of it that she had to forfeit her own lunch to save the honour of the school!
My sister Janet and I used to sing in the choir, and until Fernie came along being in the choir didn't bring much kudos. Fernie changed that by experimenting with and making black mortarboards (complete with tassels) for the choir girls to wear, and having white surplices made for the whole choir to wear. I felt so proud of ebing a choir girl after that.
Fernie was very fair-minded and would use her powers of persuasion to bring the best out of rebellious children (including Yours Truly), rather than threatening them with fire and brimstone! To me this was a wonderful attribute.
LESLIE PRYCE-JONES writes.....
A friendly and intelligent lady. Will be much missed but not forgotten especially during her years of teaching to girls of SCEGGS, Sydney, Australia.
DOUGLAS PINTO now living in Australia has this to say:
" It is probably appropriate that these thoughts are written on the Queens birthday weekend.They relate to words in the website writeup about Mrs Fernandes - that she was an "abandoned child of the Raj". I thought how true this was. In fact Barnes at that time whether intentionally or not, nourished a sort of alien culture. Perhaps it is why some of us have moved abroad and have a nostalgia for Barnes."