Hugh Catchpole is without doubt one of the most profound legacies of British colonialisation in the subcontinent. An Englishman educated at Oxford, he single-handedly developed the fabric of boys' schools in Pakistan and his services to education in the country are tremendous. At the time of the withdrawal of the British in 1947, he was one of the few government servants who sought retirement and stayed back. He dedicated his life to providing quality education to, and character development of, young boys; today he is one of the country's most venerated figures in the field of education.
Catchpole became the founding principal of Cadet College, Hasanabdal. Not only did he actively participate in the construction of the CCH, he also laid the foundation of tradition and academic excellence, which the college cherishes to this day. It was due to his hard work that even now the CCH is the standard for cadet colleges across Pakistan.
I remember meeting Catchpole during one of his visits to Lawrence College, Murree in the '80s where my brother was studying at the time. As a young child I did not know who he was and why everyone was anxious to meet him, even get a glimpse of him; but the reverence with which my father and brother spoke of him was enough to implant his memory in my mind as a man loved and respected by all those who knew him.
Catchpole was one of the most respected and treasured educationists of our country. He started his teaching career in 1927 at the Rashtriya Indian Military College (RIMC) in Dehra Dun where he rose to the rank of principal. After Partition, when the young country needed strong-willed, dedicated and professional educationists, it was our great fortune that he decided to immigrate to Pakistan due to his disenchantment with the Indian government over its refusal to extend his contract for another five years — it insisted on giving extensions on a yearly basis.
As the author says, 'India's loss was Pakistan's gain.' His reputation preceded him and no sooner had he crossed the border into Pakistan that schools across the country vied to offer him principalship. He took up a teaching post at Lahore's Aitchison College but then the government of Punjab made him a proposal he just couldn't resist.
Catchpole became the founding principal of Cadet College, Hasanabdal (CCH), which he modelled after RIMC. Not only did he actively participate in the construction of CCH, he also laid the foundation of tradition and academic excellence, which the college cherishes to this day. It was due to his hard work that even now CCH is the standard for cadet colleges across Pakistan.
Unfortunately for CCH, Catchpole was forced to leave after only four years of service due to excessive interference by the government of Punjab in admissions and faculty recruitment. At the insistence of the then Commander-in-Chief of PAF, Air Marshal Asghar Khan, he took up the post of principal at the PAF School, Sargodha in 1958. At the age of 60 he retired from PAF School and moved to the idyllic town of Abbottabad to teach English at the Abbottabad Public School and remained there for the next 30 years.
At the age of 89 he breathed his last and, according to his wish, was laid to rest at CCH with 'such honours as would be the envy of many Marshals in the air or on land.' On both sides of the border his students mourned the loss of not just a beloved teacher, but a most exemplary mentor.
Today, many men of character in Pakistan owe their achievements, disposition and strength to the mentoring of Catchpole who dedicated his life to producing several generations of officers and gentlemen in the country. In order to commemorate his centenary in 2007, Arun Prakash, an alumnus of RIMC and a fond student of Catchpole, has complied a biography titled Hugh Catchpole of the Subcontinent. Loving researched and extensively detailed, it takes the reader through the journey of this great man's life and service to the cause of education in the country, often through anecdotes and memories of his students.
The book is filled with excerpts from the writer's conversations and correspondences with Catchpole's students which clearly portray how well-loved, respected and honoured he was by all those who knew him. Phrases like 'favourite teacher', 'strict disciplinarian yet, most affectionate', 'a towering personality' and 'his work was the law' bespeak volumes of his noble service to this country for which there can be no befitting gratitude.
One cannot help but wonder that perhaps if our nation had been blessed with more educationists as dedicated, as committed, as conscientious and as selfless as Hugh Catchpole, today Pakistan would have been a very different country.
Hugh Catchpole of the subcontinent A hundred years of an educationist extraordinaire
By Arun Prakash
Catchpole Centenary Committee of India and Pakistan, 2007