I had never heard of Geoffrey Langlands, who has died in Lahore aged 101, until coming across his death on Wikipedia’s Recent Deaths page. His Wikipedia page has been subjected to a fair bit of editing since I first read it, with some of the more colourful phrasing being removed.
Like many long-lived folk, Langlands lived a full life. Aged one, his father died in the flu pandemic of 1918, like a son of Drangan (who also lost his mother) HIs mother died of cancer ten years later. Ultimately he became a teacher, and on the outbreak of World War II joined the army, surviving the disastrous Dieppe Raid (one wonders how many other survivors are left) and receiving an emergency commission in the then British Indian Army. Electing to remain in Pakistan on Independence (and Partition) as a military trainer, he began a storied educational career at firstly the “Eton of Pakistan”, Aitchison College, and later started his own school. Current Prime Minister, cricket legend and reformed playboy Imran Khan, is among the many elite pupils of Langlands over the years.
This story in the Daily Telegraph (where else?) marked his retirement at 95:
Five years separate Major Geoffrey Langlands from his centenary, so it was to be expected that he would remain in his chair during the show marking his retirement from the school high in the Hindu Kush that bears his name. Yet, even at the age of 95, the old boy is far too wily to let a photo opportunity slip by. When pupils of Langlands School and College broke into a folk dance from their native Chitral, he was up, walking stick discarded, twirling around, hands raised above his head. The boys and girls of the school whooped with delight as their old principal temporarily abolished the passing years, mobbing him as he danced. Langlands, last survivor of the Raj, certainly knows how to work a crowd. “How do you follow that?” asks Carey Schofield, the woman who arranged the surprise party in Langlands’ honour on Tuesday. “It is very hard to take over from the Major. He is quite literally irreplaceable.”
Carey Schofield was to discover just how literally irreplaceable he was. In 2013 however it was all going so well:
In post for only a few weeks, Miss Schofield has forsaken her home near London’s fashionable Sloane Square for a mountain fastness. So why, at the age of 59, has she abandoned an enviable lifestyle in Britain to come here?
“Because it would be nice to make a difference,” she says, speaking for the first time about her new job. “It is good in middle age to be able to do something useful. The College and its associated primary schools educate a thousand pupils. If we can turn them around it will improve a thousand young lives. The job is daunting but worth doing.”
And the Taliban? “Chitral is safer than Chelsea. There have been a few incidents but most of them involve goat rustling, not terrorism. There was a bad incident in 2011 when members of the Chitral Scouts were killed during an attack from Afghanistan but that was further south. Chitral is unlike the rest of the North-West Frontier, more tranquil. The risk is very slight.”
The risk from the Taliban might have been very slight, but from another source the risk was more substantial. Fast forward to another Telegraph article two years later:
Pakistan is rather used to military coups, but even by its standards the attempted putsch at one of its leading schools is somewhat unusual.
The protagonists are Major Geoffrey Langlands, who stepped down from his post as the school’s principal in 2013 and his anointed successor, Carey Schofield.
Whether he was unhappy in retirement or displeased at how the school was being run, Major Langlands, 97, decided he should resume control of the institution which bears his name and numbers a number of the country’s leading pupils among its alumni.
The old boys include Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, the interior minister, who was enlisted by the major in his attempt to oust Miss Schofield.
With Miss Schofield, 61, in London, Mr Khan was persuaded to revoke her visa, effectively preventing her from resuming her post.
Believing he had ousted his rival Major Langlands returned to the school at Chitral in the North West Province to resume control.
In case you are feeling Torygraphed-out, we can turn to The Grauniad for the resolution of this episode:
Carey Schofield was greeted by crowds of parents and teachers when she finally flew into the former princely state of Chitral last week after a spectacular falling out with Geoffrey Langlands, a celebrated Raj-era army officer who taught a generation of Pakistan’s political leaders.
Her return was made possible by the decision of the school’s entire staff to travel more than a thousand miles on a rickety school bus to lobby Langlands to drop his opposition to Schofield, whom he accused of mismanagement and overspending.
I am glad to report that Carey Schofield is evidently of a forgiving disposition, if her contribution to Langland’s subsequent 100th Birthday party is any guide:
Principal Langlands School Ms. Carey Scholfield spoke of Langlands’ services to the country.