Teacher changed the lives of thousands
AMAN whose devotion to education was said to have transformed the lives of thousands of children in Pakistan has died, aged 101.
Major Geoffrey Langlands, who was brought up in Bristol and attended King’s College in Taunton, taught a president and two prime ministers, but also survived a kidnap ordeal.
Maj Langlands and his twin brother John were born in Yorkshire in October 1917. When their father died the next year in the flu pandemic, their mother moved the family to Bristol, where her parents lived.
However, she died when the twins were just 12, leaving them orphaned and relying on friends and relatives.
Their kindness led to Maj Langlands being enrolled at King’s College. When he left, he secured his first teaching post at a school in south London.
When World War Two broke out, Maj Langlands volunteered for the Army and became a commando, taking part in the disastrous Dieppe Raid in 1942.
The BBC reported that he was posted to India in 1944 and stayed on after the war to witness first-hand the end of the British Empire there, and the violence of partition in 1947 – when the independent states of India and Pakistan were created.
Maj Langlands was assigned to Pakistan’s new army and spent much of the period travelling around the country by train.
He stayed on in Pakistan after partition, but the BBC reported that in the early 1950s a chance conversation would set him on the path that would come to define his life.
Businessman Haroon Rashid, a student of Aitchison College in Lahore in the 1960s, often heard the tale of how the then-military ruler Ayub Khan had asked the major what his future plans were.
“Langlands told him he was a teacher before the army and would like to go back to teaching. In a prompt response, Ayub said there was a shortage of teachers in Pakistan and would he like to stay back?
“Langlands – in an equally prompt reply – agreed.”
Maj Langlands had already found the school he wanted to teach at – he described Aitchison College as the “Eton of Pakistan”.
The BBC said he would spend the next 25 years teaching there – including his best-known students..
The Telegraph newspaper reported that one US ambassador would later
Orphan who was brought up in the West Country became a much-loved figure in Pakistan
joke he had taught half the cabinet, alongside one president and two prime ministers – including incumbent Imran Khan.
By 1979, Maj Langlands found a fresh challenge in the mountainous area of North Waziristan, on the border with Afghanistan.
The tribal area was all too much for the head teacher who Maj Langlands went to work under – he left after a year.
Maj Langlands told the BBC: “He said this was a dreadful place.”
But Maj Langlands was not put off by the risks.
“The tribal areas were completely without law, and therefore they didn’t welcome any visitor coming into their area. They would usually be kidnapped,” he said.
Maj Langlands was no exception. He was pulled from the car he was travelling in in 1988 – all because a local chief had lost an election and thought that officials might think again if a well-connected former soldier was kidnapped. He was released after six days when his captors realised the plan was not going to work.
Later that year, he moved further north to take charge of a new school in Chitral, which would later be named in his honour. He even met the Princess of Wales there as she toured the region.
The BBC reported that through the school, Maj Langlands changed the lives of thousands. It started with just 80 students and by the time he retired, aged 94, there were 800. He spoke proudly not only of how the boys were getting scholarships to the top universities, but also an increasing number of girls.
“He promoted the poor of Chitral,” Farhat Tamas, a professor of psychology in Peshawar University, said.
Every morning, Maj Langlands would have porridge, poached eggs and two cups of tea and he paid himself just $300 a month so the school was as well-funded as possible.
The BBC reported that, on his retirement, former pupils came together to ensure he was housed in a cottage at Aitchison, where he lived until his death on January 2.