Kamal Chunchie

 

 

“He had to go ‘over the top’ with them and it was his job to get them all up and going. He must of hated what became of them. They were just being slaughtered.”

 
– Tony, Chunchie’s Grandson

 

 

Kamal Chunchie was born in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) to a migrant Malay family. Little is known of his early life in Asia, except that he once worked as a police inspector in Singapore. Chunchie was inspired to travel to London to join the Middlesex Regiment, seeing action in the trenches. 

“They wanted him to become an officer and he said ‘no’ . . . he wanted to stay with his mates, the boys that he’d trained with.”

-Tony, Chunchie’s grandson

During the war, Chunchie learnt how to box, saw concerts of opera, and met his future English wife while on leave in London. He was gassed and injured, and sent to Malta to recuperate. There he played cricket, his biggest passion, one which he continued after the war as the only ‘coloured’ member of the Essex Gentlemen’s Cricket Club.

Conversion

Kamal Chunchie Draft

Kamal Chunchie in a pulpit, c. 1920

It was during the war that Chunchie found his calling as a Methodist preacher. His conversion, and carefree lifestyle, caused conflict with his family back home; his father had been the leader of the Malay Muslim communities in Ceylon . . .

“[His father] put a Fatwa on him. His name was crossed out of the Koran, and his brothers were given the job of hunting him down, which, thankfully, they never did.”

Tony, Chunchie’s grandson

The Methodist Church tried in vain to tempt Chunchie abroad to work as a missionary . . .

“He reckoned that he’d come [to the UK] to be a missionary! He thought he could do more good here. He felt that the converted here needed more help than the unconverted abroad.”

Tony, Chunchie’s grandson

Coloured Men’s Institute

Britain’s navy and merchant ships were often manned by colonial workers. Chunchie felt sympathy for these ‘coloured’ seamen, who were rejected from the pubs and hostels of London’s docklands; his Christian sense of duty would lead him to serve the country once more.

“He’d found a seaman wandering around without any shoes, so he took his off and gave them to him.”

Tony, Chunchie’s grandson

In 1928, Chunchie established the Coloured Seamen’s Institute in Canning Town – a charitable community centre with meetings, meals, games and even day trips to the seaside for the ‘coloured’ seamen and their families. He gained a remarkable reputation across London as a kind and charming man.

“He was the only coloured person in the area, and, in those days, people used to doff their hats to him”

Tony, Chunchie’s grandson

Chunchie’s relentless networking earned him V.I.P tickets to the Queen’s Coronation and the 1948 Olympics.

“He used to go to the Royal Empire Society to play bridge and snooker. He probably networked as people do today. Try and get help if he could; drum up some support.”

-Tony, Chunchie’s grandson

Kamal Chunchie Draft

Essex County Cricket Club including Kamal Chunchie c.1920

Later Life

Kamal Chunchie Draft

Chunchie at the Coloured Men’s Institute, c.1923

Coloured Men's Institute

Gas attacks during WW1

Chunchie died in 1958, not long after the Coloured Men’s Institute closed.

“I saw him the night before he died. [They] asked if there was anything he’d like and he said ‘yes, glass of brandy and a cigar’. And that was the way he went out . . .”

Tony

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