Part Three Behind Wah Yan Days

Chapter 20 My Family Background


Myself 1936


I like to call myself “Irish” and it is an identity that I have built up since 1955. However, it is not as simple as that. I have noticed taxi drivers in Hong Kong ask me if I were Italian. This is not that stupid because even Italian priests and Italian Religious Sisters in Hong Kong have always looked on me as one of them! But I do not speak Italian, even though I have a few cousins in Italy and two of my uncles lived there for many years. The fact is that my “mediterranean” appearance makes even Indians look at me twice and ask where I am from, because they sense I have connections in North India. The fact is that I lived in Damascus, Jerusalem and Beirut for the first seventeen years of my life. After I was born my father registered me with the British Consul as his son, so I am legally British. As my mother was of an overseas Greek family I am ethnically Anglo-hellenic, In fact, I am culturally Irish, with an Irish step father and a desire to be Irish. Finally, I am socially a Hong Kong Permanent Resident, having been here since 1960.


We left Damascus in 1939, so it might be relevant to explain why my father was there! He had come with Jerry and Norman Nairn to start an overnight crossing of the Syrian Desert, from Damascus to Baghdad. Historically, British Forces had moved to Palestine and Iraq with the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1919. Oil had been found in Iraq, and a pipe line was build to transfer the oil from Mosul to Haifa, in the Mediterranean. There were many oil people who wanted faster travel, and many American tourists who wanted safe travel to Baghdad and the Mesopotamian sites. Nairns Buses were to provide it.


My father married my mother in Cairo in 1929 and immediately joined a group of Australians to start Nairns Transport Company. They offered historically the first overnight commercial crossing of the Syrian Desert, from Damascus to Baghdad. And so I was born, never meeting any English boy or knowing any relative for the first twelve years of my life, as I grew up with other French and Arab children.


Except from my mother’s elder sister, Fifi, I never knew any relatives until a visit in Cairo in 1943, and then in 1948 in London. In 1940, my father moved us to Jerusalem, where he joined the British Army Engineers as an Officer. I lived in Jerusalem until 1947, when my mother and sister and I moved to London. Here for the first time I met my father’s sisters!


My father, Harold Naylor was born along the Thames River, at Bourne End, Buckinghamshire, on 23rd December 1898. His father at first had horse and carriage to meet people at the train station and take them home or to the cemetery. Later he worked with pleasure boats on the River Thames for those who came down from London for recreation. My father was the youngest of ten, seven of whom survived to middle age. His mother Muriel Spark died when he was about eleven. He did not like his stepmother, so he ran away from home to join the British Army in 1914, and served on a motor bike as a dispatch rider in Egypt until 1921. He then got involved in work fixing motor cars. He eventually married my mother in 1929. What is to be noted is that he never as much as sent a Christmas card or message to his family since he left them in 1914!

The older I get, the more I feel my “father” in my bones. He was a happy man of dark complexion, but also inclined to be depressed. He mixed well with people, especially of lower classes and those with small businesses. And loved to laugh. He had no qualifications besides a primary education. He knew that if he returned to England he would never get employment, so he was determined to remain in the Middle East, no matter what happened. In fact, he never once returned to his home of England, but died during liver surgery in Cairo in May 1947. He was buried in the British Military Cemetery along the Nile River. He did not like Italians or French people, because he did not know their languages. I still feel this deep in my bones, and I can sympathize with people who have racial prejudices. These prejudices were inbred in the family, as much else of our value system.

Until today, I look up to my father, whom I always wanted to be like as a boy. I never knew my grandparents on my father’s side, nor did I have any real contacts with my “Naylor” uncles and aunts.


Olga Cosmatos was my beloved mother and very capable. She knew how to contact my father’s sisters near London when we got there in 1947. When I first met the Naylor family, my father had already died of liver complications in Cairo. I was embraced by Nellie Higgins, his eldest sister and Alice Tame, nearest to him in age. My father’s other two brothers, Bill and Fred, where not interested to meet me, as they had no time for their younger brother who had not even the decency to send any message for thirty three years.




Cosmatos Family at Port Said 1960, with two uncles and their wives and two cousins


As for later contacts with my father’s family, they were only through his sister Alice, who really cared for me. Her son, William was Headmaster of Holtspur Primary School for twenty-five years; her daughter, Mary was about the same age as my sister, and she has always kept contact with me since 1947, with birthday and Christmas cards. The other members of the family did not have any children, so the Naylor line dies out with me. Uncle Fred had a daughter but I never met her.

I loved my father and always considered myself his only son. And he really liked me. I wanted to be like him- “English”. But my appearance was against me. I remember the constant challenges I had to my identity. I recall the embarrassment and pain I felt in my childhood and adolescence, when asked where I came from and who my parents were. People would ask me: “Is your father an Arab?” And when I said “No”, they would come back and say: ”But your father can’t be a Jew!” since they knew my father was a friend of the Arabs. Then I would insist that I was an “English Boy”. And that continued until 1953, when I started feeling and wanting to be “Irish”.


But what of my Mother, Olga Cosmatos, who loved me and lived for me! She was the youngest of an overseas Greek business family in Cairo. Though she spoke some Greek at home, she never learned to read or write Greek. She often used French, as she went to a Convent School, which used French and English. She did not like her mother, who only loved her five boys: Nicholas, Gerry, George, Constantine and Alex. Her other sisters were Nellie, Mary and Fifi. Of these, only Fifi was the one close to us, as she was married to an Englishman, Jack Rowe. The other brothers and sisters married Italians or French people. Of their children, there were four of my cousins who are Italians, but I never met them. There were other cousins: Emile Mandacovich ( died in Cairo 1950) and Marcel ( died in Paris in 1993). Still alive in Ottawa in 2006 are Roger Cosmatos and Marie Therese Cosmatos, with whom I am occasionally in contact.


My actual family was connected with Fifi, my mother’s older sister, who married Jack Rowe in a second marriage in Cairo in 1928. This was only after two years of marriage to John Ward who tragically died after two years of marriage. Jack Rowe and Fifi moved to Jerusalem in 1934. Here Fifi met up with Kazia, who had been her school friend in Cairo. Kazia had been recently widowed, as her Greek husband Curis had died leaving her a Villa and money in a trust fund. This provided for Kazia and the education of Michael, who would inherit the remaining when he was twenty-one.


Michael virtually became my elder brother from 1940-1950! His mother, Kazia, lived with Fifi and eventually with us from 1949 until she died with us in Dublin in 1954. Michael was a handsome young boy. Kazia’s mother was Polish, a Viesbisca. Her father had been a Polish Army Colonel who was sent to the Holy Land to provide protection for Polish pilgrims. Kazia at the age of seventeen married George Curis who was a successful business man as a builder in Palestine. Michael grew up like me without grandparents, and without cousins, uncles and aunts. He was handsome and rich and intelligent. From 1941 to 1946, he was the main influence in my life, as an elder brother. He determined much of my years until 1951.


Through Michael I gained a love of mathematics and science. I spent much of my time with him until he went to Dublin in 1946 where got his Master’s Degree in Chemical Engineering in 1951. It was he who planned and arranged for us to go to Dublin, where we could look after his mother, Kazia, and I could study medicine. His influence on me was of someone I looked up to as a hero and model; handsome and strong, outgoing and cheerful, dedicated to science and adventure. But we parted in 1954 never to meet again, as he disappeared in the USA.



With my sister 1994


Patricia was my sister, born in 1938. She was always a beautiful girl, but she resented the favours and position I always held with my mother. She married Eugene Higgins in 1960, after my mother’s death in Dublin in 1958. Some months after, I left for Hong Kong. My sister has ever since lived a happy life with her husband Eugene Higgins at 754 Howth Road, Dublin. She has three children; Eugene William ( 1961) Olga Katherine ( 1964) and Paul Alexander ( 1969) who are married and live in Dublin.


This then is my “family”, which I left to become a Jesuit in 1951


With the decision that I was to study medicine, the family came to Dublin in 1949 and I entered the College of Surgeons. I was determined to be a priest and soon was taking steps to be a Jesuit. All the time I felt I was “English”, but all those around me were Irish, and rather strong nationals. I gradually assumed their views and way of life.


It is difficult to explain the other predominate influence in my life in the person of Peter Carroll, who became my stepfather in 1949. With the death of my father, he took on the obligations of a husband by marrying my mother. This removed the last obstacle to my entry to the Society of Jesus, as I had been told that being the only son of my widowed mother, I had the responsibility to provide for her. Peter Carroll was a god-send. He had been a good family friend since 1938. He had lived with us as a lodger from 1943 until 1947. He was then in the Palestine Police in clerical work since 1937 and was disbanded from the Palestine Police in 1947, when he returned to his sister, Winefrede in Liverpool .


My mother always dressed very well and also kept a beautiful home. As early as 1935, we had a lodger living with us. He was a New Zealander, Jack Pickhard, who worked with my father. With the income of the lodger, my mother could afford to rent a better flat and have more money to make the home beautiful. When we moved to Jerusalem and my father was away in the Army, Fifi arranged that one of her protegees, Peter Carroll, live with us as a lodger. He was twelve years younger than my father.


Peter Carroll was a favourite with Fifi, whose husband was English and a long time friend of my father. At her home, young unmarried men from Britain who joined the Palestine Police, found the welcome of an English home, and the counsel they needed in their private lives.


Peter Carroll was different from the other young police recruits. He had a good primary education with the Jesuits in Liverpool, and often recalled their teaching. Then he had secondary education, as he was trained to be a Christian Brother teacher to work in Africa. At the age of eighteen, he changed his mind and volunteered for the Palestine Police.


My interactions with him at meals in Jerusalem were stimulating. He read many novels and was keen on G.B. Shaw and Fabian Socialism. From Peter Carroll, I imbued feelings for social justice and for the welfare of working class people. He was convinced that the Police were the first social workers. But much more was his pride in being Irish. He always spoke of the glories of being Irish. He made me “Irish” well before I really took on that identity after 1953.


In 1949 the decision was made to buy a house on Howth Hill. Now for the first time in my life, I lived on land that belonged to us, and in a home we owned. Ireland was where I put down my roots. What is more, for the first time in my seventeen years, in Damascus, Jerusalem and London, I now felt accepted and wanted in Dublin. The eyes of everyone spoke: “You belong to us!” How could I not feel being “Irish”.


But it was only when I was a student at University College Dublin as a young Jesuit that I really cultivated being “Irish”. I could not accept being Greek, as I did not know the language and had no contacts with Greeks, or even with my mother’s family, with whom I never lived, except for a few occasional days. Then I was not Italian in any sense. As for being “English” I did not feel I belonged to my father’s family, nor for that matter by anyone in Britain, where I had only lived for a few months. I could now be “Irish” by desire, with my step father, and by my acceptance in Ireland. And the fact of living with Irish Jesuits for more than fifty five years, must not be overlooked.


So I have been in Hong Kong as a Catholic priest with this background, and with the desire to preach the Kingdom of God and Catholic living, which would include Christian unity.


As a teacher in Wah Yan Kowloon, I have been very anxious to make home visits to the students I teach. When I see the parents of students and how the students study, I understand their context more fully. I also know that the most important factor in a student’s life is the support he has in his studies from his parents. But not all students do well at school, as I know. The future of the students is not so much determined by their family backgound as by their efforts and their determination for their future. (2544)

My Father 1898-1947 Muriel Spark Naylor 1872?-1909?

Father’s mother of nine children



Cosmatos Family gathering Cairo 1943.

My sister is in front and I am in my fathers embrace, Peter Carroll standing.


第二十章 我的家庭背景


我喜歡自稱為「愛爾蘭人」,這個身份是自從一九五五年開始便建立的,但是情況並不是那麼簡單,我留意到香港的士司機問我是為義大利人,連在香港的義大利神父和修女望著我也以為我是義大利人。可是,我不會說義大利話,我衹是在兩位舅父和幾個表親在義大利住了幾年,事實上,我有「地中海人」的外貌,連印度人也多看我兩眼問我從那堥荂A因他們覺得我與北印度有連繫。事實上我生命中的頭七年是在大馬士革,耶路撒冷和貝魯特生活的。我出生之後,我父親在英國領事館註冊我成為他的兒子,所以我是法定英國人。我母親是生長於一個海外希臘家庭,按種族我是英裔希臘人。事實上,我是文化上的愛爾蘭人,我的繼父是愛爾蘭人,而我也很渴望成為愛爾蘭人。最後,自一九六零年開始我在香港居住,在社會地位上,我是香港永久居民。


一九二九年,我父親與我母親在開羅結婚,立即與一群奧大利亞人,成立一間內羅士運輸公司( Nairns Transport Company)他們是歷史上第一間商營公司,提供一夜橫過敘利亞沙漠,由大馬士革到巴格達(伊拉克首都)這時,我出生了,在我十二歲前,從未見過英國小童或任何親戚,我與法國和阿拉伯人小童一起成長。


我年紀越長,我越感到我「父親」在我的身體內,他是一個快樂的人,黑色皮膚色,但有消沉傾向,他與人相處融洽,特別是與低下階層和那些做小生意的人,他又愛大笑。他衹有小學教育程度。他知道如果他返回英國,他一定找不到工作,所以無論發生甚麼事情,他決定留在中東。事實上,他從此沒有回到英國,一九四七年五月在開羅一次肝臟手術中死去,他埋葬在尼羅河的英國軍人墓地。他並不喜歡義大利人或法國人,因他不懂他們的語言,我仍在我身上深深感受到,我很同情有些人有種族成見,這些成見是先天來自家庭的,其他方面如價值觀等也如是。


直至今日,我仍很尊敬我的父親,我自少都很想學父親一樣,我從不認識祖父祖母,我也從未與姓魏的叔伯、和姑嬸有實際接觸。


我至愛的母親Olga Cosmatos,她很能幹,我們於一九四七年返回倫敦,她知道如何找到父親的姊妹,她們都住在倫敦附近,當我第一次見到魏家家人時,我父親已因肝臟併發症死在開羅,他的姊姊(Nellie Higgins)和妹妹(Alice Tame) 抱擁著我。而父親其餘兩位兄長(Bill and Fred),全無興趣見我,他們沒有時間為他們三十多年都沒有通音訊的弟弟。


當我決定讀醫科時,我們全家於一九四九年搬到都柏林,我考進了外科醫學院。 我後來立志做神父,很快便逐步成為耶蘇會士。我一直都覺得自己是「英國人」,但是包圍在我身邊的都是愛爾蘭人,他們頗強烈的愛國主義,我逐漸也接受他們的觀點和生活方式。


很艱說明Peter Carroll這個人影響我的一生,他於一九四九年成為我的繼父,自我父親去世,他擔負起一個丈夫的責任,與我母親結婚,這樣移走了我進入耶蘇會的最後障礙,因我是守寡母親的惟一個兒子,我有責任供養她,Peter Carroll 是天賜給我們的。


我作為一名天主教神父有這樣的背景,我一直生活在香港,有願望去宣揚「上主的天國」和天主教徒的生活,包括基督徒合一。


作為九龍華仁書院的一名教師,我渴望家訪我所教的學生,當我見到學生的家長和學生讀書的情況,我會更全面了解他們,我同時知道一個學生的一生中最重要的因素是得到家長對他學習上的支持。但據我所知,不是所有學生的學業成績都是好的,學生的前途並不太受他們的家庭背景來決定,而是由他們的努力,及他們為自己前途的決心而決定的。