November 19, 2017

Ramdeholl Memorial Church

Clara Ramdeholl (1909-1939)

In 1915, the Canadian Mission established the Berbice High School in New Amsterdam, British Guiana as a school for boys. Five years later, in 1920 a separate building was erected on the site of the current Berbice High School, as a school for girls.

In its first year, Clara Ramdeholl was one of the 10 girls to first attend the “girls’ school”. She graduated in 1925 at age 16 and began teaching there until 1932 when, at 23-years-old, she left the colony for England to study law.

Admitted to the Inn at Middle Temple in England on Oct. 12, 1932, Clara was called to the Bar Nov. 17, 1939. At the time, she would be only the third qualified female barrister from British Guiana after Gladys Sarran (1930) and Iris DeFreitas (1897).

Her call to the Bar would be in absentia however, as Clara and her brother Cecil, who had become a doctor, had already left England Nov. 14, 1939 to embark on the steam ship “S.S. Simon Bolivar”, to travel to Amsterdam, Holland en route to British Guiana.

Clara had not seen her parents since she had left, and her father had not long earlier passed away. With her brother Cecil on six months leave, she took the opportunity to return with him to British Guiana.

However, on Nov. 18, 1939, the “S.S. Simon Bolivar” was sunk by German magnetic mines. Despite surviving the sinking ship, Clara lost her life after the lifeboat they had managed to reach capsized and she was forced to endure the frigid waters of the North Sea, despite desperate attempts by her brother to keep her alive.

Her body was declared lost at sea.

The renovated Ramdeholl Memorial Church

Not long after, the Canadian Mission asked her mother for permission to dedicate a church they planned to build within the school’s compound, in Clara’s memory.  It would come to be in memory of both Clara and her father, Robert Ramdeholl.

The tragedy of the Ramdeholl family sadly did not end there. Clara had apparently planned her return as a surprise for her mother, Mary Ramdeholl. Discovering that Clara was aboard the “S.S. Simon Bolivar” and did not survive led to illness from which she never recovered. Mary died within months of Clara’s death, and indeed her husband’s.

The newly built church was formally named the Ramdeholl Memorial Guyana Presbyterian Church, and was dedicated at a service on April 15, 1940.

The church building remained in the school’s compound until Guyana became independent and there was a mandatory separation of church and state. It was then moved across the street to its current Lot 22 Princess Elizabeth Road, New Amsterdam location.

With the building showing signs of its age, the Ramdeholl family abroad began a fundraising effort for its restoration. On Dec 28, 2014, rehabilitation works were completed and a re-dedication ceremony was conducted at the church.

The Ramdeholl Memorial Church is featured in the New Amsterdam Heritage Trail, a 2015 publication by the National Trust of Guyana that hopes to enrich future generations with knowledge of their Guyanese heritage.  (Photos: ramdehollmemorialchurch.wordpress.com)