K.A. Chunchie was born in Kandy, Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon), the eldest son of a Muslim family. He was educated at Kingswood College in Kandy where he developed an interest in Christianity. After leaving school he joined the Ceylon Straits Settlement Police, rising to the rank of sub-inspector. He later transferred to the Singapore Police.
In the First World War, Chunchie enlisted in the Public Schools Battalion, 3rd Middlesex Regiment, seeing action in France and Selonika. He was wounded twice. Whilst convalescing in Malta in 1917 he converted to Christianity.
During his early years in London, he played cricket for Essex
In July 1920, aged 34, he married Muriel Tappen who became his lifelong helper in his work for the coloured population.
Work among Asian and Black communities.
After the First World War, significant numbers of black and Asian people had begun to settle around the docks and in Canning Town. Some black soldiers had been demobbed here and also decided to stay.
In 1921 Chunchie was appointed to the Queen Victoria Seamen's Rest, where he was given responsibility for work among black and Asian sailors, this because he was fluent in four languages. Chunchie visited ships moored in the Thames and the Docks, as well as lodging houses and slums. He also visited the sick in hospitals in Canning Town and Greenwich. Chunchie was especially concerned to relieve the poverty of poor people and did a lot to help with their welfare, collecting food and clothing parcels and money for medicine.
The Coloured Men's Institute
Chunchie set up the Coloured Men's Wesleyan Methodist Church in a rented hall in Canning Town. This was used for social events and for Sunday school work. The work grew from 50 to about 200 black and Asian people. Later, Chunchie received approval and secured funds to purchase a former lodging-house. The building was located in 13 -15 Tidal Basin Road and opened in 1926.It became a centre for social, welfare and religious activities with Chunchie as its first pastor and warden.
The building was demolished in 1930 as part of a road-widening scheme. At the closure of the institute, Chunchie and his family moved with his family to Lewisham.
In 1935 the Old Ship Inn in Victoria Dock Road was bought to convert into an institute. Not enough money was raised, so his home in Lewisham served as a base, with activities taking place in the Presbyterian Church in Dock Road, Canning Town. Numbers of seamen used the bed and breakfast service and rose to 900 by 1937. In that year 127 families were given Christmas dinner and gifts were given out to adults and children. Over 500 came to the New Year gathering.
Throughout the year, clothes, boots and shoes and coal and even money were given out to help the poorest families and outings to the seaside were also arranged. During World War Two, bombed out and evacuated families were also helped.
In the war, Chunchie worked as a member of a volunteer fire fighting party in Lewisham.
Death of K.A. Chunchie.
The hard work and unstable finances of the Institute led to Chunchie's health breaking down. After a short illness, he died in June, 1953, aged 67 and is buried in Hither Green Cemetery, Lewisham.
(Photo: The Coloured Men's Institute, Tidal basin Road, E16 in 1926, Newham Heritage & Archives)