Saturday, 27 October 2012

British Officers

There were many British officers in British Malaya and in the Federation of Malaya and later Malaysia till the early 1970s. When I lived Sabah, I saw many British families residing in Sabah. They were in Tanjong Aru, near the coast. They were near the airport. They were at the hospital (Queen Elizabeth II Hospital). At the airport, I saw quite a number of white kids who wore leg braces - they had polio. At that time I did know polio and I had thought the metal braces were a higher societal standard! On the airport flashback, I think polio was a big problem in Sabah then. I had suffered from elephantiasis while living in Sabah; maybe because I was out hiking a lot in the jungle nearby where we lived.

There was one white man who worked with my father at Gaya College. Maybe he was the principal? He was Mr Todd. I don't know his full name but he was already very old when I met him. I didn't see any British officers at the school I attended (Tanjong Aru Primary School). There were many missionary schools in Sabah. The priests also came to our school to preach. They were in big white robes with a red band at the waist. They looked Indian to me. The Muslim students had a choice of either following the missionary classes or leave class. As for me, my father came to see the principal, Mr Regis, and informed him that we are a family of Muslims and that he didn't want my sibs and me to follow the missionary classes. So while the other students followed the missionary classes, Mr Regis and my eldest brother would come and call me out from my class. Mr Regis was a kind Indian man - he spoke very softly to students, and always smiled. I went out to play in the sunshine and enjoyed every minute of it while the other students followed the missionary classes.

My late father mentioned a lot of British names which have stuck in my mind since my childhood despite my intolerance of history as a subject per se (I didn't hate history but I didn't know what it was about). Some of the names were Lord Mountbatten, Mubin Shepard, Henry Gurney, etc. He mentioned their importance in our history but I have forgotten a lot of what I heard from him. He would put up slide shows at home and as kids, my sibs and I had to sit still and watch the slides quietly while he narrated (sometimes very boring). But we were obedient kids and did not object to watching slide shows after slide shows. That is what I call brain-washing or propaganda. But I was a little girl then and "No" was a forbidden answer. What remains in my mind are his words, "They were great men." Sometimes I ask myself, "How great were these men? What great deeds did they do for us? Who were they?"

Today, I have pictures of people in our history and have to write the stories without my father by my side. My stories about the British officers are from my childhood and from reading up about them. I have still not sorted the photos my father left me; where do I begin?

I am still looking for a British doctor named Mr Gideon, who served as a gastrosurgeon at GH Kota Bharu in 1969/70. I don't know his full name. He was my doctor when I was 12. Where is he today?

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