Leading English in Kuala Kangsar

28 February 1999

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After four years in the scout movement, I left with Ariffin Muda, Nik Mahmud Fakhruddin Kamil, Syed Zainal Wafa, Megat Ahmad and Salleh Nordin among others for the College Cadet Corps.

Ariffin, Fakhruddin and Salleh eventually joined the army - the first two have since died.

At the time of their death Ariffin was a colonel while Fakhruddin was a lieutenant-general. Salleh is still alive and retired as a non-commissioned officer.

Ariffin and Fakhruddin, like many old collegians before them, had gone to the British Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst, England.

I, too, tried to join Askar Melayu di-Raja (Royal Malay Regiment). Ariffin, Fakhruddin, Salleh and I made a pact to realise our military career. Only Ariffin joined the army with ease.

He obviously reached sufficient academic standard and passed the physical test at the pre-officers' training school in Port Dickson after a week's intelligence and grueling endurance tests.

Fakhruddin succeeded after two attempts and followed Ariffin to Sandhurst in 1956. Because he loved the army too much, Salleh decided to join the army as a recruit.

I never tried again after the humiliating failure in Port Dickson: thrown out in the 1st round!

We celebrated Ariffin's success at the Bukit Bintang cabaret in Kuala Lumpur. In a sense, whatever the background, those who successfully survive MCKK and move on into the real world through further studies whether at Cambridge, London School of Economics, Inns of Court, universities in the US, Australia or at Sandhurst, became an elite in their own right.

It is like a stamp of Malaysian recognition. Tun Razak and Tuanku Jaafar were the embodiment of everything which MCKK strives to achieve.

The sixth form was established in 1948 to cater for 18 Malay students destined for universities.

From Kelantan came Ezanee Merican (now a doctor); and from Negri Sembilan were Yusof Zainal (the head boy now a retired ambassador residing in Australia), Abdul Rahim Jalal (retired ambassador living in Kuala Lumpur).

Azizul Rahman bin Aziz from Perak was for a long time secretary of parliament.

Those who are alive have all retired. Ali Abdullah, a former diplomat from Perlis, had died.

In 1949, Zaharah Mokhtar and in 1950, I think Zainab or Kak Nab joined tie sixth form, making history as the only girls to ever attend MCKK.

The birth of the Federation of Malaya on Feb 1, 1948 was celebrated with great enthusiasm at the college as it was deemed a restoration of "Malay power".

The Malayan Communist Party which opposed the restoration of the Anglo-Malay government, started a revolt in June in Sungai Siput when the communists brutally killed three European planters.

In response, the British colonial government declared a state of emergency in July which was to last until three years after Merdeka.

Howell temporarily left MCKK to become a supplementary police officer to help organise special constables to fight the communists which the British colonial government called bandits.

Howell said he was proud of the thousands of Malay young men and women who came forward so readily to defend their country side by side the British, the Gurkhas, Malay troops and anti Communist Malayan Chinese and others.

Despite the emergency, the progress of prep school and the Big School towards rehabilitation (following WWII) was little affected.

For students from Kelantan, the emergency was a blessing in disguise.

Before the emergency, I had to travel to Kuala Kangsar by train via southern Thailand. It was cheaper, the journey was shorter though not as safe.

The war against the communists made travel very dangerous whether through Thailand or the long journey via Gemas in the south and up to the north via Kuala Lumpur to Kuala Kangsar.

The Kelantan government, not wanting to risk the lives of 18 of its scholars including four girls from Malay Girls' College (now Tunku Khursiah), decided to fly us to Penang and then by train to Kuala Kangsar and the girls onto Kuala Lumpur.

Flying then, let alone for students, was expensive and a novelty for most Malayans.

Hundreds of relatives came to Pengkalan Chepa Aerodrome Sultan Ismail (Petra Airport) to send us of many were seeing the Dakota plane for the first time.

Many more had come to say prayers for safe flight. We exchanged forgiveness in case the flight might be our last.

I recall little about the flight except that I felt as if my ear drums had exploded and the attention lavished by what I thought was a very beautiful and well-mannered Eurasian hostess.

I had a window seat and remember seeing the Kelantan river, the kampungs, the padi fields in particular looked like postcard pictures - beautiful and clean from a few thousand feet above the ground.

Distance is always deceptive I would soon learn.

After more than an hour of flying the captain announced we were approaching Bayan Lepas, Penang and to fasten our seat belts and prepare for the landing. It was a bumpy landing.

It was just before noon when we landed. My first historic and uneventful plane ride was over. A hour before sunset that evening we left Penang for our final destination by train.

(Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad is our Special Envoy to the United States.)

(This article has been reproduced with the kind permission of Sun )