It was only a couple of weeks after I arrived in Malaya that I had the time and date of my family’s arrival. The family quarters I had been given would now be our home for my entire tour of duty in Malaya. It had all been kitted out and signed over to me in the usual army way and I had prepared it in advance, arranging the furniture, making the beds, cutting the grass and adding welcoming touches. Along with colleagues who also had families, the regimental bus took us to Ipoh station for the joyful reunion on the crowded platform. Imagine the excitement of these two toddlers, Carmen and Kirstin, asking non-stop questions all the way back to the bungalow. Most of their questions I couldn’t even answer myself as I had hardly been there any length of time. Luckily Karin, my wife, and the two children loved the bungalow and were so tired after their long journey that they were happy to go to bed as it was now late. The ama (maid) who came to meet us all the next day, was a young Chinese girl named Mee Moi, who spoke very good English. She was an instant success with the family and gave us advice on where to shop in Ipoh market and elsewhere. Mee Moi came from a family of tailors and dressmakers so she was happy to offer their services to get any clothing we wanted made up for us. After showing the family round the neighbourhood and realising the toll that the heat was taking on them, we put in an order to Mee Moi for suitable tropical clothing to be made for all of us. The local rickshaw man lived down the same street as us and there was also a taxi driver nearby with whom I arranged to take Karin and the children around wherever they wanted when I was away at work.
Our band work routine from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. was to practise our music as a band. After that we would practise our instruments privately and do sport. We did sport as much as possible every day not only because it kept us fit but because it was a way of boosting morale, bonding and team spirit among band members. Many friendly sports matches were organised between us and local teams in hockey, basketball, football, cricket, rugby and swimming. For those that wanted it, equestrian sport, golf and sailing were available. I wanted to join a local athletics club, however, so I could take part in local athletics competitions as I had done in Germany and England.
Our neighbours were all local Indians, Portuguese, Chinese and Malayans. They were very friendly and soon got to know me when they saw me out and about running or cycling. They saw me as one of them because they shared my skin colour. I chatted with them about local sport and said I wanted to join a local club. They told me that the area where we lived was a new part of town, but in the older parts of Ipoh there were many sports clubs and leagues. The neighbours opposite us, the Xaviers, were an Indian family of devout Catholics with seven daughters. They offered to help in any way we needed and the daughters were happy to babysit for us if Karin and I wanted to go out together to a function at night. Over the next three years, we developed a wonderful close relationship with them. Mr Xavier advised me that the way to find an athletics club was to look in the local paper and he gave me his copy to make a start. There were four or five athletics clubs in Ipoh, all run by large companies. Only one of them was not and that was the one I wanted to join. It was “The Perak Swifts,” run by Suppiah, a local schoolteacher who was a sprinter. He was an Indian and also a qualified coach. They trained at the YMCA grounds. I cycled there to meet him. Hardly anyone was training when I turned up at the ground. I tried to find Suppiah but he wasn’t there either. Why? I wondered. I had come on a training day. I asked around for him.
“No one here trains in the daytime, it’s much too hot,” I was told. “They come in the evenings in the cool of the day.” I left messages for him with various people and eventually Suppiah came to my house to find me. I liked him instantly and I never dreamt that in three years’ time he would help us both to achieve so much: me as an athlete and him as a coach.
We both had an interest in all sports, but he knew all the people, local and national, who ran the sports in Malaya. Suppiah wanted to find out about me and I wanted to find out about how athletics in Malaya was run, what competitions there were and who ran the sport in the country. He confirmed what others had told me: that there were leagues and clubs for cricket, hockey, basketball and football and athletics competitions but they were all run by big business such as the tin mining and other mining enterprises (at that time of transition from colony towards independence, these industries were dominated by Australian mining companies). They sponsored the sport and therefore controlled it but their sports competitors were paid good salaries and they therefore had all the best athletes.
“I want to participate in as many sports as time will allow, given my military duties,” I told Suppiah. I told him I wanted to be an international and was aiming for the Commonwealth Games and the Olympics one day. He understood this but thought it would be difficult to do decathlon because of the lack of facilities and competitions.
“Well we can make our own facilities and organise our own competitions,” I said.
“Edwin, you’ve only been here one day,” he laughed. I’d been there a week or two in fact, but it took me quite a while before I understood what he meant by this. We discussed the various available athletics competitions.
“I want to enter all of them,” I said.
“But you can’t,”
“Nobody enters all competitions.”
“Well I want to,” I said emphatically.
“Fine,” he said “Do you want to do cross country?”
“Yes, I’ll do that.”
“What about road running?”
“Yes, I’ll do that too.”
“You say you like cricket and want to play that.”
“Yes, I’ll do that too.”
“And football, hockey and basketball? You must be Superman,” he laughed. In fact he had never stopped laughing throughout the conversation.
“Listen Edwin, I want to show you my place and introduce you to my wife, who is a teacher like me, and my son. I want you to meet some people who can help us both.” He was such a lovely person. We had an instant bond. He had been an international sprinter so he knew what it took to get to that level, but I’d been disappointed to know that he didn’t do field events himself although he knew who could help me with that. He said he would get me some reading material from the USA for me to learn about the events and the training required for them. He was a teacher and a coach and the secretary of one of the top athletics clubs in the country. He was also a member of the Malaya Amateur Athletics Union. He hugged me and cycled away leaving me on the corner of my street waving him off and wondering what would happen next.
I felt my sporting career would get somewhere now and I wanted to share this news with someone in authority from the regiment. It was fine sharing it with band friends who all knew me, but I felt I needed permission, so I went to speak with Major Woods. When I explained it to him, I got his wholehearted encouragement to go ahead with it. So I started with “The Perak Swifts” athletics club under Suppiah’s tutelage.
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