LANCE Corporal Mohd Said Mohd Amin, like most soldiers after being discharged from military service, was seeking a better life for his family.
Having served in the British Army in former Malaya, he decided that his best option was to migrate to the United Kingdom.
In 1972, the 33-year-old father of four, with one more on the way, left his young family in Serkam, Melaka, with plans to bring them over to the UK once he had sorted out their accommodation and schooling.
It must have been a heartbreaking moment to leave his heavily pregnant wife, Barbara Helen or Ramlah, then 26, with their children. The eldest, Hariss, was only nine and was tasked with writing to his father in London once or twice a month.
The others were Harissah 7; Juneiddy 5; and Juneidda, 2; while Sahrina was born soon after on Aug 31, 1972.
“For three years, father wrote twice a month. I would dutifully reply as our mother dictated to me,” said Hariss when I met him and his wife Salmi at their kopitiam café in Setia Alam early this year, after Salmi had written to me, asking for help in their search for her father-in-law.
Hariss said the letters from their father were nothing out of the ordinary while the reply from Hariss would convey reports about their daily life and how much they missed him.
Soon enough, the day the family was waiting for finally arrived. Said wrote to say he would be returning to Malaysia to get his family.
However, the initial euphoria of being reunited slowly turned into disappointment as the familiar airmail, which was sometimes accompanied by money, stopped coming.
Life for the young family changed drastically after that, with Ramlah having to sell nasi lemak in their village in Serkam, Melaka, to support the family. The children were separated as family members rallied to take care of each child in their respective homes. They, too, had to work while still in school to help support the family.
The father whom they remembered as a soft-spoken man who would never raise his voice suddenly disappeared from their lives with not so much as a clue to point to his whereabouts.
“I remember him doing most things in the house when he was not at work. At that time, we were living in the army barracks in Changi, Singapore. That was the last time I remember us being together,” said Hariss, who said the search for Said only began in earnest once he started working.
“I remember the helicopter rides and him singing, Have You Ever Seen the Rain by Creedence Clearwater Revival,” said Juneiddy, now 52, who works in the aviation industry and had hoped that through his work and network, he could find their father.
“In the 1990s, we wrote to the British High Commission here, which confirmed that our letter to our father was delivered but they could not reveal his address as it was confidential. It was heartbreaking to hear that he had received the letter but there was no reply,” he said.
There were numerous reasons, obviously, for the siblings to continue the search.
“I wouldn’t say I was doing it for myself, “ admitted Hariss. “It was for my mother, who never stopped waiting. I guess she wanted an answer.”
“I wanted my youngest sister, Sarina, to at least see my father, even if it was only once. And for my grandmother to see her son before she dies,” added Juneiddy.
The search for Said even took the siblings to the studios of TV3’s programme Jejak Kasih. However, people began ringing them to say their father was still alive and living in Kuala Lumpur or was last sighted in Chow Kit — the family was led on a wild goose chase with payment demanded in return.
Friends travelling and working in the UK were also roped in to help in the search but to no avail.
Last year, after the movie Pulang by Primeworks Studios, was released, it renewed their interest in the search and because of a small part I played in the making of the movie, it caught the attention of Salmi, who then wrote to me.
This started off a chain of positive developments from London to Liverpool to Aberdeen and later, to an oil rig in Scotland.
I asked friends who had served in the British Army before but that led to nothing. I gave Salmi the number for a contact in Liverpool, Jantan Lisot, who is a member of the Malay seafarers’ community.
It was through his efforts that Said was finally located.
Jantan said he engaged the services of an agency to track down Said.
“The agency said they found him in Wales but would not give me the address until I made further payments. I was then given an email address to write to him through this agency,” said Jantan when I met him in Liverpool recently.
The email via the agency was sent on May 23 to Said, who was in Moray, Portgordon, a small village in Scotland, almost 100km away from Aberdeen.
“The initial information about Wales was to mislead us so that we did not contact him personally,” explained Jantan.
However, any hope of a happy ending was soon shattered. Jantan received word that Said had died, a mere three days after receiving the email seeking to re-connect with him.
Said apparently sustained a fall and died alone in his house. He was 79.
Hariss said this was the second time that they were told that their father had died, after previous efforts to search for him.
“I didn’t believe it the first time, but this time, I did. He was found dead after a fall outside his house,” said Hariss.
Financial constraints meant that none of the family members could travel to Portgordon. But the close network of Malaysians abroad rallied to help salvage the situation in what appeared to be dire circumstances.
Jantan contacted a friend, Ashraf Aziz in Aberdeen, who arranged for Said’s remains to be brought to the nearest mosque, which was in Elgin, a small town in Moray.
“We, members of the mosque in Aberdeen, were made the next of kin.
“Arrangements were made to collect funds for the burial, which was £4,000 (approximately RM20,500) and for the body to be taken to the Elgin Muslim cemetery.
“We did it just in time because after 21 days, and without any next of kin to make the claim, they were about to cremate the body,” said Ashraf.
Among the Muslim community at the Elgin mosque was a Scotsman — the only person who knew Said, the man, known to neighbours in Moray and his friends at the Baxter Food factory, where he worked until five years ago, as Eddie.
Only wishing to be known as a close neighbour who missed Eddie greatly, he said Said had always lived alone. He was found by parents who were sending off their children to school in the morning. Apparently, he had fallen down during the night.
The incident was reported in the local paper about how the parents tried to revive him before the ambulance came.
He was the best neighbour anyone could wish for, he said, with his sentiments echoed by friends, former colleagues and neighbours in his Facebook status.
“In summer, when his windows were open, we could hear him sing, maybe a Malay song,” he said of his neighbour of 20 years.
“His house was the cleanest in our village. He loved gardening and took great pride in everything he did and he was always smartly dressed,” he wrote to me from the oil rig where he was stationed.
“Eddie”, he said, never spoke about his background. People only knew him to be from the army and that he used to work in London and then Liverpool.
“Because I lived near him for 20 years, I felt it was my duty to help with his funeral.
“I wrote a Facebook post so that people who knew him and worked with him could attend his burial. Many came to the cemetery in Elgin to pay their last respects,” he added.
“I was the only non-Muslim person at the mosque and I spoke on behalf of the local community to thank the Muslim community for coming together to give Eddie a proper funeral. I also spoke briefly about how good a person and neighbour he was. He will be missed,” said the neighbour, who was also asked to identify the body at the mortuary.
The revelation by the neighbour about Said would perhaps go some way towards providing an insight into the man Hariss and his siblings had been searching for, the man who was their father.
“When our mother heard about his death, she was sad as she was always asking us about him.
“When we told her he had passed away, she said she dreamt that father had appeared in her dreams and had asked for her forgiveness,” said Juneiddy.
Hariss and his siblings are ready to accept it as fate that they were never to meet again. As for the whys that have plagued their minds for the past 47 years, they are resigned to the fact that perhaps something had happened to him to make him stay away.
“Perhaps he was ill, perhaps he had financial problems. We will never know. But we are happy that he was given a decent Muslim burial and most of all, that he was well-liked in his lifetime,” said Juneiddy.
The story of Said may not end here — diaries and journals he had written were among the possessions he left behind. These could perhaps reveal the answers the children are searching for. And for that, they will have to make the journey to Moray. One day.