Sultan's ex-classmates recall fond memories
By Lyna Mohammad & M K Anwar

Sultan Omar Ali Saifuddien College was in 1964 quite a different place from what it is today. Its students were more well-versed in the hits of Elvis Presley, Cliff Richards & the Shadows and the Platters. Little did the youngsters in Form 4 Arts know that a future sultan would soon be in their midst. Reading the same books, doing the same homework and playing the same sports.

The Bulletin managed to catch up with some of these people who are fortunate enough to have been classmates with His Majesty the Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam.

Caring, compassionate, humble, well-mannered, studious and a sports enthusiast are just some of the words used by Dato Paduka Hj Ahmad bin Dato Matnor, Pg Dato Kamaluddin Pg Hj Besar, Hj Mohamad Eddie bin Bell, Hj Ahmad Ghaffar, Hjh Noriah Pehin Abbas and Dyg Nellie Dato Hj Mat Sunny to describe the affable student prince who graced their class in 1964.

The moment His Majesty walked into the classroom of Form 4 Arts, the students, who were already seated, stood up at the command of the class monitor Pg Dato Kamaluddin, to say "good morning" to His Majesty who appeared pleased to meet his new classmates, and asked where he was to sit.

Just as His Majesty does today, the monarch back then enjoyed mingling with the people.

A former Permanent Secretary, Dato Paduka Hj Ahmad recalled very well the day when he and his classmates were informed that His Majesty and his brother HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah were joining their class for a short period of time.

"We were very young then, and His Majesty was very informal and mixed very well with the students. Even back then, the caring and compassionate character of His Majesty could be seen and felt."

Dato Paduka Hj Ahmad never saw His Majesty keeping to himself for too long. Instead, the student prince interacted easily with his schoolmates. His Majesty's caring nature in mingling with the people is innate and a continuation and reflection of his early days in college.

Pg Dato Kamaluddin Pg Hj Besar, who sat nearest to His Majesty in class, said that His Majesty's character could be seen in the monarch's openness with his classmates. His Majesty showed a good example by being prompt, respectful, willing to listen and befriend his new schoolmates. The monarch was also always willing to listen to the teachers. The caring personality of His Majesty was clearly evident when mingling with friends, Pg Dato Kamaluddin said.

Pg Dato Kamaluddin recalled the friendly and jovial nature of His Majesty and HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah. During break time, Pg Dato Kamaluddin always accompanied His Majesty and Prince Mohamed Bolkiah around the school, and they happily greeted schoolmates.

Hj Mohamad Eddie recalled: "After the LCE examinations, we began our studies in Form 4 Arts early that year with about 33 students in the class and later we were informed that His Majesty and HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah were joining our class for several months. Like the others, I was happy and excited about the news."

His Majesty was humble and liked to mingle with his classmates just he does now with the people, added Hj Mohamad Eddie.

When Hj Ahmad Ghaffar first heard the news that His Majesty and HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah were joining their class, it was an unexpected yet happy and exciting moment to have this rare opportunity to study with the two royal family members.

Hj Ahmad noted that His Majesty's leadership potential already stood out in school. "This was due to the early nurturing and education given to him by his late father Al-Marhum Sultan Hj Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien. His Majesty treated his fellow students like normal friends, whether in class or during recess time."

Dyg Nellie said that His Majesty's potential already showed at school. The way he carried himself reflected his upbringing. He smiled and greeted everyone. Though His Majesty was serious in his studies, he always had a smile to put his classmates at ease.

Dyg Nellie said, "We made sure we knew how to talk to His Majesty how to address His Majesty. Although at that time we were all young, we already had that sense of respect (for His Majesty). We found him to be so warm, very loving and already showing his love for his subjects at an early stage. His Majesty didn't make us feel awkward. His Majesty made us very comfortable but at the same time we had to remember that he's royalty. But I think His Majesty wanted very much to mingle with all of us."

Hjh Noriah, in a previous Bulletin interview with His Majesty's ex-classmates of 1964 in conjunction with the Golden Jubilee of SOAS College, described His Majesty as a simple and humble student.

At school, His Majesty's study ethics won the admiration of his classmates.

Dato Paduka Hj Ahmad remembered His Majesty as a very disciplined student who never came late to school and completed his homework and assignments on time. His Majesty prepared for assignments just like any other student. "His Majesty followed the school rules."

Hj Mohamad Eddie remembered that His Majesty was very attentive in class, anxious to know more about the subjects as well as being a keen sportsman.

Dyg Nellie said it was a privilege to have the opportunity to be a classmate of not only His Majesty but also Her Majesty Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Hajah Saleha prior to joining SOAS College.

Describing His Majesty as a student who took his lessons very seriously and wanted to perform as well as other students if not better, Dyg Nellie said His Majesty did the same homework as his classmates. They already had high regard for him, knowing that one day he would be ruling the country. When the teachers asked His Majesty a question, the student prince always answered carefully. His Majesty thought thoroughly about the question, and replied when he had the correct answer.

Asked about the school, Dyg Nellie whose last post with the government was as Chief Librarian at UBD, noted that at that time, it was an honour for the parents to have their children study at SOAS. "It was something to be proud of."

And for the girls, she added with a laugh, switching from their STPRI checkered green uniform to the SOAS blue was something that they were proud of as it meant that they were college students and no longer in primary school.

According to her, the boys back then were quiet and took their studies seriously. In fact the "noisy" ones were the girls, perhaps, because they were more confident in speaking in English as conversations in class most of the time then were in that language.

Added Hj Ahmad Ghaffar, "The classroom at that time can be considered as comfortable since our class was located on the ground floor in the new extension building located near to the SOAS field.

"There were about ten classrooms in the extension block, five on the first floor and five on the ground floor where the new extension building was used temporarily by the British soldiers who came during the Rebellion."

The majority of the teaching staff back then comprised Malaysians with some from India and Sri Lanka as well as one or two Filipino teachers.

Another interesting facet of the monarch's student life that caught the schoolmates' attention was His Majesty's enthusiasm for sports.

Dato Paduka Hj Ahmad said, "His Majesty was also very active in sports, particularly football. Even if a football match was played at two o'clock in the afternoon, His Majesty was there, playing under the hot sun. Indeed, the monarch was a very enthusiastic sportsman."

Pg Dato Kamaluddin said His Majesty was very active in sports, especially in football, for which he played for the Bendahara House. His Majesty was very approachable, and if invited to activities, was willing to participate.

His Majesty spent a few months studying in SOAS before both His Majesty and HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah left for the UK to further their studies, during which His Majesty and Pg Dato Kamaluddin still corresponded.

Among the fond memories, Pg Dato Kamaluddin recalled the farewell party the class organised before His Majesty's left the school. Pg Dato Kamaluddin remembered the young student prince enjoying himself at the gathering.

Years later, the former classmates discovered that the caring nature which endeared the monarch to them was just as strong as in the school-days.

When their paths crossed later in life, they found His Majesty to be the warm and friendly person who sat among them in class many years before.

In 1970 when he was a first year student at the University of Lancaster and President of the Brunei Students Union, Dato Paduka Hj Ahmad had the honour of welcoming His Majesty and HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah to their annual dinner held in a small hotel in Bayswater, London.

"For us, it was a very gratifying experience to have His Majesty join us at our humble dinner. What made the experience even more exceptional was the fact that we knew His Majesty had a very tight schedule as he was on a short trip to the United Kingdom. Yet our caring monarch still managed to find the time to fit us into his demanding schedule.

"His Majesty's caring nature, once again, shone as I remember him asking about the welfare of the Brunei students there. His Majesty asked me whether I had managed to fit in well with the other international students at the university or whether I had any problems coping with my studies."

Dato Paduka Awg Hj Ahmad was honoured to say that their paths were to meet again. It was beyond his expectations but the most memorable time of his life was when he had the opportunity to serve His Majesty as Permanent Secretary at the Prime Minister's Office for more than 12 years.

"Although there was a natural barrier between His Majesty and this loyal servant, I could always feel his compassion, understanding and caring nature throughout my service. I would like to take the opportunity to congratulate His Majesty on his 60th birthday. 'Happy Birthday Your Majesty'," Dato Paduka Hj Ahmad said.

Pg Dato Kamaluddin, who is now retired after his last post as Deputy Director of ISD, used to represent the country in the Shooting Team. He said that he met again with His Majesty when he was posted as commanding officer with the Royal Police Guard which looked after the royal family, including His Majesty.

Hj Mohamad Eddie said, "After His Majesty's took up his role as the new monarch, I was working with the Electrical Department. We used to work whenever His Majesty was on his visits to Brunei-Muara, Tutong and Temburong as we were involved in preparing electrical equipment for His Majesty's visits."

"I also got the chance to meet His Majesty when the monarch performed Friday prayers at Perpindahan Mata-Mata Mosque. I would greet His Majesty before and after the prayers."

Hj Ahmad said His Majesty and HRH Prince Mohamed Bolkiah still remember him if they happen to meet such as at Friday prayers where they would greet him and asked how he's doing.

Recalling the time when a former classmate suggested a reunion dinner, he said that His Majesty was responsive to the idea and showed his delight. Hj Ahmad said the reunion dinner they had the following year after SOAS' 50th anniversary with His Majesty was a memorable one. At the dinner at the Royal Berkshire, JPPC, His Majesty personally consented to award each of his former classmates the 'Pingat Hassanal Bolkiah Sultan'.

Following the reunion dinner of the Class of 1964, which His Majesty consented to grace, Dyg Nellie said that they are planning another reunion in conjunction with His Majesty's 60th birthday. - Borneo Bulletin (15th July 2006)