TELUK INTAN ― Sariah Ali has a place in this nation’s history as she was among the first batch of 54 women who were recruited into the police force as constables.
Her entry, however, was accidental more than intentional.
It all started 61 years ago when Sariah was 22 years old and living in a village in Parit Kadzi in Muar, Johor.
Her friend who lived in the same village had received a letter requesting her to attend an interview in Mantin, Negri Sembilan, for the post of “mata-mata” (as policemen were known as those days) or constable.
Although she had not applied for the post, Sariah decided to tag along with her friend and try her luck at securing an interview for the same job.
She was in need of a job as life was hard then for her family. Also, she felt she could serve her beloved homeland better if she joined the police force.
“In the end, I was interviewed too. There were five of us, including my friend, at the interview session,” she said.
Ironically, only Sariah passed the interview that particular day.
“I think I was selected because of my good health and eyesight and my ability to speak well,” she related to Bernama, when met at her home in Taman Cecily, here, recently.
Sariah may be 85 now but she still enjoys good health and does not wear spectacles either as her eyesight is good even now.
A new chapter
Recalling the interview some six decades ago that changed the course of her life, Sariah ― who was the youngest among the six children in her family ― said her mother Kalsom Jusoh also travelled with her to Mantin by train.
“Later, when I informed my mother I had passed the interview, she was stunned. This was because I had no official letter and was merely following my friend. In the end I was the one who got the ‘mata-mata’ job,” said Sariah, who only studied up to Standard Six at Sekolah Kebangsaan Parit Kadzi in Muar.
A week after attending the interview, she received an official letter offering her the post of a police constable.
Aug 1, 1956 ― this date will remain etched in Sariah’s memory as that was the day she left her kampung for Kuala Lumpur to start her training stint at the police training centre at High Street, now known as Jalan Tun H S Lee.
Historical records show that efforts to recruit female police had begun during the Emergency in 1948. In 1955, seven women were selected for the post of inspector, and a year later, 54 women, including Sariah, aged between 18 and 23 were recruited as constables.
Following the recruitment of the first batch of policewomen, many women, particularly those living in rural areas, started showing an interest in joining the police force.
Prior to recruiting women cops, the task of examining women detainees was carried out by the wives of policemen, as well as female members of the public.
The pioneer batch of policewomen was sent to training centres in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Ipoh.
Lots of memories
The octogenarian still has good recall of her experiences during her six-month training stint.
Miss BDB. Wentworth, said Sariah, was the name of the British police officer who helped to train the pioneer women constables at the Kuala Lumpur training centre.
She also said that the women constables’ commissioning ceremony was officiated by Tunku Abdul Rahman in March 1957.
Sariah started her career at the traffic police branch in Kuala Lumpur and her monthly salary was RM99.90.
Controlling the traffic was relatively easy those days as there were not many vehicles on the road then.
It was also there that she met her life partner, Kamaruddin Mohd Nordin, who was also a traffic cop.
(Kamaruddin was attached to the criminal investigations department when he retired in 1982 at age 54. A year later, he passed away in Makkah whilst performing the Haj.)
Lowering of the Union Jack
Sharing her memories of the day Malaya became an independent nation, Sariah said she was on duty on the eve (August 30) controlling traffic at the Selangor Club padang (now Dataran Merdeka) area.
Then, at the stroke of midnight, the Union Jack was lowered while the Federation of Malaya’s flag was raised.
It was an unforgettable experience for Sariah, witnessing the birth of a sovereign nation.
“I was overjoyed. People were shouting ‘Merdeka, Merdeka, Merdeka’. I even had the chance to greet Tunku Abdul Rahman.”
Sariah worked in Kuala Lumpur for nine years before being transferred to Melaka where she served for eight years. Later, she was transferred to Teluk Intan and opted for early retirement in 1982, having completed 25 years of service.
Now residing at Taman Cecily, here, Sariah has eight children, 23 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
She also spoke of her wish to meet her batch of pioneer policewomen who underwent training together.
“A number of them have passed away but I’ve heard that at least two of them, namely Mariam Mustafa and Che Amah Mahmod, are still alive,” she added. ― Bernama