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Rolling stone that gathered Moss

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FOR veteran journalist and author Peter Moss, Malay Mail played a major part in shaping his life.

Moss, who turned 81 on June 27, was the first roving reporter when he joined the paper in September 1957.

Although he was with the newspaper for only eight years, it was Malay Mail that brought him to then Malaya just after independence.

“We all have those metamorphic moments that send us in completely new directions,” said Moss when met at his house in Ijok.

“I’ve had several, but perhaps the most transformative was a newspaper cutting from the Malay Mail in distant Kuala Lumpur,” he said.

“A thoughtful aunt had dispatched this to me in England when I was desperately seeking new horizons.

“That cutting sent me on an overland journey from London to India by bus, and then on by sea from Calcutta to Penang. It also led me to eight of the happiest years of my life as a roving correspondent in Malaya.”

It was Moss’ story of his journey to Malaya from England that landed him a job with Malay Mail at 22.

He said: “I was born in Allahabad, India, where my father William Frank Moss was serving the British army before India’s independence in 1947.

“Despite my British inheritance, my British passport and my English education, I had not developed a wholly British identity and outlook.”

After completing his studies in England in 1953, he became an apprentice reporter at Bexhill-on-Sea Observer, before joining the National Service with the Royal Army Pay Corps.

From 1955 to ‘57, he was a district reporter at East Sussex Express & County Herald.

It was after receiving a news cutting from his aunt in Malaya about the overland trip that he decided to return to India.

He said, “The advertised cost of the overland ride was 85 pounds and I decided to take it.”

Moss travelled from London to Calcutta, through France, Italy, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Iran, Baluchistan and India.

He said the journey took him 45 days and he had 45 pounds as pocket money — a pound a day.

When he arrived in Calcutta, he discovered that India too had effectively closed her doors on him in the decade since his departure.

Moss’s aunt in Malaya turned saviour once again when she sent him a ticket to board the SS Santhia, sailing from Kidderpore dock in Calcutta for Singapore.

Moss disembarked in Penang but ran into problems with immigration.

He realised he would have problems heading to Malaya. At the hour of his departure from London’s Victoria coach station on Aug 31, 1957, Malaya severed her ties to Britain, effectively snuffing out his chances of obtaining residential status.

Moss managed to convince immigration in Penang into giving him a one-week pass by which time he was hoping to get a work permit.

“I had written to Malay Mail before I left England seeking employment, but what I did not know was they had replied that there were no vacancies.

“When I arrived in Kuala Lumpur, I went to Malay Mail and met the editor, Martin Hutton. He asked if I had not received
the letter.

“I pleaded for a job and after I told him of my journey, he decided to give me an opportunity to write about my travel experiences.

“The next thing I knew, I had my first byline. I was offered a job and got my work permit eventually.”

Moss was made chief reporter with roving status. He had the freedom to write articles which interested him and he became news editor.

He worked with other journalists and editors, such as Derek Fenney, Alan Wolstenholme and Leslie Hoffman to name a few.

During his days with Malay Mail from 1957 to ‘65, he reported on the last years of the Malayan Emergency, the initial years of independence, the Rural Development Scheme (Felda), the birth of Malaysia, and Confrontation with Indonesia.

In 1960 he was handpicked by Sir Robert Thomson, then Malaya’s secretary for security, to write a series on the ‘Hidden War’ which continued on the Thai-Malayan border after the end of the Emergency, an assignment which saw him attached to operational units on both sides of the frontier.

“During those years, I also wrote numerous articles for The Straits Times and Sunday feature pages, and was given the freedom to act as roving correspondent.

“I went on off-beat assignments which took me deep into the jungles to live with aboriginal communities or visit remote insular communities in the Malacca Straits and South China Sea,” said Moss.

Moss’ life story is intriguing enough for three volumes of autobiography — Bye Bye Blackbird, Distant Archipelagos, and, finally, No Babylon.

In all, he has authored 38 books, inluding An Anglo-Indian Memoir, Memories of Malaya, and The Singing Tree.

Moss said he would have loved to remain in Malaya, but could not get his work permit renewed any longer.

He moved to Hong Kong in 1965, where he worked with Government Information Services, writing and editing articles for overseas and government publications.

He also wrote screenplays, documentaries and films.

The versatile Moss was appointed Justice of the Peace in 1986 and in January 1994 awarded the M.B.E. in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours List.

After briefly living in Canada and returning to Hong Kong, he decided Malaysia was his home, but he could not afford the fees for making it his ‘Second Home’.

He opted to shuttle between Philippines and Malaysia. In both places, it is friends who are instrumental in making him feel at home.