.......just before sunset on the lovely evening of 28th May, the giant
liner slowly nosed it's way past the torpedo boom at Gourock, and moved
slowly down the Clyde.
It was a Sunday and people on their way to chapel stopped on the road by the
great river's bank and waved their handkerchiefs and scarves to us. I
suppose they'd seen many troopships moving out the same as we were.
The highlands and hills of Arran looked simply lovely at the close of that
perfect English spring day.
We all felt rather sad and didn't feel like talking much, except for a few
less sentimental one's who soon found the ship's bar and bought their tot of
whisky or gin for three pence - there was no duty to pay here .
It darkened rapidly as we entered the Firth of Clyde but we could just see
the shores of Ireland, low and rugged on the horizon in the dusk of the
evening. In the morning we were well to sea and the convoy had martialled
itself into position.
Our home for the next two months was the M.V.
Britannic. A liner of 27000 tons, she was a very comfortable ship with one
serious drawback. She was designed for the North Atlantic crossing and our
journey was mostly through the tropics. A number of the men in my regiment
had been employed in her construction - she was a Belfast ship. It was
a large convoy. Thirty ships in all, comprising a number of well known
liners, supply ships, and a naval escort of two battleships (the Rodney
& Nelson) an aircraft carrier, a cruiser and four destroyers. At
no time during the voyage was any enemy opposition encountered, but it was
something of a relief to have such powerful naval support. Once or
twice there was some excitement when the destroyers dropped depth charges,
but we did not hear of the reasons why.
The voyage which took us from Gourock to Bombay was
12000 miles long, and this did not include the large extra distance covered
by the continuous alteration of course taken as avoiding action against
possible enemy subs. On board the Britannic were 5000 troops. Space
was very limited. In particular the sleeping accommodation for the other
ranks was a night-mare. They were put in all the decks below the top one,
and the hammocks stretched side by side over large areas, whilst below
mattresses were laid on the floor sides touching sides. All port-holes were
closed on account of black-out. The stench was just about unbearable. Heaven
knows what would have been the consequences down there if we had been struck
by a night torpedo. The officers were crowded up in the cabins,
but apart from that the conditions were exactly the same as if we were on a
pleasure cruise. Our fare was the finest I have ever tasted.
To me, the voyage was a delight. I enjoyed every
minute of it. One or two worrying moments perhaps on the first night or two
out, when everyone had to sleep completely dressed and with life jackets on.
There are many things to remember of the journey - the schools of flying
fish and porpoises, that ugly looking barracuda in Freetown harbour, the
whales right down below the Cape of Good Hope, the delights of the sunrise
and sunset over tropic waters, and beautiful vivid blue of the
South Atlantic, the
phosphorescence gleaming like a million tiny lights at night .. so
We had all sorts of recreations to entertain
ourselves with. Boxing tournaments, deck-tennis, dances (there were a
few nurses on board), bridge, an excellent dance band provided by the
Foresters and our own unit, and a first rate library.
After fourteen days at sea we touched land at
Freetown, Sierra Leone. The convoy anchored in the river here for five
days, and refueled with water. There was a great number of Allied
ships laying in the estuary of the river. Sierra Leone is a wild
country, hilly and timber covered, and is notorious for it's bad
climate. All the fevers live here. All of us suffered severe
discomfort during the stay at Freetown, it was our first taste of heat and
humidity combined. Many people slept on deck at night, but the
mosquitoes were troublesome. We were very pleased when the convoy set
Three days later the ceremony of crossing the line was observed with great
gusto. Most people came under the fire of numerous hoses wielded by
fancy dressed pirates, and Mr. & Mrs. Neptune, etc. The
traditional barber was there leathering the faces of unfortunates who had
been captured by the pirates with a concoction having a base of
whitewash. The weather was cool and fresh, and surprised most of us
who had not met the Equator before.
After another twelve days, we reached Durban, having made a wide sweep
around the Cape. The previous convoy had lost two ships as a result of
mines off the Cape, and consequently we moved very far south of it.
Durban in June and July is at the height of it's holiday season. A
delightful resort. It has a modern town, built rather on American
lines, a delightful sea-front, and beautiful surrounding countryside.
It is semi-tropical. Everyone in Durban had the firm intention that
the City would be remembered for it's hospitality. Everyone had
numerous friends after a day or two there. I remember the skyscrapers
along the promenade, the general magnificence of all the houses, the
rickshaw boys, the Durban Country Club, the marvellous dinners there, the
Repairs to the Britannic gave us a few extra days in Durban. We
arranged a trip on one of these days to the Valley of a Thousand
Hills. This is some thirty miles inland, very wild country, occupied
as a Zulu Reservation. We saw and talked to a number of Zulu men and
women, and were shewn around their kraals. No clothing coupons to
worry these folks! The part we were shown was definitely a tourist
centre. The Zulus were mostly interested in Baksheesh which is not
usual among this race. Consequently to the delay at Durban, we left
for Bombay without any naval protection. The convoy having departed
several days previously. Thus we had to cross the Indian Ocean alone,
and at a time when the Japanese sea power was making itself felt in this
theatre of war. However nothing happened and after another fortnight
we dropped anchor off Bombay on 27th July 42.
It was raining heavily. The monsoon was at it's worst ! We lay
about a mile from the docks, and could just see the Gateway of India through
the mist/ It did not look very inviting ...
Regiment had a very brief stay in Bombay. Times were rather unsettled, and
the August Riots instigated by the Congress Party were just to
However, we had a brief introduction to India's teeming millions. And it's
dirt .' We met the bazaars for the first time, the cattle roaming the
streets, the numerous beggars - religious or mal-formed, and the
common with most Indian cities can be divided into three districts.
European, Indian upper class, and the "rest". There are about two
hundred per cent more people to the square yard in the "rest",
than the first two-named. The
European part of the town is very pleasant, luxury houses and flats,
expensive shops, city offices, and tropical gardens. Everything to
make life comfortable. The second named is in some ways pseudo
European. However there is the love of
blatant colouring so characteristic of the Indian; in his houses you'll find
the walls of bright blues and pinks, and intricacies of decoration in the
architecture. The Indian will have all branches of the family living in his
house, and always, grandfather and grandmother are "boss".
The quarter of Bombay which contains the "rank
and file" is by far the greatest. It stretches for miles in all
directions. A honeycomb of filth, poverty, and squalor. Over crowded
hovels of mud and brick and corrugated iron, surrounded in dust, refuse,
flies, excretia, more tattered shirt-dressed Indians than you can ever
imagine possible, cows, goats, hens, all seta'/my and emaciated, stench,
disease, birth, deaths, noise, scorching heat. In
this area is one of the most notorious brothels in the world...The Cages.
Where the women sit in cages along the filthy alley, and you "take your
pick". There seems to be no indication of organised life in the
native quarters. Nobody seems to do any work. I suppose they must do
something. There are thousands of little shopkeepers in their dirty little
hole-in-the-wall shops. Perhaps everyone makes some sort of a livelihood by
selling something to someone else.
The dusty unmetalled streets swarm with naked children, scavenging dogs,
cows and goats, carrion crows and kite hawks, half-clothed men lazing in
doorways or lying on the road itself. The
characteristic smell in these quarters is based on the following ingredients
- the beedie, a brown leaf cigarette selling at 25 for a penny; joss sticks,
and burning cow dung, the latter being the cheapest form of "flit"
to keep the flies down. I suppose the two
most noticeable features of Bombay are - The magnificent Taj Mahal Hotel,
and the lovely tropical Malabar Hill with it's panorama of the whole city.
and Cambridge being otherwise engaged, an Extraordinary Boat Race was held
at Sierra Leone on ??? of June 1942. There were four entries - two
boats from the 8th (Belfast) H.A.A. Regiment, R.A. (Commanded by Major
A. H. Bates, R.A., and Captain D. C. B. Holden, R.A. , respectively),
one from the Sherwood Foresters and
one from the two remaining groups known popularly as the O's and S's.
programme was sketched by the Ship's Staff Captain - who brilliantly
justified his reputation as a humourist - appeared absurdly easy - paddle to
the stern of the "MEXICO", the starting post, and then back at
racing pace - whatever that might prove to be. Speed after all is a
purely relative term. The
embarking of the reluctant crews, the unrelenting work of the press gang,
the journey to the starting point, all were fraught with interest. In
describing the start of the 1895 Boat Race, the poet Tennyson has written :-
off! And sitting well in
order strike the sounding furrows! "
So here, after a brief
struggle between the "Britannic" (27000 tons) and an amateur
bo'sun (ten stone seven pounds) the boats moved off amid a flurry
of blows delivered, some in unison and others from the most unexpected angles.
Arrived at the "Mexico", reaction set in and a semi-official communiqué
was at once issued expressing concern at the prospect of a return
trip. A snap round showed that at this stage Major Bates' boat was
leading by 14 blisters to 11, and there was a certain amount of feeling in
favour of a stand-up strike.
The start, when it came,
was unexpected and signalled in original fashion by the breaking of a
boat-hook. At once all boats began
to drift swiftly in the wrong direction and a race instinctively began.
Of the race itself
there is little to be told. Using superb judgment and keeping the other
crews in constant suspense, now by employing all twelve oars and now by
allowing two or three to pass harmlessly over the surface of the water,
Captain HOLDEN's boat drew steadily away and eventually reached the vicinity
of the winning post with two lengths to spare.
At this point the
umpire, deciding that a clear-cut decision had been reached and honour
satisfied, stopped the race.
The composition of the
winning crew is not without interest and was as follows:-
Stroke Capt. Bringloe
It was thus, as will be
seen, an admirably balanced crew, blending dash with experience and ready
for any eventuality from a sudden burial at Sea (the Padre) to sending an
S.0.S. by heliograph (Mr. Newman, less toupee). All were trained to the
minute - the first minute - and in the pink of condition - especially after
the race. Capt. Reade's toupee was by Truss & Co. and the boat by
courtesy of Cunard White Star Line (ADVERT).
A word of praise must
however be given to the fine seamanship of Major BATES. In a boat in which
mutiny more than once raised its ugly head, this grand old Sea Dog
displayed consummate judgment, boldly laying a course for the open sea with
the intention of allowing the tide to carry him past the winning post.
brilliant stratagem with its implicit knowledge of tides, compass bearings,
binnacles, barnacles, etc., was thwarted only by the premature conclusion of
Unfortunately, the subsequent proceedings degenerated so quickly into a farce that Mr. PORTER
was twice asked for his autograph by a young gunner who had mistaken his
technique for that of GROUCHO MARX. Truth to tell, the task of bringing
the boats to their respective slings in the face of a 4 knot tide was too
much for the exhausted crews. The watching crowd did its best to show its
sympathy by showering down tit-bits gathered from the mess decks - now the
unexpired portion of a rice pudding, and now a part worn apple. Few of them
failed to fall within the boats.
So the great race ended,
but little deeds of heroism still linger in the memory: Mr. CLARKE coolly
taking an improvised shower bath at the height of the action, Mr. WYATT
unselfishly giving up his oar at the half-way stage, Mr. PORTER's gallant
performance as a temporary acting boat-hook (unpaid), Mr. SEGLIAS racking
his memory for an A.C.I, covering the issue of motor, outboard, in lieu of
oars, wooden long, Sierra Leone may not be Henley, but it is the
spirit that counts, and, after all, a refill costs very little onboard ship.
As I have mentioned, there was a certain amount of unrest in India, and four
days after our arrival this culminated in many of the Congress Party,
including it's leaders, Mahatma Ghandi and Pandit Nehru being detained under
the Defence Regulations. Rioting
and disturbances broke out throughout India, and the Army was brought in to
quell disturbances in many places. The Regiment carried out a number
of preventative patrols in certain towns and villages but force was not
resorted to on any occasion. The
disturbances consisted mainly of bottle throwing by mobs which gathered for
no reason whatsoever, and there was a certain amount of incendiarism, and
pillage in certain areas. The civil police acted very promptly
and are worthy of a word of praise. A number of them were burnt
alive, and in one case the crew of an RAF plane which made a forced landing
in Bihar were brutally killed.
Congress Party had a rude shock when it
found that the Army had no qualms whatsoever in opening fire, and this
action very quickly broke up the mobs, no matter how big the patrol was, or
the mob. It is reasonable to presume that the majority
of the participants had no idea as to what it was all about. The
average Indian is very susceptible to mass hysteria.
Regiment landed at Bombay complete in personnel, but the guns and M. T. came
by another ship and were disembarked at Karachi. This
equipment soon became absorbed in various
Ordnance Supply Depots, and track of it was lost. Whilst
officers of the unit were sent to the four winds to find it, the Regiment
itself was accommodated in a Rest Camp at Deolali. This is some
seventy miles East of Bombay, is approached by one of the finest electric,
railways in the world, is a second class hill station, and is a noted Spa
for convalescents and lunatics . Ever heard of "Deolali Tap" ?
three days of my own commencement of the "cure" at Deolali I was
in hospital with dysentery !
A good start.
soon the whole Regiment were
victims of diarrhea and constipation alternately, and this state of affairs
continued during the period of our stay at Deolali. I wonder if any British
officer or other rank has ever stayed at this place and escaped these
training and hardening were the order of the day, and with daily route
marches, swimming, lectures, and a passable Garrison Cinema in the evenings
the time passed quickly and pleasantly. Everyone
spent too much money, usually becoming victims of the local curio
dealers, whose wares we were soon to find were worthless. At
the end of August I was sent
on a mission to Poona, to clear up some difficulties in regard to pay and
accounts. Poona was
rather disappointing. The town consisted mainly of luxury houses and
bungalows, expensive clubs, staff officers and prospective "retired
colonels" and not much else. The shopping centre was very poor,
and bazaar-like. I
could find no accommodation in
the town, as the races were on, but eventually solved
the difficulty by commandeering a large empty bungalow previously
occupied as a Sikh Mess. I fixed my camp bed up in one large room and simply
used the place to sleep in. I had all my meals at a nearby Chinese
restaurant. And by the end of my stay was getting a little tired
of noodles !
railway between Poona and
Kalyan Junction is a fine piece of engineering work. There is a
long steep climb here, and the track runs high up along a range of jungle
covered mountains. There are over twenty tunnels in the same
number of miles ,each one bringing you onto the opposite side of the
range. Great waterfalls
pour their cascades almost onto the lines. I saw the wrecks of
two trains by the side of the lines, and wondered if they were the result of
sabotage. The Pay Dept.
is run by thousands of
Indian babus (clerks) and I felt that anything might happen here.
Later on, I found it did !
Reverting to Deolali, the Regiment had a most successful time in the field
of sport. After a run of victories on the soccer field we sent a rugby
team to Bombay and brought back the Bombay Cup.
were no social amenities outside the camp. Apart from a very I rural
Officer's Club which had facilities for riding, swimming and golf. And
celebrity concerts once weekly on a radiogram, where one listened to
Beethoven and drank numerous gins. I
employed a very decent j man as a bearer. By name, Bhima Khadam. He was a
lowcaste Indian, Hindu turned Christian. Very intelligent and honest.
At the end of September, news came
through that our equipment had been located,
and soon after we were moved by train to Calcutta.
The following are the main religions of Indian -
sprang up in India, and is by
far the strongest of the four, having a following of some three hundred
million. The remained are all "imports", possibly with the
exception of Buddhism, and are all much smaller. Hinduism
A strange religion to Western eyes, originating with three Gods, it has been
changed and altered as a result of word of mouth record and the
superstitions of the Indians until at the present time it numbers over three
hundred deities. The
social fabric of the Hindus is based
on the "caste" system. Under this system, Indians are
divided by birth into the following classes - Brahmins (priests) Kshatryas
(warrior) Vaisyas (merchants), labourers (Sudras} and the untouchables.
The Sudras are sub-divided into hundreds of sub-castes of varying religious
and social importance. To the Hindu, an untouchable is a man who has
been expelled from his caste for some misdeed, or a follower of another
religion. But the untouchable is claimed as Hindu for political
purposes. He is not necessarily restricted to a menial life, and might
in fact accumulate great wealth in any business enterprise (as often
Gods worshipped by the Hindus vary
according to the religious importance of the castes. For instance, the
Brahmins are only allowed to worship the most important gods, the Kshatryas a lesser one, and so on down the scale. Apart from the
"man-type" God, the Hindu will worship any of the following -
animals, trees, men of note in past history (including Englishmen who have
perhaps killed the local tiger !) and even stones. I have seen men bowing
down to a tree. Probably the cow is the most obvious of animals which
is venerated by the Hindus. It wanders anywhere at will, and is
regarded as the "mother". Much of the transport in India is
by bullock cart, and I notice a singular lack of devotion towards the animal
from the average driver. He steers by twisting the animal's tail in
the direction he wants to go, and often he'll pull the tail right off
! The monkey is another animal much venerated. Hindus
believe that before one reaches
perfection spiritually one must go through millions of re-incarnations, the
final one finishing in the shape of man. If a soul misbehaves
itself, it returns to earth in a lowlier shape than
before. For example if a donkey doesn't make the
"grade" it might return as a chicken, and be eaten for it's sins
! One reason for the unpleasant callousness towards animals in
this country is that by giving them a hard time, the Hindus believe they are
helping in the salvation of it's soul ! A Hindu will
not take life, and worse, will not bury their dead.
Muslem religion spread into India
by conquest. The Arabic marauders came
into the country from the North West spreading destruction across the land,
and bringing their religion into the various parts
into which they finally settled. It is a fighting religion, and
Moslems as a whole are of tougher fibre than the Hindus. Considerable
strife is always happening
between the two religions, and is the main cause of Indian disunity.
The followers of each religion will
not mix one with the other.
This entails serious difficulties of administration, difficulties one would
only meet in India. Eating, sleeping, travelling, trading, marriage,
education, and so on are all kept quite separate. Clashes between the
two parties are frequent and violent. Moslems
number some sixty millions, they
exert a strong influence on the control of the country, despite their
smaller numbers. The
main centres of this religion are
Punjab, Bengal and the states bordering the North West Territory.
very small minority, although
originally the religion was an offshoot of Hinduism. It is found in
far greater strength in the countries East of India, and in Ceylon.
The Buddhist priest is a strong influence in the rural village, and his word
Christians come mostly from the
low caste Hindus who have been converted by the local Roman Catholic priest,
or have worked in European service and see a higher social level in this new
religion. Mostly found in Southern India, particularly among the
Madrassis and Goanese,
are other religions in India, apart the
above. There are the Parsees - the Jews of India, they came
originally from Persia and keep much to themselves, from
came originally from Persia and keep
much to themselves, and the bearded Sikh, but his religion is basically
Hindu. In out of way places the religion is almost animist - the worship of
The Regiment, less M.T. party left Deolali for Calcutta by special troop
train. The journey took four days (it is covered in 36 hours in peace
time) and was very enjoyable. The
officers travelled first class, and the men in troop carriages.
Rations were provided for the troops on a system known as "road/rail
rations. These comprised mostly tinned foods, fruit, and biscuits,
and the necessary ingredients to prepare tea at wayside stations.
The officers relied on having station restaurant meals, and these were
reserved through the guard several hours before we were due to arrive at a
station which had a restaurant. I
was in a carriage which contained four births. The berths run
along the side of the carriage like the old
tram seats, the bottom one being used as normal seating accommodation during
the day, and the top one being folded into the side of the carriage when not
in use. There was a bathroom and lavatory attached. It was
rather dingier than it sounds. The windows are not the same as our own in
England. Each window in fact has three different types to pull
up. The glass one, a wire anti-mosquito one, and a slotted one for
privacy at night. There were six fans in the carriage ceiling,
and they were a necessity and not a luxury.
The scenery across India (we
travelled via Nagpur) was
rather monotonous. Endless plains supporting rice, corn, sugar
and various other crops that I was unable to identify. Here and there
we came through a little hilly country, noticeably in Bihar where we passed
through a section of jungle with thick swampy undergrowth, bamboos,
and gnarled trees. In this jungle I saw spiders whose webs were
stretched between the trees, and the spiders themselves were as big as
saucers in the body. I should imagine their webs measured about
fifteen feet across. There were also some aborigines out hunting with
bows and arrows. The
dwellings of the land-workers were all very primitive - mud and thatch huts,
and they lived in the
lowest of conditions. Some of the little villages were
surrounded by high mud walls to keep out marauding robbers, and animals.
It is a strange thing to travel over
hundreds of miles and not come across one road. All the travel
is local along bullock tracks.
We spent a good deal of the time playing Bridge, and I finished the journey
financially better off than when I started. The
train ran into Howrah Station Calcutta a mere five hours behind schedule
which is rather remarkable in India.
Regimental transport is being driven by our drivers from Karachi to
Calcutta. New guns are being picked up at Cal. Whilst
this is being done, and battery commanders
are recceing sites further East,
the Batteries are to
occupy sites for the defence of Calcutta, and
the airfields nearby. It is anticipated that our stay here will
be a brief one.
A word about my own
position in the unit. I came to India as Troop officer in B. Troop.,22
Battery, but whilst at Deolali was
attached to RHQ in my old role of Assistant Adjutant. I remained at
Regiment during the whole time I was with the 8th Belfast in India.
During our stay at
Calcutta, RHQ deployed into two positions. The
first one was situated twelve miles North of the City in quarters at
Dalhousie Jute Mill Semonpore, on the banks of the great Hooghly River.
approach to Semonpore from the famous Willingdon Bridge was appalling.
Narrow winding alleys thick in dust, and teeming with natives and dirty
scrawny domestic animals. Horrible whiffs, poverty-unbelievable,
noise, and corpses (mostly pi-dogs) On the first trip to Headquarters we had to
circumvent a vary dead and nude Indian laying on the road with his brains
smattered about. None of the passing throng took the slightest notice of
him. All along the route were dirty bazaars and huge jute mills,
with open paddy, palm groves and fresh water lagoons. The land stood about
three feet above sea level.
During our brief stay at the Mill
we lived in luxury in flats
previously occupied by the European overseers, now in the army. We had all
the little conveniences which count in India - electric light and fans,
bathrooms with running water, pleasant gardens, and ..... even a
operationally it was not
suitable, being too far out of
touch with the guns. Col. Dearden tactfully displaced a Sikh unit from
their quarters in the centre of the European quarters - in fact a house on
the corner of the famous Chowringee and Upper Circular Road, and we moved in.
This new Headquarters had not all
the comforts of our previous one, but it was a pleasant one for all
that, well situated
from a military point of view, and close to the amenities which Calcutta has
to offer in the shape of cinemas, shops, and clubs. It was here that I suffered a few
unpleasant days through Dengue Fever. Familiarly known as "Breakneck
Fever" owing to the pain in the joints of the body and particularly the
back of the neck. It is caused through the bite of a species of
mosquito, which differs from the malaria anopholie by biting during the
daytime and not at night. A point to remember is the swarms
of fireflies which hovered around the trees at nights,
turning them into gigantic Christmas Trees.
Itself has not much to commend itself on. The Second City of the
Empire and to many, a disgrace to the name. It
lies at the delta of the Hooghly River, being peculiar in that it is a
branch of the Ganges from further North and joins it's parent river again
below Cal. There is a familiar saying in these parts - The Hooghly is
the "arse of the world," and Calcutta is fifty three miles up it !
Very descriptive indeed. No
one would deny that the centre of the City is very fine. Chowringee as
a thoroughfare almost rivals Princes Street, Edinburgh, and the parkland of
the Maiden which runs along one side is lovely. The great gleaming
white edifice of the Albert Memorial, the famed Grand, and Great Eastern
Hotels, the Saturday and Bengal Clubs - all quite striking. There are
some snaps of the Albert Memorial attached. This
was built by voluntary subscription in India as a present to Queen Victoria
in memory of the Prince Regent. The building itself is in marble, set
in a beautiful park of close shorn turf. There are tropical flower
beds and trees which give the park an exotic colouring.
And square cut ponds containing bright tropical fish, and surfaced with
water lilies. The Memorial is sill incomplete
the modern centre of the town sprawls mile upon mile of foetid slums.
I cannot describe them without repeating the phrases that have been used
before. Teeming population .... simply teeming. There
is a fine zoological garden near the Maidan, and also the biggest Banyan
tree in the world - a tree whose many trunks cover an enormous area of
ground. There is also the famous Kali Ghat, where the Goddess Kali
(the Destroyer) is worshipped by
many pilgrims. The Black Hole of Calcutta is simply marked by a plaque
at the side of the General Post Office. The
climate is pleasant for the winter months, but from April to October it is
extremely uncomfortable. The humidity factor is very high, and
one's clothes are constantly wet
Motor Transport arrived complete, after a
journey over India of a thousand miles or more. In view
of the fact that our transport
numbers nearly two hundred vehicles, it speaks highly of the drivers that
they were able to complete the journey without a casualty.
At Lahore there was a hold-up
of several days at the transit camp there, whilst authority to move on was
awaited by the Brigadier in charge, from G.H.Q. After
several days, Major Cunningham became rather impatient, and decided to do a
moonlight flit. They started out of the camp before anyone was up, but
unfortunately came across the Brigadier with his Brigade Major
several miles down the road! They were having their early morning
Brigadier wanted to know what is was all
about, and Major Cunningham informed him that the authority had arrived,
taking out his pocket book and reading the number of the authority from
it. In fact he simply quoted his Belfast telephone number ! The
Brigadier turned round to his B.M., ,and asked
"is this correct, Smith?" The poor B.M. who could not admit
ignorance of the matter replied "quite correct, Sir" and the
convoy proceeded with the Brig's "Godspeed" !
the travelling was done during the cool of the day. Commencing at
about five in the morning, and finishing at noon. After that the
troops bivouacked by the roadside until three o'clock a.m., when breakfast
was served, the tents struck, and the journey resumed. Everyone
enjoyed the trip, which was an experience not tasted by many people.
At this time the composition of the Regiment was as follows -
21 Bty 22 Bty 23
Bty Sigs RAOC REME
A Troop B
J Section K
Each section having four 3.7 Hy.A.A. Mobile Guns.
On the sixth of November, the Regiment moved East from Calcutta, and
deployed as follows -
RHQ - Maynamati,
21 Bty. -
22 Bty. -
23 Bty. -
Batteries were engaged in the defence
of airfields running in a line roughly North/ South, about fifty miles apart
on the West of the great river Brahmaputra. Headquarters were situated
in the middle of the line.
journey to these new locations was roundabout, in view of the difficulty in
crossing the estuaries of the rivers Ganges, Padna, and Brahmaputra.
The latter is five miles wide, and is constantly changing it's course, which
makes bridge construction impossible. The
railway changes from broad gauge to
metre gauge before reaching the river, and this entailed the arduous task of
unloading and loading all the unit's stores in the broiling sun.
All personnel crossed the
Brahmaputra by a ferry, rather of the 'old man river' type, and the goods
waggons were shipped over by train ferry further north. This
move was made in the middle of a black night, and was not helped by the fact
that the train stopped a considerable distance from the jetty.
arrival on the West bank the men piled
into a rickety narrow gauge train on the Bengal Assam line, and here we
stayed for many hours until the goods waggons finally arrived over.
Thence onwards we jogged along at an average of twenty miles an hour or
slower, and the Headquarters portion finally arrived in Comilla at first
soon found our way through the paddy
by the Chittagong/Dacca Grand Trunk Road, which is not nearly as grand as it
sounds, to Maynamati some five miles from the town. Maynamati
was in a way an oasis in a
desert of paddy. It stood rather higher, and consisted of
rolling little hills and grassland, well covered with trees and bushes.
RHQ was, to my mind quite
delightful, it nestled
among the trees and overlooked the countrysides on all sides. The
accommodation was quaint little bamboo huts with thatched roofs, and
standing clear of the ground by means of bamboo stilts. The Mess
was a tiny little two-roomed building, complete with hand-punkahs.
season the days were delightful. Warm sunny but fresh. With the
setting of the sun, however the mosquitoes came out in their swarms, and
flit-guns, and anti-mosquito cream failed to keep them at bay. Later
on we brought in a number of things to make life a little more
civilized. We covered the windows of the Mess with mosquito netting,
installed electric light, by getting juice from a predictor battery, and
invested in a G.E.C. radio which ran off a car battery. Rations
were far from good, but we managed to supplement them with purchases from
the bazaar. We had our own duck and goose farm for eggs and the table.
Regiment was fairly early in the field in this part of the war
theatre. Only recently the Japs had occupied the whole of Burma, and
one arm of their attack had moved up the coast by the Arakan. We had
used scorched earth tactics at Chittagong, only to return there just prior
to our arrival, as the Japanese had halted their advance somewhat south of
the town. The number of our troops in the area was woefully small.
Airfields had been constructed out
of the jungle at the three places where our Batteries were deployed, and
further ones were being made as quickly as possible. Our job was to
defend them from mobile gun sites, to recci for static gun sites, and when
the latter one's were completed by the constructional firms, to be relieved
by other units, and move south to new airfields.
really in at the birth of the A. A. defences, and as they were not
sufficiently large to warrant an A. A. Brigade to command them, our Regiment
was in control under the designation 8th Group. As
time went by new units arrived - mostly Indian, and when there were seven
Regiments under our command, 13th Brigade under Brigadier Leveson Gower was
brought in from Madras.
However this is going on ahead a little too fast.
life At Maynamati was varied and interesting. Here are some of the
various kind which were about, NOT all of them were common to the area
Snakes - Python, cobra, and kraits.
Giant iguana lizards, four feet in length.
Hyenas and jackals.......in their thousands.
the friendly little mongoose.
Leopard and tiger (but these were mostly about forty
Eagles and kites, vultures.....the scavengers of India.
Bee-eaters, kingfishers, amethysts, the cursed brain-fever
Fish - in abundance in the ponds, including the queer
walking fish, and barking fish.
evenings after we had finished in the office, Col. Dearden and I would take
a stroll into the surrounding palm groves with their inevitable pond, and
watch the birdlife through field glasses. He was an authority on
Indian birds. I enjoyed it thoroughly.
discussing India in the Mess last evening, and the point was made that it is
a land of sharp contrasts. Topographically
it is a country of vast flat plains
..... and then suddenly, without warning shaggy precipitous mountains, with
their sides running almost vertically to the plain.
The climate - part of the year hot,
burning hot, and rainless; and then the monsoon with torrents of rain day
in, day out, for month on end until the land is a vast lake. And the
air becomes cooler and fresher, and the bright green young stems of rice
burst out into the sunlight. Outside
the cities, there is the land of the small farmer and coolie labourer.
Living under a feudal system, earning a few rupees a month - barely
sufficient to keep them in their mud hovel. Contrarily the wealthy - the
great landowning rajahs, the mill-owners, the Parsee business man,
fabulously wealthy men.
flowers, and the trees, all exotic, brilliant, and garish. There is no
merging of the colours similar to our own, no daintiness. The gardens
strike the eye with brightness ..with crude scarlets, blues, and
yellows. And the blossoms themselves are large and bold with little or
no perfume. The
butterflies are much bigger than our own, and very distinctly marked in
bright hues. Some specimens are as much as nine inches across.
The birds are
either very big, or very small, the ugly king vulture or the tiny honey
sucker; the kite or the kingfisher; the great waterfowl, the tiny bee
eater. And none of them have a song, except perhaps the bul bul, and
he does not compare with any of our own song-birds. Yes,
the contrasts are all here, but the proportion of bright is far less than
the monotony of all the dull things. Everything strikes one as being a
little tawdry. One longs for the "normal" forms of
nature in our own England.
This diagram is intended to shew the dispositions of the Regiment when it
first deployed in the field in South East Bengal.
Interesting and useful information comes to us from time to time from people
- Indian or Burmese who have come into India from Burma as evacuees.
Some of the information is good, and some emanates from the purveyor's own
fertile imagination. I
was amused at the report which came from an Indian who stated that he had
been employed by the Japs as a doorman at one of their clubs.
The concluding remarks of his information was ... in his own words
"The Japanese Commander is a huge man, seven foot high, he is bald
headed and has a beard a CUBITT long !"
mentioned that part of our duty
was to make reconnaissances for new positions to install static A.A. guns.
Much of my time during November
was in fact employed in searching
out likely places for this purpose. Presumably I was detailed for the job on
account of my previous activities with R.A. Survey. It was very
interesting. As an example of the work necessary to
build a gun site, and the cost, below is given a typical example -
l. To build a road to the site through marshy paddy, and jungle, a mile and
a half in length. This road must be over water level in the monsoon, i.e. it
MUST be built up over the surrounding land.
2. Removing the village which occupies the proposed site. If there is any
suitable ground, it is a foregone conclusion that there is a village there.
Compensation must be given to the swarming villagers and a new plot of
ground found for them.
3. Felling hundred of palms and other trees to provide the necessary field
of view for the guns. And payment of compensation to the owners.
4. Building up a large area to provide suitable ground for
-"basha" huts, the- guns, and the fire control instruments.
5. Construction of the huts for accommodation offices, etc.
6. Total cost £15,000, !
these things may sound excessive, and
expensive, but it must be remembered that the whole of the countryside
becomes submerged to a depth of about two feet during the monsoon, apart
from the hundreds of little settlements that are dotted over the countryside
and from which we must chose our gun position. Furthermore the position must
be large, because all the stores and rations will have to be kept there, the
nearest depot being possibly twenty miles distant.
At Chittagong, 21 Battery have been fortunate, and have been in action
frequently during the past few weeks. Our guns there have already
accounted for a number of Jap planes, the Army 97 Bombers; however in some
cases they were seen to crash some miles away, and the wreckage was not
found owing to the thick jungle. The enemy raids have not been
effective, and in view of
the fact that most bombs have fallen clear of the target it is clear that
our fire is having a marked effect on the air-crews.
Frank Waterton was G.P.O. on one site during an action, and during firing it
was observed that a group of fighters were peeling off to dive-strafe
the gun-position. He ordered the guns to engage the fighters without
instruments, and as the muzzles swung round onto the Japs they evidently saw
what was going to happen, drew out of their dive & flew away.
During this engagement one of the fighters was hit
and disappeared over the trees with smoke bursting from it's engine.
The RAF have not had too happy a time. The Allied fighters available
here do not seem the answer to the Jap "Zero". The Hurricane
is not manoeuvrable enough, and the Mohawk, too slow.
The Japs come over in formation
which is the Hy. A.A. gunner's dream of heaven. They fly in tightly
packed formation, and on a level straight course. They seem to have
little imagination as regards their tactics. One
fighter was brought down, and made a forced landing. He didn't
give the game up immediately however. During the whole of the
following night it was impossible to approach the plane as he fired off his
guns at all and sundry. In the morning though, he tamely
surrendered, and it was found that he had not even destroyed his documents.
The Jap mentality.
old Troop at Feni have also seen action,
and had a "shoot" last week. They brought a bomber down, and
claimed several other hits. To
be in action again, after such a long period is acting as a tonic on
all our men, and they are in fine spirits. Incidently
it was reported that one Jap who crashed was found to be 6 feet 7 inches
effort was made to capture the Xmas spirit this year at Maynamati.
This in spite of the weather being somewhat akin to a really hot spell at
home, only more so. We arranged quite a comprehensive programme, with
sports, football matches, concerts, and a Xmas party.
The troop's Xmas dinner was
the largest I have witnessed yet .... and this in a temperature of seventy
degrees or over ! Each man had half
a chicken, and half a duck, with half a dozen varieties of vegetables to go
with it, puddings which had been sent from England, fruit, and sweets, a
bottle of beer a head, and rum and cigars.
As usual we did all
the waiting, and as usual the cryptic remarks at our expense flew fast and
furious. During the feast, there
was music provided by a gramophone via a microphone and loud speaker;
records by Vera Lynn, and Deanna Durban !
evening I ran a party which was attended by two hundred men. Most of
whom came from a nearby reinforcement camp, and another Lt.
A.A.RHQ. We had a novelty whist drive, inter-unit darts matches,
side shows and a "brains-trust" in which the officers took the
stage. The officers were well lit-up by this time, and the bibulous
wit was really funny. As
is always the case with these parties, the evening finished up
with everyone going onto the stage and giving a turn. There was no
backing out, once someone had suggested a name ! Altogether
it was a very enjoyable evening, the Christmas flavour was not entirely lost
by being in such strange surroundings,
and so far away from our families.
received my second pip on the 27th of the month, the promotion dating back
to the 1st October. A
new order has been published whereby a second lieutenant is promoted to full
lieut. after six months commissioned service. A big improvement on the
previous one whereby he had to serve eighteen months before getting the
promotion. In fact, I had served thirteen months on the date of the
publication of the order, so that it did
not make any difference to me. It's
a good thing to put up that second pip. After all, a one pipper IS the
lowest form of life !
I started the new year in fine style .... by falling foul of
Dengue fever again ! This is what the hospital record states, although
I am rather doubtful as to the correctness of the diagnosis. I
was admitted to Commilla Hospital with a high temperature - one always
developes this with almost any complaint, and later a swelling came onto the
back of my neck, over the head, and finally down the forehead into both
eyes. I had two black eyes for a time, and then the fluid drained away
out of them, and I was well again. It was a "new" one
to the hospital, and I was asked
if I had ever suffered from It before.
When I told
them "yes", they enquired what
the diagnosis was, and said "Dengue". So what was all right
last time, was all right this time, so they put "Dengue" on the
sheet ! As
a result of this illness, and the fact that I was generally run-down it was
decided that I should go away for leave. By some diplomatic wangling I
managed to pursued the Regiment to release Frank Waterton too, and
arrangements were made to spend the leave in Darjeeling.
Darjeeling is situated in the extreme North of Bengal, and in the
Himalayas. It is, of course, the centre of the great tea
plantations. Darjeeling tea is about the finest produced.
The journey there consists of travel
by rail, river,
and more rail. Reservations were made in advance for berths on the
trains, and a cabin on the river boat. This facilitates travel in
India enormously - when it works. Frank
and I rendezvoused at Chandpur, the starting place of the boat. We
slept the night there is a comfortable two-berth cabin and had a good dinner
on board. An uncomfortable moment when I was reading in the cabin, and
a gigantic cockroach ran up my trouser leg !
The boat moved off at first light on the following morning, and we had a
delightful eight hour trip down the Brahmaputra. All the
surrounding country is flat paddy, studded with the numerous palm groves in
which the native families live in their primitive huts. Many of the
villages live by fishing and their huts go down to the river edge. One
passes the morning , sunning one's self
on the deck, reading a magazine, and observing the local beauties having
their ablutions at the side of the river ! The
boat itself resembles the one's which go
up and down the Mississippi. Tall funnelled, with paddles at both end,
very shallow draught with considerable upper structure above the
water-line. They look rather top heavy, in fact. Most of the
space is taken up with cargo accommodation,
and Indian passengers (ten to the square yard), but there is an upper deck
forward for first class passengers, with dining room, cabins, and deck
space. The boat has huge search lights fore and aft for travelling by
night. They frequently get stuck on the ever moving sandbanks.
river is full of traffic - mostly picturesque
but extremely filthy junks and sampans. These craft travel under sail
with a following wind, but are man hauled along in a head wind.
The hauling rope is attached to the top of the high bamboo mast, and is
pulled along by half a dozen coolies. A back breaking sort of
river teems with fish - huge one's, of a type known as
"Bekti" to the Indians, and a much fouler name by the BOR's who
get it so frequently in their rations. It is full of bones that seem
to lie in no order whatsoever. We disembark at Goalando, and
push our way through the
milling coolies, trusting our baggage to four of them, but wondering if we
shall ever see it again. The amount of equipment that these men can
carry on their heads is amazing. Each man will take a couple of
large suit cases, camp- kit, and an odd box or two, and still look for more
the Calcutta Mail, and wait hopefully for it to start, which it eventually
does after the engine driver has had his dinner, and they have rooted the
stokers out of an old hut in which they were sleeping. Fifty miles
along the line we alight .... at the wrong station. It does not make
any difference to our connection, but if we had travelled on further we
should have reached a station with restaurant and waiting room. As it
was we dug the station master out, and he in turn got a so called cook, and
we had the worst meal I have ever tasted. After which we tramped the
little smelly platform for five hours until our train arrived at 1 o'clock
in the morning. About
seven o'clock on the following morning
we arrived at the end of the broad gauge railway. At a place
called Silitguri. We had an excellent breakfast there and then got
into an observation car on the tiny Darjeeling line. One of the finest
examples of railway engineering in the world (I believe the line was
surveyed by a woman) The carriage as I say was very tiny, but it was
very modern having easy chairs which yon could move about at will,
a "bar" at one end, and glass windows covering the entire lengths
of the sides.
The gauge of the railway is
2' 6", and included in the "staff" of each train are men who
sit on the front buffers dropping sand on the line where the gradient is so
steep that the wheels would otherwise refuse to take it ! It climbs
7000 feet from Silitguri to Darjeeling - a distance of some fifty miles,
winding it's way through the mountains in a most alarming fashion. At
one moment it travels along a ledge cut sheer in the cliffs with thousands
of feet drop to one side, and then you find yourself going along another one
with the drop on the other side. It is just impossible to describe the
things that train does, and equally so the situations it finds itself
in. The views are just like those one sees in a photograph taken with
a telescopic lens. The countryside is varied as one climbs higher and
higher. One passes through dense jungles with gigantic trees; craggy
slopes devoid of vegetation; and then ..... neatly laid out tea gardens,
hanging on the steep slopes in a series of steps.
journey takes six hours, during which there are two stops for refreshments
at attractive restaurants on the mountain side. The inhabitants
changed in appearance as we ascended the hills, and changed from the lean
humourless Bengali to a
cream coloured type who obviously originated in
Mongolia, was industrious, cheery, and
quick witted. The temperature gradually drops, and when we reach our
destination the thermometer shewed 50° as compared with 78° in the
Plains. The air was very "thin" too, and we noticed the cold
very much. I believe this Himalayan trip is noted for it's panoramas
and thrills, and it is one which I shall long remember.
of Darjeeling itself is on the Swiss style. It forms a semi-circular
amphitheatre which clings to the side of a basin of hills, street above
street. Below the town the tea gardens run down to the valley, three
thousand feet below. It is a town of clubs and bungalows, where the
people in tea all foregather and the European population of Calcutta retire
to, in the hot season. The Governor of Bengal has his summer residence
there, as do a number of Indian potentates. The
beautiful thing about Darjeeling is that it commands a magnificent view of
some of the famous mountains of the world. To the North is the
great range separating India and Tibet, containing Kinchenjunga which is
only a few feet less than Everest. These great snow-capped crests are
fifty-six miles away, but the air is so
rarified that they appear to be quite near. Everest lies a similar
distance to the West.
are numerous entertainments In the town
- tennis, squash, billiards, dancing, curio shops, quaint cafes, and
.... ponies. These latter being the main source of attraction to the
holiday making British soldiery. The ponies are little sure-footed
Tibettan one's, and an hour's ride on them is both exciting and
enjoyable. If your seat stands up to it. Which mine didn't !
Our home was at the Gymkhana Club,
where the food was the nearest approach to English I have had in
India. It was a very comfortable place with every amenity on the spot.
The bitter cold soon effected our innards, and for several days we spent
much valuable time in a certain humble room, each vieing with the other as
to who should be first ! Near the Club is a rather unusual
shrine Hindu and Buddhist combined. The priests are cheery and
talkative, and insisted on praying for my well-fare and fastening some
flowers to my shirt, and sprinkling large quantities of water over me.
They refused to accept any Baksheesh for this noble act. A thing very
strange in India !
We had a
good time during the fortnight, but
really the cold was too much for us. At the end of the time, neither
of us were sorry about leaving, and personally I was delighted to get back
to the hothouse atmosphere of Siliguri.
have been several Japanese bombing raids on Calcutta in the last
month. The formations that came over have been small ones, and the
bombs were dropped indiscriminately. They were so small that the
damage done was negligible - fifty or a hundred pounders, I should
imagine. The British night fighters have been most successful, one
pilot shooting down three out of four in one evening. The amazing
thing is the effect it has had on the population. The majority of two
million people have moved out of the city en masse - with the ARP services
at the head ! The eastern people do not seem to face up to air-raids
with the same phlegm as has been shewn elsewhere. At Feni, a small
bomb was dropped near the airfield, and three thousands coolies engaged on
constructional work disappeared at speed into the jungle. Nor were
they seen again for the next week ! The only way to keep a check on
the native labour when these raids are on, is to let loose with every gun in
the area. This has a two-fold effect. Firstly the coolies
consider the raiders could not possibly approach through such a hail of fire
(which is quite erroneous because the height of most of the small arms fire
is about 20,000 feet below the raiders) and secondly the noise from the
ground is so great that it over-powers the sound of any bombs exploding.
Reverting to Calcutta, most of the staff of the big hotels and clubs have
fled the city, and one is now attended by a very jungly looking individual
who is receiving a fabulous salary, and has probably never seen a European
establishment before. The scenes which take place in the erstwhile
"select" dining rooms are comic to witness. To watch ARP workers
on the auxiliary fire engine is even more humorous. They are dressed
in a uniform which is the last word in style and warlikeness, and number
about a score to each engine. In action they do justice to an old
silent comic film, and rush round at such speed that they even knock
themselves over " I suspect they volunteer for the duty so that
they can be in the "know" as to the whereabouts of the nearest
Regiment has had half a dozen actions in the past six weeks, mostly by 21
Battery at Chittagong.
Eastern Army have
officially credited us with the following "birds" -
Probably destroyed 3
difficulty in proving complete destruction of the planes is due to the fact
that they may crash in the jungle and often are not found again.
Since the A.A. defences were increased, the Jap planes have raided the area
at much greater heights, and they are now coming in at heights around 23,000
ft., as compared with 13,000 ft. when we first arrived.
the topical "tale" of the subaltern who was bitten by the
poisonous krait whilst using a "thunderbox" in his basha one dark
night. Whilst he was making all speed to the nearest M.I. room,
another officer went along to investigate the position, well armed with
stick and pistol to kill the snake ... and found a broody hen sitting in the
pan, extremely annoyed at the intrusion !
has undertaken another of his periodical fasts. He seems to be under
the misapprehension that this will effect the policy of the Government, and
that he will be released from his "harsh" imprisonment in one of
the Aga Khan's palatial residences in Poona.
has an amazing influence on the Indian - both illiterate and learned.
He is deitized by them all. I read his articles in the press and find
them quite bewildering. I think it difficult for anyone to understand
his line of thought ... if he has got one, which I doubt !
mentioned earlier that the Regiment's responsibility as 8th Group was
eventually taken over by the 13th A.A. Brigade who moved into the area from
Madras. As a result of the good work which our C.O., Frank Dearden had
put in, during the time we had been in operation here, he was promoted to
Brigadier and assumed command of the 9th A.A. Brigade in Assam.
His promotion was well-merited, but
there is no doubt that he will miss the Regiment, after such a long period
in command of it, and that the Regiment will miss him. As one of
23 Battery gunners said to him, in his broad Belfast voice "We
congratulate you, Sorr, on your promotion, and be gad we'll be missing ye,
you haven't given us a bit of trouble !" His
place is being taken by Col. Saunders, who is coming to us from A.A. School.
Karachi. He is the C.I.G. there, and is well thought of.
had a grand Sports Meeting in Feni. All branches of the service were
represented there, also the Feni police and ARP service. 22
Battery succeeded in winning every event except one; they have got some
great Irish athletes in the unit. Norman
Brann, the Battery Captain succeeded in laying out three of the opposition
at different times, as a result of which they were all taken to
hospital. Two of the casualties occurred during the final of the
football competition, and the third one during the
"throwing-the-weight" competition. Norman threw the weight
with great vigour and 'crowned' an admiring Indian spectator with it "
reproduce an epistle written by a babu to his employer, the local district
officer on the occasion of his dismissal for sleeping on duty, for what it's
On opening this epistle you will behold the work
of a dejobbed person, and a very bewifed and childrenized gentleman who was
violently dejobbed in the twinkling of your good self. For
Heaven's sake, sir, consider this catastrophe as falling on your own hand
and remind yourself on walking home at the moon's end to five savage wives
and sixteen veracious children with your pockets filled with non-existant
£.s.d. and a solitary sixpence. Consider my horrible
state. When being dejobbed and proceeding with a heart and intestines
filled with misery in this den of doom, myself did greedily consider
culpable homicide, but with him who protected the Devil (poet) safe through
the lion's den protection is granted to his servant in his hour of
evil. As to the reason given by yourself esquire for my de-jobment the
incrimination was laziness. No, Sir. It were impossible that
myself who had pitched sixteen infant children into the vale of tears can
have a lazy atom in his mortal frame and a sudden departure of £11 per
mensem has left me on the verge of destitution and despair. I hope
this vision of horror will enrich your dreams this night and the Good Angel
will meet and pulverize your heart into neither milestone. And that
you will awaken with great alacrity as may be compatible with your personal
safety and hasten to re-jobulate your servant.
So mote it be, Amen.
picture is typical of the country in the low lying delta of the Ganges, or
rather to be more accurate the Meghna delta, because the great rivers
Ganges, Houghly, Brahmaputra, and Padna all have their deltas together, and
it is called the Meghna. These rivers after winding their way
for huge distances spread their yellow waters into a host of tentacles,
cobwebbing the land around their mouths into a thousand waterways. The
country is completely flat, and lies a few feet over sea level. It
came into being as a result of the silt deposits from the rivers.
Superficially the scenery is attractive. Tropical palm groves,
thatched dwellings, picturesque sampans, bright kingfishers, yellow orioles,
the blue sky reflecting on the surface of the streams and pools. But
in fact, life is far from the idealistic standard one expects. The
typical exotic film and novel of the tropics is far, far from real in actual
fact. What about the climate itself? About the worst in the
world, with eight months of heat and humidity, and a bare four months of
temperate weather. During the four months of monsoons, the land
becomes completely submerged in flood water, and the squalid hovels become
tiny islands supported over the fetid waters by bamboo stilts. And the
humidity is so high, that the perspiration pours away day and night; there
is no respite from it.
And the people themselves ? About the lowest
form of life ! The average Bengali is a scraggy undersized hollow
chested individual who spends his day coughing and spitting. Our own
M.O. holds that the Bengalis who are not tubercular are syphillitic, and he
is not far out ! He is an addict to the betel nut, and consequently
his mouth and whickers are stained in a bright red hue. He keeps his
women in purdah, although I cannot conceive why - no one would run away with
them - they are much the same as him in appearance and habits ! He is
over ridden with malaria, so much so that he becomes immune to the anophile
mosquito. He makes his living by tending his patch of paddy, or by
fishing and river trade.
The stench of the damp steaming villages is
appalling, the bugs and insects are in their millions, and too, the snakes -
cobras, kraits, python; and roaming among the villages are the baboons - big
fellows, who are venerated by the people. On one occasion a baboon
jumped onto the running board of our car as we were travelling along, and we
were thankful that it was not aware of the fact that the sunshine roof was
open ! And in the delta of the Meghna, with it's climate, it's
disease, poverty, sordidness, lives more people to the square mile than in
most other densely populated areas of the world. It looks all right -
from the seat of a cinema.
C.O. Lt. Col. J. W. Saunders arrived in the area on the 30th March. He
has not yet arrived at RHQ, as he is reporting first to Brigade at
Chittagong, and then moving Northwards, inspecting the Batteries as he comes
More about Bengal
is almost completely occupied in the growing of rice. It is not a high
grade rice, and is not exported. (The best Indian rice comes from the
Central Provinces, around Delhi) It consists of a vast plain, running
into the Himalayas in the extreme North. This plain has formed the sea
bed at some time, and the land has been reclaimed by nature by the gradual
building up of the alluvial deposits of it's great rivers. Nowhere is
the land many feet above sea level, and it is highly fertile. From May
until October it is mainly submerged in the waters of the monsoon.
This has the effect of fertilizing the soil. The climate is bad
for Europeans, (and for the Bengalis too, I should imagine) having an
extremely hot and humid hot season, and a warm winter with rather cold
nights. It abounds in all the worst tropical diseases - malaria, dysentery,
smallpox, cholera and many others. How can a population live in a
country which becomes a vast lake for a third of the year? The system
is this - each prospective settler with his family dug what is known as a
"tank". This may vary in size from that of an ordinary pond,
to quite a large sized lake. It would be perhaps ten foot deep, and
shaped either square or oblong. The soil which is removed, would be
used for two purposes. Firstly to be a sloping wall around the tank,
and secondly as foundations on which the tiny settlement will be built, and
which will be a few feet above monsoon water level. Thus scattered
throughout Bengal are these self contained oasises, situated perhaps a mile
to two miles apart. And between is just one thing - paddy.
village consists of a huddle of a dozen or more mud and bamboo huts used as
living quarters for the villagers and their domestic animals, built among
betel nut, and coconut palms, plantain trees and bamboos, in which dwell the
family with it's numerous branches, and their shoals of progeny. There
will also be a bony cow or two, some oxen, hens and ducks, and usually a few
goats. There is no sanitation, no lights, no furniture, no eating
utensils, no beds. Life is primitive to the extreme. Food is
prepared in gourds made from huge melons, or out of clay. There may be
a crude temple nearby, with a roughly modelled figure inside. Worship
is almost idolatrous and animist. From the age of five onwards the
children become working members of the family. They will scare the
birds away all day, or gather the grain, and generally make themselves
useful, which makes one often wonder what our own children would do under
similar circumstances. The only form of recreation seems to consist of
singing and beating drums. This usually starts in the night and goes
on for several hours. It is strangely oriental and rhythmic. The
sound carries for many miles. In addition to the several plots of
paddy, each settlement will till, there will be a small compound surrounded
by a plaited fence, in which will be grown curry, chillies and the other
spices for the staple curried rice diet. The "tank" serves
many purposes - washing, or dhobi-ing, bathing, and it's supply of
fish. The fish which are bred in the tanks, rapidly multiply, grow to
maturity quickly, and live off the larva of the mosquito. The menfolk
are accustomed to bathing in the tank several times a day, and often there
is a covered bamboo corridor to the water's edge along which the purdahed
women go to wash and bathe.
have said previously, the soil of Bengal is rich silt, and it is naturally
fertilized by the monsoon floods. As a consequence more than one rice
harvest a year can be obtained, in fact in many places three are
raised. And so it has been going on for thousands of years, and there
is little sign of progress to be seen anywhere. Even the oxen-drawn
ploughs are carved out of wood. It sometimes seems though, as if the
rural Indian obtains a contentment out of life, that cannot be obtained in
the modern world as we know it.
This is another Propoganda leaflet which was dropped by the Japs over
Chittagong. (note the spelling error in the penultimate line)
The Battery Headquarters of 22 Battery in Feni have suffered the first
casualties of the Regiment in India. On the first of the month there
was a Jap raid over the town and unfortunately a stick of anti-personnel
bombs straddled the Headquarters. The bombs dropped soon after the
"alert" sounded, and the noise of these, plus that of a Jap
fighter and bomber in flames was terrific. Most of the men were
in the slit trenches, but the tiny splinters of a bomb ran along the length
of one, causing a number of casualties. Another bomb fell onto the
cookhouse killing the cook and the boot repairer instantly. The latter
had been a boot hand in Leicester, and the former, an old soldier had
previously lost first his two children, and then his parents in blitzes in
England. There was a sports meeting in progress in the bamboo canteen
at the time and several men attending it were badly hurt. Lionel
Burrows, the M.T. Officer was in the canteen, and got peppered. The
new C.O. Major "Jimmy Cunningham, and Major Mitchell the Battery
Commander were coming out of the Mess as the bombs fell and hurriedly threw
themselves into a heap on the ground by the side of the bungalow wall.
Unfortunately, the C.O. and Jimmy allowed their feet to protrude around a
corner and a bomb which dropped about twenty feet away splattered their legs
with splinters. The C.O. had a small piece penetrate the sole of his
foot, and it took a piece of the bone away. In spite of his injury,
Major Cunningham did a magnificent job of work among the wounded.
Within five minutes of the incident he had them all dispatched in a lorry to
the hospital nearby.
The turmoil was increased by fire. All the Q stores, the dining room,
and canteen became quickly ignited and there was petrol and oil burning
furiously, whilst small arms ammunition was bursting in every
direction. At the height of the excitement a man was bitten by a
scorpion ! It was interesting to note the effect of the anti
personnel splinters. They lashed across the grass cutting it down as
cleanly as a lawn mower. A person can get little protection by laying
flat in open ground. The engagement was a short one and our guns only
fired off 28 rounds at the raiders, which were flying at a height of 23,000
ft. Three were brought down. The RAF intercepted the force
later and for another four. The C.O.'s injury whilst not serious is
likely to keep him in hospital for at least three months, as a piece of new
bone has got to be grafted in his foot. Not a good start in a new
regimental command to be wounded after two days ! The men in hospital
are in good spirits, inspite of loss of arms, fingers and burns. Five
On the 30th of April it was decided to move RHQ to Chittagong. In
addition to the vehicles held by Head Quarters, a further four three tonners
were imported from 22 Battery in order that personnel and stores could move
by road. Even with this additional transport our goods and chattels
over flowed, and most of the men did the journey on the top of the vehicle
hoods. We seem to have deteriorated from a highly mobile unit to a
super static one ! The poultry farm presents a grave problem.
There were hens, ducks and geese protruding from most of the trucks, and
thinking little of the journey ! The convoy moved south along
the one road in this part of the world - the Chittagong/Dacca Grand Trunk
Road. The distance - a hundred miles. This road belies it's
name. One conjures up visions of a highway like the great arterial
roads at home. But in reality it is simply a sandy track, a track that
has been used by countless generations for transport by bullock cart, and
donkey. It has never seen a motor vehicle before this war came
along. The villagers flock out of their huts and come running over the
fields to see a lorry go by. In parts it has been improved by
surfacing with a layer of bricks, but these will not stand up to the strain
of modern military transport for long. Each vehicle leaves behind a
dust cloud which would do credit to a battleship laying down a smoke
screen. The personnel following behind, are soon layers deep in the
yellow particles of sand.
The road is without any special feature of interest except for the Feni
River Ferry; it just winds itself southwards through the paddy and
occasional village, and there is never a semblance of a hill. The Feni
River, like so many rivers around here has a habit of changing it's course
every month or two. Consequently it is not possible to bridge it, and
all traffic has to be ferried over on rafts made from bamboos resting on
dug-out canoes, and punted over to the other side. A very primitive
procedure. The time one gets across varies - it might take half an
hour, or it might take three hours. It depends on the tides and the
baksheese you give the boatmen. Mostly the latter. On this
occasion we were fortunate, and the whole convoy was over in two
hours. We left Maynamati at first light and arrived at our new
Headquarters in the mid afternoon, after a successful journey. Our new
home (inaptly named "The Retreat") is a complete change. It
is situated on the outskirts of Chittagong on the Southern edge of the
Chittagong Hill Tracks.
The site consists of two lovely bungalows and a house perched on the top of
a steep hill. The whole of the hill is part of the gardens to the
houses and is private. The houses were occupied before the war by
executives of the Burmah Oil Company; they are well appointed with modern
conveniences, electric light, and European sanitation. The
surrounding countryside looks very attractive in an oriental sort of
way. The top of the hill commands a magnificent view in all
directions. To the South of the town of Chittagong, with the wide
Karnaphuli river winding it's way to the sea in the distance, to the East
the great belt of jungle with large rugged hills on the skyline, and to the
North and West the flat palm studded paddy land, and the blue of the Bay of
Bengal. The hill as I have said is a garden of sorts - one that has
run wild since it has been occupied by the military forces. Even now,
though there are flowers shrub and flowering trees of a most exotic nature,
and the colours of the blossoms are striking. We even from our own
pineapples on the premises. And the perfume of the camellias in the evening
are delightful. There is also a large variety of birdlife, coloured
finches, bul buls, the magpie robins, even tiny humming birds. And at
night the huge flying foxes come over in droves, hanging from the branches
of the fruit trees like huge vampire bats.
In the cool of the evening the garden is changed into a fairyland with the
fireflies, and just below us, over the shimmering velvet of the sea, hangs
the Southern Cross.
A letter from G stating that she does not like the look of things in this
part of the world. I'm inclined to agree with her. The Japs are
starting to in filtrate around the back of our troops in the
Buthidaug/Maundaw area. This is forty or fifty miles South of us.
The hot season here is just starting, and an unpleasant five months lie
ahead of us. The thermometer hovers around the hundred mark day and
night, and with a high humidity factor there is no respite. We feel as
though we are slowly dissolving away. Fortunately situated as we
are on top of a hill, we catch what little breeze there is, this helps
matters somewhat. In the early evening I usually climb on to the flat
concrete top of the bungalow to enjoy the breeze, and watch the sun go down
in a blaze of glory, and ... think. The sunrises and
sunsets in India are surely the most beautiful in the world. All the
time perspiration oozes out of every pore in a million globules and runs in
rivulets down the body. One must change one's clothes at least twice a
day, and at night in bed, with a mosquito net to make things worse it
becomes almost intolerable. To combat against heat stroke it is
necessary to consume salt in large quantities. Compulsory parades are
held to ensure that a glass of water with a teaspoonful of salt added is
drunk by all personnel. It has a remarkable effect on the vitality.
We hold a swimming parade most days, and bathe in the Chittagong swimming
pool (a huge tank which is kept as a reserve reservoir for the town)
The water is about twenty foot deep, and milk warm. Swimming is the
ideal exercise under these climatic conditions. Most men suffer from
prickly heat. Uncomfortable enough as it is, but much worse when it
turns septic as it often does. The complaint is due to the sweat
glands being unable to cope with the flow of perspiration. The body
becomes covered in red pimples which irritate and itch. There is no
cure, although the B.O.R.'s swear by washing in their own urine. In
another fortnight the monsoon will break, a lesser evil from this heat to
which we look forward. It will put a stop to the campaign in the
Arakan too ... a stalemate campaign to date.
The war in North Africa was concluded early this month by the capitulation
of the German and Italian forces. Over 300,000 prisoners were taken as
a result of the surrender. The end came suddenly after two years of
alternate gains and losses by both sides. Perhaps the war in Europe
may conclude equally unexpectedly. This morning a force of 26 Army 97
Jap Bombers with an escort of Fighters raided Chittagong. It is the
first raid for several weeks. We had a grandstand view of the action,
RHQ commanding a view over the whole of the area. First came the early
warning alarm, and then ten minutes later bedlam was let loose with all the
Heavy guns in the area firing, as the bombers came into range.
Occasionally we were able to see the flash of silver in the bright blue sky
as the raiders' wings or air-screws glinted in the sun. Then came the
whine as the bombs were dropped, and brown fountains of dust from among the
trees. Suddenly all the guns ceased firing. Our Fighters had got
among the enemy. They brought down three over the Chittagong area,
another three as the Japs were speeding back, and damaged another
three. A.A. claimed another two, one of which was seen to fall into
the mouth of the Karnaphuli River.
The Japs pattern bombed the airfield (at a signal from the leading plane all
the bombs are dropped together) No damage was sustained on the strip, but
ten coolies were killed. One bomb was a near miss and hit the road
adjacent to the runway. There is no doubt that the Jap air force in
Burmah cannot stand up to such high losses. And always, the damage
they cause is negligible. Allied air strength is becoming greater
every week, and it looks as though before long we shall have complete
mastery of the air in this theatre.
I suppose that every unit has it's queer characters, but the 8th, being an
Irish regiment must surely have more than average. To give two
examples there is a man in 22 Battery who is quite below normal
intelligence, but the powers that be in the regiment will not have him
boarded unfit, because he is supposed to bring good luck to them. He
married a woman on embarkation leave - a prostitute, who was after some
marriage allowance. And he then spent the first night with the
bridesmaid ! And the one we call "Friday" in the same
Battery. On one occasion his Major found him sitting very
disconsolately in his billet and asked him the trouble. Friday replied, with
tears streaming down his face "Surr, Sorr, but I'm sick. Me
innards are all blocked up, and I'm urinating through me mouth"!
The Famine in Bengal
The famine which came upon Bengal, and which later was to develop into such
tragic dimensions came down on the country quietly and almost un-noticed by
most of us. Possibly this was due to the fact that at all times the
Bengali looks upon the soldier as being a man of wealth, and tells a pitiful
tale in order to extract baksheesh from him. So, it was a case of
crying "Wolf" too often, and when he really needed helping all he
got was "jilda jao" - clear off, from
"Tommy" The famine was due, of course to a failure to
get rice onto the market. Rice is the staple food of all Indians, and
particularly in Bengal. He does not touch the wheat
"chappati" of the Punjab. In spite of the vast acreage of
paddy under cultivation in India, nevertheless it is still necessary to
import more for home consumption. And it comes in the main from
Burmah. Burmah is in Japanese hands, and the market is closed to
India. If the matter had been handled scientifically - say on the
basis of rationing in England no doubt every one would have had less, but
would not have gone really short. In actual fact this was not done,
and the following was the consequence.
merchants bought up all the stocks, hoarded them, and released at a
price. This price ranged up to twelve times and more of the pre-famine
cost. Thus the mass of the people simply could not afford to buy
it. The price of rice for a poor family for a day was more than the
income for a month.
Farmers and small holders were themselves afraid to part with their crops,
and buried the rice under their huts.
Everywhere is Bengal people were dying in their hundreds, everywhere they
flocked to some place where food might be forthcoming, to the towns and
cities, and to the railway stations. The matter got completely out of
control. And people were dying. Living skeletons
everywhere. The Bengal Government tried to place the responsibility
onto the shoulders of the Central Government. But even six months
earlier, the latter had sensed that things were not as they should be, but
the Bengal Government had declared that they had firm control, and refused
assistance from the Higher Authority. The Bengal Government is to all
intents and purposes Indian. Wheat was imported in lieu of rice to
stave off hunger, but the Bengali had lived on rice for generations, and his
stomach refused to assimilate this new cereal. Graft, dishonesty, and
fraud were rampant. The Punjabi Government sent free supplies of rice
to Bengal. Ministers of the Bengal Government actually sold this rice
at the exorbitant market price, pocketed the proceeds, and when found out
blamed it on an arithmetical error in the accounts department. And all
this time, men were living skeletons; dying at home with no one to know,
dying on the roads, in the streets, in the country, on the railway
platforms, and the only men to help them out were the British Troops.
And the Indian who could afford to be well fed stepped fastidiously over his
brother Indian's dying body.
At the local railway station of Laksham, it is reported that there is an
average of six corpses to be removed every morning - men who have died in
their sleep. Men, women and children are a mere bag of bones,
with their skin pulled tightly over the frame, and stomachs swollen up like
balloons. They cannot even afford to buy clothes, and lay about half
naked in the dust. The British soldier is doing wonders in his rough
sort of way. He is giving away his pay - although that will be little
help, and he is giving away his rations. Outside every site at meal
times there is long queues of people with their empty "bully" tins
hoping to get what scraps are going. How can anyone eat their meals
with such pitiful humanity watching with starving eyes. No, the
Indians get the majority of them; such a tiny portion after it has been
A further trouble is the disappearance of small change from the
market. Copper coins have almost completely disappeared. And so
the coolie who needs his pice, and annas, is paid in one rupee notes, and he
is unable to get change for the notes, and consequently is also unable to
buy his small but essential needs. The Banks are now giving out small change
on three days of the week. On these days there are great queues
outside all the banks. Wizened old men and women, naked children,
mothers, fathers; all waiting patiently to change their own rupee
notes. And then they come near to the counter, and the excitement
becomes too great, and they all push, shove, shout, quarrel, and wave their
notes aloft like tiny flags.
A letter from "G" today expressing anxiety about the
"Forgotten Front" (Us!) and quoting the press as stating that
Chittagong has been evacuated and the British have retied to the Ganges
Delta. Nobody ever told us about it ! And we must be a
long way in front of the front line. The position in fact is that a
retirement has been made north of Maungdaw, which is eighty miles south of
us. The withdrawal has been carried out to shorten the long and
difficult Lines of Communication during the monsoon season. The
omission of any publicity in the home press and on the B.B.C. is causing
some very caustic remarks to be made by personnel out here. Publicity
will not win the war, but it might help improve the morale of the British
and Indian Troops out here, if the world expressed a little appreciation of
the fine work they are doing, and if people at home were told a little more
about the trying climatic conditions, terrain, and of course the enemy.
Sicily has been taken after amphibious landings, and operations lasting 38
Italy itself has now been invaded at the South, and good progress towards
Naples is being made by the 8th Army.
I had an opportunity to go inside an interesting temple today. During
an evening stroll with out Medical Office, we came across a Hindu temple of
rather startling appearance. It was not big - the size of an ordinary
bungalow perhaps, and it was painted bright red, and white
alternately. It nestled in a small dell, surrounded by tall betel
palms, and plantain trees. The priest - a Bengali in spotless
dhoti, invited us inside the compound. There were plumb naked boys
running around - the temple boys, whose purpose there I will not deal with
here. Inside the temple it was cool and rather solemn - in the
matter of any church or chapel. It was an oblong room, and plain - a
gleaming white floor, and marble pillars to the roof. At one end there
was an entrance to another small room, and in this room was the Goddess
herself. She was Kali - "Kali the Destroyer", the Goddess
which in earlier days had been worshipped by the "thugs".
Their mission in life was to kill people by strangulation, using a kind of
silk handkerchief - a propitiation to Kali. Kali is the wife of Shiva,
also a God of Destruction. We saw the Goddess herself, squatting in
the little annex to the temple. She was jet black (representing the
unknown which follows death) but her features were painted in vivid
colours. She was clothed in long streamers of newly cut flowers.
She looked very unpleasant and repulsive. We were not allowed in the
small room. The priest had a small cut on his breast, with a little
blood congealed on it. Symbolic of her lust for blood. He was an
educated man, and had given up his career as a doctor in the army to enter
the temple. He sprinkled a little holy water on us, and gave us two
flowers which he took from the idol, in order, so he said that a great
defeat would be wrought upon our enemies !
only 51 Kali temples in the whole of India.
The Regiment has three gun sites on the Patenga Peninsula, a long strip of
land below Chittagong, which has the sea on one side, and the Karnaphuli
River along the other. The Peninsula is low lying, and many tidal
creeks criss cross the land. Dirty little rivulets, evil smelling,
full of offal, and the home of water snakes and horrid little crabs.
The gun sites are situated in such a way that the creeks are in close
vicinity to them, and sometimes the streams wind through the camps
themselves. As a result of the famine, dead bodies are being
disposed of, by throwing into the river. They are carried up the
creeks by the tide, and flo back again with the ebb. Some of the
bodies are paying such frequent visits that the personnel know them by pet
names. The stench is over powering. In order to alleviate this
trouble two arrangements have had to be made -
1. The civil authorities have got a flying squad of "corpse
removers" who go to the scene of our complaints and remove the bodies.
2. Fatigue parties are detailed in site orders to "launch" the
corpses who are left high and dry on the site by the receding tide.
They use a long bamboo pole with a home made mop on the end.
On one site a stench perviated through the camp for several days, and could
not be traced. Finally it was found to come from a bamboo hut some
distance away. A woman had died, no one had removed the body, and she
was "running" all over the floor. On the same site,
some coolies were living close by, and one had died. He was pushed out
of the hut, and the remainder stepped over his body every time they wanted
to enter the building.
I visited Calcutta for a few days this month, on business. The
business - to buy a stock of liquer ! The journey each way was bad.
Overcrowded carriages, reservations not made by the R.T.O.'s and starvation
at every station. I saw three bodies floating down the
Brahmaputra. The fish had been at two of them, and a vulture was in
process on the other. Calcutta is most unpleasant at this time of the
year. It is so hot and humid. One has no vitality at all, and
loses one's appetite. The "Grand" is always overcrowded and
the food is mediocre. There are Americans everywhere. They
have money to burn. The rickshaw boys, and taxi drivers sometimes
refuse to take British fares. They don't pay enough. Some
Americans are paying ten rupees for a ten minute ride - fifteen shillings in
English money. They have no sense of values.
I bought all my Xmas presents for the family. Prices are exorbitant.
Two awful ties for Dad! Calcutta is full of starving people.
Eighty thousand destitutes in the City. Hundreds of people laying from
one end of Dharamtolla Street to the other - a distance of one and a half
miles. There is a gruel kitchen there. Deaths are averaging well
over a hundred a day on the streets. The City was bad enough in normal
times with it's lepers and maimed beggars whining for annas, but now it is
I was glad to return to Chittagong
I was admitted into hospital ten days after returning from Calcutta, with
Malaria. And I KNOW the mosquito which caused the trouble. It
bit me on the rail journey between Cal., and the river ! My
temperature was 103 on admittance, but after a day or two of quinine it went
down to normal. The food was so un-eatable that I applied to
return to my unit after five days, and to finish the remaining ten days cure
there. The wards were so full of malaria cases that this was agreed
to. I think that if I had remained in hospital for the full spell I
should have developed jaundice. B.T. Malaria is not re-curing unless
one is bitten by the same type of anophile again. But one is subject
to a relapse for some months after.
Italy surrendered to the Allies in September, and it's fleet sailed into
Allied ports. The Germans are still in control of much of the country
though, and the victory in Italy is by no means won.
However this capitulation does mean that the Allied fleets in the
Mediterranean are released to fight.
A new Command has been set up in this theatre of war. Henceforth all
forces employed East of the Brahmaputra are separated from India Command,
and become South East Asia Command. Admiral Mountbatten is our new
To jump ahead a little - The famine raged for several months, and finally
after the Central Government had stepped in, controlled the purchase and
sales of rice, and arranged a rationing scheme, matters started to improve
rapidly. The Viceroy, Lord Wavell completed the satisfactory
organization by placing the distribution of the food grain into the hands of
the Military Forces. Afterwards with this rigid control,
everyone had sufficient for their needs and the famine was over.
On the 3rd October, a posting order from GHQ Delhi was received instructing
me to report to the 15th India Heavy A.A. Regt. I.A., which was raising at
Malir. Near Karachi on the last of the month.
I was appointed Adjutant.
The order had been delayed en route, and the unit had already been in being
for three days, with the adjutant two thousand miles away ! My
duties as assistant adjutant with the 8th Belfast were hurriedly taken over
by Bill Hales from 22 Battery, and after another two days I left them for
good. It was rather sad to go after having spent two years with
them. The journey over India was bad. Long halts at
Calcutta and Lahore awaiting a connection, and then a crush to get onto the
train. I was not well at the time, being on the last lap towards
jaundice as a result of the malaria I had suffered from previously. I
could not get onto the Punjab Mail at Calcutta, and caught a non-military
passenger in lieu. I travelled via Benares, Lucknow, Cawnpore,
Amritzar, and Lahore. The view of the riverside temples at Benares is
an excellent one as the train goes over the high bridge spanning the Ganges.
The journey from Lahore to Malir is almost completely through the great
Sind Desert. Unpleasant travelling is it, too. The
temperature is over the hundred mark, and dry. Dust is
everywhere. All the windows are kept closed in spite of the
stifling heat in a futile endeavour to keep the sand out of the
carriage. The train draws it in as it travels over the
desert. It is well worth paying the extra seventeen rupees and
travelling in the "freezer" - a sealed air-conditioned
carriage. My spirits dropped to previously uncharted depths
as the train pulled into Malir. Although we were only twelve miles
from Karachi, we were still in the midst of the desert. Not a tree
to be seen - just flat wastes of sand. And a new sight to my eyes
- camels, lots of them.
On arrival at the training camp, some five miles away as the camel
walks, I met the nucleus of the officers of the first battery.
This was 42 Battery which formed in October. 43 and 44 Battery
were to form on the first of the following two months
respectively. Most of the officers were newly arrived in
India from home. The Regiment was unusual in a way. It
was called a mixed British/Madrassi Regiment. It was not an
"all Indian" unit. The Officers and N.C.O.'s were
British, and the rank and file - recruits, were Madrassi. The idea
behind the scheme was that as the Indians developed into soldiers they
could replace the British N.C.O.'s. Among the senior N.C.O.'s each
British soldier had his counterpart in an Indian rank.
For example -
Regimental Sergeant Major - Subedar (Madrassi
- Jemedar (
- Jem. Head Clerk (do. )
The Madrassis had received their initial training at a basic training
centre nearby. They were taught there how to wear boots, tuck
their shirts inside their shorts, and generally have their tails lopped
off. They all come from the South of India. They speak four
different languages - Tamil, Telegu, Malyalam and Canarese, they are
mostly short slim fellows, although after a month or two of army food,
they filled out and became stocky. They vary in colour from jet
black to light brown. They are cheery individuals, and are
recruited into the army as sappers, drivers, and gunners. They
have very mechanical minds.
Malir itself was not nearly so bad as the first impressions lead one to
believe. In particular the accommodation was first
class. Two years previously a huge camp had been built to
accommodate an armoured division. With the threat of the Germans
breaking through from Russia into the Middle East, and thence through
Khyber into India vanishing, the camp had been taken over as an A.A.
Training Centre, and by the Americans as a reception camp for troops,
and a Chinese Air-School. We lived in nice bungalows with electric
light and fans, and furnished by the M.E.S.; and the offices and lecture
rooms were all modern and adequate. There was a Garrison Cinema in
the lines, and a swimming pool in the American Section which could be
used by us.
The desert is undoubtedly healthy. Within a week or two of my
arrival at Malir, the jaundiced feeling disappeared and I was fit and
well. The rainfall averages about four inches per
year. This usually falls in the first few days of July. The
climate is very dry, and these is no humidity whatsoever, so dry in fact
that the nails in one's boots fall out, and the soles come away; and
everything becomes impregnated with particles of sand. During the
day in the hot season the temperature averages about a hundred, and it
drops perhaps ten degrees during the night. The desert winter is
delightful - warm and fresh, with cold nights. The heat is not noticed
in the same way as further East, and it certainly does not impair one's
vitality. October and May are the two hottest months of the year.
During my first fortnight at Malir, life was anything but easy. I
was supplied with an office, a huge pile of correspondence that had
arrived over the previous month, a bottle of ink, a box of thorns in
lieu of pins, a few sheets of paper - and carry on ! No
Raising a new unit is rather a complicated business, and with the
million and one things I had to deal with, I was working until late
every night, and continuing to wrestle with the problems in my
sleep. Of my office staff which should have comprised - RSM, 2
VCO's, a British Sergeant Artillery Clerk, and five Madrassi Havildar
(sgt. rank) Clerks, the only one who had arrived was the
first-named. And I was not much impressed with him. However
between us, we got the wheels started, and day by day our hair for
greyer, and mine got sparser too ! And then the Havildars
appeared. And another rude awakening. They had been in the
army for two or three months, and were untrained in office
routine. They were to cause some worry until finally they were
sorted out, and the weak links disposed of.
However, at the psychological moment a gentleman with a long beard
appeared and informed me that he was my VCO Head Clerk. He was
Jemedar Partap Singh - a Sikh, and an old soldier who knew just how
everything went. From then onwards life became a little
easier. And later when Sgt. Morrissey the British Sergeant arrived
from H.Q.R.A. Eastern Command we never looked back. It was decided
that we should Mess on a regimental basis, in order that all the
officers should get to know each other. This worked very well, and
achieved it's object. The Mess had originally been built as a
large Officer's Mess, and was ideal. We employed a
contractor to attend to the messing side, and made ourselves comfortable
with a wireless and plenty of reading matter always at hand. My
pay had been increased to rsll, 500 a year - £850 in English
currency. But I'm earning it !
The powers of the C.O., and adjutant of a unit in which the personnel is
subject to Indian Military Law is far greater than in a British
unit. The Commanding Officer can convene his own court martial,
and administer punishment up to two years rigorous imprisonment, without
reference to higher authority. I promulgated my first court martial
sentence in November. It was on a Madrassi bombardier (or 'naik'
as he is called in the Indian Army) who had deserted his unit prior to
it's embarkation overseas. He was given
5 years rigourous imprisonment,
discharged from the army.
forfeiture of 161 days pay.
He didn't blink an eyelid !
43 Battery formed in November. Frank Waterton joined this unit as
subaltern. He has returned from a month's sick leave after
spending the previous few months in hospital with appendicitis, and
amoebic dysentery. He does not look at all well. The O.C. of
this Battery is Major Willis - a great swashbuckling character who is
known in gunner circles from one end of India to the other. He is
a Lloyd's underwriter. The third battery - 44 Battery were
due to raise on 1st December. We have all the Indian Troops, the
British N.C.O.'s, and stores in readiness. But not a single
officer ! A cypher telegram has been received from GHQ - "44
Battery will not now form " We cannot understand if it will
not form NOW, or whether it will not form at all.
This cypher is somewhat worrying. Recently A.A. policy has been
changing daily. Some units are being converted to Infantry, some
to combined ops, whilst others are being disbanded. The situation
as regards A.A. in India has been radically changed with the arrival of
a brigade of West African A.A. Gunners from the Middle East. Most
gunners are wondering what is in store for them.
Xmas passed rather quietly this year. The festival has not got the
same significance with an Indian unit. Although it is celebrated by all
the religions. The Indian soldier may be strict Hindu or Moslem as
regards his food and so on, but he does not hesitate to celebrate any
festival which is going, provided it means a holiday and some "khana"
A party of us had our Xmas dinner in rather different
surroundings. A Chinese Restaurant in Karachi. It was a
special meal for the occasion, with numerous of the strange courses
these restaurants provide. It was excellent. In the evening
there was a whist drive in our sergeant's mess and I distinguished
myself by winning first prize. Xmas dinner proper was held in our
own mess on Boxing Day. Notable for a very tough turkey, and the
best pudding I have ever tasted. The reason for the outstanding
pudding was that everyone insisted on it being lighted in traditional
style. Brandy was poured over it, but apparently Australian type
is not inflammable. Canadian Rye whisky was tried - equally
unsuccessfully Indian gin; and finally some prized scotch. And
what a blaze there was ! And what a pudding !
From now onwards, the days were occupied in training - technical, and
all the other branches. By January 42 and 43 Battery were ready
for Practice Camp. Each unit spent a week at the A.A. School
in Karachi, firing each day. Very good results were
obtained, and right sleeves were shot down. Satisfactory
reports were issued by the School to GHQ on the unit's
progress. The shooting was certainly of a higher standard
than one would expect from a young Indian regiment. It was more
consistant and accurate than the 8th Belfast when I saw them fire at
Practice Camp. It now remains to see what will be their reaction
to action against enemy targets. After this camp, the Batteries
return to Malir and concentrate on the weaknesses which were found in
the firing. After a further month of training they return to A.A.
School, and take the final Practice Camp before mobilization of the
No further communication had been received on the question of the third
Battery forming, but on the 5th of February a Major arrived with posting
orders appointing him O.C. of this Battery. And quickly following
him came a number of subalterns who were also posted to 44
Battery. By coincidence, it happened that the A.A. Training
Centre in Malir was closing down at this time. The Colonel and I
decided to form 44 Battery on our own ! We had sufficient of the
permanent staff of the Training Centre transferred over to us to start
the unit off. We commenced training. We informed GHQ of our
action. No reply was received to our letter. But from then
onwards, 44 Battery figured in the distribution of all official
correspondence from higher authority. But in fact, 44 Battery have
not officially raised to this day !
After the second practice camp it was decided that the whole Regiment
should have it's annual war leave en bloc. We are arranging
special military trains to take the personnel to Madras. This is a
sound idea, because rail travel in India is chaotic even to the much
travelled European. Indian troops are the least thought of, on the
railways. It is unlikely if they would get to their homes within
reasonable time if they went under their own steam. It is usual to
have a fairly high percentage of deserters on the first leave of a new
Indian unit. Some decide they do not like army life, some re-enlist
in other arms, in order that their previous training will stand them in
good stead, and they are chosen as being above average, and made into
N.C.O.'s. Others find themselves tied up with domestic troubles -
illness at home, the necessity of having children, marriage festivals,
and so on. The police are encouraged to arrest deserters and inform
their unit. They are remunerated by the sum of two rupees per
head. But if the deserters are prepared to pay three rupees, the
police will not report them. The police run a lucrative side line
on these lines.
I have decided to accompany one party of Troops, and get an idea as
to what Madras is like. It has been arranged that Frank and I
take party to Bezwada, which is two hundred miles from the city of
Madras itself. After we have dispersed our men, we are continuing
on to a hill station in the Nilgiris - Ootacamund, which is not far away
from Mysore. I am remaining there for ten days, and shall
return to Malir alone. Frank is staying for a month and is
escorting the troops back from Bezwada.
Journey to Ootacamund
The first lap of this journey was mainly across the Sind Desert. We
were going to Bombay via the Jhodpur marrow gauge railway, which joins
the Karachi/Lahore line at Hyderabad. It was hot as usual, dusty
and wearying. Departing from Malir at seven o'clock, we moved
northward to arrive at Hyderabad, a hundred and ten miles away by
lunch. There was a five hour wait here, whilst the connection
on the narrow gauge railway was awaited. We arranged food for
the troops at a free rest camp, and obtained lunch ourselves in the
station restaurant. We decided to have a stroll around the
City. It is out-of-bounds to British Troops.
Hyderabad is the most untouched of Indian cities I have been to. It
is just like walking into a biblical scene. It is the same today as
during the Great Sind Wars of last century. The huge fort of mud,
still stands in a predominating position in the town. It's walls
must be sixty feet sheer. It is said that some of the most
beautiful women in India come from here. I didn't see them.
The town was filled with "beduin" like people muffled up in
bright scarves in spite of the over powering heat. During our
wait on the station, one of the numerous pi-dogs there, got tangles up in
the brake of a carriage of the Karachi Mail just as it was setting
off. This caused a great diversion among the local inhabitants (who
seem to spend their time on the station) The howls of this
dog, together with all it's pi-friends who joined in, plus the shreiks
from hundreds of excited spectators made a tremendous din. Finally
it had to be cut away in small pieces, and the train pulled out, the
spectators resumed their siestas on the platform, and the pi-dogs ate
their unfortunate comrade.
For the whole of the second day we jogged quietly over the grasslands of
Rajputana. The country we passed through was rather dull.
There were some bugs in my berth. Large one's. And
hungry. The most interesting fact to relate were the wild peacocks
one sees from time to time. Peacocks originate from Rajputana.
We also saw some enormous storks - over six foot in height. Then at
one place there were some apes with white faces. They sat by the
side of the line and watched the train go by. They were
difficult to distinguish from the inhabitants. In the evening we
changed onto a broad gauge railway at Ahmedabad - the home of the cotton
spinning in India. During the night the distance between here and
Bombay was covered, and we pulled in to the latter just as it was
becoming light. The most ticklish part of the journey now
confronted us. We had to have the troops transferred from one
railway system to another. Rather in the manner of arriving at St.
Pancras, and requiring the rolling stock together with it's passengers
transferred to Waterloo. Only this was India !
After wordy battles with half the board of directors of both railways,
and all the station masters that Bombay could muster, we finally took the
matter into our own hands. We commandeered an engine, and shunted
our carriages across the Bombay network of lines, remaining on the
footboard of the engine to ensure that there were no further
delays. We had the carriages put into a siding at Victoria Station,
and obtained food for the men. Frank and I were getting a little
tired of railways by this time. Our connection did not leave until
evening. Looking rather like engine drivers ourselves, we took a
taxi into the town, having issued instructions to the troops that they
would "stay put" We went along to the famous Taj
Mahal Hotel. There among the immaculate duck of the Navy, and the
"chair-borne" staff wallahs of Bombay, together with their
enamelled lady friends we partook of tankards of beer at three shillings
We spent the rest of the day at a cinema, various restaurants, and a
visit to the harbour. We stood under the famous "Gateway of
India" and wondered how long it would be before we should be in the
fortunate position of seeing it from the blunt end of the ship ! I
developed a tearing headache. That evening, the party moved off in
the Madras Mail. And thence onwards the journey was uneventful and
dull. The Deccan through which we passed is an enormous plateau of
bare parched grasslands. Hyderabad, Deccan is note worthy for some
excellent palaces, and temples. It is the seat of one of the
richest, if not the richest, men in the world.
The train ran into Bezwada on the second morning after it left
Bombay. The troops were disposed of with all speed, we had
breakfast, and managed to catch a connection on the Delhi/Madras
Express. It was crowded and uncomfortable. Within half
an hour of arrival in Madras that evening we were aboard the Blue
Mountains Express, and on the last lap of the journey. This train
was pleasantly furnished, and few people were travelling on it. By
breakfast the following morning, the train had arrived at the foothills
of the Nilgiris, and after a hearty breakfast we commenced a precipitous
journey upwards through the mountain on a finecular railway. The
scenery was one of grandeur and beauty. The climate freshened
progressively as we winded around one mountain after another. After
a long absence we were able to hear birds singing again, and to see lush
greenery, bright flowers and butterflies. We passed by palm
jungle, pines and Eucalyptuses, and over rushing mountain streams and
waterfalls. It was a delightful trip.
By the time the train ran into the tiny station at "Ooty", it
was definitely "parky", but the sun was shining brilliantly,
and we felt that this place would do us a lot of good, after so long in
the desert. There was a bus awaiting us at the station.
We were soon driven to our home for the next week or two. It was
Arranmore Palace. Owned by the Rajah of Jhodpur, and lent by him
during the was as a leave centre for officers. I had expected to
see a castle of some sort, with seven foot thick walls, and dungeons
etc. Instead, it was a modern mansion with lovely grounds laid out
in true English fashion. Inside, the house was beautifully laid
out. There was a large dining room, lounge, reading rooms,
ballroom, billiard room - everything one could desire. The
furnishings were expensive and tasteful. One could see the Rajah
was an animal lover - the walls were covered with trophies of his gun !
The countryside at Ooty is variable. To the North and West was
mountainous forests - great eucalyptus and pine forests, whilst in the
other directions were rolling down-land country stretching to a range of
mountains in the distance. This part was reminiscent of the
Dunstable Downs. The similarity was marked - but here we were but a
few degrees off the equator. Several other officers from the
regiment who had come down to Madras on similar missions to us, joined us
during the next few days, and we were soon a very good party
indeed. The daily programme was much the same - a hard morning's
walking with beer at the end of it at the gold club. Bed, or
billiards in the afternoon. In the evening dancing, cocktail
parties with "abandoned wives" or bridge. We rarely got
to bed before two or three o'clock in the morning.
I acquainted myself with a young thing of some forty summers
(plus!) A colonel's wife. She was a fine dancer. And
had a flair for gin and expensive clothes. On one occasion she
arrived at a dance at Wellington in a dress studded along the edges with
large opals !
That would cost the colonel a month or two of his pay !
The weather during the ten days I was at Ooty was perfect - just like an
English June should be. In spite of this however, I felt definitely
the worse for wear by the time I was due to return. It was
certainly the most hectic time I had spent since leaving home. I
returned to Malir with Capt. Torrence, Capt. of the 42 Battery. The
journey was uneventful, apart from the fact that our bookings failed from
the very commencement of the trip. However by bluff and persistance
we managed to travel comfortable and covered the two thousand miles back
in five days, which isn't too bad in wartime India.
On arrival back at Malir, information was awaiting us that the future was
not as cut and dried as we had expected. Heavy A.A. is becoming
redundant in consequence of RAF and USAAF superiority in the air, and in
particular against the high level bombing planes. It is a fact that
A.A. is unemployed on the side which has the mastery of the air, because
the opposition cannot bring their aircraft within bombing range without
losing many aircraft at the airfields from which they intend to launch
their attack. The Japs bring up their bombers to forward airstrips
in Burmah with the intention of raiding the lines of communication of our
troops, but recci planes soon discover this information and our fighters
and bombers go out and strafe the airstrips until finally the Japs
Another factor in the redundancy of Heavy A.A. is the arrival of the West
and East African A.A. units who themselves have become out of work in
North Africa. It is understood that three alternatives lie ahead of
us - to remain Heavy, to change to light, or to disband. This
information leaves everyone much in the air, and unsettled.
The regiment received mobilization orders as Heavy A.A. from GHQ on the
11th April 44 (?) This means that GHQ consider us fit for
deployment, and that we are to hold ourselves in readiness for moving.
A fortnight later, Brigadier Pemberton, who is Brig. A.A., GHQ came on a
visit to the unit. His purpose was to ascertain whether the
officers were suitable material for Lt. A.A. He interviewed each
officer individually, and afterwards told the C.O. that they were a
likely lot, and he considered they were flexible enough to change over
into the new role.
Later in April. a letter came down from GHQ that the regiment would
re-train as Lt A.A. Arty. All officers would take a month's course
on Lt. A.A. at A.A. School, Karachi. All B.O.R.'s to be returned to
the Depot, and be replaced by Lt. A.A. personnel. 42 Battery are
remaining in a heavy role, and are being regimented with another
Regiment. This is not to be regretted as it is a bad battery.
Due almost entirely to it's O.C., who is a man of 25 years of age and
quite incompetent to run it. The worse aspect of this change
is the loss of our British N.C.O.'s They are a grand crowd of men, and
all on top of their jobs. We are going to propose to Delhi that we
retain these men, and retrain them into Lt. A.A. ourselves.
The month at A.A. School was an arduous one, but enjoyable for all
that. We were all up at crack of dawn, and spent most of the day
between gun park and lecture room. The drill on a Lt A.A. gun is all
for speed, and in the glaring sun, and temperatures around the hundred mark,
very tiring. Perhaps the worst feature of the lot was the miserable
hour off for lunch ! This gave us little time for our
traditional siesta before resuming duty. In my spare time, i.e.
week-ends and occasional evenings I was also attending to the correspondence
and other matters at Malir. With the change over this had increased
rather than otherwise. Work finished at five o'clock each
evening, and most of us after a bath and change commandeered garis and went
into Karachi, which was two miles from the school. There are two or
three excellent cinemas there, clubs and restaurants.
On completion of the course the Regiment was instructed to move to Nehgaon -
then the only A.A. Training Centre left. Mehgaon is in the centre of
Indian, and is notable for it's impossible heat and lack of decent living
accommodation. However, by a stroke of luck, the C.O. met the GHQ
officer in Karachi who had been in charge of this move, and it turned out to
be a very old friend of his. The C.O. complained bitterly of having to
give up perfectly good accommodation at Malir, and within two days the move
was officially cancelled.
On June 6th, two major events took place
1. The invasion of
2. The posting of our
Both have caused a stir. The news of the invasion of Normandy is
the best tonic the troops out East have had. They have been waiting so
long for it. They know only too well, that until Germany is defeated,
there is little chance of reinforcements being sent here to relieve
them. They know that this is a critical step to final victory.
The loss of the C.O. is a great shock and disappointment to all. He
has been kind and considerate, in fact the C.O. that one can only hope
for. He is going to a Rajput Heavy A.A. Regiment. The name
of the new Colonel is not yet known.
The following figures are quoted in an official document and are worthy of
Cost to equip a Lt A.A.
To equip and maintain a Lt. A.A. Regiment for one year. =
A month after our old C.O. had departed, the new one was posted to us.
I met him at the station. I was taken back at his youthfulness.
Searching for a potential candidate on this station when his train pulled
up, I passed him several times without glancing at his rank. Col. E. J. Cole
- that is his name, is twenty nine years of age - four years younger than I
am. He comes from Leicester and is the Chief Constable's
son. He was articled at a solicitors in the City who did business with
the C.U. He must have been office boy there, when I was at Leicester
Branch ! He was a territorial officer with the Leicesters. They
turned over from infantry to searchlights, and sometimes later he came to
India as battery commander with the 8th Sikh Lt. A.A. Regt. Before he
came to us, he was their second in command. First impressions
are that he will be good. He knows his business. Stronger than
our late C.O., and with ideas of his own. There has been a marked
spontaneous smartening up through out the unit even after three days.
We have been fortunate once more.
On the first Saturday in July, the Regiment has it's first ceremonial
parade. We were inspected by the Commander in Chief (India) General
Sir Claude Aukenleck. The spade work necessary to bring the parade
into revie? order was terrific. It included such work as finding a
piece of desert to suit the occasion, removing the bushes therefrom,
levelling, bridging a monsoon ditch for the C in C to walk over, and another
for the parade to march over. All of which was carried out by the RSM
with the aid of enormous fatigue parties. The ceremony itself
went off without a hitch. The RSM handed to me, I had the officers
march on, and in turn handed to the second in command who handed to the
C.O. The troops were brought to attention and stood at ease until one
lost count. They stretched from skyline to skyline, or so it seemed
when one was in front giving orders.
Then came the Auk, with a large and varied assortment of satellites.
He went through the ranks with the speed of a strong dose of salts. He
shook hands with all the officers and asked them how they liked India.
No one told him ! The ceremony was completed by a march past,
and the Auk complimented the C.O. on the turn out and smart appearance of
the men. The certainly did look good. I think the pugris they
wear make them look good. In contrast with the B.O.R., the
Indian delights in ceremony, and always rises to an occasion like
this. He never lets one down. Ten days after he
arrived at the Regiment, Colonel Cole was killed. He died in an
aircrash. He had decided to visit Delhi to discuss matters
appertaining to the Regiment, and to avoid the tiresome rail journey he
obtained permission to go by plane. The aircraft - a Hudson, cut out
at 600 feet after it's take-off. It crashed into the ground in a
spin. All the occupants were killed instantly. There were nine
They were all buried in Karachi Cemetery with military honours the same
evening. The officers of the Regiment acted as pall
bearers. And so once again, the unit is without a Commanding
Officer. Which means more work for me, and also having to forego a
very good course on Military Law at Murrec in the Himalayan foothills just
north of Rawalpindi.
We have had another death in the Regiment - a British sergeant this
time. It occured this way - an invitation was received for the NCO's
of one of our batteries to visit the NCO Mess of the Americans on the
airfield and be their guests for the evening. It was in fact a great
success and our men were in good fettle by the time the party was broken
up. They had all had plenty to drink, a rare opportunity in
India for them. On arrival back at the camp one man who was rather
quarrelsome decided to fight another one. A third intervened, took one
man under his left arm, and hit the aggressive one for six with his spare
hand. The latter fell down and died on the spot. It was an
awkward situation to be in, and unfortunately I had to charge the peace
maker with manslaughter.
However there was the usual post mortem, and it was discovered that the man
was suffering, unknown to himself from an aneurism in the brain. He
would have died at anytime. The blow he received was not sufficiently
hard to have caused his death. The sergeant who was charged was
exonerated from all blame, and the Commander Sindist, personally called him
in to emphasize this.
The Regimental Medical Services are under the jurisdiction of two Indian
doctors. They are quite incompetent. They drive us crazy.
Two examples of their treatment are as follows -
An IOR reported sick to the ?. I/ room with a bad headache. The
prescription - Excused wearing socks for three days !
Another developed a high fever and was carried over to the N.? I. room, with
an NCO escort. The latter was rushed into an ambulance and taken to
hospital, whilst the patient had to return to the lines by his own steam !
I should not forget the man who subsequently was discharged from the army
with infantile parallysis - our medicos' prescription had been - extra P.T.
And the man with scabies which was diagnosed as leprosy !
On the subject of health, it is a fact that one gunner approached the
officer's mess cook for a pork bone. This was the prescription of his
local village Brahmin to remove an evil spirit from his sister's body
! In actual fact, she was probably mad. We get a
surprising number of Indian troops who suddenly lose their senses. In
many cases they are discharged from the army as incurably insane. And
often they were good soldiers and intelligent, before. It is always
due to congenital syphilis. One man manifested every symptom of
insanity. He was an NCO who had not been doing quite as well as his
O.C. wanted. He was found in the latrines one evening, drinking urine,
and eating night-soil with great relish. He was put to bed under
guard. He resumed the practice next day. In hospital he would
not eat - except as above, refused to speak, and took no interest in his
bodily cleanliness. He came before a Board and was discharged from the
Army. In accordance with normal procedure he was taken back to Madras
under military escort. On arrival at the station he was getting out
from in Madras he got up, dressed himself, and said to the escort
"Cheerio, you ???????, you can keep the ?????? army !"
It appears that another Commanding Officer has been posted to the
Regiment. Delhi have sent the posting order to everyone but us
! His name is Wright ! This is going to complicate
matters, having the C.O., and Adjutant with both the same name. He
commanded a territorial A.A. Regiment in Ceylon, but as has been the case
with all Heavy Static units, it has been disbanded. It is very
unfortunate that so many of them are Territorial units, because the officers
and personnel have all been together since the war started. He comes
from Sunderland, and is a solicitor there.
I experienced my first burglar the other night. He came into my
bedroom whilst I was asleep. This is not difficult, because all doors
and windows are left open on account of the heat, and to get what little
fresh air is going during the cool part of the day. It was a dark
night, there being no moon, but he succeeded in locating my wallet, and
identity card from out of a drawer of the dressing table. By a stroke
of luck U had settled a number of debts the previous day, and consequently
was only worse off by 30 rupees. He also took one or two snaps that I
carried around in the wallet. The worst loss was the identity
card. brigade have no mercy on anyone losing this, no matter what the
circumstances. And the penalty is usually a fate worse than death
! The Colonel also had his bungalow rifled, but in his case the
burglar was not so successful, and only secured an old five shilling piece
that was kept as a momento. Fate was kind to me. On the
following morning before going to Brigade to report the loss of the identity
card I went out on a motor cycle and rode into the desert in the direction I
should have taken if I had been the burglar. It was a forlorn hope,
but it came off. I discovered it in the scrub about a quarter of a
mile from my bungalow. The red cover caught my eye, as it shone it the
sunlight. I was able to trace him for a further distance by following
a trail of discarded snaps and Letters. If he had only stolen more of
my literature I am sure I should have traced him to his lair in this manner
The new C.O. arrived at the end of August. He is a man of forty odd,
and a substantive colonel. He knows nothing of Lt A.A. I don't
quite know how things are going to work out.
The Regiment took it's two practice camps in the new Lt A.A. role in
September. The general performance of the troops at the first
one was fair. There was room for much improvement. The
B.N.C.O.'s are a mixed lot. All our old Heavy one's which we
re-trained ourselves produced the right results, but the Lt. A.A. re-inforcements
are in the main, not nearly so good. Four hits were registered, but as
I have said there was much to be done before the detachments were up to the
mark, both from the drill point of view and also the accuracy in laying the
guns. Lt. A.A. differs from Heavy, in that there is more of the
personal element in it. In Heavy, the firing is controlled to a great
extent by the manipulation of instruments and dials. In Lt. A.A. (now
the predictor is obsolete) it is a question of personal observation,
accurate laying, and teamwork.
Three weeks later, the second practice camp took place. The
improvement was marked. The Indians had responded to the concentrated
training, and the British element had profited by the polishing-up that had
been given to them by an instructor of gunnery we borrowed from the School
for a fortnight. Thirteen hits were registered during this camp, and
some excellent shooting was carried out by most of the
detachments. It is peculiar that British troops who have come to
us from forward areas are usually worse than men from home or from rear
areas. Their gun drill is usually bad, and their instruction
careless. It is probably due to superiority complex - they won't be
told; and lack of supervision in the field. When we consider that a
British NCO is not up to the mark, we have him transferred as
"unsuitable to work with Indian Troops". This is a determent
in most cases, and a certain cure against ill-discipline. The main
reasons for disposing of unsuitable personnel are - wrong temperament (ill
tempered, not interested in teaching, Indians, etc.), lack of command - this
is a vitally important point, or is not on top of his job - bad instructor,
or gunnery knowledge inadequate. We invariably post a British soldier
who catches venereal disease.
After twelve months of comparative freedom from sickness, an epidemic of
malaria has descended upon the Regiment. The whole of Karachi Area are
suffering from it, in some cases far worse than us. Men are reporting
sick every day in batches. They are going into hospital with
temperatures up to 105 degrees. Three officers are also
casualties. The malaria precautions which are observed at all times
are extremely stringent, and are carried out under strict supervision.
They include -
All men sleep under anti-mosquito nets. These are inspected by a
patrol just before dusk to ensure they are "tucked in" and are
free from tears and holes.
Long trousers and sleeves turned down as from half as hour before
dusk. There is a parade to ensure this has been done.
Anti-mosquito cream supplied to each man, and rubbed in to the exposed parts
of the body during the evening.
All buildings' are sprayed with flit by a patrol at dusk and dawn.
All likely places for breeding - pools, streams, drains, etc. are covered
with engine oil daily.
Even with these precautions, the number of men in hospital at the moment are
sixty seven. That is ten per cent of the unit casualties.
A Movement Order from GHQ was received on Sunday the 15th October, ordering
the Regiment to move to Ranchi? on the following Thursday. Ranchi is
in Bihar. This meant a good deal of hard work - getting out the
strengths of personnel, the weight of baggage and equipment, obtaining the
necessary rail rations for a weeks journey by train, sending off an advance
party, and handing over the camp and certain of our equipment which was not
going with us. Included in the latter was all our ?? and
guns. The Military Special Train was routed via Hyderabad,
thence to Delhi by a cross country route, Cawnpore, Allahabad, Moghulsarai
and Barkakhana. We were to complete the final stage of the journey -
fifteen miles by road.
Two days after the receipt of the above, the Assistant Adjutant, the
Sergeant Artillery Clerk, and my faithful orderly Akhbar (or to give him his
proper name - B. K. Madaya Penicker)? were all admitted to hospital with B.T.
Malaria. The Capt. Quartermaster had gone by this time, as C.C. ?
advance party. On the following day, the O.C. of 48 Battery,
Major Willis was admitted to hospital with severe concussion, the BSM of 49
Battery, with Malaria, and the BSM? of 48 Battery promoted to RSM? in place
of my previous one who was posted away, being quite unsuitable.
The remaining Battery Commander, Major Gordon-Duff was away in the Nilgiris
on war leave !
Major Willis was injured as a result of a motor cycle accident which
happened when he was returning in the early hours of the morning from
Karachi. He had been bidding a final farewell to his girlfriend
there. He hit a camel cart. Or more probably the camel, as part
of the latter was adhering to the handlebars of his motor cycle on the
following morning. The motor cycle was smashed up. The camel
cart driver did not stop to see what damage was done - he was travelling
with no lights, so thought that the quicker he disappeared the better.
Two Americans came across the Major standing in the middle of the road
waving a handkerchief. They carried him into hospital. His head
injuries were appalling, though later it transpired that no bones were
fractured. He is tough. Even the Americans said "Gosh, can
that guy take it!" He recovered consciousness thirty hours later,
had concussion for three more days, and then came out of hospital, joining
the Regiment, without medical permission !
During the next two days, GHQ vascillated in normal manner. The move
was postponed for two days at the last moment, then the route was changed,
and finally we were told that another large party would also travel on the
train, and that we were responsible for their rationing, etc. In
the absence of our Battery Commanders, O was made O.C. Train. We
finally departed from Malir on the following Saturday evening. It was
one of the longest trains I had ever seen. The baggage waggons had
been sent two days earlier, and we were able to load up in our own
time. The first matter to be attended to was the taking over of the
train. This entailed an examination of every compartment, and noting
all damaged and missing fitments. It was quite a long job, and a hot
one, on such a lengthy train. At six o'clock in the evening, the
troops marched down to the station, and within half an hour everyone was
accommodated. It so happened that the allocation of accommodation
worked out at one coach per Troop. All we had to do was to chalk up on
the door the letter of the troop, and the men filled straight in.
It was a very old train, and dirty. It had come down to Karachi from
East Bengal filled with Americans, who were being repatriated home after two
years service in India. The Indian troops travelled in third class
compartments - long carriages filled with wooden benches, and the British
N.C.O.'s in a military compartment which was little better. There were
no lights. Fortunately there was ample room, owing to the number of
men who had had to be left in hospital with malaria. Our own
accommodation went by name "First Class" only - the carriage I was
in, had a makers name from Coalville on it, and the date 1898. The
wheels were oval ! We started off at seven o'clock - punctually to
schedule, and saw the last of Malir disappear into the sunset. We had
left an interesting year behind us there, and a comfortable one too.
The journey took five days, and we created a record by arriving at
Barkakhana twelve hours before schedule. Frank Waterton remarked -
"Trust a Wright to get us here too soon!"
Rationing throughout the journey was -
Officers - at station restaurants, by reserving in
- hard rations - tin meats, fruit, cheese, pickles, fresh bread
drawn daily, and tea
- biscuits, jam and monkey nuts. (It was amusing to see the
issue of jam. The issuer put his fist into the tin, brought out a
dollop and slopped it into the other's hand !) and of course, tea.
Three times a day I stopped the train for an hour, and a man detailed from
each compartment took a four gallon petrol can to the engine to have it
filled with boiling water from the boiler to make tea. Some of the
best cups of tea in India were made this way ! We arrived at Delhi at
four o'clock in the morning, and six additional waggons containing personnel
and stores of an Indian workshop section were put onto the train. By
this time it was well nigh impossible to be able to see from end to end of
the train. This is the only time I have been in Delhi. Two days
later we arrived at Moghulsarai, where we were to branch off the main
Delhi/Calcutta line. The workshop party were taken off here, and I
received orders to take on another party comprising a Chinese general, three
U.S. colonels, and a hundred and ten Chinese cadets. The only
accommodation on our train which was available was the third class, and it
looked for a time as though I should have to displace one or two of our
officers to make room for the newcomers. However, it was found that
there was a second class carriage undergoing repairs in the railway
workshops, so that was commandeered, we put it at the end of the train, and
stuck the general and the colonels in it. The R.TO sergeant was not
perturbed about the Chinese general - he said they were treated on a par
with British sergeant majors !
One of the American colonels - a man of over fifty, and dour in appearance
spent his leisure moments with a catapult ! He was a crack shot at
hitting Indians' bare bottoms with peanuts ! He intrigued us all,
particularly the Indians, who had never seen a sahib act this way before
! Leaving Moghulsarai at noon, the train climbed some hundred odd
miles to Barkakhana through pleasant woodland and hilly country. We
arrived at Barkakhana on the following morning, and were put into a transit
camp for the night. The C.O. and myself went by road to visit our camp
at Ormanjhi, and found it to be a delightful spot. It was on a plateau
of grasslands, about three thousand feet up. The previous occupiers
were the 8th Belfast, who had come out of the line before the monsoon, and
had rested here. On our return, I went to see if the baggage
waggons were all right in the siding, and found half of them missing.
Then started an intensive search of hundreds of waggons in the dark, to find
the missing one's. They were finally located a mile or so down the
line. By this time, I was very weary, very hungry and very bad
tempered. I found a shunting engine, brought the stray waggons back to
our siding, and then went to the station master and gave him a good blasting
The following morning we moved to Ormanjhi by RIASC transport.
Ormanjhi was hutted accommodation - cane built with brick floors. It
was fifteen miles away from the nearest town - Ranchi. Frank and I
shared a small hut together. The first thing he did was to de-bug his
service cap. He removed twelve large bugs from the lining. They
had got in there whilst it was hanging in the railway carriage. In
view of being in the concessional area of India, we came onto free
rations. They were excellent, and much improved since I was on this
side of India before. We had barely had time to settle ourselves
in the camp before a movement order arrived, with instructions that the
Regiment would move to Chittagong on the 3rd November. During the week
we had at Ormanjhi, guns, transport and much equipment had to be
collected. Everything was very rushed. The guns came to us from
another A.A. unit in the vicinity. They had come out of Imphal with
them during the past season's campaign in Assam. The equipment was in
bad condition. The transport too, is far from satisfactory. We
have no time to inspect and decline to take over defective vehicles.
So long as they will go under their own power, we must take them on our
When the time came, we departed from Ranchi in three parties. The main
body went by special military train, together with a Survey R.A. unit via
Goalando and the river Brahnaputra trip that I have referred to
previously. The luggage waggons went in a goods train, with escort and
crossed the Brahmaputra further north by train ferry at Santahar. The
road party with guns and vehicles moved to Calcutta where they were
transhipped to Chittagong. Everyone had plenty of work to do,
preparing for the move, and the situation was not helped by the continued
absence of the Battery Commanders and B.S.M.'s Fortunately the weather
was delightful - fresh sunny days, and cold evenings, and all the troops
were in good spirits and worked with a will. One of the main worries
of Ormanjhi was the white ants. They are very numerous in this part of
India, and will eat through anything. All our boxes, suitcases,
etc. had to be propped up on columns of bricks, whilst chair and table legs
fitted into tins filled with water to keep the ants off them. Towards
the end of the week here, Lt. Hardman, the Assistant Adjutant, and akhbar
caught up with us from hospital. However within two days, the former
was back again with suspected malaria relapse.
The railway journey from Ranchi to Goalando was uneventful, but painfully
slow. The climate slowly changed to the hot humidity of Bengal.
At Goalando the train became derailed (an occurrence which happens there
about twice daily) and all the luggage was man handled for about half a
mile. An arduous job in the heat of the day, but the troops all
responded well. The military ferry ship left Goalando at dusk, and
proceeded along the wide river in darkness. The boat is fitted with a
searchlight so that it can travel at night. We spent the evening
playing bridge, eating mixed fruit salad and herrings in tomato sauce, and
sleeping on the floor of a dirty little cabin. The boat arrived at
Chandpur at three o'clock in the morning, and news awaited us here from the
B.T.O.? that our destination was changed to Comilla. The business of
off loading and on loading onto the narrow gauge railway was again
repeated. After a hot meal, we left Chandpur on the final stage of our
journey at dawn.
In Comilla, the Regiment was concentrated in and around the town, whilst we
awaited the arrival of the guns and stores. RHQ moved to Maynamati and
occupied the old 8th Belfast RHQ that I had been in two years
previously. It was pleasant to be again on familiar soil, and I could
not have asked for a better HQ than at Maynamati. Comilla is changed
since I was here last. It is now the Headquarters of the 14th Army,
and a very busy place indeed. Maynamatti is no longer the rural spot
it was either. It is built up with basha huts, and cannot be
recognised. There are big re-inforcement camps here, hospitals, and
satellite units of 14th Army HQ. Three days after we had settled
in the C.O., and I travelled to Chittagong to report to 13th A.A.
Brigade. All the old faces were there, and I was warmly welcomed back.
We heard at Brigade for the first time, that our third battery was awaiting
us in the area, and would be regimented with us forthwith. This was a
pleasant surprise, as I have always felt rather like a small boy bowling
unders with just a two battery regiment. The new Battery - 43 Battery
was deployed at Hathazari, fifteen miles to the N.E. of Chittagong, and in
the back of beyond. It was defending an air strip there. The
road to Hathazari from Chittagong was indescribable - a wide track that had
never been surfaced, inches deep in red dust, and pitted with enormous
pot-holes. We spent a day with the unit, and they gave the impression
of being good. I met an old face there - one of the subalterns
happened to be my first sergeant in the army !
Our deployment orders from Brigade were as follows -
R.H.Q. and 48 Battery FENI
There is important airfields at these places, but in addition, certain
troops from each battery would defend satellite airstrips to each field
whilst they were serviceable during the dry weather. We returned
to Maynamatti by rail, catching the only train of the day as it was moving
out of the station, which was due to my having left Brigade Orders, etc. on
their table, and having to go back for them. On the way up, the train
halted for half an hour, whilst a search was made for an Indian soldier who
had fallen out of a carriage as it was crossing a skeleton bridge over a
river. He was not found. The journey took ten hours to cover one
hundred miles - and in a carriage without lights, and without food.
This trip - I know it so well, is one of the slowest and most monotonous in
India. We got back to Maynamatti at 3 o'clock in the morning, tired
and ill tempered. However hot tea, liberally spliced with whisky and
sandwiches soon restored us to normal.
In the course of the next week, the Road Party arrived and also the
Baggage. The Road Party had lost two 3 tonners en route - the coolies
allowed them to fall between the ship and the quay whilst they were being
unloaded at Chittagong, and the shafts were badly bent in each case.
The Baggage Party succeeded in losing one of the goods waggons, containing
the whole of 48 Battery personnel's kit bags and gun barrels. However
after a day or two's search the waggon was located in a siding at Feni.
The Regiment deployed in the field on 19th October, in the areas previously
stated, and R.H.Q. moved down to Feni. Feni is a squalid little
town half way between Comilla and Chittagong, on the main road and
rail. It mostly comprises a bazaar, to which peasants from the
surrounding district come to sell their produce and buy whatever they
need. The inhabitants are unlikable - gaunt humourless
individuals. They keep all their women folk in purdah.
The airfield is occupied by a strong force of Mitchell Light Bombers, and
Thunderbolt Fighters, and is under the complete administration of the
Americans. They have made themselves far more comfortable than the
R.A.F. were able to do, when I was in this district before. Their
accommodation is comfortable - money seems to be no object in this respect,
and they have excellent amenities on the spot. There are four good
open air cinemas run by the Americans, with films flown direct from the
States. Our Headquarters are situated on the outskirts of the
town, and comprise four requisitioned bungalows and several basha huts which
were built on the site to accommodate all the personnel. It is in a
pretty grove of trees - coconut and betel palms, mango and banana trees,
with a number of picturesque pools which teem with sizeable fish.
There is a mosque in the middle of the site, and a procession of Moslems all
the day through the premises on their way to prayer.
Electric light has been installed by us, by running a line off a plant some
distance away. Deck tennis, and volley ball courts have been made, and
provide reasonable exercise each evening. The Headquarters are
very comfortable, the only drawback being the fact that they are bound up in
a sort of island, with paddy fields all around, and no roads or footpaths to
take a stroll and get away from the confines of the premises. Each
day's programme is the same routine - from Mess to Office and back for
meals. We usually visit the films twice weekly, but on other nights
there is little to do, and everyone is in bed by ten o'clock.
The third Xmas I spent in India was probably the jolliest. This was
partly due to improved rations and drink issue, and partly to the
co-operative spirit which was shared between units in Feni. The
issue of Xmas fare was an excellent one. A month before, units had
been issued with a plentiful supply of live ducks and geese, and given an
opportunity of fattening them up. Tinned hams and poultry, steak and
kidney puddings, Xmas puddings, and the necessary ingredients for mince pies
and cakes, sweets, chocolate, and nuts were all issued on a liberal
scale. Unfortunately the quantity of Xmas pudding was limited, owing
to the whole consignment for the troops in this theatre having been sunk in
the great explosion in Bombay Harbour in the previous September.
Everyone was supplied on payment with a bottle each of Gordon's Gin and
Scotch, and two quart bottles of beer, and there was also sherry and brandy
for every mess. Further supplies of spirits were made available from
local sources - Indian made.
On Xmas Eve, we held a party at Headquarters, and 48 Battery, and the local
Heavy A.A. unit turned up in force, together with several Americans, and odd
officers who were messing on their own - the Garrison Engineer, R.T.O.,
R.I.A.S.C. Officer and so on. 48 Battery signalled their arrival in
festive style. They brought a hurricane lamp along, and with Major
Willis presiding dressed in a Balaclave helmet they took up a position
underneath the palms, and regalled us with Christmas carols. It was
much appreciated and annas were showered upon them ! The party was a
great success, and progressed through the normal stages to the finale of
army and rugger songs - usually very bawdy. Nine and a half bottles of
gin, and three of scotch were accounted for during the evening, together
with innumerable sandwiches of chicken, duck, ham, etc., and mince pies
galore. The party concluded at one o'clock in the morning, with
everyone in very mellow mood. Major Willis fell into the pond on the
way to his car. In the sergeant's mess a similar celebration was
carried on, and one of the guests - an American had not been found two days
after his departure from it !
On Xmas day, the C.O., and myself went over to 48 Battery Headquarters at
noon, and celebrated the occasion with them, meeting all the British Troops
who had come into Headquarters for their Xmas dinner. Afterwards we
steered a course back to R.H.Q. and had our own dinner - roast goose, Xmas
pudding with brandy sauce and a bottle of dinner wine to wash it down.
In the evening we invited the Havildar clerks, the Jemedars, and a Sikh
Havildar Major who was staying with us, to come over to the Mess and listen
to the King's Christmas Speech. They were very thrilled at this.
They all had one or two gins, except Hav. Kandaswamy who is a Brahmin, and
became very talkative, aping our conversation on the telephone, and the way
we tell them off. They had to be given the order of the boot at ten
thirty as we still had had no dinner ! When it was time for them
to depart, my youngest clerk got to his feet, and said very diffidently
that the others had requested him to make a speech. He did so, and it
was very nicely put concluding with the hope that as a result of this war in
which we are now engaged, people of the different races and colours would be
able to sit together as we had done on this Christmas night and be friends
one with the other. He is one of the "moderns" - young
awakening India. His name is Velayadhan, and he came into the army
straight from college.
On Boxing Day, we were asked over to the Battery Headquarters of the Heavy
Regiment here - a unit similar to our own, except the coloured troops are
East Africans. It transpired that the British element left home in the
same convoy as me, and that previously they had been in the Battery that had
relieved my own when we were at Lossiemouth. The Indians all
celebrated the festival, in spite of the majority of them being Hindus and
Moslems. Special funds were allowed for the purchase of extra fare for
their feast, and in fact on Xmas Day they had five meals altogether.
They insisted on decorating the Officers' Mess, and made an archway leading
to it of plaited palms with coconuts, betel nuts, and flowers hanging from
the arches. It looked rather like a Harvest Festival. And they
purchased coloured papers in the bazaar, and made chains to festoon from
wall to wall. On the morning after Xmas Day, my best lance-naik came
up to me and said he wanted a transfer. I asked him "Why,
Ramachandran aren't you happy here?" and he replied "Yes, Sir, I
want a transfer from the Hindus to the Christians!" The RSM's orderly
and a cook celebrated the occasion by going to the local brothel, paying
their one rupee a time and getting V.D. for their trouble.
Advance notice has been sent to Major Gordon Duff of 49 Battery that he will
be repatriated in the near future, having served five years overseas.
He is a Ceylon tea and rubber planter and was called up at the beginning of
the war, being on the reserve of officers. The Commanding Officer has
submitted my name to fill the vacancy when Major Gordon Duff goes, and the
Brigade Commander has also signified his approval. The appointment
rests with Army, and it is unfortunate that at this time there are a number
of field officers out of jobs as a result if disbandments of their
units. However unless they bring in one of these officers I think it
likely that I shall get the appointment. The position with the
Battery is far from satisfactory. There is no doubt that the O.C. is a
tired man, and that this is reflected through-out his unit.
The opening of the New Year brought a busy period to the Regiment, all the
Batteries being engaged in moves forward. These moves were brought
about for two reasons - firstly the capture of Akyab, and secondly the
disbandment of a British Battery further South. Incidently the
disbandment of this Battery came at an unfortunate time, because it resulted
in the Battery Commander being without a job, and he was transferred
to fill the vacancy in 49 Battery at my expense !
The Regiment were then deployed as follows -
43 Battery - 1 Troop & BHQ at Hathazari
1 Troop at Ramu, near Cox's Bazaar
1 Troop at "George" (an airfield which is further south)
48 Battery - 2 Troops & BHQ at Chiringa (also
1 Troop at Ramu
49 Battery - 2 Troops & BHQ at Feni
1 Troop at Comilla
Regimental Headquarters remained at Feni although it would have been easier
to administer the Regiment from an HQ nearer the two Batteries located
further South. However, with possible further moves in the near future
it was considered advisable to remain where we were, in comfort, until the
whole Regiment were more concentrated. Furthermore, in addition to
regimental duties, the A.A. Defences of Feni were under the command of the
C.O. Feni is an important airfield, and at that time was
occupied by the American 12th Bomb Group, which comprised three squadrons
each of Thunderbolts and Mitchells.
The progress of the Allied Forces into Burmah had accelerated in the
previous few months. The Force in which were in was making it's way
down the coast of the Bay of Bengal through the Arakan towards
Rangoon. This Force moved quickly since the previous monsoon, and the
Japs seemed to be on the run at last. The previous two campaigns in
the Arakan had ended in a stale mate. The other Force of the
Fourteenth Army is the one which fought it's way through Assam by the
Manipur Road into the middle of the Northern Burmah. This too was
moving forward rapidly in the direction of Mandalay. Once Mandalay is
in our hands, the road to China will be opened again, and supplies will be
sent into China in bigger quantities.
As the armies move forward, the lines of communication, airfields etc.,
advance too, and we moved forward to defend them. Although the
Regiment is a static one, in fact, it's role is far from static. It is
doubtful if any of our units will remain in one place for more than a month
or two. The usual system we use is to leap-frog the batteries over
each other. The difficulty we have to overcome with these moves is one
of transport. It is not easy to become mobile with a static
establishment of M.T. Each Battery is provided with sufficient
vehicles to move one Troop at a time. Consequently when the whole
Battery moves, it has to be carried out in several stages. This is
hard on the trucks shuttling to and fro in view of the impossible condition
of the roads, and on the drivers too - especially when the move is a long
In the Arakan, and northwards as far as Dacca there is only one road.
This follows the coast line all the way down, but is a little inland.
Before the war it was a bullock track M.T. simply did not exist in the
country at all. The track consisted of an earth bund raised several
feet above the surrounding countryside, to raise it above monsoon
level. It was inches deep in dust in the dry season, and greasy mud in
the monsoon. When it became necessary to use the road to carry
military supplies to the troops further south, the road was bricked.
The bricks were kilned from the earth itself at the side of the track.
Thousands of coolies were employed. The job took about a year to
complete. For the first month or two after it was bricked, it was a
delight to drive along - as India roads go. It was almost like a
winding speedway, snaking it's level course through endless paddy, patches
of jungle and small dirty bamboo villages. However, the soft bricks
soon began to show signs of wear, and now after two years it is almost as
bad as driving over a ploughed field, with the broken hole-pitted bricks
under a two inch layer of dirty grey sand and red brick dust. One
rarely drives along above second gear, and invariably arrives at one's
destination bruised from head to foot, and covered in inches of grime.
Just to the north of Feni, beside one of our Troop HQ's is a little
graveyard. It nestles below a copse of bamboo. There are two
dozen or so identical little crosses in it. Allied men killed, or who
have died in the district. The names which appear on the crosses are
truly international. There are the graves of Japanese airmen - shot
down by the 8th Belfast, and the RAF in 1942, men from the latter Regiment
who were killed as a result of pattern bombing by the enemy, British,
Australian, Canadian, Polish Airmen, and Americans = almost every grave a
different nationality. And there is one grave of seven unknown British
soldiers who were found floating in the river Feni at Fazilpur, just south
of the town., They had their throats cut. A lonely pathetic
little cemetery, and after the war when the British and American soldiers
return to their homes it will remain here, so lonely with only the
indifferent Bengali passing by on his business, and the jackal at nights
searching for offal to eat.
There must be hundreds of "Feni's" in the world today.
Places unknown in normal times, but which suddenly become locally important
in time of war. From the A.A. view-point, Feni defences may be of
interest, because they are there for precisely the same reason as in
hundreds of similar little military installations, and are organised in the
same way as most others are organised. It might be worthwhile to give
a brief summary as to how the defences are organised to defend a certain
target from attack by air. It is called a GDA, a Gun Defended Area,
and operationally is under command of the senior officer of the local A.A.
Defences. Usually the Heavy A.A. O.C. is in command, unless the
Lt. A.A. Commander is of senior rank. He is known as the A.A.D.C., the
A.A. Deputy Commander (The A.A. Brigade Commander of the whole district is
primarily responsible for all units in his Brigade)
The defences of Feni consist of a Battery of Heavy guns (Africans) and
two Troops of Bofors. Our C.O. is A.A.D.C. There are
six guns each Lt. A.A. Troop, and they are sited to defend the airfield from
attack by enemy aircraft from any direction, and also to give mutual support
in the event of any gun site being attacked. Each Troop has a separate
HQ, with two officers, a Troop sergeant and a few admin. personnel. In
the event of any enemy aircraft approaching, warning is received from the
Early Warning System when the planes are as far as a hundred miles
away. The plots of their course is broadcast over the telephone from
the Master Site (one of the Heavy positions) and it is noted on the maps at
all HQ's. When the aircraft come within twenty five miles of the GDA
the air raid warning is given, and all guns are manned. If the attack
is intended for the GDA the planes are plotted on it's own Early Warning
when they come into a certain radius of the GDA, and are followed accurately
the whole of the time. The
AADC gives authority to fire. In the case of our own fighters being in
the vicinity he will withhold the fire.
Unlike the Heavy guns, our Bofors are sited singly. The gun sites are
each manned by one or two British NCO's - the Detachment Commander, and
Number 1. of the gun, and seven, eight, or nine Indian gun crew. This
latter number varies according to leave, sickness, courses, etc. In
course of time, when the Indian NCO's have proved themselves, they will
replace the British personnel. The site is usually raised on a bund
(often ousting a local farmstead) to keep it above water level in the
monsoon season. The gun itself being in a pit built on top of a pimple
to get the clearest field of view of the surroundings. The gun pit is
hexagonal in shape, and just big enough to wheel the gun in, and to operate
it. It has thick sand-bagged walls about three feet in height in which
are built recesses for ammo., tools, gun wheels, spare barrel, sleeping
quarters for the night manning men, and so on. The floor is bricked if
the Detachment Commander can put his hand on any spare bricks.
is provided in a couple of bamboo bashas, one for the British and one for
the Indians, or in tents. Each Indian takes his turn as cook.
This is not difficult as the only item on the menu each day is curry and
rice. The feeding of the British is not so easy. What we do in
this Regiment is to provide each gun site with a useful receptacle which
resembles a steamer. It is a common enough utensil in India, as
whenever an Indian goes away from his home for the day he carries his food
in it. It comprises four small containers which fit flushly one on top
of the other. The food for each meal is cooked at Troop HQ.
Boiling water is poured into the bottom can, and the different courses
places in each of the higher one's. The six steamers - one per site,
are places into a hay box, and the Troop 15 cwt truck is sent round the
sites at top speed, dropping a container at each. In this way, the
NC's get their food nice and hot on all the gun positions. Drinking
water is stored in containers called "mules" at each site.
The Troop water truck making two or three runs a day to keep them
It is a lonely life for the British soldiers, especially if there is only
one on a site. The Indians cannot speak English fluently, in fact they
may even speak different languages among themselves. The days are not
so bad - manning, training, fatigues, care and maintenance, there is plenty
to occupy them. But the nights are lonely one's - no one to talk to,
isolated in little worlds of their own, no radio, little reading matter ...
they are usually in bed by eight o'clock. I remember two years ago
there were a series of welfare advertisements appearing in the Calcutta
Statesman for funds to provide comforts for lonely A.A. gunners in England
! One can imagine the indignation which that raise among the
"lonely A.A. gunners of Bengal"! Their loneliness is second
to none, unless it's the lighthouse keepers !
The C.O. and I have spent a day in inspecting the 49 Battery gun sites on
the Feni Airfield. It will be remembered that they relieved 48 Battery
here a week or two ago. Generally speaking the sites are not up to the
standard of 48. The trouble, or rather the difference, because the
sites are not as bad as that, is due to two reasons. Firstly, the late
O.C. of the Battery was too much of an old woman, and did not pay sufficient
attention to the administration of his unit, and the general comfort and
welfare of his men, and secondly the personnel themselves are of a lower
standard. Most of 49 Battery men came to us from the A.A. Training
Centre, and it is my experience that such institutions provide inferior
material, whereas one would expect the absolute best. There is not the
same esprit de corps in this battery that one observes in the other two.
My experience in this war is that one rarely hears a grouse or grumble from
an efficient N.C.O. when he is being inspected by his C.O. I do not
say that he hasn't got any causes to grumble. But he usually keeps
them to himself on these occasions, because he feels that he must not let
his side down. The man who is not on top of his job, whose gun isn't
as clean as it might be, who has not troubled to make life as comfortable as
possible, who has empty tins floating about in the nearby tank; he is the
one who usually takes every opportunity to air his grievances to the
C.O. In many cases they are in regard to matters which he could amend
himself. A number of the 49 Battery men are like this - his food is
not up to scratch, his hut leaks, his men are not good enough ... and
usually it is painfully obvious that he himself is not good enough.
One D.C. complained because he was not getting a sufficient ration of wood
... he was living about twenty yards away from the Garrison Engineer's coal
Sgt. Landsborough, one of their best D.C.'s asks for a transfer to a mobile
unit in the front line. His sister was in Hong Kong when the Japs took
it. She committed suicide. He was mentioned in despatches in his
previous unit for bravery during the 1942 Arakan campaign.
While we were inspecting one site, a short way beyond the end of the runway,
a plane failed to take off and crashed. It was a Thunderbolt with
three extra petrol tanks suspended under it's fusilage and wings. We
heard a crash, then the sound of an automatic gun firing and immediately
afterwards a loud explosion. We rushed through the trees and discovered the
plane with it's nose buried in the side of the raised road, burning
furiously. I believe it was so heavily laden that it failed to become
airborne, and when he got to the end of the runway the pilot applied his
brakes violently. It did a double summersault, landed on it's wheels
again, and ran along until it hit the bank. We were relieved to hear
afterwards that the pilot escaped. I cannot imagine how he did it
because the whole thing was over in a flash and the aircraft was a mass of
flames, with ammunition bursting in all directions. He was a lucky
If there is one time when things are not likely to go "according to
plan" it is on an Inspection. Here is a tale of R.S.M. Annally's
inspection of a gun site in 43 Battery:- Having put the Indian troops
through their paces he decided to have "gas drill". The
respirators were brought out by the I.O.R.'s, and R.S.M. Annally had them
doing gun drill with the cases in the "alert" position.
Suddenly he ordered "gas". Everyone pulled the masks out of
their cases and put them on. But imagine the chagrin of one gunner
who, in pulling the mask out, also pulled out a nest of mice ! There
were big one's and little one's running all over the gun pit ! It gave
him a good indication as to the last time the detachment had practiced
gas/gun drill "
There is another tale - an earlier one, which occurred when the Regiment was
being inspected by a general with the popular name of "swill bin
Joe". The Orderly Sergeant had a quick "last look" at
the cookhouse just as Swill bin was bearing down upon it. Everything
appeared to be up to standard until he suddenly observed a very dirty sack
lying on a shelf. Quick as thought he removed it, and emptied it's
contents into the bin. One can imagine the C.O.'s feelings when Joe
make his usual bee-line for it, removed the lid, and found half a dozen
fresh cauliflowers floating on top of the offal ! Finally the
Brigadier inspecting a gun-site who asked the Detachment Commander
"Sergeant, there is a Jap Zero flying straight down your barrel.
What are you going to do !. "Sir", replied the D.C.
"Close the breech and trap the bugger!"
The Burmah Road into China was re-opened in February '45. This is a
photograph of the first convoy to travel in to China after the Road had been
recovered from the Japanese.
The opening months of the year were uneventful but not unpleasant in Feni.
Events of major importance were taking place in all the theatres of
war. The Pacific campaign was moving rapidly, and the Americans
advancing island to island in quick succession towards Japan itself.
The British fleet moved into Far Eastern waters, and their first
consignments were the shelling of a chain of islands south of the main
Japanese island of Shishu. Giant Super Fortresses from bases in Saipan
bombed the chief cities of Japan with regularity, Tokio in particular being
a prominent target. In the Burmah campaign, the Fourteenth Army - the
old "forgotten army" captured Mandalay, and trapped the main
Japanese army in the plains south of this town.
In Europe, great battles were fought and won by the Allies. Early
March saw the crossing of the Rhine in many places, and the capture of vast
numbers of the enemy on the West side of this river. By the end of the
month, armoured columns advanced into the heart of the enemy industrial
country, and the end of the war seemed close at hand. Simultaneously
Russian troops moved into Austria, and in the North captured the cities of
Gdynia and Danzig. In addition to the surge forward of land troops
from all sides into Germany, Allied bombers were over the Reich in their
thousands daily, and fighters were shooting up jammed transport retreating
along the roads, and rolling stock.
There was a considerable amount of local movement of units in the Regiment,
Troops moving to new airfields as they were occupied by the R.A.F., and
U.S.A.A.F. Enemy activity was negligible, and it seemed as
thought the Jap Airforce in this theatre has been practically
eliminated. We had a tiger scare in Feni one evening. The
telephone rang just after dinner, and it was reported that a tiger was in
the village and had killed six persons. We armed ourselves with
revolvers and brens, and doubled the guard. If one of the latter had
dropped his rifle, the other would have undoubtedly died of fright !
All the Indian troops barrackaded their basha, and the British NCO's placed
beds against the doors of their bungalow. One late arrival hammered on
the door in vain, because the men inside refused to open up.
The Americans went completely mad, and were roving the countryside in jeeps,
lorries and on foot, armed with every weapon they could lay hands
on. No one saw the tiger ! If there had been any
casualties it would have been a stray bullet from the Americans which caused
had it next day that the tiger had visited the brothel area, and mauled
several of the occupants ! Major Willis whose Battery was now in
Chiringa some two hundred miles south of us, paid a visit to RHQ on the
following day and pooh poohed the idea, as on the previous week he had seen
four coolies chasing a tiger with bamboo poles and axes. He said that
he'd never seen anything move so quickly in his life as that tiger did !
Another amusing incident occured when one of our Madrassi gunners was
"captured by the Ghurka guards on the American airfield here. It
appears that the Ghurkas had impounded a cow which had wandered onto the
runway, and would not release it to it's owner until he hander over three
rupees. He came tearfully to one of our gun sites and having told the
tale to the Indian on guard the latter armed himself with a bayonet, and
proceeded to the Ghurka lines to "pursuade" them to hand the cow
over. A violent altication thereupon ensued which resulted in the
gunner poking his bayonet into the leg of one of the Ghurkas, and in return
being felled with a torch, and rendered unconscious ! Personally, much
as I admire the Ghurka, I should not venture in their camp on a mission of
this description armed with anything less than a tommy-gun ! The
gunner in addition to a large bump on his head, received seven days
rigourous imprisonment for his pains !
A number of changes took place among the officers at RHQ. Alec Taylor, the
quartermaster was repatriated after four years service in India, and Peter
Holness came from 43 Battery to replace him. Arthur Hardman, the
assistant adjutant returned to 49 Battery as a Troop Commander. Jim
Raine rules in his stead to us - Major Ditchfield, who had previously been
with a "Her" Battery (The "Hers" come from the Central
Province.) He is a regular soldier, commissioned at the outbreak of
war. A sound man, but inclined to contrariness in the normal evening
discussions and arguments ! All regular soldiers are built in the same
mould. The C.O. became officiating Brigade Commander and disappeared
from the regiment for three months, except for occasional two-day visits,
when he "came up for air".
During April the Regiment had it's first major crime since it had
raised. I was called by 48 Battery to go down to Chiringa, some
seventy miles south of Chittagong as soon as possible, as there had been an
affray between some of the Indian gunners and civilians. The road
journey between Feni and Chiringa - down the Dacca Grand Trunk Road to
Chittagong, and thence along the newly constructed Arakan Road defeats
description. It is a mud road some five feet above the paddy fields,
and it's surface resembles the Himalayas in contour, and the Sahara Desert
for dust ! At one place, the road bridge and the railway bridge over
the Karnaphuli River - some four hundred yards in length, is one and the
same. The bridge is just wide enough to take a single track, and
consequently the margin of space between the wheels and the edge of the
bridge is about six inches. Vehicles can only proceed over at three
mile per hour, and with a man in front walking along the middle of the track
to guide each truck.
Arriving in Chiringa in the evening, I settled in at 48 Battery Headquarters
- almost unpleasant set of bamboo huts in a damp bamboo grove; and put off
the question of the affray until the following day, The Battery were
deployed in defence of a British airfield, from which Beaufighters were
engaged in straffing shipping off Rangoon. The trouble which had
occured transpired to be a shooting between a gunner and several civilians,
in which one civilian was killed outright, and two others seriously
wounded. The case is still far from coming for Court Martial, but it
appears as though the facts are as follows - every evening, the British
Sergeant on one site left the site to have his evening mean at T.H.Q. some
quarter of a mile distant. The gun detachment was left in the charge
of a senior Indian gunner.
During his absence, the gun detachment went into business in a big way,
waylaying civilians returning by a little footpath to their villages with
the proceeds of the sale of their fruits and vegetables in the Chiringa
Bazaar. In this way, the men were running a lucrative side-line, in
addition to obtaining any of the goods the civilians had failed to sell, to
go into the stock-pot. On the occasion in question, thirty or more
Bangalis were returning home, and had apparently prepared for all
eventualities by arming themselves with long staves. Consequently the
attack by our Maddrassis failed, and in fact turned into a rout ! Gnr.
Shammughan, in charge of the detachment, and probably not aware of what was
going on, heard the shouts and scuffling about a hundred yards away in a
Wood, and panicking, assumed the gun site was being attacked. He
immediately loaded a sten gun, and rushed into the fray, firing seven
rounds, which all found their marks. The British Sergeant,
returning into the gun pit on hearing the firing, found all the men,
including Shammughan, blissfully asleep, with bodies strewn all over the
I remained at Chiringa for about five days getting completely embroiled in
Courts of Enquiry, an d Summaries of Evidence, and having prepared all the
facts for submission to higher formation, had to return to RHQ without
further delay, information having come to hand that we were to engage in a
very important move in the near future. Two months mater, Shammaghan
was still awaiting Court Martial on a charge of murder.
- May 45
The news we received delighted all of us, who were in the picture, and it
was that Rangoon was to be invaded by sea in the near future, and that our
Regiment was to be in a "follow-up" A.A. Brigade which would
arrive in the city on D - 7. The brigade into which we were in
was the 3rd Indian Brigade, which was commanded by a Brigadier who had
recently arrived in SEAC from Germany. The other units in the Brigade
were the 6th Indian, and 15th Easy African regiments. Our instructions
were that RHQ and one Battery would become mobile, the other Batteries
remain on a semi-mobile establishment of transport. All stores and
equipment to be reduced to a bare minimum, also personal
baggage. We were to concentrate in Chittagong in readiness for the
By the end of the month, all the units of the Regiment were together in a
tented camp on the Patenga Peninsula, by the side of the docks - familiar
ground to me from the 1942/43 days. The following days were hectic in
the extreme - painting the code name for the particular campaign we were to
embark on, and regimental and battery colours for quick identification on
dis-embarking. It was understood that embarkation would be probably by
beach landing craft, and M.T. training and deployment schemes were
concentrated upon. The method of deployment was to be as follows -
1. Recci Party consisting of the C.O., Battery Commanders and myself,
together with a few odd bodies. Our baggage was to be limited to camp
kit only. This party would proceed on about D - 4.
2. Fighting Party consisting of gun detachments and other operational
and 3. the Follow-up Party with all the stores.
What actually happened was that order cancelled order, counter-orders and
dis-orders followed, and eventually by the middle of the month, it was clear
that a delay was inevitable. We were still optimistic however, that
the move would start before the commencement of the monsoon, in about a
fortnight's time. Finally however orders came in that the postponement
of the move was in-definite. This came as an unpleasant shock to
everyone, and morale generally was to suffer as a result of the
The reasons for the change of plan were - The enemy had evacuated Rangoon
without a fight, and Jap air activity was negligible. They had
destroyed the drinking water installations of the City, and lastly the
harbours had not been dredged since the Japs captured Rangoon, and shipping
of any size could not dis-embark at the docks. Consequent to these
things, it was only possible to supply and water a bare minimum of troops,
and all re-inforcements were primararily intended to get the life of the
City back to normal.
In the following days, the Regiment passed through a bad patch. This
was particularly unfortunate, because it did not give the new Brigade a good
impression. It is surprising what big things will spring from little
one's, and we had a case in question. One evening an IOR returned to
the camp the worse for drink, having applied himself rather too vigorously
to the local toddy. He wanted to fight everyone on the camp.
While one of the British N.C.O.'s was holding him down, some of the Indian
troops attacked him from the back, one of them hitting him over the head
with his water bottle.
After long investigation, by one of the usual methods - Punjabi Chutti,
which consists of continued pack-drill of the group of men suspected until
one of them finally breaks and tells the names of the culprits, it
transpired that a lance-naik had done the "crowning" He was
brought up for Regimental Summary Court Martial, and awarded four months in
a military prison. Unfortunately whilst we were awaiting a vacancy in
the prison, the Battery Commander committed a grave sin, and broke the first
commandment of the Army Act - he put him in a guard room where there were
At the first opportunity the lance-naik, by name (Sammana Gounder) got hold
of a sten gun, and put a bullet through his belly. He was rushed off
to hospital, and in no time the surgeon was sewing his liver together, and
he did not die. Thus, we added a further serious court martial onto
the waiting list.
To add to our troubles, the brigadier carried out a ceremonial inspection of
the Regiment, and their performance was several degrees below par.
They say that a bad run finishes with the third calamity, and as we had
already had one prospective murder, and an attempted suicide, we anticipated
the final throw. Sure enough it came along, when one of the
drivers ran over a native woman ! In the last case however, the man
Things started to improve with the news of the final victory in Europe, an
event which was celebrated through-out the Regiment with some heavy-drinking
parties. After one, I regret to say, I dived into our pond fully
The remainder of the month was concluded in a whirl of sport, the battery
football teams defeating all comers in the Brigade league, and an excellent
athletic sports meeting which filled the Brigade Commander with
The monsoon shewed signs of being nearby, and on a number of days there were
tropical thunder storms of great intensity which succeeded in flooding out
many of the tents, and blowing the remainder away. I developed synus
trouble inn my nose, and after several weeks of perpetual nose-blowing, an
Indian surgeon did the unpleasant task of removing the infection from the
naval cavity. This consisted of boring a hole with a punch through a
bone in the top of the nose, and then pumping in copious quantities of
liquid. Very painful and dis-aggreeable !
We remained in Chittagong until the end of June, and generally speaking it
was about the dreariest time of my stay in India. There was one bright
spot however, and that was the sudden announcement that the overseas tour of
service in the Far East had been reduced to three years four months.
This was a reduction of four months on the previous figure, and as I had
completed three years service oversees this month, it looked as though I
should be due to return to England in September. All the same, bearing
in mind that huge drafts of men had come to India in the first six months of
1942; it appeared to me to be a tremendous task to fulfill this pledge.
It would decimate the armies here, and I could not see how transit camps and
shipping could possibly cope with the traffic each way. However, the
powers-that-be did what they could, and within two months men were going
home after three years six, At this figure, things became impossible,
and Lord Louis Mountbatten was compelled to issue an order of the day to the
effect that no further reduction would be made for several months to
come. This more or less put me back to the position I was in before,
and it looked doubtful if I would see home by Christmas.
Chittagong was grossly overcrowded with troops at this time, and the outlook
became bleak for the Regiment when the monsoon did break. The flood
water soon mounted in the camp, and it looked as though we should be washed
away before long. After considerable agitation, the units of the
Regiment were accommodated under cover of some sort all over the town and
surrounding country. By the grace of God, our Brigade Headquarters
moved to Rangoon, and we were able to take over their premises as an
RHQ. They were comfortable with electric light and fans, but in the
midst of the bazaar and very noisy up to a late hour of every night.
During this time, there were a number of changes in the command of the
Regiment, Lt. Col. Wright went on compassionate repatriation, his wife
having supposed to have been on the verge of a nervous breakdown - a wangle
if ever there was one ! After this the 2 i/c took over, and was
a four letter word of the worst possible type. He was the perfect
example of the regular non commissioned soldier who had risen to a status
far exceeding his highest expectations. Irrational, domineering,
incompetent, and in my opinion quite inefficient. He alienated the
friendly spirit of the Battery Commanders, treated everyone like dirt, and
was not hated so much as despised by everyone. He was succeeded by a
new C.O., Lt. Col. Shone - a different type, young, keen and very impetuous.
We had another worry to contend with, as a result of about a hundred
I.O.R.'s of 48 Battery making an assault of a nearby Bengali village.
Our Troops cannot stand the Bengalis. The trouble seems to have arose
because the villagers objected to our troops bathing in a tank which they
used as drinking water - a reasonable sort of grouse. However, instead
of airing the grievance in the right quarter, they took the opportunity of
chasing any odd men who were seen about the tank. Our lads finally
reciprocated by marching on the village in force, and finding most of the
villagers were away, they broke into their basha huts, knocked the bits of
furniture about, and beat the women who were in purdah on their seats with
bamboo poles. They also burned down two haystacks
When most of the menfolk returned from their work in the evening, they
naturally took a poor view of the proceedings, and in turn mustered a large
army together and marched upon 48 Battery lines, a battle royal was about to
commence when Major Willis was informed of the position, and bounded between
the two armies. His size, and fluency completely awed the Bengalis,
and they were pursuaded to return to base. on the understanding that
punishment would be heaped upon the heads of our delinquents.
The matter finished up in the hands of the civil police, as the Bengalis saw
an opportunity of making a good thing out of the affair, Fantastic
compensation was claimed for lost and damaged property, and for the assault
of their women. Identification parades were held, and courts of
enquiry, but the settlement of the matter had not been made two months after
the occurence. The court martial of the murder case at Chiringa was
finally held, and Shanmughan found "Not Guilty"
At the end of June, orders were received that the Regiment was to
concentrate in Feni. The purpose of this was to relieve Chittagong of
some of it's congestion, and for us to mark time in Feni until railway
facilities were available to transport us back to India Command.
The future of the Regiment had been decided upon by GHQ, and we were to
eventually go to Vizagapatam in Madras and train in one of the following
roles - Field Arty, Anti-tank Arty, or Mobile AA. Our own static AA
was completely obsolete, as there was not a Jap plane within a thousand
miles of the Burma Border in the North.
The regiment moved to Feni in appalling weather conditions, by rail and
road, and were accommodates in pleasant basha sites around Feni which had
previously been occupied by the "Earthquakers" - the U.S. 12th
Bombardment Group, who had moved back into India to train on the new
"Invaders" in lieu of their Mitchells. Within a month of our
arrival there, two of the Battery Commanders returned to England on
demobilization, and the third became second in command of the
Regiment. This created three vacancies for major, and they were
filled in by myself, Frank Waterton, and Peter Holness.
There were several other step-ups in lower ranks, notably Arthur Hardman as
adjutant, and Jim Raine as Captain Quartermaster. I took over 48
Battery, and as senior Battery Commander looked like having command of the
Regiment in the near future as both the C.O., and 2 i/c were due for
repatriation at the end of August. It was the "close-season"
at the time I took over - rain, rain and more rain. Our policy was one
of concentrated training, and in fact each Battery became a
"school". Our efforts were mainly centred on protruding
Indian senior N.C.O.'s to replace the British personnel who were steadily
leaving us for home, on teaching the men more advanced English - reading and
writing, producing wireless operators, turning out twenty new drivers per
Battery each month, and gunnery.
In fact, this very full programme was the salvation of the Regiment, which
had definitely become depressed and lost heart as a result of moving back
instead of forward. Morale improved on leaps and bounds, crime became
non-existent, and there was plenty of enthusiasm.
the midst of this effort the bombshell fell - in the second week of August
came the news of the atomic bomb, and the Russian entry into the war against
Japan. Immediately following this was the rumour of peace feelers from
Tokio, and finally on August 15th - Unconditional Surrender !
The great news was received by all the British element with a deep feeling
of thankfulness, and these were little in the way of hectic celebrations, in
comparisons with V.E. day. The Indians were delighted too, they also
would be returning to their villages, and be back among their loved one's.
Two days holiday was given on the 15th and 16th, the first day being
occupied in firing a twenty four salvo salute from the whole of the
Regiment's guns, on the airfield - the busiest holiday I have ever
enjoyed. It rained heaven's hard for the whole of the deployment to
the firing position, during the salute, and on the return to camp. However,
fifty four guns lined up in perfect precision on the runway of an airfield,
and firing salvoes is well worth seeing.
The conclusion of world war "2" once again raised my hopes of an
early return home, and I anticipated arriving in England by early November,
having twenty eight days repatriation leave, then obtaining indefinite leave
until the date of my demobilization in mid January. Of course, there
was also the possibility of the rate of demob. release being
quickened. For my own case, I should have like to enjoy repatriation