Holidaying in India

 

Holidaying in India

 

Life with the Regiment terminated on 23rd July. I had volunteered to join an Armoured Division to land on the mainland of Japan. This was possibly at a time when I had been contemplating staying in the Army permanently as opposed to returning to Civvy Street. However, on the 23rd July, I was posted to Woolwich, Headquarters of the Royal Artillery, with half a dozen officers from the Regiment who were on our way to join a force intended for the landing on the mainland of Japan. I had a week Embarkation Leave before the voyage. The Royal Artillery Mess at Woolwich was deemed to be the finest Mess in the country and we were very impressed. There were about 800 Artillery Officers in the Mess and the display of silver included the famous Lonsdale Belti of Bombardier Billy Wells. Incredibly, the Sergeant in charge of the Mess remembered each name in a matter of days. Roll call saw 800 Officers answering by name each day, all just waiting for Posting Orders.

After possibly a week, a party of three or four of us had a Pass to go to London to see a show. We arrived back in Woolwich in the early hours of next morning, about 6am, and went to our quarters to find all beds made up tidily and the place empty! We were then informed our Drafts had left and we should make our way immediately to Liverpool. We needed vaccinations so were sent to the MOs (Medical Officer) for these and left for Liverpool straight away – otherwise, we would be absent without leave while on active service, a very serious offence. We sailed on 8th August aboard the Brittanic. I remember passing Anglesey and thinking I was missing my sister in law, Ruby’s, wedding and beginning to feel unwell.

It was a matter of days before we heard news of the bomb dropped on Hiroshimaii, much to our delight. By now I was very ill and only remember waking up in hospital in Cairo and being informed I had developed vaccine fever. One of our party, who had spent the night in London with us, had been buried at sea from the same vaccine fever! Eventually I left hospital and went to a tented camp outside Cairo, sharing a tent with an Australian Captain who informed me of an exhibition in Cairo of photos taken by War Correspondents of the Campaign in Europe. I collected some copies of war cuttings and photos relevant to our march across Europe, some of which are included in these memoirs.

I also had several weeks experience on and off as a member of a Courts Martial Board, one of a party listening to offences, which was quite interesting and relieved the boredom. It was mainly misbehaviour of troops causing bother in Cairo; nothing really serious involving capital punishment.
Then I received a Posting Order. Considering I had been in the war since day one, I was disappointed to be posted to Royal Artillery Headquarters Deolali in India, a hell of a shock! Even more surprising was to discover that this was an individual posting. So I took the train to Port Suez and was taken aboard a Dutch Motor Vessel as the sole guest of the Captain and had a very nice trip to Bombay. We arrived in October at the outbreak of the monsoon season.

Headquarters Royal Artillery at Deolali was a very large establishment like Woolwich but I was not there long as I found welcome promotion to Major and was posted to form a holiday camp for homeward bound Troops at Lake Beale, 40 miles outside Deolali. The idea was to keep the troops reasonably happy. The 14th Forgotten Army had endured fighting in Burma and were fed up and wanted to get home. Entertainment in the form of boat cruises on the lake, Royal Marine Commandos with boats and shooting parties on the lake, which was almost an inland sea, were all arranged until we could get planes or ships home.

I found the atmosphere almost unreal as the war seemed so remote. Some of the staff had been there most of the war. Christmas Day there was very hot and totally strange. To my delight, I shipped home three Indian carpets which arrived safely in the UK. I also went on one organised tiger hunt. The tiger had been terrorising some of the villages but I saw no tiger, just shot a roe deer. Pie dogs were a nuisance and I found the caste system very strange indeed. Living in a small bungalow, I had a Punka Walla to fan me and a few other servants, a sweeper and a water man. I had started to learn a bit of Urdu while on the ship Britannic so I could order hot and cold water. All these servants had their individual jobs and wouldn’t do any other
I had a lovely pair of shoes made, but the man who handled the leather was a very low caste as the cow is considered sacred. Women were also treated very badly and we were warned, if driving a vehicle and you hit a cow it was terrible but if you hit a woman it was of little consequence! Fortunately I was not there too long and came home in March 1946.

Voyage home was very pleasant. I had privileged treatment as a Major. Then began the demobilisation process, first the paperwork and then I was taken to a clothing department and confronted with a large counter. The Warrant Officer shouted “tall and portly!” I was by now 15 stone and 6’1”. A package of clothing with a trilby hat and a pair of shoes came down a slide on to the counter. A feeling of total deflation overcame me having been treated as “Major Sahib”. I was now merely “tall and portly!” I wondered what else was in store for me after seven years away at war.

 

Final Page, 'Postscript'