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I arrived in Bombay on Thursday, the 11th of July 1946, during the monsoon period and after the slightly cooler climate of the Deccan plateau at an altitude of about 2,000 feet I found it a drastic change to hot and very humid conditions. I found this very trying, despite ceiling fans in the rooms and lots of cool drinks, and it took me some weeks to get used to it. I would have a “cold” bath at midday but on dressing again my bush shirt would soon be wet with the perspiration brought on with the effort of towelling. The climate was very enervating and not conducive to any effort, physical or mental.
Together with the other officers of the Company H.Q. I was quartered in the R.A.F. Officer's Mess in the Adelphi Hotel on the west side of Bombay, close to Church Gate railway station and not far from Back Bay and the Arabian Sea. The whole building was occupied and run by R.A.F. personnel, the mess-rooms being on the ground floor and entered from the hotel foyer and reception. In the foyer were a flight of stairs and two lifts which I found indispensable as my rooms were on the fourth floor! Here I had a large living room and a bathroom on the south-east corner of the building. On the east, a sizeable covered balcony opened from the living room and was equipped with two easy chairs and cushions. The balcony was fitted with two venetian blinds so I could shade it if necessary.
In my living room there were two windows, a wide one which was almost always left open, opening on to the balcony, and another in the south wall which faced the adjacent multi-story office block of the B.B. & C.I. Railway Offices, and gave me a good view to the west of the Church Gate railway station. The floors were of terrazzo with no mats or floor coverings. The living room was furnished with a divan bed (without a headboard), a table and lamp, a chair, a cane easy chair, and a roomy wardrobe with shelves and space to hang clothes. There was a slight problem with the metal reading lamp which gave a smart shock unless carefully operated! In one corner of the room was a large built-in cupboard but as this was mostly filled with residual equipment and books left by previous occupants, it was not much use for storage and my tin trunk and camp kit had to sit on the floor in a corner of the room. The windows were fitted with rather dingy brown curtains, badly in need of washing.
The Adelphi Hotel was in an area well supplied with trees and from my balcony I looked out to the east over masses of greenery and coconut palms, only broken by the roofs and upper stories of houses. To the east and on the same block of land as the hotel was a rather large and modern Parsi temple. (At times I could hear chanting from the worshippers but otherwise it was a very quiet and dignified structure). I didn't have a bearer at Bombay, the Indian messwaiters attended us at meals and I looked after my own clothes and bed-making, giving my laundry to the dhobi when he called at my rooms each day. The rooms were very quiet as the hotel was solidly built of reinforced concrete, and I never heard anything of my neighbours above, below, or at the sides. Altogether much more palatial and comfortable than any of the previous places I had been living in! Despite being on the fourth floor the room was explored by streams of ants which crossed the floor in lines searching for food. Usually, I only had some fruit, but found that if I had something like a Mars bar on a shelf in my wardrobe it would be eaten piecemeal by ants if I left it there for any length of time. On the landings I saw an occasional cockroach but I never was aware of any in my rooms.
We commuted twice daily in a station wagon to the Company H.Q. in the barrack area at Colaba, a distance of about 2½ miles. Sometimes we made a detour to drop off C.Q.M.S. Blackmann who lived with his Chinese wife in a flat near the Taj Mahal Hotel. At the Colaba barracks we had the Company Office, Quartermaster's Stores, quarters and messrooms for the British and Indian troops, cooking facilities, vehicle park and a small parade ground. The office buildings were the usual single-story concrete structures with raised and covered verandahs opening on to small patches of grass and hedges, while the men were in the usual bashas with extra sheets of matting on the upper parts of the walls to keep them cooler in the hot weather. In very hot conditions the matting could be sprinkled with water to cool down the interior of the huts. It was known as “khas-khas tatti” and was sometimes put up on buildings in the city, such as banks, in very hot weather.
The Company Commander, Second-in Command and I had three adjacent rooms next to the Company Office where the office staff worked. We were in touch by a system of field telephones which we operated by hand ringers. One ring was for the C.O., two for the Second-in-Command, three for myself, four for the Company Office and five for the Quartermaster-Sergeant. It was easy to lose count of the rings and once, when trying to ring the Q.M.S., I gave six rings by mistake - he answered in imitation of an Indian servant “Chowkidar here, Sahib!”. (i.e. Night-watchman). Cooking was carried on out in the open or under a lean-to using a method of burning oil/water drips in an iron tray under the dixies or kettles, or what were called “degchies”, to hold the food. To do this a drip of waste oil fell down a sloping sheet-iron channel into the tray while water was also dripped on to the sheet from a holed drum. The resulting splatter of oil droplets ignited and burnt steadily when the flows were correctly adjusted.
There were other Army units in the Colaba area but there never seemed to be large numbers of men or vehicles about. The buildings were scattered on either side of the road that led down to the Point. In the area were numbers of trees and wild banana plants, the latter being frequently cut down for use as decoration at the bashas when the troops had parties. On the west side of the peninsula there had been an ambitious project to reclaim a large area of land behind a broad concrete wall. Only part of this had been carried out at this time and much of it was still sea. The sea-wall at Back Bay was to continue to Colaba but there was still a large uncompleted section. It was a pleasant walk southwards round Back Bay to where Marine Drive ended and the completed sea-wall continued some way towards Colaba Point. Along here there was no beach, the wall rising from deep water, but the water was clear and you could see shoals of pipefish swimming along. Marine Drive itself was a dual carriageway of concrete with a central “grass” reservation.
One day I walked to the southern end of Colaba Point where there was a lighthouse. At the end of the road by the Point was an old English cemetery, very neglected and overgrown, but full of stone memorials, mostly of the 19th century, commemorating men, women and children, the casualties of malaria, cholera, plague and other maladies among the English garrison. Many of these memorials were to young adults and small children, poignant reminders of the unhealthy conditions under which the European families lived in the old Bombay cantonment. Farther up the peninsula past the barracks and on the east side, was the beach where the fishermen landed their catch, running their boats on to the beach and selling the freshly-caught fish on the spot. Buyers dashed off with their purchases to cook them as the fish rapidly deteriorated in the heat. We had a fish course from time to time in the Mess at the Adelphi; it was usually one called a pomfret rather like a large plaice and was very tasty.
I took over 273 Indian Tele Op Section from John Handy on the 16th of July and he showed me round in detail before he left on posting. He took me to the Bombay Army Pay Office to meet the Paymaster who was to supply me with money as I was now responsible for pay and allowances for the Company H.Q. as well as the Sections at Colaba. The Paymaster was an Indian Captain and I got to know him quite well as I visited him regularly to collect money. He was a Muslim and often tried to draw me into religious discussions and arguments about Christianity, asking awkward questions which were difficult to answer. I always collected paper money in small denomination notes of Rs.1,2,5 or 10. These were stapled together in bundles of brand-new notes. I never received any used notes from him. At the same time that I collected the money, I also collected and paid for the Officer's beer and spirit rations, as everyone was entitled to a monthly ration which was eagerly taken up. As I didn't drink there were always willing people to relieve me of my ration. I was lumbered once with a box of a dozen cans of lager when someone changed their mind, but after trying a few cans I gave the rest away to visitors.
The officer commanding 5 Indian Air Formation Signals at this time, was Lt.Col. Grey, with his H.Q. at Bangalore, and he toured regularly to visit his outlying Companies at Madras and Bombay. (No.1 Company was at Bombay, No.2 was at Bangalore and No.3 at Madras.) He had an uncanny knack of turning up at Bombay just as I collected the liquor ration, and would call in my office and appropriate a bottle of whisky from my supplies before I could distribute them (without paying, of course!). During the time I was at Bombay I had to treat him to a number of bottles in this way when I was unable to distribute the ration before he arrived. A story circulated to the effect that if he ever went missing on the railways, a reward notice would be posted saying - “Answers to the call Whisky!”.
Major Gurbachan Singh, our Company C.O. was a reserved man and we saw nothing of him outside office hours and when travelling to and from the Adelphi Hotel. He had a knowledge of botany and on one occasion while we were waiting for our driver, discoursed on the dispersal of seeds in connection with the exploding fruits of some large plants of Impatiens which grew by our office verandah. In contrast, Capt.Ali Khan, the Second-in Command, was very friendly, although he tended to be rather pompous. He was an enthusiast about Napoleon regarding him as a Military genius, and had a bust of him in his room. He was very well spoken and I never saw him flustered or annoyed by anything. When out with him in our station waggon and the driver was driving too fast in the congested streets he would gently reprimand him, saying in a quiet voice “Ahiste, ahiste chalo”. (Slowly, go slowly).
Company Quartermaster Sergeant Blackmann was an efficient Regular soldier, wise in the ways of the Army. He was friendly and once gave me a large folder of a correspondence course on “Political Science” which I tried to read but found it very boring and stiff with political jargon so I deposited it in the junk cupboard in my room for the attention of the next occupant. The senior Viceroy's Commissioned Officer was Subedar Arthur, a very chubby, cheerful man who was responsible for the Indian troops generally. I took a photo of him on a motor-bike and he insisted I should take it at an angle so as to give the impression that he was riding up a hill. I have an idea that he was an Anglo-Indian with some European blood but I never found out for certain. He spoke excellent English and was an able officer who was very useful to me in dealing with the Indian Sections.
Subedar Arthur was the cause of much correspondence I had to deal with involving the Army Pay Office at Meerut. He had been on leave at some time, and while travelling by train using an Army travel warrant he had been made to pay an excess fare for a dog he had with him. He maintained that as a V.C.O. he was entitled to a warrant for the dog. Many letters passed between the Company Office (i.e. me) and Meerut quoting chapter and verse of the Army Act (India) as to the rights of his case. I don't remember that the matter was ever settled but it caused me a lot of trouble and much correspondence with the “babus” at Meerut who were very exact and fussy about details and queried any slight detail in the best bureaucratic manner. I was advised to develop an illegible signature on my letters to Meerut so as to make it harder for them to trace the originator of the letters they received.
It was posted in Company Daily Orders that any B.O.R.s having Income Tax queries were to report to me as an expert, and I was faced with several awkward problems on a subject about which I knew nothing. Very embarrassing! The Company Imprest Accounts were kept using a double-entry system of book-keeping which was quite new to me and I made many mistakes before I got the hang of it; my account book with lots of corrections was not as neat as John Handy's work!
The weather at the end of July and beginning of August was very wet at times and on one occasion over six inches of rain fell in about the same number of hours. From my room I could see the platforms at Church Gate station just above the flooded tracks and no trains could run until the floods had gone down. The water drained fairly quickly but we drove to work through flooded streets with some difficulty. We passed a number of drowned cats and dogs which were already being fed on by crows and other birds; we tend to forget the important part played by scavengers in clearing away carrion.
Church Gate station was very busy, thousands of commuters travelling into the city every day to work in offices, banks and shops, and as we travelled back to the Adelphi for our midday meal we could see crowds of coolies coming from the station area carrying brass tiffin-carriers on their heads, taking lunches to the office workers at their places of work. A small group of coolies attached to the Adelphi Hotel usually lounged about in the courtyard below my window, and one day when I leaned out of the window I accidentally dropped my pipe which fell on the concrete courtyard without breaking. One of the men got up and walking across, picked it up and smoked it! Needless to say, I didn't bother to go down to retrieve it! A trick of the officers in the hotel was to race in the lifts to see who could get to the ground floor first. The lifts travelled at slightly different speeds depending on how many passengers they carried and there was a lot of cheating in which we all joined. It was sometimes quicker down the stairs!
As the weather got drier and hotter it was quite an eerie sight to walk round the streets at night as we did on our way to the air-conditioned comfort of the cinema. In some parts of the city the pavements were lined with shrouded figures, like so many corpses, where men were sleeping out in the open. The basement rooms where they normally slept had their windows wide open and you could see only a few men sleeping in the rows of charpoys amid a hot fug which hit you as you walked past outside. As soon as disturbances and rioting took place at the beginning of September, these shrouded forms disappeared and the streets in this part of the city were completely deserted at night.
I was always fascinated by the heavy burdens placed on carts and lorries; one day travelling to Colaba after lunch, we passed a cart laden with heavy iron bars and pulled by some sweating coolies. Its narrow wheels were fitted with iron rims which had gone through the surface of the road and pulled out large lumps of tarmac thus making the wheels no longer round, while the poor men struggling with it were only succeeding in pulling up more of the road in their efforts to make progress.
It was always interesting to walk round Bombay although my walks were usually confined to the western and southern parts of the city. Areas north of Crawford Market were not so salubrious and certain areas were out of bounds to the troops. It was a pleasant walk along Marine Drive to Chowpati and Malabar Hill and the Hanging Gardens, where, on the hill, a beautifully kept topiary garden gave fine views of Back Bay. The gardens were built over the large city reservoir which gave no indication of its presence. Down the hill on Chowpati beach, Hindu religious ceremonies took place and groups of people were often to be seen carrying out rituals and making offerings. Such offerings were also made on the east side of the island near Apollo Bunder, a better class area near the Taj Mahal Hotel; on several occasions I saw neatly dressed men throw a few marigold garlands into the sea and perhaps break a coconut on the sea wall and throw the pieces into the harbour as some kind of offering. Near Chowpati, on Malabar Hill, were the Parsi Towers of Silence in a walled enclosure. Here the bodies of their dead were exposed on the towers to be eaten by the attendant vultures. The Parsis believe that both fire and earth are sacred and must not be used to dispose of bodies. I did see one funeral procession near Chowpati with a white-swathed body on a litter but whether it was a Hindu or a Parsi funeral I couldn't tell as it was in the distance.
Just east of the Adelphi Hotel area were four large open spaces, grass-covered and fringed with coconut palms. They extended over a mile from north to south and were generally a few hundred yards across. The area was known generally as the Maidan and was much used for recreation, cricket and other games as well as for promenading. To the east of the Maidan the city became busy with shops, banks and much activity. I walked around here quite a lot and once had my photograph taken in a studio in Hornby Road, with dubious results! It was virtually impossible to buy film for my own camera but a large Kodak shop had plenty of 8mm Kodachrome cine film. This was rather frustrating especially as the only cine camera that I was able to find on sale was a very second-hand one with a projector and screen at an exorbitant price. I have always been rather glad that I didn't buy it! As monochrome film was almost impossible to find I tried to make it go further by masking off half of the camera so as to get twice as many pictures on a roll. By this means I was able to get 16 pictures size 2¼ x 1⅝ inches instead of 8 pictures size 3¼ x 2¼ inches! My camera was a Kodak Brownie box camera which my father had bought me in 1938, and which cost 12 shillings and sixpence, being a superior model with portrait attachment - a small subsidiary lens! Despite wartime shortages, Margaret was able to send me film at times, and it was sometimes possible to get surplus R.A.F. aerial camera film from a airfield photographic club, although this was rather thick and very contrasty film cut down from large sheets.
One Sunday a trip by launch to Elephanta Island was available but I was not able to join it for some reason and although it turned out to be a long and hot day I was sorry that I couldn't have gone. Elephanta Island or Gharapuri is about six miles east of Bombay across the harbour. Elephanta Island is famous for its great rock-cut temple of Siva dating from the 7th-8th century A.D. This temple which is entirely cut out of solid rock is about 120 feet square with rows of carved columns and a Siva-linga shrine in the centre, while the recessed back wall is carved with a colossal three headed sculpture of Siva as Mahadeva. This stands about eighteen feet high from its chest to the top of its high curving crowned head. To either side are full length figures of guardians, each about thirteen feet high, cut out of the rock with the temple.
273 Indian Tele Op Section for which I was responsible had a detachment at Baroda where there was a small R.A.F. landing ground and I was required to pay them a visit of inspection to check on their facilities and problems. There were only a few Indian Signalmen in charge of a Lance Naik and they had very light duties as the airfield was being run down. I travelled on the Frontier Mail from Bombay Victoria Terminus in the evening of August 18th. I travelled on “Form E”, but as I was only going on temporary duty I was only able to claim 1½ First Class fares as expenses, but paid ½ First Class fare of Rs.16 As.7 (£1.22) thus making a “profit” of one First Class fare i.e. £2.44!
After a pleasant journey of about 230 miles I reached Baroda rather late at night and after trying in vain to get in touch with the airfield by phone, decided to settle down for the night in the first-class waiting-room at the station. This room contained several long cane-chairs of the type with extended arms that you could stretch out and put up your legs, so I settled down to wait for morning. I dozed off for a short time only to be awakened by a number of bites on my neck from bed-bugs which had crawled out of cracks in the chair. While I was getting rid of these, an Indian driver appeared to say that he had a truck going to the airfield, so I collected my kit and got on board. This was rather a job as it was full of Indian soldiers with their wives and children going to a camp near the airfield. However, they were very matey and crowded up to make room for me and my kit; I sat on the end of a bench at the back next to an Indian lady with a small child on her knee. This infant had enormous dark eyes which it kept on me during the journey to the airfield. They dropped me off near the Officers Mess which was by this stage in total darkness and after hunting about without finding anyone, I decided to look for a place to spend the rest of the night.
A few hundred yards away over a rough grassy area was a row of empty rooms, a few of which contained charpoys, although the rooms lacked doors or windows and were very run down. I set up my mosquito net and bedroll on a charpoy in the most promising room (it was very dark at the time and I only had matches to see with), and settled down. I slept well and was awakened by the sound of trucks and activity at the Mess; my room looked terrible in the bright sunshine! I found a place to wash and shave and went over to the Mess and had breakfast. Here, I found out that a tiger had been seen crossing the runway a few days before, and it wasn't considered a very good thing to sleep in the deserted quarters as I had done!
After breakfast I inspected my Detachment, a pleasant and well run group of Hindu Signalmen who didn't seem to be overworked and had everything they needed. I spent a long morning with them and after tiffin at the Mess was taken back to Baroda station in a truck for the return journey. I didn't get a chance to see much of Baroda on this flying visit. Although I had no seat reservation, I was able to get a berth in a First-Class compartment which I thought I might have to myself, but before the train left, a seemingly very important Hindu Holy-man with his chela or disciple took over one of the remaining berths. He was a middle-aged man with a great dignity of bearing, dressed in voluminous robes of a dingy reddish-brown colour. His attendant disciple was similarly dressed and carried their possessions in a number of bundles wrapped up in the same coloured cloth. The presence of this eminent man who was obviously well known (except to me), caused a crowd to gather on the platform, and a succession of people crawled into the compartment in succession to kiss his feet and bring offerings of food and garlands, which were collected by the disciple. I found it quite fascinating. They ignored me after preliminary bows and smiles on both sides, and there was little conversation even by the worshippers. After the train moved off, this scene was repeated at the next station so the man was obviously of some importance in the area, although I never found out who he was. We reached Bombay during the evening and I got transport back to the Adelphi.
A few days later I had some severe toothache and paid a visit to the R.A.F. dentist in Bombay. The trouble was caused by the upper, back, left molar which was just level with the gum; it was not decayed as it had barely come through the gum. He decided to extract it and gave me an injection. The next thing I remember was lying on the floor while he gave me a restorative of sal volatile! The tooth was extracted, the dentist having to cut away the gum to get at it, and it bled copiously. I was advised to bite on a cotton-wool wad until it stopped, but it didn't and next morning I found my face glued to the pillow by dried blood. I went back to the dentist who prescribed an astringent to be used with the cotton-wool wad, and this did the trick after another day's treatment.
We discovered that it was possible to hire the private use of our station-wagon and driver at the weekends on repayment, and made good use of this facility to have outings to the sea-shore at Juhu Beach, ten or twelve miles to the north of the Adelphi Hotel. Our driver, Lance Naik Ananda, was a very pleasant and capable young man who didn't mind waiting while we bathed in the sea for a few hours. Juhu Beach was a sandy beach, several miles long, backed by coconut palms with only a few houses among them. There was an old R.A.F. holiday camp consisting of a few run-down huts, usually empty but sometimes with a few airmen about, and to the north, a small settlement of the Theosophical Society, which seemed deserted. The whole area was very quiet, the only access being a narrow sandy road running north-south behind the palms; beyond this to the east was a wide expanse of overgrown marshy ground which was quite impassable. A small aircraft landing ground had been built there in the past but had become unusable at this time.
The beach was fully exposed to the west and during the south-west monsoon period between June and October, rough seas and heavy surf made bathing very exciting at times. On one occasion, when I went there with Captain Ali Khan, torrential rain fell while we were in the sea which was very rough and I was caught up in a big breaking wave which scrubbed me on the sandy bottom in a very rough manner knocking the breath out of me. It also dislodged the wax in my ears making me quite deaf. The deafness lasted for two days until I went to consult the R.A.F. M.O. who syringed my ears. They were quite painful for several days afterwards. Usually, the weather was much calmer and we could laze about in the sun, floating in the warm sea on large inner tubes until the waves threw us up on the beach. There was also a small boat made from wooden boards with a canvas bottom which we could borrow from the R.A.F. camp as well as the aircraft inner tubes. There were no facilities for food or drinks apart from the supplies we took with us. Some time later, I paid a visit to the Bombay Museum (Prince of Wales Museum), near the Taj Mahal hotel and was horrified to see their exhibits of large, fierce-looking fish, bristling with sharp teeth that had been caught along the coast. After that, I never went into the sea too far when bathing! I heard that the crew of the R.A.F. rescue launch at Bombay used to swim in the open sea some distance off shore, despite the risk from sharks. The museum had some prize specimens that had been caught in Bombay harbour. Another item of interest to me, in a case near the entrance to the museum, was a fine exhibit of the Asiatic lion, a rare creature from Gujarat State. Only a few hundred of these animals exist today in the Gir Forest National Park where they are protected.
In August, Major Gurbachan Singh, our Company Commander left us, and was replaced by Captain Ali Khan who was promoted to Major. His place was taken by Captain Satindra Pal Singh Bedi, a slightly built young Sikh, new to the unit. He was very pleasant and efficient and came from a wealthy land-owning family. After some time with us, his wedding took place in a large house in the north of Bombay and his fellow officers were all invited. The wedding ceremonies took place over three days and we were invited twice, once to see part of the ceremony and later to partake of a meal with all the guests. At the start of the ceremony, the groom arrived, richly dressed and looking very imposing, riding on a white horse, and accompanied by a band of two or three musicians playing brass instruments with gusto. I couldn't recognise any of the tunes. The groom then was taken indoors to a room where he met his bride, also splendidly dressed and veiled. They sat on a long cushion on the floor facing a priest who read from an ornate copy of the Granth Sahib lying open on a richly embroidered bolster between them. After some readings and prayers they got to their feet and walked round the book before sitting down again. The groom then was allowed to see his bride for the first time, the marriage having been arranged by their families. The next day we were invited to see the presents and join in a meal. The presents were very impressive, especially the masses of gold jewellery and ornaments for the bride as both families were obviously very wealthy. There were large rosettes and garlands made by pinning Rs.100 notes together which must have amounted to a considerable sum of money. The whole display was guarded by two Sikh soldiers armed with rifles and bayonets. The meal was very good and we ate at a number of long tables like an ordinary wedding reception, seated amongst the family and friends. I sat between two Sikh ladies, only one of whom could speak some English, so it was not a very relaxing experience, the conversation being rather restricted in scope.
After seeing all this wealth on show it was quite a shock to return to the everyday world of Bombay where you couldn't go far without seeing beggars, cripples, lepers and other unfortunates. Despite giving them money, one soon realised that it was impossible to cope with this problem and it had to be shrugged off. India is a land of tremendous contrasts between great wealth and extravagant show and absolute grinding poverty and starvation. Almost opposite the Adelphi Hotel, on a small patch of waste ground with a few small trees and bushes, there lived a small beggar family, a man and woman with two or three children. They would sit on the pavement and beg for small change, then cook some food and carry out their lives on that small patch of ground. The woman would get some water in a pot and wash their clothes from time to time, but most of the time they just idled about. It was said that if a beggar could get five annas a day he would be able to buy enough rice and food to keep him satisfied, and having got his five annas, would not even attempt to get any more. Such a life style is difficult for us to comprehend. The street beggars normally congregated in the area between Victoria Terminus and the Taj Mahal hotel as this was the principal shopping area and more visitors were to be seen. When riots and disturbances started later on in September, these groups of beggars disappeared completely and it was much less disturbing to walk these streets.
A feature of life in the Indian Army was the regular succession of religious holidays for the different faiths; Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Christian festivals came up regularly and we had to plan our work accordingly. Such feasts as the Annunciation (25th March) and the Assumption (15th August) meant a day off for those men who professed to be Roman Catholics, for example. However, this did not usually include officers. An important Muslim feast was held at the end of the fasting month of Ramadan. This ninth month of the Muslim year is a period of fasting during the hours of daylight, the decisive time being when it is not possible to distinguish between a white thread and a black. The feast is known as Id ul-Fitr. In 1946 it took place on the 29th of August. The officers were all invited to this feast and we were all garlanded and given a good meal. The next day, the 30th of August was a Hindu feast, Ganesh Chathurti, the birthday of Ganesh, the elephant-headed god, and there was a great crowd at Chowpati for the ritual immersion of images of Ganesh in the sea. This festival continued for some days and this year, police and troops were needed to protect the Hindu worshippers from Muslim rioters.
As the weather became hotter in the summer of 1946, there was a great deal of unrest in India, trouble being stirred up by political agitators and religious fanatics. There was serious Hindu-Muslim rioting in Calcutta, where it was reported on the 19th of August that over 3000 people had been killed, after three days of riots. This was provoked by the Muslim League in protest over the British plan for a new constitution for India. The Muslims wanted their own state of Pakistan and the Hindus wanted to keep the country intact. Telephone, postal and telegraph services were suspended and food supplies ran low. Two battalions of British troops with armoured cars and tanks were called in, and opened fire on gangs in the city. Bodies were piled in the streets and it was reported that 10,000 casualties with knife wounds were treated in hospitals. The Hindus seem to have suffered most at the hands of the Muslims who were the more aggressive.
On the 24th of August, Wavell, the Viceroy, appointed Nehru to be the head of a provisional government and his cabinet was sworn in on the 2nd of September. Slogans and posters appeared everywhere in Bombay, “Jai Hind” and “Pakistan Zindabad” being the most common, and within a short time the rioting and disorder became widespread in the city. Troops were called out “in aid of the civil power” and had to open fire on mobs. The most visible effect to us was the disappearance of the crowds of street beggars and the sleepers on the pavements at night time. A man was intercepted by the police as he carried a steel trunk on his head from Bombay Victoria Terminus, and it was found to be full of swords and large knives, obviously destined for some fanatical group!
We were not involved in these Army commitments although we supplied some message facilities. The Bombay police were only armed with stout canes or lathis in normal circumstances but were now issued with rifles and bayonets. We were given a talk on the methods of dealing with rioting mobs and issued with Army Form 908, which, in case of need, had to be signed by a magistrate who could authorise opening fire on a threatening mob. In “Aid to the Civil Power”, the platoon of men with an officer in charge had to be accompanied by an Indian magistrate who could authorise the troops to open fire if the mob did not disperse when ordered. Fire had to be effective, and not over the heads of the crowd as this was said to only enrage them. The aim had to be at the leading villains so that the effect could be seen by those behind; any ring leaders or agitators were to be prime targets, but agitators usually kept near the back and soon made off when trouble was experienced. As soon as the mob had broken and dispersed, any wounded had to be given immediate attention. The political or religious rioters were usually accompanied by crowds of hooligans or gundas, who took every opportunity to break into shops and houses and loot them. We were confined to the Adelphi when not on duty at this time, and found this very irksome after a while.
Major Ali Khan asked me to go with him for company to a cinema one night so we arranged to be picked up by a taxi outside the Adelphi Hotel for safety's sake. Being rather nervous of encountering knife-wielding gundas, I decided to carry a loaded revolver with me. I didn't want it to look obvious and so carried it in the trouser pocket of my K.D.slacks, and as it was heavy, it was uncomfortable into the bargain. As the revolver had no safety catch and I didn't fancy shooting myself accidentally in the leg, I wrapped a number of turns of cotton thread round the trigger guard to prevent accidental operation of the trigger. In case of need the thread could be snapped quite readily. Together with the six rounds in the revolver I put six more loose rounds in my left-hand trouser pocket in case I needed to reload! (These twelve rounds were all that I had). The taxi was rather an old one with a soft back seat into which we sank, and owing to the angle of the seat, the rounds came out of my trouser pocket and went down the back! When Ali Khan got out at the cinema, I had to scrabble about and recover them without letting him know what the fuss was about. I can't remember what film we saw but there were very few patrons and we were able to get good seats. After the show, we went out to deserted streets with no sign of a taxi or of any other vehicle for that matter. We made our way back to the Adelphi Hotel on foot, crossing the large unlit open space of the Oval and its belts of gloomy palm trees, and although we kept a wary eye open, we didn't see a single person or car during our walk. Quite an interesting and eerie experience in such a large city.
In a few weeks time the worst of the rioting was over and things settled down to normal. I received an invitation to a “tea-party” with the Indian Signalmen and Subedar Arthur on the 24th of September, but this was just a social occasion after the day's work, and I don't recall it had any other significance. I sometimes went out with a group of friends from the Adelphi Hotel for a meal at one of several Chinese restaurants in the Church Gate area, where we tried all the Chinese delicacies including bird's nest soup and shark's fin soup, neither of which we repeated! On one occasion, we ordered pickled fish for six of us and were served with an enormous whole fish, much more than we could eat. Another restaurant we patronised was Gourdon's, famed for its steaks which were cooked in the restaurant near the tables. They were usually much too underdone for my taste and rather chewy. In the same area of the city was the skeleton framework of a large block of uncompleted flats which had been standing derelict for years owing to structural defects which rendered them unsafe. They looked odd surrounded by completed and fully occupied blocks in a nice thoroughfare.
We resumed our trips to the sea coast at Juhu when things had quietened down and as we travelled there on Sunday mornings we passed a Roman Catholic church north of the racecourse, and this always seemed packed out, a large crowd of worshippers standing outside the west door and the interior packed with a standing congregation. The racecourse was often crowded too! We also found a very fine open-air swimming pool to which we could get admission and this was very pleasant, the water being naturally quite warm. This was near Cumbala Hill, possibly at Breach Candy, and was only open to Europeans.
Havildar Mohammed Khan sent me an invitation to lunch with the Despatch Riders on Tuesday, the 5th of November. I had been involved in training some of them to drive jeeps, in order to increase their skills and possibly up-grade them, and this had been an interesting experience in the Bombay traffic. They were very good on motor bikes but took some time to get used to the slower acceleration of the jeeps, and the need for slower gear changes.
Round about this time I was surprised to come across Flt.Lt. George Lister again. He appeared in the foyer of the Adelphi Hotel, talking to another R.A.F. officer accompanied by a pretty W.R.N. girl. I was just going out to Juhu Beach with some R.A.F. friends at the time so was only able to have a few words with him. I found later that he had been put in the apartment next to mine on the west, and when he found out where I was I saw more of him. He had been stationed at Jiwani, a landing-ground and flying-boat base south of Baluchistan, on the coast of the Arabian Sea. He had brought with him a Persian bearer called Sekidad, a rather small, quiet youth, well-mannered, and a very good servant. He took up his quarters on George's balcony in the daytime, sleeping somewhere on the ground floor at night. George's R.A.F. friend and his lady companion had moved in with George for a few days but the Mess Secretary soon put a stop to that and they went off, presumably on their posting, and were not seen again.
George had a most beautiful Persian carpet which had been given him by the Khan of Kalat, the local ruler who had supplied a detachment of a Camel Corps at Jiwani R.A.F. station. This was the last airfield west of Karachi before the Middle East and was sited on a sandy plateau on the Persian border. The place was apparently a very happy station with plenty of sporting activities, shooting and swimming. The tact and good sense of Sekidad was shown on one occasion at the Adelphi, when after a bottle of whisky had gone from George's desk overnight, Sekidad placed a tumbler of water and a bottle of aspirins on George's bedside table! Actually, the whisky had been a present to someone and George had delivered it during the evening. For some time there was a mix up over George's posting as the post of Signals Officer at Bombay was already occupied by a Squadron Leader who was well settled in, but eventually after some weeks, things were sorted out and George was posted to Bangalore, shortly before I left for Delhi.
We went out for a few meals with other friends and I showed him some of Bombay. One day we were looking with some amusement at a hideous piece of Indian furniture in a shop window in a side street. It was a low wooden settee, seemingly made of cotton bobbins and painted in garish colours, mainly reds and yellows. As we looked at this, a young Indian approached us and must have thought that we were admiring it, for he said shyly that he had designed and made it. We didn't know what to say!
I had bought a number of H.M.V. 12 inch gramophone records of popular classical music and played them in my room. I owned no gramophone so must have been able to borrow a clockwork one from somewhere but cannot recall where. The 78 rpm records had to be played using a fresh needle each time, so I bought a tin of steel needles. I brought the records home but they became slightly warped on the voyage through being tightly packed in my steel trunk! The records were all made at Dum Dum, Calcutta and were not very good recordings by modern standards. They were:- Ravel's “Bolero”, the Ritual Fire Dance from “El Amor brujo” by De Falla, Mussorgsky's “Night on the Bare Mountain’, “Anitra's Dance”, “In the Hall of the Mountain King‘ from the “Peer Gynt” suite by Grieg, and Fritz Kreisler playing “Humoresque” and “Andante Cantabile” on the violin. When I was in Delhi in 1947, I also bought a number of 8 inch records of Indian popular music which appealed to me at the time.
In December 1946 I bought a small AC/DC radio set in a Bombay shop, and found that in the early mornings I was able to receive the BBC programme from London on the short-wave band. Before about 5.30 or 6 a.m. the signal was good but as the sun rose in the sky the signal faded and was lost in background noise. The radio was made by the Raymond Radio Company of Great Britain and was a very sensitive and powerful little set. It cost me about Rs.325 (about £24), including sales tax, which was quite a considerable outlay for me in those days. In Bombay, sales tax was added at the rate of 10 percent of the purchase price, on everything one bought on the lines of present-day VAT, and was bitterly resented by everyone. The salesman in the radio shop tried to get me to buy a wireless licence but after an argument about the radio being for “Forces Welfare” he compromised but said he would have to pass my name on to the authorities. Needless to say, I heard no more about it.
Early in December, one of our Company vehicles was involved in an unfortunate and sad accident. While travelling along a road about 40 miles north-east of Baroda airfield near Godhra, the driver ran into a group of peasants who were walking along the roadside and one man was fatally injured. The Police took up the case, but the Army had to hold a Court of Inquiry. As the vehicle and driver were part of the Baroda Section, I was involved in this inquiry, the other members of the Court being Captain Satindra Pal Singh Bedi and Subedar Arthur. We left Bombay early on the mornings of Monday, the 9th of December by train from Victoria terminus and arrived before midday at Godhra, from where we were taken by car to the courtroom for the Court of Inquiry. As I was the only person not fluent in Urdu and the records of the proceedings had to be in English, I took on the job of secretary and wrote everything down as it was translated for our official report. Apart from the driver and his companion, the Police were represented as well as witnesses from the group of peasants and the victim's family so there was much to record. Quite a large group of people squatted on the ground outside the courthouse waiting to be called and presumably giving moral support to the family. They were all very quiet and subdued, and very patient, sitting out in the hot sun for hours until called. None of them could write and after their statements and replies had been translated back to them and approved by them, they verified the documents with their thumb prints. It was a long and involved business to interview everyone concerned, get statements, translate them, and write them down, and it was many hours before we could finish and travel back to Bombay in the evening. After completing the report of proceedings, we submitted it to the Army Area authorities who dealt with it and took the necessary action. I never heard the outcome as I was posted to Delhi in less than a month from this time.
George Lister had made the acquaintance of an Englishman who lived with his wife and baby son in a flat on the third floor of an apartment block, south of Church Street, about 15 minutes walk away from the Adelphi Hotel. I was invited round with him to meet them on several occasions and found them very pleasant and friendly people. Mike and Pat Wilson had lived in India for many years and he claimed to have been in the Army, but was rather vague about it so I never found out the truth about this. On one of our visits, we found they were entertaining a German visitor who seemed to have some fame as a monumental sculptor and appeared to have a great deal of ability judging by the albums of photographs of his work that he showed us. Most of it had a “modernistic” flavour but he had also produced some impressive figure sculptures for civic monuments. Mike produced the first Biro pen that I had ever seen and although it seemed quite a novelty at the time, I was not too impressed as it tended to leave messy ink blotches on the paper. He got one for George who was prepared to pay an exorbitant price for it. (The Biro had gone on sale in Europe for the first time during November at a price of 55/- or about £2.25).
One weekend, Mike took George and me to see an important cricket match at the Brabourne Stadium, but I have no recollection of who was playing or what the importance of the game was! In return, George and I organised a trip to Juhu Beach for the family and we had a pleasant outing to the seaside and a swim in the warm sea. Pat Wilson complained of toothache and asked me whether I thought that the R.A.F. Dental Officer who was a friend of mine, would attend to her as she didn't fancy visiting a native dentist. I found this request rather embarrassing but mentioned it to him. He wasn't too keen but arranged an appointment for her which I passed on. He later told me that she hadn't turned up and the matter was never mentioned again. I began to realise that they were an unreliable pair and confirmed this later.
On Saturday, the 14th of December, the officers of No.1 Company were invited to watch the ceremony of Trooping the Colour to mark the centenary of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Sikh Regiment. We all went along and saw a most impressive spectacle with ranks of tall bearded Sikhs. The Army C.in C., Field Marshal Auchinleck, was there to inspect the parade and take the General Salute. It was a novel experience and a far cry from the easier-going and less formal life style in the Indian Air Formation Signals!
One evening, George and I were at the Wilson's flat and as I was feeling tired, I left at about 10 o'clock to return to the Adelphi. As I came out of the apartment block into the courtyard I met two men who were having an argument with a woman who was trying to enter. She came to me and said she needed to visit a British officer who was staying there but the two men were preventing her from going in. They said she was a bad lot! I told them I would test her story and took her up to the Wilson's flat where Mike said that he knew the officer she named, and that he was sharing a flat with another British officer. The young woman, who was quite good looking and wore a rich sari, was somewhat distressed but calmed down when we said we would help her. She declared that she was a Persian Princess staying in Bombay and who were we to argue with that? We took her to her friend's flat and roused the inmates. Everyone started to have a long conversation, so I went off to the Adelphi and left them to sort it out.
When I saw George later next day he was suffering from a hangover and feeling sorry for himself. Apparently, the two officers had taken him out as well as the young woman and they had all gone to a club where they met some other friends and he had finally ended up having drinks in the wardroom of a ship in the harbour and didn't know how he had got home! We always referred to this episode as the Mystery of the Persian Princess, although I very much doubt that she really was! We both eventually realised that the Wilsons were rogues, but not before I had loaned Mike Rs.100 (£7.50) and George had let them have some Air Force blankets when Pat was supposed to be ill. I never got my money back but George went round and repossessed his blankets just before he was being posted away from Bombay.
Our Company Commander, Major Ali Khan, was posted to another Unit in December and the Company organised a farewell party at Colaba after work on Friday, the 20th of December 1946, when he was garlanded and feasted. I was sorry to see him go as he was a pleasant and friendly Company Commander and we got on well together. His place was filled by Captain G.D.Meiklejohn, a career officer, recently arrived from the U.K. He was a very keen and efficient C.O. after the fairly easy-going Ali Khan, and soon introduced some changes into the running of his headquarters. Being new to India, he was anxious to learn Urdu, especially as he was now in charge of an Indian Army Unit and expected to spend some considerable time in the country, so he started to take regular lessons. The usual method was to engage a native teacher or munshi for so many lessons a week, but very few short-service officers bothered to do this unless they were very keen. It was not easy to settle to study in the Indian climate, although I did manage to learn some of the everyday language, and also worked my way through a complete course of Pelmanism while I was at Bombay. The Army offered a pay increase to those who passed the Elementary Urdu Examination which was held monthly by the G.H.Q. Board of Examiners. I had rather a good English-Urdu dictionary which I had bought when I was at Arkonam and I sold it to Captain Meiklejohn to help him with his studies. Many a time I've wished I'd kept it!
Early in January 1947, I was given a posting to No.1 Indian Air Formation Signals at Delhi, and a new officer arrived to take over my work. His name was Lieutenant Thomas but I didn't get to know him very well as I was very busy for some days putting him in the picture at Company H.Q., introducing him to all the people I had to deal with for pay and other matters, as well as signing over to him the imprest accounts and clearing up correspondence. I also transferred the stores and vehicles of 273 Ind Tele Op Section that were in my charge. All this took some days to accomplish; I was able to spent some time in showing him round the facilities of Bombay, including the swimming pool! Among other things at this time I managed to return to the quartermaster's stores a lot of surplus army issue equipment for which I had no further use, including my second revolver. I still kept one revolver and my original twelve rounds of ammunition which I had never had occasion to use.
At about the same time as Lt. Thomas arrived, another young officer, a Sikh, joined the Company, although I was not involved with him. The two newcomers spent much spare time together and just before I left Bombay, they both went to the swimming pool at Breach Candy. This proved rather embarrassing for them as when they got there they found it was for Europeans only and the Sikh officer was not allowed in. At this time there was still a strong demarcation between Europeans, Anglo-Indians and Indians, except in the Army where we mixed freely and the chief distinctions were only those of rank.
My movement-order came on the 4th of January 1947 and I had a day to settle my bills and pack before leaving Bombay on the Frontier Mail at about 6 o'clock on Sunday evening, the 5th of January, bound for Delhi.