Journeys and Resting Places

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The moral rights of the author and editors have been asserted.

Chapter 13: Journey's End

Early in May 1947 it began to look as though I might get my release from the Army sometime during the next month, so I took steps to dispose of my surplus webbing, equipment, revolver and ammunition. I had acquired two large tin trunks during my travels so decided to dispose of one and send the other home in advance. (With all my kit I had needed three coolie porters to carry it when I moved by train). In order to comply with the regulations for sending luggage in advance, the trunk had to be crated, so I got one of the Sikh carpenters to do this. He made me a strong skeleton crate which was painted black with my forwarding address in white letters, and, after filling in the necessary forms, it was sent away. I was allowed a certain maximum weight and my trunk in its crate was not much inside this limit. It actually weighed 1 maund 24 seers or about 132lb. When it arrived at Frodsham well after my return home, I found that the crate had been made from a very heavy teak-like hardwood so, it was no wonder that it was so heavy! A new officer, Lt. Chandler, arrived at H.Q. and took over my Terminal Equipment Section which was now numbered as No.4.T.E. Section. It really began to look as though I should soon be going home!

During May 1947, the chief political factions in India were still arguing over the future of the country and as they failed to reach agreement, strife between the rival Hindu and Moslem communities became increasingly bitter, serious rioting breaking out over many areas of north India. The rival parties were the Indian National Congress Party, led by Jawaharlal Nehru, which wanted a united country under Hindu control, and the Moslem League, led by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, which wanted an independent Moslem state to be known as Pakistan. The rival slogans - “Jai Hind!” and “Pakistan Zindabad!” were painted all over the place. It was obvious that there was no chance of a compromise, and so the British Parliament agreed on the 23rd of May, to a proposal by Louis Mountbatten suggesting partition of the country between the rival groups. This was put to the Indian politicians who argued over it for several weeks before accepting on the 15th of June.

During this time, we seemed to live on an island of tranquillity and life carried on as normal at Palam. I don't recall any restriction of our movements, at any rate away from the city. There was much bloodshed and some villages were burnt away to our north; we saw columns of smoke in that direction, and one of my R.A.F. friends flew daily sorties in a small aircraft to observe and direct Army and Police forces to points where gangs could be seen roaming about looking for trouble. There were many rumours and horror stories of course, but it all seemed to be a world away from Palam airfield.

We did not seem to have any security problems at Palam as the political and religious disturbances did not concern us and I do not recall any great amount of hostility from the local population. I certainly didn't feel any need to retain my revolver and the twelve rounds of ammunition that I had carried around with me for so long.

Early in June I was told that I would definitely be leaving on Class A release during the month and my movement order came on Tuesday, the 17th of June. I was to travel with Temporary Captain Frankel, a rather snooty officer whom I didn't know very well, to the Homeward Bound Transit Depot at Deolali. There was quite a lot of form-filling and documentation but all went well and we departed from Delhi Junction on the morning of Thursday, the 19th of June. I had to go into New Delhi during the earlier part of the week in order to transfer my bank account to the U.K. and in my meeting with the Indian bank manager he asked whether I had any goods to sell before going home. He offered to buy anything useful from me, so I considered selling him my radio set and discussed this with him. Unfortunately, it suddenly went on the blink and I couldn't in all fairness let him have it; I brought it home and got it repaired for our own use.

I had to have an up-to-date certificate of vaccination before I could depart and fortunately this operation had been done earlier that year. (When I had had inoculations in Bombay the previous year, the R.A.F. doctor who had carried it out, used the same needle which he left in my arm while he changed syringes to give me Tet-Tox and T.A.B. doses. I was not too happy about this!)

We said farewell to Delhi on the Thursday and arrived at Deolali next day after an uneventful journey. Here we were accommodated in tents on concrete standings with a Messroom in a hut nearby; conditions were much more basic than I had been used to and as we had no duties, life was extremely boring and increasingly frustrating as we waited day after day for news of embarkation. All we were required to do was to examine the camp notice board at regular intervals to look for posting instructions. There was a bazaar in Deolali Cantonment not very far from the camp and this was our only source of interest as we whiled away the time. Frankel and I would walk over to the bazaar and bargain with the Indian merchants for small objects. I bought a dressing gown in a light, silky, golden-brown material ornamented with a kind of spider web pattern, and my friend acquired a brass sculpture of a bullock cart, amongst other things.

I was rather short of money as my bank account had been transferred home, and I was having to manage on the cash I carried with me. This was rather difficult as I didn't know just how long it would be before leaving India. It was also very frustrating as there were some very interesting Buddhist rock-cut caves near Nasik, one of the Hindu holy cities, less than eight miles away. Some of these elaborately carved rock caves are over 2000 years old, and I would liked to have seen them if I could have afforded to spend money on a taxi. Also, we hadn't to go far from the camp in case a sudden movement order came up. I had collected samples of bank-notes to take home with me, the denominations being Rs.10, 5, 2 and 1, but as I was so hard up at the time, it was necessary for me to spend the 10 and 5 rupee notes, and so I only managed to keep the two of lower value.

There was an expression in the Army, Doolalli or Doolalli Tap, describing an unbalanced state of mind, which originated from Deolali. When time-expired soldiers were sent here, there were often long, frustrating delays, when the effects of the climate and boredom led to some odd behaviour, causing some of them to become “doolalli”, and I can quite understand that!

One morning, we received our movement order and began to prepare for it only to be told after a few hours that it had been cancelled owing to trouble in Bombay, where rioters were stoning trains and squatting on the lines to stop them so they could be looted. Some days later things got better and we got another order to move, finally leaving Deolali on Sunday, the 29th of June, 1947. We travelled in trucks to the railway station, running the gauntlet of numbers of beggars and children intent on extracting our last few coins. The train journey turned out peaceful and we travelled slowly through the miserable suburbs of Bombay with its squalid shanties and smells along the line which I had travelled several times before. At the docks, we embarked on the “Empire Deben”, which we were told had been captured from the Germans in a Norwegian fjord where she had been in use as a base for U-boat crews.

The ship was a single-screw vessel which had been fitted out as a troop-ship, with each large cabin holding perhaps ten or twelve officers. We each had a double bunk, the lower one being used for our hand luggage while we slept in the top one. The passengers were several hundred officers, mostly R.A.F but some Army, a few of the senior ranks accompanied by their wives. There were also a number of Nursing Sisters who had finished their tours of duty. As soon as they settled on board, several groups settled down in the small staterooms to play bridge which seemed to absorb them so much that they never appeared on deck all day.

Figure 13.1: Loading my kit at Bombay for the homeward voyage.

Our bulky kit, not wanted on the voyage, arrived on board next morning, the bed rolls and trunks lifted aboard in cargo nets by the ship's cranes and being dumped in the hold. The dockside handling was done by bare-footed, wiry coolies of the dock labour force. Several larger ships were in the dock nearby, including the S.S. President Polk, a large American cargo ship, and the liner, S.S. Alcantara, which was another troopship. Some small local craft with lateen sails were supplying coal to other ships, and there was much to watch during the two days before we sailed. This took place on the evening of Tuesday, the 1st of July, just before it got dark. A tug took us out of the dock and we sailed off to the west, losing sight of land just as it got dark.

It was the season of the south-west monsoon and as we sailed into a very strong headwind, the sea was fairly rough from the start, but next morning when I went on deck first thing it was very stormy and not all the breakfast places were filled. I had always considered myself a good sailor but it was rather frightening to see the rough seas tossing the ship about, and it was quite difficult to walk about on the decks. The ship was pitching so much as she drove into a head sea that the stern was rising and falling ten feet or more and when I stood there it was like being in a non-stop lift. It was quite alarming to look along the length of the ship and see the bow go up in the air and then bury itself in a large sea, but as time went on I got used to it and it was quite exciting. Even in these rough conditions I saw a few sea birds skimming the waves.

We had the occasional wave across our portholes in the cabin as the ship wallowed, and as the stern of the vessel came out of the water the propeller raced in the air before plunging back again; this caused much vibration and the constant noisy working of the steering engine operating the rudder made it very unpleasant to stand at the stern. After a few days of this, the noise and vibration increased due to the breaking off of one of the four propeller blades due to the storm. With only three blades left, each about ten feet long, you can imagine the vibration as the screw came out of the water!

Things became worse after the loss of the propeller blade as speed was reduced and the ship seemed to pitch more violently. On the third morning there were very few people in the mess room for breakfast and although I was not very hungry I managed my breakfast with no trouble. However, when I went on deck afterwards I was not very well and had to abandon my breakfast over the side. I didn't feel at all well for the rest of the day, missing all meals and just having a few cups of tea. That was the only time in my life that I was seasick. As the weather was warm I was still wearing khaki drill clothing and spent the rest of the day just lying about in a sheltered place on the deck in the fresh air. By next day I was ready for a light breakfast and regular meals despite the rough seas and had no further problems in this respect. Some of us walked round the decks a number of times for exercise each day, although this needed some care owing to the violent motion of the ship, but there was one poor lady (one of the Nursing Officers) who spent the greater part of the voyage lying on a deck chair and obviously feeling very poorly.

As we sailed westwards the weather improved and after five days from Bombay we reached Aden where we took a pilot on board who took us into the anchorage. We spent a day here while some stores were loaded and a diver went down to examine the damaged propeller. Some of the officers went ashore and took a taxi to visit Crater, the shopping and commercial quarter of the town, which was some distance from the port area. I didn't join them as I was trying to conserve my remaining money, so I stayed on board like most of the others.

Aden was an important bunkering station and we watched with interest as a cargo ship anchored nearby was being coaled by gangs of Arabs. They were carrying bags of coal in an endless procession from a lighter and dumping them in the ship's bunkers; it seemed a very dirty and noisy operation. Apparently, it was decided that no repairs could be made to our ship until we reached Port Said at the northern end of the Suez Canal, so we sailed in the evening for the Red Sea. By sea, it is about 1300 miles from Aden to Suez at the southern end of the Canal and this was the month of July when the climate here is very hot and sticky. (The summer temperature at Aden averages about 90°F)

Figure 13.2: Coaling a ship the hard way at Aden.

The ship could only travel at reduced speed even though the sea was calmer, so it was not a very pleasant passage as we moved slowly through the Red Sea. The most pleasant part of the day was the evening when we would sit on deck watching the red disc of the Sun disappear below the horizon, and chatting until bedtime. Some nights I slept on deck in a blanket as the cabin was very hot and stuffy; I chose a sheltered spot and slept well, waking in the early morning before anyone was about on the decks. The only drawback to sleeping on deck was that smuts from the ship's funnel would settle on my face if the wind changed! The Red Sea was generally calm with light winds and the smoke trails from other ships could frequently be seen vanishing over the horizon as we were following the shipping lanes.

The ship's crew had been mustered in Liverpool and were very young and inexperienced; the bosun complained to us that some of them didn't even have knives to use in their work. As it got hotter, he got them to put up canvas awnings over part of the after deck to give us shade from the sun, and it was laughable to watch this handful of young men struggling with ropes and canvas while the bosun got more and more annoyed with them. In the evenings they had a kind of skiffle group and we would watch them as they made a kind of music from various improvised instruments including a broomstick, empty oil drum and a rope which made a good imitation of a double bass.

One day, after spending some hours sitting on a life-raft at the side of the ship with my feet on the rails, wearing chapplis with no stockings, I got rather severe sunburn on both ankles. This caused me excruciating pain when I stood up, and my ankles soon swelled up to a large size. I found that I couldn't stand still without a great deal of pain, but if I walked about it was just bearable, so for several days I had to get up from where I was lying on the deck, walk smartly to wherever I wanted to go and lie down again. Very inconvenient! I couldn't approach the M.O. for treatment as we had been given an official warning about the dangers of sunburn as some people had suffered severe blistering through sun-bathing without shirts and it was severely frowned on. I found that going for cups of tea during the day was quite an ordeal as I had to stand at the service counter to get them. After a few days the pain eased, the swelling decreased and large lumps of skin began to flake off. I always wore stockings after this experience!

As we travelled through the Red Sea we passed quite close to some rocky islands rising steeply from the sea and quite barren; a white-painted light-house stood on one of the larger rocks but there was no sign of life there. Later, we sailed along the coast of Arabia as the shipping lanes pass near the coast near Jidda, and we were able to see the long stretch of barren-looking coast from some distance.

When we reached Suez, we anchored not far from the Canal entrance and spent a day there while another inspection was made of the propeller. A number of officials came on board and while the accommodation ladder was down the side of the ship, one or two members of the crew went for a swim in the sea, but later, when they had returned, and while we were standing looking over the rail, a large shark rose silently from under the ship and swam away leisurely. By the evening, we had a large headlight fixed in the bow and with a canal pilot on board we entered the Canal under our own power.

After watching the monotonous sandy banks slip past for some time I slept all night to awaken as we approached Port Said in the morning. We passed a felluca, and farther on we passed the S.S. Alcantara, homeward-bound, laden with troops. She had made much better time than we had from Bombay. Bum-boats swarmed around her as the Egyptian dealers tried to sell their products to the home-going troops, and some came to us when we moored for a short time before being towed into a side basin for our repairs. Here we had another underwater inspection by a diver. All the divers we had seen were dressed in the traditional diving gear with copper helmet and air-line as this was before the days of scuba gear.

Figure 13.3: The spare blade for the ship's propeller which was carried on the “Empire Deben” bolted to the deck. After drilling, a shackle was attached so it could be lifted over the side and lowered on to a pontoon for fitting by divers. The old blade had broken off about a foot from the base.

I was interested to see that our ship carried a spare propeller blade which was bolted on to the deck near the bows. Perhaps this meant that loss of a blade was a common occurrence on this ship! A hole was drilled through this spare blade to take a shackle and it was lowered by the ship's crane on to a steel pontoon, on which it was carried under the stern of the ship where divers worked on the propeller. The stump of the broken blade was brought on deck and it was possible to see how a small, old crack near the root had spread across the blade, obviously due to the heavy punishment it had been given by the rough seas.

During the time we were moored at Port Said we were able to go ashore, so I changed some of my dwindling sterling currency into Egyptian money to pay for drinks and other items ashore. The Egyptian money was indescribably filthy, the dirty paper notes having been folded up small so many times that they were a mass of creases, had corners missing, and were held together with stamp edging. The coins were no better being tarnished and dirt-engrained.

Once ashore, we were pestered by beggars, street-traders, and others and I found the town squalid and uninspiring and so only went ashore a few times. A few of us had coffee and cakes in street cafes and there was a plentiful supply of cheap Turkish Delight which was very popular on the ship. The ship's barber laid in a stock of this delicacy and sold it back to us on the voyage home at inflated prices! (I think I must have picked up some nasty microbe at Port Said as I was rather ill after I had been home some time). Egyptian nationalist feeling was growing at this time and it was not considered advisable to go about alone, but we never came across any unpleasantness from the local Arab population; all they wanted was our money! We must have spent about a week at Port Said before repairs were completed, and as the Canal was quite busy there was plenty to see each day. A group of Polish officers with their families were embarked from a landing craft and joined us for the rest of the voyage home, and one day, a large French liner moored near us for some time before passing southwards down the Canal at night; she was carrying French troops bound for Indo-China where a war was going on.

At last we were ready for sea and were towed out into the Canal, passing a large American ship, the Colorado Springs Victory, which was crowded with Germans, but whether soldiers or prisoners going home we never knew. Passing the western breakwater into the Mediterranean we set off westwards on the voyage home. Even with the new propeller blade we were not able to make good speed, as, owing to the damage caused by the rough seas to the shaft bearings our speed had to be kept down. In this way we limped home, getting more and more impatient with the journey. It was very frustrating. The actual passage through the Mediterranean was pleasant as the seas were calm now, the weather dry and warm, and it was pleasant to stand in the bow of the ship and watch the dolphins at play in front of us, two or three often being there and keeping pace with our speed and leading us through the water.

I had taken to smoking a pipe when I was at Poona but was never a very serious smoker; a one-ounce tin of tobacco lasting me for many weeks. I would buy Balkan Sobranie or Four-square tobacco which was sold in one ounce, round tins with different coloured squares on the lid to identify the blend. On the ship however, the canteen did not sell these brands and I bought a four-ounce tin of Navy Cut and a box of Swan Vestas for the sum of 2/6d (12½ pence)!

We approached Gibraltar in rather foggy conditions and could only see the outline of the Rock looming out of the murk. The sea was calm as we entered the Atlantic but it remained hazy along the south-west coast of Spain. We got a distant view of Cape St. Vincent before losing sight of land until we sailed past the north-west corner of Spain and were able to see Cape Finisterre at a distance before losing sight of land before reaching England. As we approached the South Coast, everyone became eager to see land and we spent much of our time looking out for it. It was cooler now and we had all gone back to wearing our battledress uniforms which felt very uncomfortable after wearing tropical kit for so long.

Figure 13.4: Looking out for the first sight of England. We were back in battledress again as the weather was cooler.

There were warnings about Custom inspections and prohibited articles, and a war of nerves ensued; many war souvenirs ended up over the side as some people had hoarded weaponry which they knew would land them in trouble if found. I had made a list of the contents of my case and bags to present to the Customs Inspectors, and hoped that I wouldn't have to pay any purchase taxes or custom dues on any of the things I was bringing home as I had very little spare money on me. At last, on the morning of Wednesday, the 30th July, we sighted the distant coast of Dorset on our port side and before long, the Isle of Wight with the Needles came into view; we picked up a pilot who took us into Southampton docks. On the way, passing the Needles, we saw a small steamer apparently aground and derelict on the rocks not far from the lighthouse.

After entering Southampton docks, and mooring at a quay, we spent an interminable time waiting while officials came aboard and all the formalities were dealt with. I think we must have had a final meal but can't remember anything about it as it was much too exciting getting home and I was impatient to be off. Eventually, we went ashore carrying our hand luggage, our hold baggage being already unloaded and dumped in the long Customs shed ready for us to collect. Some officers were asked to open and unpack their cases for inspection but I was more fortunate; when a Customs officer came to look at my pile, I gave him the list of contents and he looked at me strangely but marked my goods with his chalk without a close inspection and I was through Customs and on my way to the nearby waiting special train. I had quite a long wait before everyone had been dealt with and the train moved off. There were some accounts of people having to pay taxes on goods they had brought home with them and there was a good deal of grumbling about this, but we were ashore and everyone was feeling happy.

I was very impressed by the lush green of the countryside after the drab browns of the arid Indian landscape and could hardly keep my eyes off the fields and woods we passed on our way to Aldershot in the train. It didn't stop until we reached the station at Aldershot, from where we were taken in trucks to the barracks. After spending the night there, we passed through a process of documentation and form-filling before being issued with civilian clothing, the so-called demob suit. A long room with a central row of counters gave us the choice of a utility suit with waistcoat and trousers, a shirt, tie, shoes and socks, and a trilby hat. We had to make our own choice and try to get something that would fit from the piles of clothing available. There was a somewhat limited choice and it was not easy to get what we wanted. The clothes were then wrapped up in a brown paper parcel, and looking like a party of refugees, we were taken by truck to the station with all our luggage. The whole process was very smoothly done as I suppose they had had plenty of practice by this time.

As to the journey to London, I can't remember any details of our route except that we passed the old Brooklands motor-racing circuit looking rather derelict. Having reached Victoria, we split up, taking taxis to our respective homeward-bound stations. I needed to change to get a train for Frodsham which I reached in the late afternoon, and walked home, leaving my heavy kit at the station to collect later. In the course of time my heavy steel trunk in its wooden skeleton crate arrived safely with all its contents intact. Unfortunately, my 12” gramophone records were slightly warped after being packed tightly and subjected to some heat in transit. I could still play them however when I eventually got hold of a record player.

I was on 77 days leave from the first of August and was not officially released from the Army until the 17th of October, but had to re-establish my job with I.C.I. long before then. My homecoming was marred to some extent by illness. After a short time I was very ill with what was probably Hepatitis “A”, although my local G.P., Dr.Earlam only diagnosed it as “Jaundice”. I probably picked this up in Egypt where the standards of hygiene in the street cafes left a lot to be desired. As I could not take any fats, I lived on a diet of dry toast, Marmite and tomatoes, but eventually recovered enough for us to be able to go on holiday to Lynmouth and Ilfracombe. Home at long last! Journey's End.

Figure 13.5: Landfall. Our first sight of the Isle of Wight.


On the 15th of August, 1947, the transfer of power from Britain to India took place and was followed by terrible acts of violence and mass movements of refugees on a scale that dwarfed anything that had taken place before. The age-old antagonism between the Hindu, Sikh and Moslem communities came to the fore and with the splitting of the sub-continent into India and Pakistan there were vast transfers of populations between them.

A friend of mine who served there at this time as an officer in a Ghurka unit told me about some of the horrors that took place in Delhi where his unit were helping with aid to the civil powers. A great many people were killed in the Old City and crowds of Moslem refugees sought sanctuary in the old fort of Purana Kila, where they could be given military protection. In the Indian Army all groups had managed to get along peacefully, each group with its own religious festivals without obvious friction as far as I observed.

I often wondered what had happened to the Indian Signalmen that I had worked with and whether the Indian Air Formation Signals still existed.


Jack returned from India in 1947 to resume his career at ICI, from which he took early retirement in 1977 at the age of 57. This provided time and space for him to pursue his wide range of interests and to develop his polymath approach to all things archaeological and geological. He died in 2010 but these recollections and reminiscences compiled from his papers will, it is hoped, stand as a memorial to his life and work, his journeys and his resting places.