Now and again we'd come across a ???? miles from anywhere, with two or three natives moving about outside. Once I saw an ostrich, and as the noise of the car frightened him he went away at a terrific speed, and there were budgies by the thousand.|
We finally arrived at this town and it looked a picture, houses set out in neat rows sparkling white in the sunshine, and everywhere an atmosphere of quiet and cleanliness. We went round to a little cafe, as we entered all talking stopped and everyone stared at us like hell. We felt quite uncomfortable, but our hostesses told us to ignore them. We had a nice tea but all the enjoyment went out of it owing to these people watching us.
I was bloody glad when we made a move and no sooner were we at the door when the talking started again.
We went back a different way and as before, the road was perfect. We passed a chain of montains and saw seven huge peaks sticking up above all the rest, they were known as the "Seven Sisters". We got back in town at about six and had to refuse an invitation to dinner, the three of us were dying for a drink. So, saying "Cheerio!" we found a pub and got busy, as before we all finished up drunk but gloriously happy.
The next day was our last, so Jim, Yank and myself were soon at it again. We got friendly with a chap who had been shot down in a burning plane up north. He showed us the scars, and they weren't pretty. Later on he took us out to another pub to meet his brother, who was manager of a big motor firm. Blimey, did he throw his money around! We could have had the pub if we'd asked. We then went to his home, met his wife and had a good feed, and then he said that he'd take us to a Cabaret Do.
Oh Dear! What a time, plenty of beer, smokes and nice looking girls into the bargain. This manager then offered to take us to Johannesburg, get us good jobs in one of his shops, fit us out with clothes and we could stay there until the war was over, we'd never be found.
We thanked him for the offer but said there was nothing doing.
It made no difference to the nights enjoyment and all of us had a rip, roaring time. They took us back to the ship and how we got aboard I don't know.
Next morning I woke up in the hold, Yank was in the Brig sleeping on Christmas trees and Jim was found in a cabin. Oh boy! What a time it was, with feelings of real regret we stood at the rail and waved farewell to Capetown. God bless them all for the wonderfull time they gave to all of the troops, I hope they never experience the horrors of war.
13/12/1941For many days afterwards we talked of nothing but the good times we had, and if our luck held out we should be lucky enough to call there in the future. We hadn't been many days out when a shout went up that someone had fallen overboard from the ship following us, the Mt Vernon. We could see for a short time the head of the poor sod as he bobbed up and down in the sea. A lifebelt was thrown to him and a destroyer circled round to try and pick him up, but we heard that he sank before they had time, what a finish. Whether this gave another chap the idea or not, I don't know, but two days later another one went over, but this time he meant it. He chose that way of committing suicide.
Preparations were made now for Christmas, in the dining room a huge tree had been fixed up with all the usual trimmings, tinsel, electric lights etc and with festoons hanging from the ceiling. When the 25th arrived it sure seemed strange, instead of snow and ice we were being roasted alive with the heat. But all the same the spirit was there, and the food was simply grand, everything that I had had at home on other Christmas days. In fact there was too much and loads of good food was dumped overboard, it was enough to make anyone weep when I think of the folks back home being rationed. I only hope they are having half the good food that I'm getting, if so they aren't doing so bad.
There was so much breakfast and dinner that I couldn't eat any at tea time. I was so full that night, I went up on deck alone, found a quiet spot near the rail and just stared out at sea. It was a lovely night, the old moon was full and turning the sea into a sheet of silver, it was beautiful. And sitting there, my thoughts were certainly with those back home, wondering how they were and if they were having a nice christmas. How I cursed this lousy war, it brings nothing but aches and sorrow, still here I was and nothing on earth could alter it. When it's all over I should be able to make up for all this wasted time and it will be all the sweeter then.
I must have sat there for at least an hour when a voice said, "I know what you're thinking, Tich." It was Jim.
"Yes, it isn't very hard to guess, Jim." I said. ""It's a sod, isn't it?" Then we went downstairs and turned in.
Days rolled by and it was pretty certain that India is our next stop, in all probability, Bombay. When the hell we should finish, who knows! One chap in our mob who loves to bullshit reckoned we were going to do Garrison Duty in India. "What! The whole bleedin' Division?" I said. "Yes, that would just about suit you, parading around some forgotten hole, all spit'n polish. But you can bet your life this mob isn't for Garrison Duty!"
On the 28th we docked in Bombay, and I've never seen or smelt a worse hole in all my life. It was terrible, rubbish of all descriptions floating around on the water and there must have been dead bodies somewhere if the smell was anything to go on. All around the ships small boats were dodging about full of scruffy kids all yelling and bawling at us to throw money or fags down to them. On the quayside here and there, an acrobat would be performing, bowing to us when he had finished expecting us to throw something to him. We did once or twice and he almost got killed in the rush by the lookers-on, who just made one mad dive for whatever it was that we threw over.
Yank and I were caught to do a baggage guard or direct the natives where to put all the gear as it came off the ship, talk about bedlam. The noise in the huge warehouses was terrific, the natives yelling at the top of their voices - who at I don't know, with an English overseer and he sure knew how to make them move.
There was one native came along struggling with some big lorry tyres, he overbalanced and the tyres went rolling all over the place. I grabbed one and rolled it back to him and started to help him, the overseer came up and said,"Don't you ever help those black sods again, they'll only laugh at you, take it from me. I know 'em, the lazy bastards."
Well, after hearing that, I didn't make the same mistake again.
The job finished about 3 o'clock, so after going aboard for a bite of grub and clean up Yank and I went sight seeing. I had gone no more than a hundred yards from the dock road when a little black blob of a kid came out of some hole and said to us, "You want my sister, Sahib, plenty good jig-jig." I thought that was a good start!
Getting more into the city, the place was beyond description. Hawkers of every sort lined the road, some with their wares on a cart, some with them laid out on the pavements and all the time small boys and girls dodging about the pavement, grabbing your arm and pestering you to buy from them. I couldn't walk two yards without being stopped, they were a nuisance. Then the numerous beggars would come shuffling along, covered with filthy rags for clothing, looking absolutely dirty and lousy. It made me feel sick.
We managed to find a Y.M.C.A. They didn't have a blackout here, only what they called a "Brownout", all the lights gave gave a browny look to everything. We managed to get a cup of tea and cakes and met some of the boys, they said in answer to my question that they had found some bar at 9 rupee a half a pint. I didn't intend paying that much, so I went without. We stayed for a while making some uncomplementary remarks about Bombay, at least the part we had seen anyhow, and then we took a slow walk back to the ship.
Next morning we heard a yarn that we were going inland, about a 100 miles, but nobody knew what for. I went ashore again, not so much to see Bombay, but to get a tatoo on my arm - India is supposed to be the place for tatoos. Having been recommended to a cafe in T??? Street called the Coffee Club, I went there with the boys and found it a nice place too. Very clean and airy, nice white curtains hanging around with lovely coloured tapestries. We seated ourselves and right away a boy came up unheard, dressed like "Sabu" and complete with a turban. Bowing low, he asked us what we wanted in perfect English, bowing again and away he went. Returning later with the food he recommended us to their icecream, and it was grand.
Sitting facing the doorway, I could see the people passing by, all sorts, shapes and sizes - young men dressed in real western style with maybe two or three girls, and then a native girl in her customary dress with rings through her nose and ears. Some with veils hiding their faces and only their eyes showing and did they know how to use those eyes, some more girls with designs painted on their faces - the mark of the caste they belonged to. Oh! and scores more, everyone seemed different.
We paid for our meal and I took a calendar off the counter and got the old boy to sign it.
"Good luck!" he said.
I thought, "I hope so too!" Then we went in search of a tatooist and found one in a dirty hole. After looking at the designs for a while, I had one done. I had expected it to sting like hell, but it didn't.
I went outside to the public lavatory, went down the steps and had a shock, there was an Indian in one of the cubicles playing with his penis as large as life and taking no notice at all of anyone else.
I thought, "Cor Blimey! This is a place and a half, I wonder if the women do the same sort of thing here."
I was glad to get back to the ship, and then found out that we were going inland to a place called Ahmadnagar, 400 miles NW of Bombay. There was the usual hurry and bustle packing kit, and a few hours later after saying farewell to our Yank friends, we walked down a siding on the Quay side to a scruffy, stinking little station and climbed aboard a train that was waiting there, I call it a train for want of a better name.
We had to wait on the train for about two hours and finally with a lot of bumps and jerks, we got going. I soon found a spot in a corner and went to sleep, it was the better thing to do on this snorting, gasping apology for a train. I woke up a few hours later sore and stiff in every limb and feeling very scruffy found the W.C. I had a wash and shave and finished in time for the rations that were being dished out.
The scenery all along this scenic railway was rugged and plain, the countryside was all hills up one side and down the other. We were winding round and round the sheer face of another mountain, on one side going up perpendicular and the other side a sheer drop, lord knows how deep it was. I hoped the rails were firmly fixed.
This journey went on for nine hours or so and by the time it was over, my arse had lost all sense of feeling through the wooden seats, this train wasn't built for comfort!
Eventually we stopped and we stumbled out at some little place consisting of about three huts, slung most of our gear on lorries and began an eight mile hike to the barracks. I shan't forget it in a hurry, as we were soft after our long trip at sea and our feet weren't in any condition for marching. But, off we went!
It wasn't too bad at first - whistling and singing, but we soon turned that in what with the dust and heat, it was lousy!
After about three miles we had a short rest, and then off again, the only people we saw were a few natives. Another rest and then through a scruffy village, and of course there were the usual prostitutes up at their windows giving us the eye as we went by. Then there were the mongrel dogs of the village yapping and howling at our heels, no village is complete without the mangy curs running around covered in sores and half starved.
We were all feeling the worse for wear now with nearly everyone limping, we cursed the sun, the dust, India, the Army and everything in general. But all bad things come to an end and just as dark was falling we rolled into Ahmadnagar. It was all tents, at least that was all I could see. I heard that there was a canteen and so I made a beeline for it, but so did everyone else, it was packed out when I got there.
I managed a cup of tea and a cake and then taking my boots off I let the cool air play around my burning feet - it was heavenly!.
I was allotted a tent, fixed up my "mozzie net" and went straight to sleep.
Next morning I found my mates were Oxford lads with a couple from Doncaster and London, the rest of the boys were further down the line, except for sore feet I was feeling O.K.
That day was spent cleaning up, resting and wondering what the hell we were going to do here, as we had no guns or trucks, only our rifles.
The next day we soon found out.
Cor Blimey! Rifle drill, marching and saluting drill.
Oh Dear! Did we come half way round the world to do stuff that we had forgotten, what a cowing war this was.
Then King Bullshit reared his ugly head up again. Dear old "kit layout" once more! And what a layout, I didn't have my blankets folded dead square one morning, so I had two "???? jankers" that night, Battle Dress and pack.
During the morning we had to clean the area up, picking up matchsticks and bits of paper, jobs that the natives had done before this mob got here. Then we had a guard mounting at night taking two hours, we started at five o'clock and the heat was terrific. More than one chap collopsed with heat and if anyone moved to wipe the sweat off his face or knock a fly away he was for it. The RSM was a bastard allright.
The natives had never seen battle dress before and said to us one day "Sahib mad!" I reckon this lot did their best to lower the tradition of the British Army more than anyone.
As an alternative to foot drill, we would march out about six or seven miles until the officers got tired and then we would have mock battles and judging distances. This, I thought was all to our good, but why we had to come all the way to India to do it, beat me!
One day a few of us decided to have a walk to a shrine on top of a big hill about six miles away. Through gullies, over ditches and ankle deep in sand, and then the climb up the hill was no joke. With huge boulders all over the place we caused a miniature landslide more than once, causing the boys below to step a bit lively at times. We finally reached the top and tood and marvelled at the size of the huge blocks of stone that made this tomb. How the hell the people managed to haul them up the hill and then pile them on top of each other beat me. The place was reputed to be over 900 years old and in perfect condition. A guide lived there for the purpose of showing people around and he sure must have had a lonely life.
Before we could go inside the tomb itself we had to take our boots off. The place was as clean as a new pin and cool and airy, with tapestries all around the walls and lengths of wonderful silken robes over the tomb itself. With candle and incense burning, the story was that an Indian prince had his wife buried there and when he died he wanted to be buried in the same place, but it caused a lot of trouble with the tribe and they refused. No-one seems to know what happened to his body but there was no doubt it must have cost thousands to build the tomb.
We went up a winding staircase made of the same huge blocks of stone with the joints perfectly finished and worn to a high polish with the tread of countless feet. When we emerged on the flat roof some 400 feet high, the view simply took my breath away. For miles in every direction I had an uninterrupted view of the countryside, I could even see the ruined castle we stopped at on the way over, some six miles away. It was really worth all the trouble, the air was lovely and fresh and cool after the heat below.
After chipping our initials on the stone and fooling about in general, we tipped the guide and slowly started back to camp.
We ran out of pay here, we didn't have any for seven days. We were told that the reason was that the Indian Government hadn't been issued with instructions to pay and the British Government said they had. So while they were arguing the toss we had to wait for our pay and we got it just before leaving. The food here was absolutely vile! Our cooks had no more idea of cooking than the man in the moon. We asked to have Indian cooks on, but the Officers wouldn't hear of it. Eventually they allowed us to have one, these chaps had been cooking for Army personel all their lives and if they couldn't cook it then no-one could.
The lousy part was that the Officers Mess had native cooks, also the W.O's and Sargeants, but not the Gunners - we had got to learn to "rough it". The bastards! The bread was like rubber, the spuds were rotten and never done properly. In fact there was nearly a riot because other Regiments were feeding O.K.
After 14 days we were told to pack our gear and get ready to march back again.
"Bleedin' good job!" we all said, as we were all fed-up to the teeth with this place. The march back wasn't so bad as it was much cooler, we went at night and did it pretty easy.
We got on the train and arrived at Bombay once more amid all the stink and noise of that "beautiful?" city and found to our delight that we were going aboard our old friend the "West Point". All the time that we had be playing around inland, she had been lying idle in the bay - what a system! Back to our old bunks and chatting with friends we thought we shouldn't see again.
29/01/1942We soon found out that at last we knew where we were going. Singapore! bound to have a go at the Jap. Well, anyway we did know what was what at last and on the 29th of January we pulled out on our last stage, it would take about ten days to reach Singapore. We were told to make the most of the good grub while we had the chance, trouble was expected from the Nip too. We were told that he was chasing our boys down Malaya as fast as he could, he also had air superiority too, so if he spotted the convoy we could expect a warm time.
A few days out and our Officers thought it was about time that we were initiated into the mysteries of the Bren gun.
"What a bleedin' time to show us!" I said. "And what about firing it?" we asked.
"OH, that will come later." they said. Gormless lot of stupid slobs, they would make St Peter swear.
Time went all too quickly for us. We were all keyed up, expecting trouble any time, it was comforting to see H.M.S. Dorsetshire circling round and round. The Yank navy might have looked nice and all the rest of it, but give me the good old R.N., she can't be beaten.
About two days out from Singapore trouble turned up in the shape of a Nip recce plane.
Bang! went all the portholes and down the stairs we fled. Clear the decks and gun crews to their posts! Then brump - brump, bash - bash, he'd let go of his load, they straddled the "Exeter" who had steamed out just in front of the "West Point".
Then we heard her open up with her "AA", also the "West Point" too.
The explosions made the ship shudder and down below in the enclosed spaces the noise was deafening. It lasted about five minutes, then all went quiet again. We all streamed on deck and I managed to see the plane scooting away towards the east.
"Well!" I thought. "Now we are for it! He'll go back, tell his mates and then we'll get shit knocked out of us."
Then I noticed that we were pulling ahead of the rest of the convoy, later we heard that all ships were to go hell for leather for Singapore. Ours being the fastest went ahead by leaps and bounds.
The whole ship vibrated with the thud of the engines as she crammed on more and more steam, thirty knots she did as we went turning through the Sundra Straits with huge waves shooting up each side of the bow.
As we plowed along, we all wondered if we should reach Singapore befor the Jap bombers found us. Excitement ran high, and we were forever searching the sky for the formation of planes that would mean trouble. There was very little sleep that night, but we needn't have worried for next day dawned bright and clear and still no planes.
Towards dinner time we turned north and before long we could see Singapore. Then everything was a hustle to get our kit packed and ready, for we had no time to waste once we docked. It was only a few hours before we were being pushed up to the quay by escorting tugs, and believe me there was no hanging about now, everything was speed. We tramped down the gangway and straight into lorries. I saw very little of Singapore, except from the back of the truck. The way the driver drove, he must have thought "Sod the speed limit!" We nearly turned over more than once around some of the corners - the mad sod.
After about thirty minutes of this we pulled up at a house that was one of about 500, making an estate somewhat on the same lines as those at home, only they had all their rooms "bungalow" fashion, all on the ground level. We tumbled out and found that each gun crew and drivers of the truck were to be billetted in one house. I found myself with Blackie, Coco, Yank, Twill, Maxie and three more.
Going inside the room it was large and airy, but it seemed as if the owners had left in a hurry. Furniture was all over the place, so we set to and done a bit of cleaning, they had even left a big four poster bed complete with mozzie net and sheets.
Moving a side board I heard a sort of squawking, whining, brerk-brerk sound from the back. So, moving the sideboard a bit more I peeped around and nearly jumped out of my skin. On a web that was about three foot square and looked as strong as twine, was a huge spider easily the largest I've ever seen.
Easily two to three inches across the body and from leg tip to leg tip - ten inches. In its jaws it had caught hold of a big flying beetle about three inches long, and there was a terrific scrap going on as we watched.
It looked as if the beetle would win when the spider let it go for an instant, and then like lightning it darted at the beetle again, got a fresh grip with it's jaws and just picked the beetle up and disappeared down his hole. There came those sounds again and the web kept jumping and vibrating like hell.
I said to Blackie, "If there are many of these bleedin' things around then I'm sleeping outside!"
During our cleaning operations we scared about ten of these spiders out, we managed to kill a few, but they ran along like greased lightning. So in the finish we got all the rubbish we could find and made a heap in each room and put some damp leaves on top, then set fire to the heaps and I bet we shifted everything in that house that crawled.
Walking round the back to see what the garden was like I had to pass between two trees, and getting near dusk I didn't see it 'till it was too late. I walked slap into one of those webs! It was just like putting my face up against a net with the strings coated in a rubber solution. As I jumped back I could feel the bloody thing pulling at my skin and when I thought of that spider, I nearly shit myself. I didn't know that they weren't poisonous, I'm in a deadly fear ofthings that crawl and creep about.
"I bet I don't get much sleep tonight!" I thought, and I didn't.