He was initially send for Officer Training in Northern Ireland, but was not bossy enough, so was sent to train at Catterick as a Radio Mechanic (Signalman). He was in the General Service Corps from 1st June 1944 to 15th November 1944 – this may have been when he was training. He was transferred on 16th November 1944 to the Royal Signals, where he remained until 4th February 1948.
He sailed to India on the Empress of Scotland, which had been Empress of Japan until October 1942, when she was renamed. (My notes say renamed to Princess of Canada, but I suspect this is because she belonged to Canadian Pacific).
I am not sure of the date order of some of these snippets as they come from notes from conversations with my mother, rather than some documented narrative.
He was responsible for the big transmitters which covered all of India when he was attached to GHQ in Delhi.
He spent some time at Quetta, up in the hills.
Tim thinks he may have been at Simla as well.
He fell off a 30′ bamboo ladder while putting up Christmas Decorations and received a scar, which was his war wound.
He went to a Gandhi meeting.
He met Pamela Mountbatten, daughter of Lord Mountbatten, serving coffee in the canteen.
He became a Methodist in the Army, as he had to attend services with some denomination, and they had the best singing.
On being sent to a senior officers house, to mend the radio there, he, along with two Indian servants, was offered refreshments, and in the interests of equality, took one of what looked like a couple of pastries, rather than the nicest looking western cake. It turned out to be a curry puff, and the experience left him with a suspicion of curry from that time on.
He also went trekking in the Himalayas with Martin Grey ? and employed porters to carry luggage.
Discharge and return home
His release from the army is dated 20th November 1947, but as he did not leave the Royal Signals until 4th Febuary 1948, I supect it took him this long to return to England. He told me he spent a long time, with many others, in a holding camp in India waiting for space to be available on a ship.
According to Tim
Pretty sure he didn’t return home until demobbed, and when he did he brought chocolate with him, probably unobtainable in the UK and anyway rationed, but in the Indian heat or perhaps on the boat it had all melted and resembled Aero when it re-congealed.
My father wrote several letters home, some of which have been preserved, and these give some information about what life was like.
- 1946, December 18th – writing from near Quetta. – letter 15
- 1947, August 29th – writing from Jalapahar
He also wrote a letter to the BBC, through me, around 31st December 2005, which I reproduce here.
Dear Sirs, I was recently watching a TV Program inviting people to write in or relate their War Time experiences.
I was called up on my 18th birthday and reported to the Beds and Herts camp. I was then posted to Northern Ireland (thankfully more or less peaceful then).
I enjoyed this period and got to know and like the Ulster folk. I was then posted to Catterick Camp to train as a Radio Mechanic. This lasted about 15-18 weeks. My next posting was to GHQ signals in Quetta (Balochistan). Unfortunately I fell onto a concrete floor of the Barracks and thus spent my first Christmas in Quetta Hospital.
Our boat was the first to go to India after the war ended1 and we were not sure whether the Japanese submarines knew that the war had ended.
At Quetta I had the amazing luck to be present at the last Tribal Durbar (which had gone on unchanged since the rule of Queen Victoria.) The Durbar is held out in the desert so no tribal chief is able to take precedence over the others. The first day of the Durbar is devoted to ceremonial. The Governor General is in full Diplomatic dress, his chest is covered in gold braid and his silver sword gleaming. Each chief bows to the Agent to the Governor General, representing the Crown (George VI at the time). The Indian Army laid on a parachute drop – no doubt to impress the local tribes. The next two days were given over to local sports such as camel, horse and donkey racing, tent pegging etc. It was quite obvious that these second two days were for fun, and quite subsidiary to the first day. That is why they were all gathered together here.
From Quetta to Delhi by train I saw quite a bit of North West India, and later managed to have three short holidays in the foothills of India, as far North West as Sandakphu (13,000 feet) and saw much in the way of Buddhist temples.
I was in Darjeeling when Indian Independence Day took place with much celebration as this area is largely Hindu.
I greatly enjoyed my time in India and fortunately escaped the worst of the communal violence. It was only many years later that I read a full account. During this period when I was back in Delhi I went to one of Gandhi’s Prayer Meetings and was able to take photographs of him quite close up.
Shortly after this I was posted to Deolali Transit Camp and so back to Britain after two and half years in India.
The first sailing of the Princess of Scotland, to go to India after the end of the war was:
- From Liverpool on 3rd October 1945 to Taranto on 9th October – 2616 miles
- From Taranto on 9th October to Port Said on 11th October – 964 miles
- From Port Said on 12th October to Bombay on 19th October – 2973 miles
I noted these asides while the main letter was being written.
- he left school at 17 and worked for a year as a forest worker before being called up.
- he spent as much time as he could Youth Hostelling, while training in Northern Ireland.