Harold Ernest Montague Newman's
"THE MISSING YEARS"
including illustrations by the author
Note - These memoires are combined into the "MEMOIRS of H.E.M. NEWMAN 1900 - 1991" which can be downloaded separately in PDF format.
The intention is to summarize as briefly as maybe, a factual account of the years before the family was born which have not been dealt with: i.e. the years for which no diary nor other account exists. Nobody need feel obliged to pay attention.
To cope with the terrible casualties of WW1, the RMA course for potential R.E. and R.A. officer cadets had been reduced from 2 years to 12 months. My batch began training in August or September 1918. Subsequent to the armistice in November our course was extended to 15 months as an interim compromise. Previously in peacetime all cadets underwent a combined sapper and gunner course and sapper commissions were offered to those who had come out top. For the shorter wartime course R.E. and R.A. cadets were selected from the Army entrance exams order, the RE being assumed to need the cleverer chaps. Two administrative companies accommodated the three terms under instruction. One comprised the junior or 'snooker' term. (We all began as 'Snookers', the name in the late 19thC by a gunner officer to a newly invented game on the billiard table of the United Services Club in Ootacamund in the South Indian Nilgiri Hills.) The other company housed the second termers and the senior term. All Cadet Officers or NCO'S were split between the two companies to maintain discipline and generally to run their administration under the supervision of the Commandant and staff all from the regular army.
We joined in dark suits and bowler hats. We were subjected to intensive inspection at the pre-breakfast chapel and subsequent lunch and supper parades and the slightest indication of a dust speck spotted by our MCD or Under Officer involved us in the Hoxter (punishment) drill parade at 6.30am next morning, roll-called by the cadet Corporal of the day and then hectored by one of the Guardee drill sergeants on the establishment. We were measured early on for boots, gaiters, breeches, tunics etc, but it was about three weeks before they arrived. The senior term was all-powerful. Snookers, like new boys at school, were dirt. Middle-termers although supervised still by the seniors were relative non-entities but without persecution. There was of course no fagging. Main indignities comprised a once-for-all Snookers' concert where we had to sing or otherwise entertain the seniors crowded into their canteen (normally reserved for them only.) But weekly on Thursday evenings Snookers were required to attend the Snookers' dance in the gymnasium where the R.A. Band provided the musicians. We had to appear in gym-kit, gym vest, white flannels and gym shoes, with a bowler hat or portion of one to be stacked in the gym dressing room. We had to pair for dancing, any odd one out had to perform solo. Between dances we could be ordered over the horse, balance walk along a beam, or all off the floor, etc., and after 'The King' we had to dash to grip a piece of a bowler, thence subject to be chased by the seniors wielding swagger canes back to our quarters. None was badly hurt - it just served to let one-time public school bigwigs realise their place among the commonality-no bad thing.
Our first three weeks subjected us to concentrated infantry drill under our guardsmen instructors. To be implemented later by sword drill and cavalry drill to be used on our soon-to-be daily routine on bicycles to and from the R.A. riding schools on the town end of Woolwich Common. The strong invective of the W.D. and N.C.O. Rough-Riding Instructors made us all in due course into efficient horsemen accustomed to riding with and without stirrups or reins cantering and leaping low hurdles; above all how to tumble off limply and so avoid injuring limbs. We sappers had also to cycle to the so-called Ravelin for field works, bridging, etc., and later in company with the gunners on TEWT'S (Tactical Exercises without Troops ) in the local countryside, such as remained unpolluted by housing estates! We had indoor lessons on tactics, military law, calculating strains and stresses for safe bridging, and the explosive charges required to demolish them, and we practiced semaphore and Morse signalling, and made a hand tapper for more practice in the workshop.
Games rivalries between the RMA and the RMC, Sandhurst, were intense. I recall the summer cricket match at Lords one Saturday when I and others had been awarded weekend leave, (one in three were permitted), when I and others left the ground too bored to remain watching. The Shop happening to win, the authorities instituted a check-out at the gate after the match. I with others duly arrived back at the Shop in the Sunday evening at the accustomed hour. We were not under arrest, but we lost the extra night away awarded to the law-abiding, and were awarded one or two hoxters!
For our third, autumn, term we all became cadet officers or N.C.O.s (I as a Cpl or L/Cpl, I forget which) and we were split between the two companies, taking charge of them and their sub-units on all parades including the weekly Saturday ceremonial march-past parade complete with the R.A. band before any weekend leavers could depart. During this term, equitation training largely left the riding school for cross-country experience, stable management, minor veterinary care, and for driving drill both as outriders, and with long reins from a wagon seat. Somewhat unusually, having regard to gunners always largely outnumbering sappers, a sapper (H.E.G. St George - caricature at right) was awarded 'The Saddle' as the term's champion rider. Most cadets with pre-Shop riding experience endured a tough time at the hands of our rough-rider instructors ostensibly to rid them of their bad habits, but not so 'Georgy'. Later on in India with its enormous possibilities to practice horsemanship in many forms I was constantly grateful for my exiguous training at Woolwich.
My three months privilege leave (to compensate for the isolation from civilized life during a Waziristan posting, the third extra month of annual leave was granted) spent on shikar in Ladakh (see my last 'Reminiscence') terminated at the end of June, and I arrived back to the dreary wilderness of Manzai to find Bill Morse (O.C. 9 Fld Coy) had been posted as staff officer to the Chief Engineer Northern Command (Murree in summer, Rawalpindi in winter), and my fellow-subaltern Gilbert Cassels (caricature right) was just off on his 9 months of leave plus furlough in the UK, as was allowed to all British officers in the Indian Army after every 3 years service in India. So, there was I aged 25 in sole charge of 230-odd chaps, a privilege available to British Service subalterns only when heavy war causalities deplete their seniors.
There were no special excitements to start with. July was enlivened by a tamasha which 9 Coy staged to amuse the garrison. It involved knocking together a mini-imitation railway train with sappers dressing up as railway staff, police, sadhus, and some Arab passengers! The serious aspect of the month was a routine training course of musketry followed by field works: e.g. trenches, breastworks, and a 'stick-and string' suspension bridge.
When left 9 Coy for Ladakh, we were at Splitoi, between Jandola and Sarwekai, just about, having completed the substitution of a replaced N.W.R. railway bridge for a WW1 service pattern Inglis Bridge woefully vulnerable to any marauding tribesman with the simplest explosive charge. It so happened that three similar projects awaited execution on the Waziristan circular road near the camp site at Tauda China, one or two marches short of Razmak, the famous permanent brigade garrison which I never saw till ten years later. The C.R.E. Waziristan District ordered us thither and we spent most of the next three months usefully and interestingly employed. Infantry and Mountain Artillery from Razmak protected the campsite and opened the road daily for us and the Razmak Fld Coy (No 12 under Capt. R.E. Wood R.E.) to perform our allotted tasks. There were three bridge substitutions, one for each company separately, and one for us in cooperation. Our first was a comparatively short span, but it covered a deep (50'?) cliff-sided algad (dry watercourse liable to spates in the wet season), which complicated the assembling of components and the split in the working party personnel etc. The two other sites were on the flat just a few feet above the flowing Takki Zam. All went smoothly to plan. The significance for me was responsibility, not merely the engineering, but administration and discipline. Madras Sappers, in point of fact, seldom required orderly room reprimands or punishment. Of course my Indian Officers, a Subadar and 4 Jemadars) were always genial, tactful and supportive, but the whole affair revealed to me the implicit satisfaction to be derived from responsibility. Another outcome was a head for heights, not for me a natural aptitude, but the sappers skipping carelessly along planks laid between the steel bridge transoms, I could not but follow suit and the fear evaporated.
On return to Manzai we had immediately to prepare for handing over our camp site, mules, and equipment to our successors in the brigade, 13 Fld Coy. whose O.C. was Capt. Jack Steedman (caricature right) with Dennis Swan (O.W. = Old Wellingtonian =.alumni of Wellington College) and 'Boy' Whitman his subalterns. We exchanged advanced parties to prepare for the final transactions. Four or five days in the train brought us back to Bangalore during November. Our first 6.30 morning parade incurred a reprimand from the adjutant Capt. V.A.S. Anderson. We had, in Manzai adopted the universal custom there of wearing shirt tails outside the shorts, and I had forgotten that back home they had to be tucked in, hence the shouts of wrath when he encountered us on parade. It was but a momentary affair, and V.A.S., Freddie French and I spent a happy Christmas holiday period under canvas somewhere to the south near the Mysore Road on a duck shoot.
The year opened with the arrival of Neville Patterson, my Bulford companion in 1923 on posting to India. He had applied for Madras sappers, but in the intervening years he had undergone an Electrical and Mechanical course with the result, to his and my disappointment, that after three months he was posted to Bombay to take charge of the harbour defense searchlights. One would need to be very urban-oriented to tolerate such a city and its stifling damp heat.
My crunch came in April when, after ten months commanding 9 Fld Coy, Capt. P.A. (Tommy) Tucker (caricature left) arrived having completed a supplementary course, as undergone by all wartime commissioned sapper officers whose initial Chatham course had been strictly elementary.
I was forthwith ordered to hand over to him, a painful experience however inevitable and just. My posting was to command D1 Coy. There were two depot Coys, D1 & D2. The corps adjutant, a captain, was responsible for D2 Coy, and his deputy, a subaltern ran it. Its job was to select about 20 recruits a month from about 200 applicants, and to supervise their training in drill, musketry, field works, and to their elementary trade and education certificates. Educated recruits were only accepted to fill electrical and survey vacancies, the rest came straight off the fields. Coy's function was to administer the corps HQ staff, clerks, band, police, etc., all trained recruits, other sapper and NCO reinforcements for service units, all sappers from wherever undergoing artificer trades training. And all NCOs above L/Nk training for further promotion. The posting tended to become ever more gray from monotony.
However I had now after three years become eligible for eight months leave and furlough i.e. 2 months leave on full pay and the rest on basic rates without Indian army emoluments. Experimentally, I opted for a Lloyd-Trestino passage from Bombay to Venice, calling en route at Taranto or Brindisi - I forget which. Memories of the voyage are only gastronomic: copious ways of treating veal, and the nightly parade around the saloon of gigantic ice cream models of architectural monument. Venice in hindsight was remarkable for its emptiness - no avionics - and for reasonable hotel accommodation in May hard-by the Dog's Palace. The Lido beaches fenced off into sections as between hotel frontages were uninviting.
I with two companions from the ship made for Paris by train through Switzerland, and how unimpressive seemed the Alps after Himalayan experience. After a night in Paris we made for Calais and the white cliffs of Dover.
My headquarters were of course with the family in Northwood. Memories are scanty. Capt. 'Bud' Stein of the Royal Canadian Engineers, who had undergone the Chatham training course with my batch, happened to be in England again. He had a small car in which we toured the West Country as far as Lands End, spending en route a night with my great-uncle Bernard Paynter at Hendford Manor, Yeovil.
I underwent a driving instruction course with a South Kensington firm. No plethora of cars then: no street parking. Wheels were wood spoked, the handbrake to the driver's right, and the spare wheel outside the body on the same side. Three forward gears, and an even lower geared reverse, were not synchromeshed; double de-clutching was de rigueur and the crunch from misjudging axle speed in gear changing was shattering and shaming. Driving licenses were issued at the start of the course; in fact not till the mid-thirties were tests instituted.
I became a member of 'The In & Out', the Army and Navy Club in St. James's Square as a London (?)terre, and to be able to return hospitality, and I recall accompanying the family to Whitby on their summer exeat.
My Bulford C.R.E., Col. Philip Hodgson, now lived in York
as Chief Engineer Northern Command. He and Dolly several times had me to
stay. I think that Dolly realised that I needed initiation into female society
and took steps accordingly. Amongst others she one day invited Enid Scatchard,
the daughter of a Tadcaster doctor, to a tennis party at her house, and
we took to each other instantly. The romance was short-lived. The Scatchards
had me across and drove me to nearby Leeds, and there I discovered their
addictions to bookies (I had burnt my fingers in Chatham) and fortune-tellers
(superstition my anathema). I don't know how Dolly got me off this hook.
I believe she reported the rush home to 'my sick mother's bedside!
A drab beginning burgeons into brilliant blossom. Back to Bangalore in late January meant resumption of depot duties relieved by polo, hunting, and the social round. The officers mess with its large compound used for training ponies to stick and ball in the intervals between the 6.30 - 7.00 am parades and 8.00 o'clock breakfasts was at No 1 Promenade Road. No 2, to the east, approachable through a gap in the compound wall, was the Commandant's bungalow, he Lt. Col. R.C.R. Hill (left picture below), married but with his wife in England, elected to live further away, and his official bungalow was occupied by the bachelor Major E. Bradney, who as Superintendent of the Park, supervised the workshops and trades training. Being too big for him he elected to share his quarters with Bob (Dick) Richards (centre picture below), the subaltern in 33 Fld Troop then commanded by Capt. Maurice Jeakes (right picture below), who occupied no 3 with his wife Kathleen.
Dick, home the previous year, had arranged for his half-sister, Peggy Smith, to be shipped to India to spend a few months together, the bungalow providing ample room for both. I can barely now recall the months, let alone dates when what follows happened. I suspect her arrival to have been late May. I was friendly but paid no special attention. It was on a Saturday in Bangalore Week that anything significant began. There was a race meeting that afternoon, and a certain Dick Pedder of the H.L.I , one of whose battalions then occupied the British infantry barracks, and who had been several years my junior in the Hill at Wellington, invited me to a small bachelor luncheon party at the US Club. This was a jolly affair, and we were liberally plied with - could it have been a champagne cocktail or a rum punch? - anyway a potent brew. I did manage to climb to the topmost row of seats in the racecourse stand where I found Peggy Smith alone and sat beside her. My unsteady legs militated against descent, but we must have entertained each other adequately because there we sat the entire afternoon with never so much as a thought for a book-maker.
The following Saturday was the evening for the annual ball in the so-called Opera House of modest size for its title, and stripped of seats for the event. What Dick was up to I don't recall, but Peg had the use of his T-model Ford (I was too impecunious to run anything better than a buggy.) She drove me to the ball; we danced often together, and in the early morning we made a roundabout diversion back to our quarters, during which I 'popped the question'.) It met with surprise rather than agitation, and I was asked to bide a couple of days for consideration, which for me amounted to two sleepless nights. In the dusk of Monday I called with trepidation at the bungalow. She was alone, and the gently disclosed answer was 'YES'! But it was stipulated that the matter must remain secret until her parents' approval was forthcoming which meant clandestine meetings for the next six weeks. The P&O (the "Peninsular and Orient "shipping line) unloaded the mail every Friday in Bombay, which involved outgoing home mail being posted on Thursdays in Bangalore, and receiving incoming mail midday on Sundays. It did proceed overland to and from Marseilles, but six weeks was the minimum period between putting questions to and obtaining answers from home. Dick evidently put up a strong case for me. We played our part efficiently. R.C.R. Hill had organised a club dance party but I was rejected as too tall, and the day after assent was received and broadcast, Peg's hostess thought fit to apologise to me for having invited the wrong young man, St George (mentioned earlier). Only the Jeakes later confessed to guessing the truth. Sammy Elkington too had premonitions from some episode out hunting.
We did enjoy a short relaxation in the Nilgiris, but it was later during another hunt that disaster befell. I was several yards in front when I heard a crash behind me. Her mount had stuck a hoof in an ants nest, tripped and rolled with her right arm ulna and radius crunched under the pummels of her side-saddle. (she was too short-legged to ride astride.) I bound her arm as best I could to my hunting-crop, gently remounted her on my horse, and led the two mounts on foot to the nearest village where I engaged a bullock cart to take us back to the 'meet'. (She later said that she had been mentally unaware of all this!) The arm was set professionally at the British military hospital as soon as we got there, and thereafter she spent a painful period in her bedroom awaiting shipment home. That was not the end of her troubles. The fractured bones were bent and required re-breaking. In fact her elbow was never again completely flexible. We subsisted for months on weekly letters; hers in left handed calligraphy.
I sometimes wonder to what extent Dolly Hodgson deserves our blessing for this happy outcome.
1929 - Bangalore/UK (twice)
Wedding preparations dominated the first part of the year. Physiotherapy hastened the recuperation of Peg's fractured arm. I was granted leave for June and July to enable the wedding to take place on Saturday, 29th June, in Sutton Surrey, where the Smith family lived. When asked for a suggestion for the honeymoon location, my mind picked on the Torcross of our 1922 survey course, but the hotel was fully booked. Instead we spent a week or ten days at Hallsands a few miles beyond towards start point. It involved a train journey to Kingswear opposite Dartmouth, whence by taxi the hotel, arriving just in time for dinner. The proprietress greeted us with "I got your telegram saying the wedding had been postponed and booking single rooms in lieu of the double". But she was not surprised to learn that my best man 'jug' Stuart of my batch and one of Peg's local friends had evidently conspired in a practical joke! This period of peace was succeeded by a week or more of steady packing of Peg's kit plus an assortment of wedding presents for our return to Bangalore. The P&O S.S. Razmak bore us between Marseilles and Bombay, a minor fact impressed on the memory because the same vessel had transported her on the same journey the previous year.
During my absence R.C.R. Hill had been posted to Poonah as Chief Engineer Southern Command, and replaced by Tarn Bassett. The Bassetts were charming people, but were married comparatively late in life. We had 14 months to go prior to my eligibility for 'marriage allowance', permitted only at ones 30th birthday. As the saying then was - we were 'living in sin'. But Tarn went further than this in believing no married man could undistractedly apply himself to the efficient training of a field unit, and I was greeted with:- 'sorry young man, but you will have to join the M.E.S.. This signified the 'Military Engineering Services', for me the post of a 'garrison engineer' maintaining or constructing military buildings probably in some dull isolated station: certainly goodbye to soldiering. I rebelled and forthwith applied for reversion to the home establishment.
We were booked to join the troopship, S.S. Dorsetshire, some time in October. Poor Peg encountered at once the awkward situations that can arise for military wives, because I was told to collect a draft of infantrymen due for discharge from a Staffordshire battalion in Secunderabad and escort them to their depot in Lichfield. Peg had thus to supervise the loading of our baggage in Bombay and its discharge in Southampton about 4 weeks later. In point of fact the loading team had ignored my label of 'WANTED ON VOYAGE' on one trunk, so that we entered the Mediterranean and all other passengers were donning winter clothes in place of khaki drill; mine could not be found. Luckily the ship's quartermaster issued me a spare other-rank's greatcoat, my sole warm covering when I marched the contingent from Lichfield station to the barracks, wearing otherwise my khaki drill uniform, shorts and solar topi.
After a day or two unpacking in Sutton posting orders from
'the War-house' sent me without delay to Shrewsbury to be assistant to the
C.R.E. Welsh Area. Almost poverty stricken, we found apartments in the town
prohibitively costly. Instead we rented a primitive tiny bungalow in Bayston
Hill about 3 miles south on the A 49. I recall the tiny oven alongside an
open fireplace, oil lamps for illumination, drinking water from a roadside
standpipe 50 yards away, and for washing up and baths merely rainwater as
collected in tanks from the roof, and liable to run dry in summer. We did
just manage a car, a Mini Morris costing about £90 or £100 new.
1930 - Shrewsbury
Was the impulse to 'quit India' a mistake? My C.R.E., Lt. Col. Morrell, had taught, us map-reading at Woolwich and we got on splendidly. But the jobs! An office boy would have sufficed. I travelled frequently to such places as Hereford (an ordnance depot), Beachley Head (a boys trades training centre), Wrexham, Newport, Cardiff, Brecon, (Barracks), Trawsfynydd (then a live ammunition artillery range), and Anglesey sites for territorial camps. I was the bearer of instructions, and returned with reports, but never was I responsible for a decision.
We had bought a newly marketed Morris minor for around £100. Petrol consumption was light, and driving on duty helped to enhance my paltry bachelor subaltern's pay packet.
Peg was pregnant as her crisis approached I was dispatched with a party of territorials to St Helen's Bay, a north-facing beach on Belfast Lough, and a fellow subaltern accompanied me. We were to teach them field-works. The blokes were necessarily holiday-bent, and our mission was incapable of diverting their eyes from their watches.
Before departure I had taken Peg to her parents' home in Sutton,
Surrey ,and I returned from Belfast to be met with near tragedy. Jane had been
born a little prematurely on 12th July when Peg was simultaneously, and seemingly
unexpectedly, found to have acquired an appendix on the point of bursting, which
the doctors declared to be too dangerous to operate upon. Morrell sent me straightaway
on leave, and for some weeks I remained off duty. How long the crisis lasted,
I cannot remember. The worst moment occurred one evening when a London consultant
was summoned who reported to us late at night that he could do nothing and fear
the worst. Never before had anxiety hit me and it was to become oppressively
permanent, only to be relieved at long last when after weeks of slow recovery
the poisoned organ was eventually removed at, I think, Wimbledon Hospital. Weeks
afterwards Jane was found to be hydrocephalic.
1931(spring)/1933(autumn) - Edinburgh
Col. Morrell must have perceived my semi-boredom, because early in 1931 he conveyed to me his ability to recommend me to the Director General of the Ordnance Survey (OS) and inquired if I would like to be transferred to that department. I did not hesitate. He may have recalled my interest in maps and field sketching at Woolwich. In those days the OS was entirely a sapper concern, its civilians only clerical and financial staff, despite its civil service control, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries. Sapper officers were on loan for a maximum of five years from the War Department. Apprentice boys were selected from applicants straight from school to be trained in draughtsmanship ,computing (7-figure logarithms), lithography, printing, etc. At 18 or thereabouts they were enrolled as sappers and underwent the full recruit's course at Chatham thereafter to serve anywhere in the UK as required until completing their 21 years of colour service, after which they carried on as civilians until pensionable; in fact a job for life.
My transfer became effective in late March. I spent about a week in Southampton, the London Road HQ complex, meeting my immediate superiors and learning about the organisation before departing to my posting as Division Officer (DO5) in Edinburgh, where I was responsible for the up-to-date revision of all the 1/2500 scale plans in Scotland, and soon afterwards all of northern England, including all Yorkshire and Lancashire when the York-based division was abolished.
Our problems sprang from post-WW1 inflation which the 'Geddes Axe' had been designed to cure. Under it no government department escaped reductions in staff. The OS had been rendered incapable of filling in the gaps in the plan due to manpower shortage during the war, let alone coping with the enormous housing development had obliterated all the landmarks, thus necessitating new trigonometrical breakdowns to provide us with a framework from which to make a re-survey from rectangular coordinates.
Another crass government decision added to our dilemma. Ramsey Macdonald's chancellor instigated a hitherto unimaginable land valuation tax. How were land values to be assessed? From OS plans of course! Our slender resources had to be diverted from full to partial revision; i. e. disregarding buildings and concentrating on the less prominent boundary fences. Division officers were directed to dash full speed around their respective areas to interview every urban council to discover if any, using their own methods to keep their housing estate plans up to date, would guarantee their accuracy. In my vast area the sole guarantor was Seaham Harbour, Co Durham. Fortunately the government suffered a defeat, to be succeeded by a National Coalition with Conservative support. The land tax and other Labour extravagances were immediately quashed. My reconnaissance meant long absences from home driving our new 12HP 6-cylinder Austin, from which, thanks to cheap nightly lodgings, I amassed a fair implementation from travel and lodging-allowances to my monthly pay packet.
One other job factor of slight interest:- all my sapper revision parties worked in uniform save those in Glasgow, where mufti had to be permitted to avoid abuse and bottle throwers, such was the loveable Irish element even then.
Now to family affairs. We first lodged in the Craig Royston House on the banks of the Forth just beyond Fettes School, where Harry Fabian Ware happened to be the Art Master. He and Armyne were fellow guests at the hotel whence sprang a friendship that survived several decades. It was through them that we met the Lumsdens to whom we became no less strongly attached. E.S. (Bill) Lumsden was a RSA and a very accomplished etcher, and Mabel, his wife, especially noted for coloured woodcuts.
We soon found a furnished terraced house in Dean Terrace overlooking the waters of Leith, and within easy reach of the OS office in Claremont Crescent, but for most of our time in Edinburgh we rented No 4 Gordon Terrace, also furnished, the property of a friend of Gran Smith. This was hardby, but raised well above, the Dalkeith Road with its trams from Princes Street, and it provided us with a semi-rural view which included the remains of ? . Castle .
By the time of our arrival even Peg could not but notice poor Jane's deformity, and the consultant in Charlotte Square, to whom we were referred, notified us that no remedial action was possible. Our distress can be imagined.
What creatures of chance we all are. Scientists aver that millions of sperm, each differing individually, and stemming from countless ancestry, race to fertilize one ovum. Then comes individual choice. Had it not been for the devastating shock, Jane would have been provided with a companion, and it was only in the 1940's that condoms were abandoned.
We were fortunate to find one 'Jessie' to help with Jane, the cooking and household chores. She was the widow of a miner from the Glasgow side of Scotland.
In September 1931 were two weddings, a half brother and his sister to a sister and brother respectively. On the 8th Dick married Marcia, and on the 25th it was Phil and Kyff. Both were in Edgbaston where the Evans family lived. I did have to attend periodical conferences at my Southampton HQ, but I don't believe any helped us to attend either of the weddings, but attend we somehow did. Later Phil's house in Croftdown Road (No 59), Harborne, provided us with a very homely, if somewhat southerly, rest-house.
Among our visitors were, naturally, my mother and Peg's. The latter stayed on once to enable us to embark on a ten day of fortnight's holiday on the Norwegian fjords from, and back to, Grimsby docks. In passing I might add that we interchanged visits with Eric Bolton (Madras sapper) then a garrison engineer with his newly wedded wife Margaret.
We became very attached to Edinburgh because of its many
facilities to enjoy the arts: picture galleries, music (Donald Tovry, Director
of music at the University, ran weekly concerts in the Usher Hall during
the winter preceded by Sunday evening introductory lectures using a piano
to explain the forthcoming program), many other orchestras besides, two
theatres and cinemas galore, and more bookshops to the square mile than
anywhere else so far met with. Orders to leave came all too soon.
1933(autumn) / 1935 Southampton
I had been promoted Captain in 1930, the year that my 30th birthday entitled me to marriage allowance. It was particularly pertinent in late 1933 when a posting to Southampton was ordered. We travelled south in search of a house and found one to suit us in Bassett Crescent, just north of Southampton Common through which I was to walk in fine weather to the London Road OS offices. For the first time in our lives, furniture was required without the possibility, as universally available in India, to hire it on a monthly basis. Fortunately for us it was an era of trade depression, and we were able to procure all that we needed cheaply at Edinburgh's many second-hand shops. Had we not existed in comparative poverty in Shropshire, I doubt if we would have saved some of our increased income for a rainy day. We were also pleased and surprised to find that civil service regulations required us to submit just three estimates from removal contractors in order to ensure our furniture's free transportation.
My prospective Southampton landlord must have referred a Post Office inquiry to the OS HQ because, soon after my return to the Claremont Crescent office to clear up for transfer, I received a P.O. request for a name for the empty we house in Bassett. Having much else to consider, I pulled a 1-inch map at random from the rack behind my desk, closed my eyes, opened the map and pierced with a pin. The nearest village to the pinhole was Bilsdean, which solved the problem.
The move went smoothly thanks to the hospitality of Martin Hotline and his family already living is Southampton who put us up temporarily. I believe he was then occupied with experimental methods in the use of air photography for survey purposes. My new job sounds to have been dull but actually that was not so. It was O i/c Stores . My staff maintained the quantities of expendable materials to meet requirements. My attentions were focussed upon testing for quality and specifications, visiting exhibitions and manufacturers of lithographic and letterpress printing machinery and of optical scientific instruments to keep up to date with new trends, and to suggest to them possible directions for improvements. One journey took me as far as Glasgow, but the majority were to London: all were by rail. Indeed, for economy in our changed circumstances we substituted a 9HP Wolsley for our recent Austin. It was a small cylinder small variety of the then famous Hornet, but alas a comparative failure. Cylinder linings wore out; there was gearbox trouble and the seats were inflatable air balloons which all too often required the foot pump. (Incidentally individual front seats were introduced only after WW2.)
Nanny Ingram soon joined us to look after Jane. How we came by her eludes me, but this kind and faithful person remained with us until we settled in Churchland Farm.
There were no cultural facilities in Southampton, nor did it have an attractive shopping centre. The docks were paramount and the traffic in passenger liners and merchant shipping never ceased. Bournemouth was luckily near enough to fill our few luxury and cultural needs. We were obviously in closer touch with Northwood and Sutton and with the Hodgson family. Philip was now a Colonel and held the post of AG7 in the War Office; his job the worldwide postings of RE officers. They lived in a London suburb, might it have been Wimbledon? I recall accompanying Dolly one evening to the old and fated Queens Hall where Toscanini conducted, amongst other things, Debussy's la Mer which filled me with never-to-be forgotten excitement.
Sometime during this period Peg's father, Dan Smith, died. Gran Smith spent a few weeks with us and in Harborne before making up her mind to settle in Moseley, a Birmingham suburb, close to where she spent her youth finishing with a university degree.
A final item of interest relates to my first meeting with 'Pongo' Wheeler who joined the OS in Southampton from a survey project in West Africa (Gold Coast?), just about a week before I was due to quit in November 1935.
1936/1939 - India
When my OS service was about to close, I set on a return to India. An Aldershot CRE friend, whose name escapes me, warned me that India was too remote from public notice for anyone with ambition, but I elected to follow enthusiasm.
Furniture was removed to storage in Southampton, and for a few weeks embarkation leave we went to Moseley where Gran had nobly offered to undertake charge of Jane and Nanny while Peg accompanied me for a restricted spell overseas.
It must have been February that we landed in Bombay and proceeded at once to Bangalore. Mike Gilpin kindly housed us while we collected our hired furniture, kitchen equipment, staff, etc. for residence in 4 Spencer Rd, with the Parkers and Boltons in nearby bungalows. We were about 1/4 mile NW of the old Sapper Lines. I emphasize 'old' because we found all Assaye Lines abandoned, apart from what could be transformed into married quarters. The old 'Monkey House' - the customary nickname for the Corps HQ building - was now the British W.O.'s and N.C.O.'s Mess . (They were almost entirely engaged in workshop trades training.) The new Monkey House, company lines and parade grounds, were about a mile further east, beyond Ulsoor Tank and the old field troop lines, in a corner of what had always been our field-works training area known as Meeanee Lines. It involved earlier rising for morning parades, and more transport, cycles and cars (now in general use). We had bought and shipped a 16HP 6-cylinder Austin, which we collected a few weeks later in Madras. Our staff included Sandy, who had served James Pirie for eleven years, and who was to stay with me for the next seven. There was a tendency amongst the British to despise Indian Christians. Admittedly religious distinctions were ignored in the Madras Sappers, and at large felt less intensively than in northern areas, but no bearer could excel Sandy (his Tamil name was a long one and never used) for honesty, reliability, and a genuine interest in his employers, despite, or because of, his Christian background.
One of my early assignments was to proceed to Trivandrum, the capital of Travancore (now part of Kerala) to reconnoitre and recommend a safe area for the Maharajah to construct a rifle range on which to train his private army. This involved us in a unique tour of southern India.
I forget how long it took us. There was no direct route, so we chose to go south via Salem, Trichinopoly (famed for cheroots), Madura, and Tinivelly to Cape Comorin. The Western Ghats stop short some 15 to 20 miles north of this 'Lands End', and what a tame feature it is compared with ours - a flat beach with a flat background a few feet above sea level. We no more than paddled there. Thence it was a mere 50 miles up the West Coast through a continuous forest of coconut palms and an unbroken line of native dwellings. Trivandrum, a walled city, contains Hindu temples and images in customary style, and it was the terminus for a system of canals: in fact so many rivers draining the western Ghats, cross-able only on ferries, and the so-called lakes, separated from the coast only by narrow embankments, rendered Travancore almost as aquatic as Venice!
Several young men were attached to me as guides and assistants. There was no evidence of drug addiction, but before midday they were invariably drowsy and quite useless. Peg and I spent every afternoon on a secluded beach to the south where one could relax in calm sea-water for endless hours unchilled. It took about a week to choose a suitable site amongst the universal tapioca fields (the staple grain of the district) and to produce a field sketch with my ideas for firing points and target zones, after which we returned northwards as far as Cochin, our final sea bathe, and then turned inland to arrive back via the Nilgiri Hills and Mysore. We were not sorry to be free of dak bungalows for a while.
Minor exeats took us several times to relax on Nandidroog (a rocky eminence 1800 ft above the wide 3,000 ft Deccan Plateau; at the southern end is a precipice where Typoo Sultan of Mysore delighted to fling his prisoners of war to their deaths), three weeks with my Coy training them in pontoon bridging at Nanjangood on the Cauvery River south of Mysore, a months holiday at Somerdale, a tea-planters house, 6miles from Ootacamund off the Mysore Road standing at about 6,000 ft; log fires every evening. The Forbes were simultaneously at Wellington or Kotagiri on the far side of 'Ooti' and we met several times. And there was a day in October when we joined forces with the Forbes to watch the Maharajah of Mysore's birthday processions from, by daylight, and back with torches to, his palace. We spent Christmas at Hampton's Hotel, run by an ex-RIASC officer whom I knew, in Coonoor, also in the Nilgiris, and a weekend visiting the Jeakes' in Madras, Maurice having elected to retire so as to become secretary of the Race Course. Towards the end of our Bangalore sojourn, 'Uncle' Ray the Corps quartermaster, came to inspect our bungalow and poked his stick through one of the ceiling timbers declaring it unfit for habitation due to termite infestation. We were moved to No.1 Knoxpet Rd, hardby the Ulsoor dhobi-ghat, where clothes were daily bashed on flat stone slabs to wash them. It was luxuriously capacious and much closer to the Meeanee Lines complex.
All the above sounds like, and indeed was, fun. But there was also a serious side. I took over the command of No.12 Fld Coy due for Waziristan in March '37. My predecessor, who shall be nameless, was par-excellence administrator rather than a trainer of troops. For instance, I inherited a card-index which he had compiled for desk use listing detailed particulars of very man in the company. Men constantly came and went. They worked for and acquired promotions in trade and rank, all necessitating index alterations. It may have been quicker to refer to the index than having to call for a man's sheet roll where the same information had to be recorded, because when anyone was transferred his sheet roll accompanied him. This index did not survive long with me as I strove to concentrate on training and efficiency. Actually I was not satisfied with 12 Coy's performance until 1938, and our early reputation in Waziristan was rather murky. I must refer you to the R.E. Journal of June 1984, the off-prints from which I distributed for an account of the two years to 1939.
Turning now to family matters, Peg in March'37 accompanied the 12 Coy troop train north as far as Mari Indus where she boarded a night train to Rawalpindi. She reported by letter that the train stopped in the middle of nowhere; the engine driver and guard requested her (the only first class passenger) to verify that the signal was red and that she should accompany the driver in his cab to the next signal box in order to verify his report. India was a land for strange occurrences. From 'Pindi she travelled by hired car to Srinagar where she came to share a houseboat on the Dal Lake with a Molly? whom we had known in Bangalore. The plan was that I should join her on leave before she returned to the UK to resume charge of Jane, but as recorded in the R.E. Journal article, we stagnated in Bannu on account of the build up for operating against the Faqir of Ipi and his incipient rebellion. British wives not already resident in Bannu were forbidden entrance, but Peg defied the authorities and appeared surreptitiously, and we stayed together for a short while with Jug Stuart, my erstwhile best man, now Garrison Engineer, and his newly wedded Flossie(?) ex-Hartnell, being the sister of the famous fashion designer with Royal connections. She in fact acted as his agent amongst the high and mighty in the Raj. It was a short stay. Very few wives remained in the threatened community. In any case I succumbed to sand-fly fever (sand-flies are tiny enough to penetrate a mosquito net), not repetitious like malaria, but painful to head and eyes and leaving one with a weakened physique. In fact all military leave was blocked until the following October when I was granted ten days to be spent in luxury and lassitude as never hitherto experienced in Kashmir. We parted after a night spent in 'Pindi with Brigadier and Mrs. Davison, he then C.E. Northern Command, the parents of Armyne Fabian Ware. (They eventually retired to live in Aboyne on Deeside where we visited them from Allargue .)
Peg sailed for home as quickly as possible and set out to find a suitable home to relieve Gran from the care of Jane and Nanny. (Surprisingly I have as yet omitted to record that Gran's family called, and referred to her as Mousedear. Could that been one of Phyl's infantile aberrations?) Her first letter to me indicated that Southampton was involved, to which I recall an immediate cautionary 'For heaven's sake, war is threatening and Southampton will be high on the list of ports for bombing'. The outcome was to rent a bungalow, Tinamara, in Harmans Cross in Dorset midway between Corfe Castle and Swanage.
It was here that I visited the family on 3 months privilege leave in the summer of 1938, and for my curtailed furlough due in early 1939. 1938 marked my initiation to air travel. I flew from Marseilles in an old-fashioned 'prop' monoplane, the cabin slung below the wings. We landed at Lyons and Paris, where I changed planes for Croydon, where Peg met me driving a second-hand Hillman Minx. The sole episode within recall relates to a meeting with the local District Council just after my arrival where I sat dumb while Peg argued for a reduction in the rates, comparing hers with her neighbour's. She declared my presence gave her confidence in spite of my inability to contribute. To add a week or so in my home, I spent a some of my frontier-acquired wealth on a KLM flight back to Karachi. This involved an evening flight from Croydon to Amsterdam with free overnight hotel accommodation, followed by an early morning start from there to Amsterdam with free overnight hotel accommodation, followed by an early morning start from there to Athens, stopping at Frankfurt and Budapest en-route. The plane was a Douglas DC2: a row of seats either side of the fuselage sufficiently spaced to permit backs to fall horizontally and leg rests likewise to rise. No cabin staff; no inboard service: refreshments only as required from the cafe-restaurants at the stopovers. We arrived at Athens with light to spare for a taxi to the Acropolis which, since tourists came only by ship or rail, was unencumbered with crowds, enabled us to examine it all by ourselves. A shudder woke me to find the ceiling lights swinging in our luxury hotel. It was my first earth tremor. A similar one occurred in Razmak shortly afterwards. The approach roads and streets are now much improved from their pot-holed state in 1938. Next day we over-flew Crete to Alexandria, thereafter landing at Tel Aviv, and Baghdad. Thence following the Tigris the pilot circled around Ctesiphon to let us view the archeological wonder from all sides. Incidentally our pilot's maximum flight altitude enabled us throughout to enjoy a view of the landscape, traffic, etc. The night was spent not very luxuriously in Basrah. On the last day we stopped in South Persia (might it have been Jask?) before reaching Karachi in the late morning, encountering a rare phenomenon in that arid district, a heavy rainstorm with sheets of water flying right over the nose of the aircraft as we touched down. Tarmac or concrete runways were then unknown. The airfields were just plain grass or dry sand or gravel according to local geological conditions. I reached Bannu at the weekend and spent it with the Pettmans, Walter having relieved 'Jug' Stuart. Penny had been born and I attended her baptism.
The journey in 1939 from Bombay was a replica of 1938 except
that I was met at Orly(?) airport by Peg and Gran and the Hillman Minx.
We spent several days in Paris, my first encounter with that city. Our hotel
was close to the Arc de Triomph and Champs Elysée. We walked in the
Bois de Boulogne, groped around the Louvre, and watched a performance of
Giselle at the Opera House. (I cannot imagine Adams's commonplace score
whipping any ballet company into sparkling enthusiasm.) From Paris we drove
via Versailles and Chartres into Brittany as far as Dinard and St Malo.
Returning via the less attractive Normandy coast to Boulogne. Other tours
included our first visit to Allargue via Greta Bridge in Yorkshire, over
the Pennines and through the Lake District. Less extensively we visited
Cheddar Gorge, Wells and Glastonbury, and another reached the far west coast
of Cornwall. At our leisure we explored the Isle of Purbeck so-called, and
westwards to Dorchester and Portland Point. I played squash with Walter
Pettman, happening to be on leave in Swanage, and visited my old prep-school
who had removed themselves there during WW1 when the Northwood building
had been commandeered. Penny Pettman (now Baker) tells me she was parked
for a while with Peg and Nanny, but when or why, or for how long, is a mystery.
WW2 Part I: India/Burma
Late in August 1939, a War Office letter instructed me to report by a certain date (28th - 30th or so) to Western Command HQ in Chester with a view to embarking back to India, and thus shortening my furlough by a couple of months at least.
We drove north by car and I duly reported to be told to report back daily at 10.0am, until a firm timetable could be revealed. Chester hotels seemed fully booked so we resorted to greater peace and quiet in Wrexham, a short drive to the west. After two or three days, orders for entraining were issued and it was at the station that Peg and I parted for indefinite years. Our destination was undisclosed. Eventually we detrained at the quayside in Paisley and were ferried without delay to the troopship anchored off-shore, there to remain incarcerated until our arrival in Bombay. It was not until several days after hearing the PM's broadcast to the nation that war was declared that we weighed anchor for the anti-submarine zigzag course though the Atlantic. Some relaxation of nightly blackout was permitted after Suez, but the Bombay quayside was a welcome sight.
Surprise, surprise! There was Sandy to meet me with a trunkful of uniforms which he had selected from my stored luggage (no anxiety about entrusting him with the keys before my departure), and orders with appropriate travel warrants to proceed direct to Mandalay to take command of 13 Fld Coy. This entailed a train to Calcutta, a British-India ferry boat to Rangoon, and another train to Mandalay. I found 'Kitch Saergert, the OC categorized as unfit for service having contracted TB. Kitch of all people! On his first arrival in Bombay the press praised his heroism for rescuing an Indian girl from street thuggery. Court proceedings had delayed his expected arrival at Corps HQ. Thereafter he was a tower of strength on the polo field and in all he undertook. The poor chap left with his wife for Canada, his original home, where he was shortly to die.
I was to spend six months or so living in the Burma S&M Mess. The Madras S&M had hitherto served in Mandalay, 15 Coy its permanent representation there with personnel interchanged from D1 Coy in Bangalore. To find 13 Coy there was to me a surprise. The Burma S&M had been instituted as part of the newly ordained Burmese Army to take over from Indian Army units. Previously the BMP (Burma Military Police) had been the sole armed organisation for patrolling the Burma/Chinese frontier. Rowan Stack with two or three subalterns in support assembled and were training the new unit from scratch. 13 Coy had helped with drill, field works, and trades, and was due to hand over equipment and quit when the program was completed.
Mandalay beside the broad Irrawaddy was hot and stifling. Luckily the local monsoon was about to cool it down. The sapper lines were just north of the vast walled and moated fort with a lamasary of yellow robed monks between it and Mandalay Hill from which emanated every evening the clamour of multi-pitched gongs, News of the 'phony' war was minimal and locally ignored. My CRE at Army HQ was stationed at Maymyo in the Shan Hills to the east and I used an ancient open Ford car to visit him from time to time. Westland and Joan Wright also lived there with their three daughters, and I spent several weekends with them. He represented the Indian Survey Department, based on Dehra Dun, to keep the Burmese maps up to date. I also enjoyed ten days leave that I was granted for a trip in an Irrawaddy paddle steamer north as far as Bhamo. We anchored regularly overnight, stopping by day at many 'ports' to interchange passengers and goods, sticking on a sandbank and helping to drag off other steamers similarly stuck. Much countryside was flat with the exception of two narrow cliff-flanked gorges. I spent all day at Bhamo interested in its largely Chinese population, and a bus ride around the neighbourhood. Returning I had to land at Katha on the west bank and complete the journey by train.
Come March 1940 and hand-over completed, I shepherded 13 Coy back to Bangalore by ferry from Rangoon to Madras. To be greeted by the Commandant on arrival with the baneful words: 'You are too old now for Coy command and you must turn your mind to more senior jobs. 'Poor Boy' Whitman, my 13 Coy successor, took them to Singapore where they were captured by the Japanese and remained prisoners of war till 1946.
Dick Richards and Marcia had been in Bangalore with their family, but in 1938 their eldest son took ill and died. Marcia thereupon left India for good, and Gran had sailed out to console and keep house for him. They lived in a large bungalow with an extensive compound at No 3 Brunton Road, and I was invited to share the accommodation. Located just off Trinity Road about midway between Meeanee Lines and Nilsandra Barracks, it was very convenient for my posting as second in command of the training battalion under Jack Steedman.
It was around now and the result of the British Expeditionary Force's evacuation of Belgium, that in view of a possible German invasion that the Isle of Purbeck was declared a restricted or prohibited zone. It was then Peg, and Phil from the bomb target of Birmingham, joined forces and evacuated themselves to Central Wales, renting a one tine school building(?) in Llangurig. The accommodation was far from ideal, one large hall opening directly to the public highway, but somehow they all became happily occupied.
In due course I was transferred to the Monkey House as Superintend of Park, i/c Workshops and Trades Training, involving not only the peacetime establishment but setting up a new one at Jalahalli to the west where a hutted encampment and been planned to cope with the huge planned increase in service units required for the war.
It was at this time that I first became acquainted with Geo' and Patricia Richards with their then diminutive twins. Also it was about now that officers in depot employment were ordered to hand in their revolvers, prismatic compasses and binoculars, because there were insufficient otherwise to equip those newly commissioned from the many training establishments up and down the land. Nor must I ever forget Monseigneur Vanpeen (spelling?) of St Mary's R.C. Cathedral, who every Monday evening gathered several of us, including John Forbes, to listen to gramophone records (78's). Cesar Franck and he came from the same region on the French-Belgian coast, and I heard much of his music there for the first time.
In December 1941 fate set me upon a futile mission: advisedly 'fate' because I cannot imagine such decrepit human intelligence. Just after Christmas John Forbes and I set off by the narrow gauge West Coast train for Poonah. I forget his purpose; mine was to form a group to be known as "5 LoC" (Lines of Communication) of which I was to be CRE. I was provided with a war-commissioned Captain to be adjutant, an ex-warrant officer subaltern for quartermaster, a clerk or two, and about four civilians straight from the Public Works Dept, donning officers uniform without so much as a day's military training to serve as garrison engineers. There were several motor vehicles including a truck for some tools, and a caravan. Once assembled we entrained for Calcutta quayside where we boarded a small ship, too small to include our transport said to be following in our tracks. We disembarked at Rangoon and were next day ordered to entrain for Kyaito (ky in Roman-Burmese always pronounced like our ch), there to report to the commander of the brigade then trying to stem the Japanese northerly advance from Thailand. We were to offer help in preparing defenses. De-training after dark we slept on the platform, and at first light, I reported our presence to Brigade HQ for orders, to be met by the astonished commander:- "We're fighting. There's no one to spare for any working parties." Meanwhile an angry staff-captain had seen our white mosquito nets and told us never again to use them unless they were stained khaki, because their prominence invited Jap planes to drop bombs. Orders then came to report back to Rangoon, which we did, spending two nights there under what might be termed desultory night bombing, until the perplexed Army HQ shuffled us off to Taungyi where there was skeleton Brigade HQ under a Brig. Becher, recently KOYLI. His purpose was to help the Chinese 6th Army due to come west from Kengtung to reinforce their 5th Army now trying to stem the Japanese advancing up the Irrawaddy. Becher suggested that two of my GES might be sent west and the others east to ensure clear highways, and he and I reconnoitred the road east. A little later he and his Brigade Major went east to meet the Chinese only to find them completely self-contained and spurning ideas of help.
The early fall of Rangoon rendered the coming of our MT an impossibility. Luckily a local police superintendent was able to supply us with substitutes discarded by Europeans who had fled by air to India. He also replaced my revolver from a hoard of illegal pistols and some ammunition to boot.
How could we be usefully employed? Army HQ in Maymyo suggested finding and preparing emergency landing grounds for the RAF. Splendid, but the Jap advance had caused all RAF air-fields to close and basing all aircraft on Assam. Then came Jap bombing raids. The local inhabitants all fled into the jungle so that no civilian labour was forthcoming. A string of bombs straddled the school building that was housing us: no direct hit, but holes through the brick wall and broken windows displayed our personal good luck in escaping. Eventually circumstance led to our being ordered north entailing dispatch riders to my GE's since we had no radio equipment. We expected to retire via the Mandalay bridge, but, alas, Rowan Stack with his Burma S&M, soon to be disbanded, believing Mandalay evacuation to be complete had demolished several spans with explosives. We just had to turn east to Lashio, thence north with a swing west eventually to Bhamo and Myitkyina. It was a slow progress because Becher insisted on our staying put at each of our many halts until forced to move by Jap proximity, just in case a miracle might have halted them. By now my GE's who had hurried ahead were beyond my reach.
Myitkyina lies on the west bank of the river and we were lucky to find the ferry still operating .We had to abandon our vehicles on the east bank and all equipment bar what we stood up in. We fired revolver shots into the car engines to render them unserviceable. Two things to emphasize:- no maps were available, and the Indian army retired to Assam by road well to the south. We were told at first to make north to Sumprabum before turning west, and I with my skeleton staff set out accordingly only to be stopped next morning by a dispatch rider instructing us to return to Brigade HQ in order to begin our exit from Mogaung about two days march down-river. We had been lucky. A civilian party who took the Sumprabum route encountered far worse conditions than we did.
Brig Becher called his staff to a conference in Mogaung warning us of the toughness ahead, suggesting that individual effort might be best because some could march more quickly than others, and that if injury or disease were to stop us we should lie up in a neighbouring village where we'd find the inhabitants sympathetic and helpful. I never heard of that advice was ever put to the test. Since he was unable to carry any further the cash reserves from his brigade safe in Taungyi he distributed it amongst us to alleviate any distress in our parties should they arrive penniless in Assam. This was quite unauthorized but preferable to leaving it as a perquisite for the enemy. The MO then distributed generous quantities of quinine tablets (3 to be taken daily) and chlorine for water-bottle replenishments. Five of us stayed together throughout: my adjutant, QM, a clerk and someone from another unit.
We just had to follow in the footsteps of the Indian refugees and others escaping homewards, and were recommended to make use of the caches of rice that had been established at intervals for all escapers. To begin with, the land was flat and the road straight; stray Jap planes flew by, sending us sprawling still and face down if possible under a shrub. This menace was short-lived. One day a convoy of trucks carrying Chinese troops (5th Army I suspect) overtook us and we thumbed a lift. They were not friendly and next morning drove on before daylight. The villages were all deserted and we slept in the empty houses which were constructed entirely of bamboo, foliage in the roof, stout posts supporting them, and walls and elevated floors some 5' or 6' above ground, could be described as close split-bamboo hurdling. With mattresses sleeping on them might have been comfortable. We reached a point where rice cashes ceased and we became dependent on our haversack reserves which, of course were limited. So far we had been lucky in that one of our party had the foresight to bring two waterproof bags, one containing salt and the other match boxes which we each evening used to light a brushwood fire to boil rice in our individual mess-tins.
We came to a river, possibly a tributary of the Chindwin. There was a small assemblage on the bank under the control of a political officer, and two native boats with paddles still ferrying people across. We were told to board one straightaway as essential for rejoining our units, but my conscience has never quite ceased pricking at our assent. Thereafter the forest began, the narrow rocky path constantly changing direction and slope. From here onwards there came the stench of a corpse every few hundred yards, so it seemed, and nightly came the high-pitched yelp of jackals. We slept in the open under trees after the billy-can of rice, and when the monsoon rains began we did our best to build brushwood shelters against tree trunks, the frequent valley rivulets kept our water-bottles filled.
Hereabouts a rumour reached me that the eldest of my GE's had tried to steal a march by cadging a lift to India in an RAF plane from Myitkyina airfield only to be killed by a shot from a raiding Jap fighter. I sought but never found firsthand confirmation, so I reported him missing when I reached Assam. For years requests came to report him killed, but I lacked so much as a crumb of firm evidence.
Our rice reserves ran out. We did pass one or two dumps of tinned goods assembled from RAF drops, and the man in charge issued one can each to passers-by, but by now only fruit or veg' were available: no protein.
Eventually a wide river in full spate, presumably the Chindwin, confronted us. Four Gurkhas trying to cross were reported to have drowned, so we spent four or five nights in a nearby village awaiting fordability. When it was deemed safe, the five of us, as did other parties, felled a stout bamboo and stripped it clean with a view to clinging to it in single file, so that if one stepped into a hole or otherwise endangered himself, the rest of us might stand firm in his support. We were very lucky because at this juncture there arrived a convoy of elephants probably being evacuated by the Bombay - Burma Timber Company. Anyhow they volunteered to carry our equipment across to be collected on the far bank. All went according to plan. The forest track now became even steeper and the hills higher, but mercifully the Assam Tea Planters Association had organised rest camps at day's-march intervals with bamboo platforms on which to sleep under almost rainproof shelters, and providing food to boot. Had it not been for them I suspect that I for one might have died of starvation. The final stretches were comparatively easy-going as we happened upon the partially excavated highway which eventually served for the counter-invasion of Burma.
We had often bathed our feet and splashed our heads in crossing streams. It was however only when we eventually reached Ledo after the 5 or 6 weeks of struggle that we were stripped for medical inspection. What a shock; I was a mere skeleton apart from a few leg muscles. Having reported our arrival here it was surprising to be told months later that AHQ had not been informed of my return. We were quickly deported by train through Margarita to Dibrughar on the banks of the Brahmaputra River. Having been rendered semi-deaf by my quinine pills I stopped taking them.
On my first morning in Dibrughar I was in a store shopping to replace some essential items left behind, when the Bishop of Assam (name now in oblivion!) who was based in this town spotted my woebegone condition and immediately offered me accommodation and care. How more Christian could one be? A row of bedrooms ran along one side of his compound and I was to occupy one of them. I attended his matutinal eucharist in his private chapel several times, and then inevitably malaria poured out. Quinine suppress the virus in the spleen. It does not kill it and they take every opportunity to infest the entire system causing high fever and shivering muscles - even holding a cup of tea becomes impossible. When this occurred the bishop summoned the M.O.; regrettably no effective malarial medicine e.g. mepacrin, was then available in India. He thereupon prevailed on a brigadier billetted on him to summon a medical board, and their verdict was Category C, unfit for service, and authority for a travelling warrant back to Bangalore. Thus ended my 'illustrious' active service in WW2.
The journey involved the train to Army HQ in Goulaghat, a berth in a hospital ship down river to the west bank railhead (name forgotten), a stopover in Calcutta, followed by train to Bangalore, changing in Madras - quite an ordeal for a weakened man.
Gran again put me up. Dick having left, she was renting a smaller bungalow - No 8 Brunton Road. (Poor Dick was moved around from job to job, but never to active service owing to the apoplexy he had contracted from a fall at polo. This disappeared later but whether from medical or natural causes, I do not know. I remained there shivering at three-day intervals. A spell of relaxation in Ratantata House, the Officers' Convalescent Home in Ooti, proved ineffectual. Jack Steedman, who had succeeded P.A. Tucker as Commandant (Tommy Tucker was soon reported killed in an air-crash on the Burmese frontier), had the good sense to post me to be the CO of No 3 Training Battalion in Jalahalli, where, although periodically out of action, I boosted my morale being occupied in training recruits and passing them on to Rowan Stack, who in the same location was busy forming the numerous new service units. (See the RE Journal extract from the December 1951 issue.
By now petrol was unobtainable. I had sold my old Hillman Minx before embarking for Burma in '42, but even the fairy-light Italian 2-stroke assisted bicycle bought on my return became useless. Whisky was rationed to one bottle per month; gin was unobtainable. Local beer never appealed. Luckily my Subedar-major put me in touch with his own supplier, which he guaranteed to be a completely safe producer of arrack, the native spirit, which I rendered palatable with homemade bitters using cardamoms supplied by my ex-planter co-battalion commander George Brooke.
Sometime in July '43, after Maurice Jeakes, recalled to the service, had replaced Jack Steedman as commandant, an Indian Army Order offered passages home to all British Service officers who had served over seven years in India. I accepted immediately.
I finally left my old Corps with very mixed feelings in
late August, and poor Sandy was nearly in tears as we parted on the quayside
in Bombay. The troopship, full when it arrived, sailed out comparatively
empty which helped to make the voyage zigzagging across the Indian Ocean
an enjoyable one .We certainly penetrated latitudes south of the Cape of
Good Hope before switching north through the Mozambique Channel to Durban.
We stayed in the rest camp there for a week under orders to remain within
its precincts until 10am each day in case orders for departure should have
arrived. Otherwise we came and went ad lib. We explored the town and several
beaches to the south and roamed around the neighbouring sugar plantations.
The eventual move was by train to Cape Town involving two nights and a day,
enabling us to see some thing of the Veldt, and the dry stony Karoo before
descending into a lush green valley full of vineyards. We spent another
week in a rest camp before our final embarkation. The white South Africans
we met were one and all charming people only too pleased to drive us around,
provide meals and the entree to their exclusive clubs. Also recordable is
the fact that my last shivering fit occurred on the Cape Town quayside preparatory
to boarding. I had to sit on my suit case terrified lest I be rejected as
sick person. Many months were to pass before the anaemic after-effects of
Part 2 - Europe
The voyage from Cape Town contrasted badly with the previous one: overcrowding in all classes, dual sittings at all meals. My cabin, formerly big enough for four, as I suspect, was crammed with ten Lt. Colonels sleeping in twin-tiered bunks.
The voyage was divided into four stages interrupted by anchoring for a week each at what we took to be (no information was ever vouchsafed as to our locations or movements) the Congo estuary, Freetown, and Gibraltar, while fresh convoys and escorts were assembled. From Gibraltar we were surprised one evening to find ourselves steaming east, and then next morning to be zigzagging vaguely west into the Atlantic. At last, alcohol exhausted and the bread weevily, we landed after six weeks from Cape Town at Glasgow docks. Anaemic depression had long deterred me from venturing on deck after dark lest I became inspired to leap the railings.
We entrained for Harrogate to obtain travel warrants to our respective homes. Just when Peg & co departed from Llangurig, I cannot recall, but my ticket was to Sutton Bingham, the nearest railway station to Halstock, a village south of Yeovil and just over the county border. Peg was renting a bungalow there called Cloverfield. Nearby was a farm owned by the Holloway family, Molly and Peg becoming close friends, indeed eventually Daphne's godmother. Petrol rationing restricted movement and I cannot remember any excitements. Molly was the local rep. for the Ministry of Agriculture touring farmsteads to check hygiene in connection with dairy products, and we accompanied her sometimes. German bombers were still active, and one night an explosion woke us. Evidently a bomber returning to the French coast had decided to offload his surplus bombs which fell some half-mile or so away without actually damaging anything.
About ten days after my arrival, I was summoned to the War Office to discuss future employment. Out of touch as I was with the then modern technology, I agreed on Survey and was posted to be AD (Assistant Director) of Survey at SW Army HQ in Salisbury. The HQ office was in Wilton House with the equivalent USA HQ to the north. But my office was in Salisbury town, a small detached building at the junction of Castle St. and the Wilton Rd. At least once a week I attended conferences at Wilton, and I was in technical charge of a Fld Svy Coy RE at Teffont Magna, their training and printing section busy producing maps for the coming invasion of Europe. Occasionally my boss, Harold Bazeley, at Home Forces HQ in Hounslow summoned me to confer. After some months my equivalent in SE Command in Reigate was posted overseas and I had to supervise his office as well as mine. While there, I remember the pop-pop-popping of V1 flying bombs passing overhead from France by day and night, but none fell nearby. Eventually I was touring much of the south and west looking for suitable premises to become map stores in towns selected by the planners for the issuing of maps to the Normandy invasion forces.
I was billeted in luxury at Bishop Down House, Bishop Down being a ridge at the NE edge of Salisbury. The owners, Dr and Mrs. Thornton, were kind people. Having spent several weekends in Halstock, the Thorntons invited Peg to stay. Dr Thornton, an ex-mayor, held a senior post in Salisbury Hospital, and having learnt about Jane's condition and that Peg was again expectant, arranged for her to be fully tested, and furthermore for a nursing home near his house where he could himself supervise the event and ensure as far as possible that no harm should accompany Daphne's delivery.
I experienced a vivid dream one night and reported it to Dr Thornton at breakfast. I was driving a car down a light incline in a street of shops when I lost control. It swung onto the pavement and finished square across the road. That morning I was due in Hounslow at a conference and was being driven by a young ATS in an army touring car. It was frosty. Shortly after the A30 from Salisbury joined the A33 from Winchester, grass verges and open fields, down a gentle northerly slope; black ice; car out of control; spins around finishing on the near-side verge. The steering was awry, so no Hounslow. Was it coincidence or premonition?
For my early education after this posting I had to visit the Army Survey Training Centre in Wales near Llangollen, of which 'Pongo' Wheeler was in charge. Lunching in the town I met 'Nan' for the first time.
In January 1945 I was ordered to join the Army Group HQ Brussels as AD Svy. General Montgomery lived away towards the front in his caravan, available only to his chiefs of staff. His appearances at our HQ were rare. Our offices, messes, and bedrooms were concentrated in one huge building. Health demanded an effort of will to get out and about into the city, which appeared undamaged. Throughout my year's service with this HQ, here and as we advanced in Muchen Gladbach, and later in Bad Oynhausen, we were allocated to our messes by rank. In ordinary regimental messes the ranks are mixed, making for a family feeling of comradeship, and under good leadership, mutual loyalty in all circumstances. Conversation in rank-segregated messes seemed restricted to speculating on who might get what job; in fact individual competitiveness. I was reminded of being sent to Madras in 1928 for three weeks to enable a staff captain at District HQ to enjoy three weeks leave. Here the ranks were mixed but the chaps remained individualistic rather than part of a team, and my reaction was to request the commandant on my return not to nominate me for the Staff College.
The job was office-binding in the first instance involving two nights without sleep. I had nothing to do with the Fld Svy Coys who were largely occupied in providing gunners with rectangular coordinates of their gun positions, reference points and distant targets. Map stocks and their distribution were among my responsibilities. Two of us did manage to spend an afternoon at the site of the battle of Waterloo and I recall two nights at the Opera House: otherwise it was sheer slog. After the Rhine crossing we moved to Munchen Gladbach to be installed in an 'ex-loonybin' (appropriate?), and eventually to Bad Oynhausen, which, earmarked for our HQ in advance, had been left intact by the RAF. The wrecked towns we passed through made melancholy viewing.
It was post-armistice that I became properly active. We scattered to investigate German HQ's and other military establishments. Stores containing maps relating to the invasion of Britain were ransacked and the contents consigned to the War Office. In particular we sought for the equipment they had devised to correct air photographs for mapping purposes. They too were sent home. I worked thus in Hamburg, Brunswick, etc. I spent a few nights in Frankfurt in a US army mess to consult with our senior survey representative at what had been the Allies combined HQ. My most interesting assignment involved a flight to Copenhagen to be present at a planning conference for connecting the Danish and Norwegian triangulation systems by simultaneous observations with theodolites on a lamp-bearing balloon launched from Denmark with an appropriate wind on a clear night for observation when roughly midway across the Skagerak. Pre-war each continental country was individually triangulated, but stopped short at frontiers. Now the American and British Svy Coys were engaged on triangulating from and to fixations on both sides of every frontier to ensure that in any future conflict, gunners would be able to bombard distant targets with confidence across them.
The Danes welcomed our presence after years of German occupation, and I accompanied a small escorted party to explore Hamlet's Palace at Elsinore.
The owner of the Halstock bungalow decided to resume residence there, and Peg, having to move, decided on a furnished house at Rockford to the east and not far from the Ringwood-Fordingbridge road. Adjoining it was the ford that the hamlet's name implies, and the two yews grew in front of the house. It was an attractive house, but we became disenchanted with its thatched roof. Wife netting enclosed it but birds snatched straws for nesting and left debris scattered over all the beds below. The top of the rising ground to the east marked the boundary of the New Forest. I spent two short leaves there from Germany: the first by plane from Minden to Northolt, but later this facility was reserved for brigadiers and above, and the rest of us were restricted to train and ferry services.
Major General Geoffrey Cheetham, now the Director-General of the Ordnance Survey, paid a visit to Bad Oynhausen in early 1946 and asked me if would care to rejoin the OS. I did not demur and was transferred there in March. The Southampton complex had been bombed to smithereens in 1940. They eventually re-established themselves in Chessington (between Surbiton and Leatherhead) in Surrey, save for a small contingent engaged in small scale work in Southampton's western suburb of Crabwood. The Cheetham's housed me for about a fortnight. I was too busy to spend time house-hunting, so I transferred to a boarding house in Kingston, and Peg arrived and searched and decided on Highfields End in Ashtead, to be shared with Gran on her return from India. It was a large place and we were glad of her contributions to the rent.
My job at the OS was to be in charge of the Publication Department involving the publicising of available maps and plans, visiting agents, including a trip to Edinburgh to evolve a peace treaty with the rival firm of Bartholomew, which enabled me to see the Lumsdens, and supervising the maintenance of map stocks. The only drastic advance in equipment that I detected since 1935 related to the computers. Seven figure logarithms were out and manual machines involving the rotation of cylinders had been substituted. It could be reckoned a mid-way step to the big computer that I saw when invited to see the new premises in Southampton, employed not only in survey computation, but for administration; pay and allowances, bills, estimates, and stores.
(a) One day in the 1920's two Newmans shared a railway compartment from Rawalpindi. And discovered that we were first cousins once removed, his grandfather being my great grandfather. His name was Charles and he was looking forward to his retirement from a Rajput (?) regiment when he and his Australian wife proposed to go horse-breeding Down-Under. What stuck in my mind was his dictum that we Newmans should avoid the army because we were too individualistic. I myself believe that only the sappers could have suited me, offering as they did such a variety of interests from which to choose. I fancy that changed circumstances will have diminished them
(b) Photographs have provided a number of ingredients and it is amazing how thick soup becomes when stirring the pot. I had intended far less detail when I planned this series, and I can only apologize for my self-indulgence and prolixity.