BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

15 October 2014
WW2 - People's War

BBC Homepage
BBC History
WW2 People's War Homepage Archive List Timeline About This Site

Contact Us

Contributed by 
Leicestershire Library Services - Birstall library
People in story: 
Denis Downes
Location of story: 
Calcutta, India
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
23 February 2005

This story was submitted to the People's War site by Denis Downes. He fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

I’ve never been superstitious, but an experience I had while serving in the RAF during World War Two gave me pause for thought. I was stationed at an Air Headquarters about 30 miles from Calcutta in India, and we spent our rare breaks from duty exploring the overcrowded city, its shopping precincts and its markets. It was while a group of us were looking for bargains in the Hogg Market that we encountered the Hindu fortune teller. At this point I must explain that Hindus place a great reliance on those who can foretell the future. Many of the wealthier individuals would not start a New Year without a horoscope, produced by a reputable fortune teller, to guide them, someone in our group decided to find out what the future held for him, so, after prolonged bargaining, the Hindu soothsayer drew patterns in the large patch of sand laid out before him, and then asked to look at my friend’s hand. After palm reading the airman was assured of a long and prosperous life (he would have secretly settled for a promise he would get home undamaged) and that he would have a loving wife and family. It was as could be expected, and so it went on, with variations, until a corporal from the Motor Transport section presented his hand. The Indian said nothing for a minute or two and then: “No, sahib, I cannot see clearly, and it is rather muddled”. The corporal was not pleased. He cajoled, bullied, and even offered double fee to no avail when the corporal, completely out of character, became abusive, we dragged him away. I thought no more about it, and, six weeks later, we moved to Burma, landing at Rangoon. I was on signals watch one morning when one of my friends came in looking distraught. “Have you heard about Corporal Bloggs?” he asked, “He’s dead”. The corporal was supervising the unloading of lorries from a cargo carrier at the quayside and the chains holding one of the vehicles had snapped as it was lowered. He was unable to jump clear. It was then that I recalled the reluctant fortune-teller, and I have often pondered….

© Copyright of content contributed to this Archive rests with the author. Find out how you can use this.

Forum Archive

This forum is now closed

These messages were added to this story by site members between June 2003 and January 2006. It is no longer possible to leave messages here. Find out more about the site contributors.

Message 1 - The Fortune Teller

Posted on: 23 February 2005 by Peter - WW2 Site Helper

Here we have a fortune teller who had the opportunity to prove that he could foretell the future, yet he declined to do so. Amazing! Perhaps he hated the British, by not warning your NCO to avoid the quayside on that foreseen fatal day? Of course, if the future is mapped out and cannot be changed, then we are all puppet characters in a film and no one can ever be blamed or praised for anything.

Brings to mind G.K.Chesterton's philosopher on predestination:

"Damn! It occurs to me that I am
A man who moves in predestinate grooves,
I'm not even a bus - I'm a tram!

Peter :-D

Archive List

This story has been placed in the following categories.

Royal Air Force Category
India Category
icon for Story with photoStory with photo

Most of the content on this site is created by our users, who are members of the public. The views expressed are theirs and unless specifically stated are not those of the BBC. The BBC is not responsible for the content of any external sites referenced. In the event that you consider anything on this page to be in breach of the site's House Rules, please click here. For any other comments, please Contact Us.

About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy