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Wartime in India

by derbycsv

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

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M Brown
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02 December 2005

This story has been submitted by Alison Tebbutt, Derby CSV Action Desk. The author has given their permission

In the 1930’s my parents lived in India. My mother had returned to Scotland to have my sister but, due to the rumblings of war, it was decided that she would stay in India to have her second child, me. Therefore a couple of weeks after war was declared I was born in Asansol, West Bengal.

Although we were not being bombed as were people in Britain, we did have worries as we were not far away from the Burmese border and the Japanese troops.

I have early recollections of there always being soldiers in our bungalow and, so I am told, being thoroughly spoilt by them. Often they had children or relatives of my age at home so perhaps I reminded them of their own families.

When I was older I was told that these soldiers had been brought out of Burma for medical treatment or leave from the front lines, my parents, like many other people, took the soldiers into their homes for convalescence or just a break before returning to the front. I think it was in 1943 that American soldiers were sent to Asansol for medical treatment and they also had a base there which was where I first tasted a Hershey Bar.

Our bungalow was a few hundred yards from the ‘Grand Truck Road’ which went all the way from Calcutta to Rangoon. I remember sitting with my sister on the steps of the bungalow, watching convoy after convoy of trucks going along the road. They were taking troops, artillery, food etc. back to Burma. We used to watch these trucks in amazement as apparently they had no drivers!

Eventually it was explained to us that they were not as clever as we thought; they were American troops and of course, were driven from the ‘wrong’ side. We were quite shattered by this truth!

The next great memory was of March 1945 when there was a lot of rushing about, a real hive of activity. We had berths on a boat going to Britain; we were going home. My father was not able to go with us so my mother, sister and I set off on what was going to be a long journey and a two year separation from my father.

We travelled to Bombay by train for two days and nights and there stayed with friends waiting to be given our tickets and to be told when we would be able to leave. Everything was very hush-hush, but eventually we were given our tickets and informed that we would be sailing on the S.S. Multan, which turned out to be a gunboat protecting other ships in the convoy. As you can imagine our parents were not too keen about his but all we children on board were most impressed and excited. We were allocated life-jackets which we children had to wear all the time. We would, naturally, remove them and forget where we had left lthem so mother would have to take us all over the ship looking for them. According to the officer who conducted our safety drill, there was really nothing to worry about; he said that if anything happened we would jump into the water, turn on the little red lights on our life-jackets and along would come a British warship and pick us up out of the water, no problem.

Some years later we heard that for most of the way home we had been shadowed by German U Boats. We were safe while passing through the Red Sea and the Suez Canal but once out of there we were watched by German subs again. It took seven weeks to sail home and our final destination was kept secret. However we sailed up the Clyde and moored off Gourock, right opposite our aunt’s house which was to be our second home in the years to come. We had arrived back in Britain two weeks before V.E. Day.

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