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Peckam to Burma part 3

by activejoesoap is Denis Gardner

Contributed by 
activejoesoap is Denis Gardner
People in story: 
Denis Gardner
Location of story: 
England, India & Burma
Background to story: 
Royal Air Force
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
28 December 2005

All of the servicemen in the S.E.A.C .area [South East Asia Command] reckoned they were fighting the forgotten war. We did get one visit by [E.N.S.A.] the forces entertainment groups. She was a singer and dancer. Pat Kirkwood was her name and before the evening show she had been taken to the beach and had seen all the boys swimming in the nude. That night during her act she mentioned "how she had liked the way we had all been dressed, although each one slightly different she thought" we all thought that was great.
Some nights we used to go to an airstrip that was home to Liberator aircraft and watch them come back from bombing raids over Rangoon and land their aircraft during the worst lightening strikes one could ever experience, at this time the monsoon was in full swing.
In early May 1945 the European war ended, our rifles were taken from us and we were issued with two bottles of beer each. Not much in the way of celebrations.
In June we were told that we were going further down the coast to the islands of Ramree and Cheduba, it was about this time that the Squadron was renumbered to 615. This changed as the Japs were now in a complete retreat, so instead of that move, we went back to India, across the Bay of Bengal to Madras. On about the first week in July we boarded the 'Polaski' an old Polish boat. We were ferried out to the Polaski in monsoonal rain, our only protection being our rain capes, as we stood huddled together on the deck of the ferry. After boarding we were herded down below decks to try and dry off and then eat a meal from our K. Rations. We were also allotted a hammock to sleep in. After eating, the boat started to leave Akyab and it wasn’t long before it was pitching and tossing, I was sea sick very soon, and could not sleep down below decks, so a couple of us found a spot under a life boat on the boat deck, and there we stayed for the five days, eating an occasional biscuit from our K Rations, and getting soaked most of the time. The crossing was so rough that the Lascar seamen were sick and some of the R.A.F. boys were stoking the ship. The screw of the boat was more often out of the water, than in it, and when that end of the boat went back into the water it was with a tremendous thud that went right through the boat. Five days of misery and sea sickness.
We all made up for it when we landed in Madras. A group of us went to a good restaurant
For our favourite meal, eggs steak and chips, washed down by Indian beer.
In Madras we were billeted in a girls private school for a week or so, the girls were not there though It might have been their holiday time. During this period and having some spare cash for there had been nothing to spend our money on in Burma, I visited the bazaars of Madras,
And bought Nellie a pair of Chinese pyjamas, and sent Mum and Dad a food parcel. One bought all the tins of food packed them in a cardboard box then stitched material around it. I was able to do this a few times whilst overseas, as food rationing was very severe in England at this stage of the war. At this stage I was still writing to Agnes Cheetham. The girl I had met in Blackpool, but after a while it all seemed so pointless and being a bad letter writer as well, and not having any spare money to send her anything, I let it lapse. The reason I was always short of cash was because I had made an allotment from my wages to be paid to my Mum. Lydia, of Twelve shillings and sixpence a week, which she put into the Post office saving account for me. She did this regularly for the two and a half years that I was overseas.
After a few days or so we were again on the move, this time up the coast by train to Vizagapatan, I think it was a two day journey. We had our K.Rations but one could also buy from the numerous canteens run by The Indian Railways. You ordered at one station and received your meal at the next one, and there was always a Char Wallah at every station, to dispense tea and wads. The Indian waiters from the railway canteens, were always dressed in white and often wore turbans so I guess they were Sikhs. They would ply from one station to the next then back again on the next train back.
I can not remember a great deal about Vizag, I think that one was sent there when the R.A.F. did not know what to do with you, or until a posting came through, though a few things do stay in the mind. Namely the burning of the dead, of which I have a photo, showing the funeral pyres and the bodies. The 615 squadron football team providing most of our entertainment and lastly visiting an Indian temple which was located on top of a hill, one had to climb a tremendous amount of steps to get to it
Sometime in late August I was posted back to Madras, to a flying boat base called Red Hills Lake About 20 miles out of Madras. This base as the name suggests was home to Sunderland and Catalina flying boats. The lake was quite large, and one memory was of sailing on the lake and having to get low in the boat so as to stop getting hit on the head as the boom swung from one side to the other when changing direction.
Maintenance work was carried out on the flying boats, this was in the form of cleaning the hulls and repainting with marine and anti barnacle paint.
By this time we all knew that the war would not last long and some of the chaps who had been in India since 1941 were starting to be sent home. The camp was going to close or be taken over by the Indian Air Force. This was a slow process. I was given a new job. I was put in charge of the camps Post Office, this entailed going into Madras two or three times a week to send the mail off to England. The other job was to pick up the films to be shown at the camp cinema. Oh, I loved this job. A mad Irishman drove the truck into town when we went, I don’t think he knew what brakes were for, as it was always flat chat. He would have other things to do in town and would then meet me later at the Connemara hotel where we could have a drink before returning to camp.
Our working hours were, eight am to one p.m. Most of the afternoons were spent at a swimming pool, a place called Sidapet a few miles out of Madras, right on the beach.
There was a whole bunch of us who would go to Sidapet each day. One chap named Charles Murphy and I became very good friends, Both being Londoner's. {We stayed friends after we were demobillized, and met often in the late 40's. I was best man at his wedding in 1950. We corresponded for a few years after I came to Australia, but eventually lost touch with each other.}
One day, Charley reported sick and was put into Arvadi Military Hospital, so a group of us went to see him, a truck used to go there each day, so we got a ride. After playing up in the ward and being told to go, one of us had got into the empty bed next to Charlie.
That night back at the camp we were doing some exercises and fooling around lifting weights I must have hurt myself, the next morning I had to report sick. with pains in the lower stomach. The Doctor said I had a suspected Appendicitis, so I ended up in that bed next to Charlie. I spent five days in the hospital with a grumbling Appendix. {This was eventually operated on in October 1967} they sent Charlie home the morning I went in. I came back to camp via the truck again and had to climb over the tail gate and drop to the floor, I thought the Appendicitis would start again.
Mum and Dad used to send me the Daily Mirror News paper each week whilst at Madras.
This was really looked forward to, by all in the Basha as it was a link with home and what was happening there, and also for the cartoon, Jane. We all had pictures and pin ups from the Daily Mirror all over the walls.
On the 6th of August the first Atom bomb was dropped and the war ended on the 14th.
So now our thoughts were of getting home as soon as possible.
Greetings between the chaps was always "Roll on that B----boat" but the wheels of officialdom work slowly. There was a general election taking place at home and we had to vote. The labour party was saying "bring the boys home" so they got all the servicemens vote. But it was to be a long time before it happened for me.
The Basha we lived in held a dozen but it wasn’t long before there was only five of us, due to demobillization. Another of the chaps in our basha was named Rylance, he came from Wigan, earlier in the war he had worked on a squadron that had been the first to mount the thousand bomber raids, so his nick name was Bomber Rylance, another chap named Boris taught me to play chess, as we had lots of free time.
The camp cinema was our evening entertainment. A good cinema as this must have been a peace time station, the seating was individual cane chairs, and there were murals painted on the walls of the cinema, done by chaps on the squadron. I remember seeing Waterloo Road the film, and we had all been told to watch out for the very real fight scene between Stewart Grainger and John Mills. Bomber got so excited he fainted. So we had to cart him off to the sick bay and missed a lot of the film. We must have been like a lot of kids, for we would swagger up the aisle to the seats where your mates were and start firing an imaginary gun at them, they would be standing on their seats, some would fall to the ground while the others would be firing back, with their imaginary finger guns, and blowing the smoke from the barrel. We all felt that we were a little bit "balmy" from being in the East for so long.
Whilst at Red hills Lake. We were given the chance of Hill leave. {To Ottacamund or Darjeeling, we chose the one in Southern India as it was cheaper and did not take so long to get there, but I have always regretted not going to Darjeeling, from there one can see Kanchenjunga and Mount Everest} Charlie and I and two other chaps went to Ottacamund in the Nilgiri Hills. I had to send Mum a letter before hand to get her to send me some money, as we went in civvy clothes, which had to be bought, and I needed cash for spending. This was where all the Burra Sahibs sent their wives to get away from the heat of the plains. Also here, were planters wives and their daughters, who were looking for English husbands, before the partition of India. Charlie and I were invited to a Planters place for tea, but when we got there, only the mother was there, and she was wanting us to stay and meet her daughters who would be along shortly. W e got out of there as soon as we could. {The reason for the Civvy clothes was, no one could tell we were just lowly aircraft men}
I was at Red Hills Lake for 10 months and then posted to Karachi, which in those days before partition was part of India. The trip to Karachi by train was an exciting experience, it was now March 1946 and the Indian population wanted the British out of their country, so they were demonstrating, looting and having great rallies that often ended in bloodshed.
The train trip took nearly a week. First three nights on the train, then a night and a day in Delhi. The train had stopped at Agra but my pass did not allow me to get off and see the
Taj Mahal. I only saw the Red Fort, in Delhi. Then on to Lahore where I changed trains, all alone and feeling very lonely, there were other soldiers and servicemen on the station going to Karachi, but all of my old mates were left behind at Red Hills Lake.
The next part of the journey took the train along side the Sind Desert to Karachi. I was leaving Hindu India and entering the Muslim area, which in 1947 would become Pakistan.
The camp I went to, was part of the main Karachi airport that was getting ready to be the international airport again. Most of Karachi was out of bounds to servicemen.
I do remember a lovely day out in the Bay on a fishing boat and the fishermen cooking the catch on the beach. then eating a wonderful meal. Also seeing a big sign, at the docks declaring "Citizens of South Africa were not welcome".
At this camp I soon made new friends and seem to remember playing Monopoly every afternoon, as we only worked a few hours in the morning. It was here I worked on spraying Dakota aircraft. One job I worked on, entailed a very new type of rubbery paint that we had to spray on a small single engine plane. After it was finished and the engine started with the propeller going all the paint was blown off. What a big laugh that was.//
Christmas 1946 was spent at this camp. All the time chaps were leaving to go home and be demobbed. Charlie went home about this time from Madras.
The Air Force had accommodation in the way of huts with verandahs, at a beach, right on the waters edge. It was a sort of a rest camp. I remember going there, with a few other chaps and having a great time, with the canoe's that were part of the equipment at this place, also we could get camel rides along the beach. But at night time the place was deserted. We were there for a few days leave. The main camp also had a great cinema, aptly named the "Odeon".
On the 25th February1947 I was posted to Cawnpore, back to India again. This entailed another train trip that went over some of the same area again. Riots and unrest kept us in this camp most of the time. This area of India has so much history, re the Indian Mutiny. But it was safer to stay in the camp. This was not a flying base only somewhere to hold us until we went home. It was a Maintenance Unit and to fill in time we were sent to Transport Companies to help with the maintenance of the trucks, like changing the oil and all the other dirty jobs they could think of. At this time there was a feeling of despair in the air as one heard of riots all over the place, even the bearers in the camp were pointing out the Muslim bearers and saying Him bad man Sahib. In June I left Cawnpore for dear old England, the day we left the camp some one burnt down the toilet block, great joke.
It was the Indian Railways again that took us to Worly Camp Bombay. Within a few days we were on the boat going home, after two and a half years. I had four weeks of delight on the boat going home, I did not get sea sickness as bad on this trip, I got my sea legs within a few days. Through the Suez canal again, but on our own this time, not in convoy, but we still had to wait before entering the Suez for other ships as two or three ships went through one behind the other. On board the "Mooltan," were lots of officers wives and planters wives who were getting out of India. I still remember one of the stewards saying to one of the women " your not in India now Madam" as she had called him "bearer". These women had, whilst in India a servant for every household duty and had become very dependent on them.
The ship docked at Southampton in early July. The last meal we had on the boat prior to docking was hilarious, to our way of thinking then ?/. Instead of washing all the plates up, after the meal and placing the crockery in the cupboards, all the crockery that was used during the meal was thrown out of the portholes into the sea, our last bit of devilment for the past years overseas.
All of us were now going to our homes on 14 days passes. {Disembarkation leave}. The train trip to Waterloo for me was wonderful. There were even people along the railway line at places cheering us, so they must have known that we were servicemen returning home.

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