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- 02 June 2004
Childhood in India 4
In normal service in India the regt moved to and from the plains to the hill stations twice a year, April and October. The war stopped this, especially after Singapore fell to the Japanese. The families that escaped were put intothe hill station quarters, so folk had to remain where thy were. As a result of this, and due to our situation our fathers took it in turn to have a months leave, to take their families away. Due to the shortage of quarters we had to travel a long way to Cochin. I remember when we arrived at Madras, there was uproar on the platforms. The city had been bombed the night before, by the Japanese, so there was no electricity and there was flooding, as far as I remember. The result was we could not carry on with our journey. My father managed to book a room at the station, there were such rooms at main stations for overnight stops. I cannot remember if we stayed there for one or two days, before going on. Our holiday was lovely, my mother kept saying it was like a piece of England. I know we ate different vegtables, it was my first taste of Brussels sprouts, I have loved them ever since.
We left Bairagarh in April 1944 for our return to England, but our unusual childhood was not over yet. For on arriving at Bombay to board our ship, once again a catastrophe. The day before an ammunition ship which had caught fire, at sea, had been brought into the docks for unloading but had exploded, killing many, many people. We were all put up in Bombay, whilst my father along with other servicemen helped to remove the bodies and clear the damage.
We sailed for England on May 3rd at 10am on the Dutch SS Volendam. WE were told there were Italians P.O.W.s down below, en route for Canada. The ship was packed, with folk like us and wounded men from Burma. When it was found we could use the Suez Canal, instead of going around the Cape as expected, we called in at Port Taufiq where we picked up yet more wounded and some men from the R.A.F.Regt. Some troops had to sleep on deck at night due to the over crowding,
The Volendam had been used to carry American soldiers. Each cabin had fifteen bunk beds in it. Mother was put in one which was for women and young childen. My brother, aged 12, was put in the cabin next door for boys, but a water tight door was between them in the passage outside. On the other side of the ship in the cabin opposite my brothers, my sister aged 10 and myself very nearly 14 were put, again a water tight door seperated us from mum.Dad was on a deck below. The problem was our family had to report to 4 different lifeboat stations. The O.C soon sorted the problem out and families were soon reporting to the same lifeboat station. Dad in a rota had to help man the "Pom Pom" guns.
We docked at Liverpool on 1st June1944(60 years today) with the yellow flag flying we had a ship full of Measles, adults as well as childen. Again we were lucky we had all had it , except my sister,who waited until we got to London before showing signs. My father left us at the stationY.M.C.A and went off. He returned later to tell us we were going to see Gran at Portsmouth and not going to Aldershot after all. We arrived on the milk train at Portsmouth early on the 2nd (4 days to D-Day). My first memories of England on the train journey were bright green fields and clean black and white cows. The lovely drink of milk, mum having persuaded all three of us to taste "English " milk. On reaching Portsmouth, my mother standing on the upper level of the Town station looking at the bombed Guildhall, crying and saying "Look Charles what they have done to the Guildhall". Or was it tears of joy for she had kept her vow, to her father, to bring her three children home safe and sound.
I often wonder what life would have been like had dad remained with his regt and with them fought in Burma.
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