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An Englishman in India

by Genevieve

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Tom Cross
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02 August 2005

After serving for eighteen months in the Coldstream Guard as an enlisted man, young Tom Cross, a greater Manchester native, found himself assigned to a holding unit, placed in a very grand hotel in London. As part of on-going training, one day he and his fellow soldiers were summoned to listen to a splendid-appearing Indian officer, there to speak to the troops about joining the Indian Army. One would travel to India, learn Urdu, and get commissioned after Officer Candidate Training School, and perhaps ultimately, serving in Burma. All this sounded fascinating to Tom, and he signed up immediately.

Soon he was on a troop train, heading north. Tom recognised he was passing within a quarter mile of his home in Woolton, near Manchester, and knew they were heading to Liverpool and a troopship. The Royal Mail Lines provided the ship, the ‘Alcantara’, and these soldiers, most of who had never been out of their hometowns in their entire lives, were soon being tossed about in the stuffy hold of the ship. Dreadful seasickness was the order of the day as they proceeded across the very rough Bay of Biscay, suffering thirty-foot seas. Soon they would see Gibraltar, the Mediterranean, Pantellaria, and the Suez Canal, into the Indian Ocean. New Year’s 1945 found them on a train arriving in Kalyan, then on to central India and the town of Mhow.

Rationing had not touched India, and these lads, who had been denied or suffered tiny allocations of so many consumer items, suddenly were dining ‘like kings’, learning Urdu, and being taught military tactics, weapons, etc. by the ‘mufti’ tutors. The pleasant parts ended soon enough for Tom, and many of his mates, as they contracted malaria, and amoebic dysentery. Eventually, though, Tom graduated, and was commissioned a second lieutenant, and assigned to the Northwest frontier, with his unit guarding convoys from the predation of renegade tribesmen, quite happy to shoot at the Army or civilians, and steal whatever they could. The war ended soon after.

On reflection, Tom could remember clearly his family attitudes towards the War. “There was a general spirit of resolution…Hitler was not going to win.”

This story was submitted to the People’s War site by Henry Wheeler of the BBC Radio Shropshire CSV Action Desk on behalf of Tom Cross and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

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