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India experiences: Special Communications Unit

by nick_frost

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Douglas Frost
Location of story: 
UK and India
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
07 March 2004


Following my return from Dunkirk and regrouping at Hereford I was posted to a newly formed infantry unit at Bovey Tracey in Devon. Eventually I replied to an advertisement where applicants with a knowledge of electronics were required and I was transferred into REME and sent me on a six month intensive course on RADAR at Paddington Technical College in London during the blitz. Following this I was posted to Beverley, Yorkshire to help man a searchlight installation while the bombing of York was taking place.

During subsequent home leave I was recruited by Lieutenant Commander Cooper to join an organization known as the Special Communication Unit associated with Bletchley Park and located at Whaddon Hall close to my home town of Stony Stratford. I spent a year billeted at home and working at Whaddon making radio sets for our agents and covert stations abroad.

Towards the end of 1942 I, together with Alex Brazier, volunteered to go to India as engineers to be stationed in New Delhi and Calcutta.

We boarded the ORTRANO an 80,000 ton troopship at Glasgow in January 1943 and sailed in convoy for two months via the Mediterranean where we were hounded by U Boats and German bombers,.

After sailing through horrific storms we eventually reached Suez only to run aground halfway along the Suez canal due to overcrowding on the — interesting- starboard side of the ship making her unstable!

The remaining voyage via the Gulf and Indian Ocean was uneventful apart from a man who dived from the top deck A during a church service while in the port of Aden.

Bombay was a very welcome sight as we approached one morning but the ethereal appearance quickly became a harsh reality of crowded, smelly streets, rickshaws, noisy markets with unbearable heat and dust.

We traveled in relative comfort by train to New Delhi, a journey taking 36 hours through interesting scenery of deserts, palm trees, camels, palm trees, monkeys and over populated villages. At every stop char (tea) was served by zealous Indians, even in the middle of the night.

I was stationed just outside New Delhi for two months which provided ample opportunity to see all the sites in New and Old Delhi with a visit to Agra and the Taj Mahal.

I left Alex in Delhi and travelled by train for another 36 hours to Calcutta, the capital city of Bengal built on the river Hooghly. It is India’s largest city and one of the world’s most populated. Notorious for the deaths of over 100 prisoners housed overnight in a small guard house, hence the “black hole of Calcutta.” While I was there thousands died in a cholera epidemic.

Our base was in a large, flat roofed detached house in a fashionable suburb
Known as Bolly Gunge. I was working with the special communications radios and transmitters destined for use by British agents operating behind Japanese lines.

I had many experiences during my two year posting to Calcutta such as
(a) seeing a Royal Signals captain, after a drinks party, parachute without his parachute on.
(b) The successful parachuting of an RAF warrant officer who then tailed to keep contact, we believe he became too involved with the local Burmese girls.
(c) A haunted bungalow used for training and located some two hundred miles from Calcutta. We had sightings of an immaculately dressed Indian bearer (they were never immaculate at that time of day), we challenged and he ran — then vanished. We had sounds from an ageing staircase when ours was new in solid brick and other unexplained noises around the bungalow. This was only believed by our people visiting the bungalow.
(d) My dilemma when driving an open truck 100 miles south of Calcutta in the jungle at night when a tiger strolled across the road a few yards from the vehicle. Should I accelerate or brake? I braked and the tiger strolled off back into the jungle.
(e) Walking in the jungle with a colleague and looking up at the overhanging trees to see whether bananas hung upside down or grew up in clusters. Fortunately I noticed a large python coiled up in the sun on the narrow path immediately in front of my friend, I called to him just before he was about to tread on it.
(f) Towards the end of my posting the locals were rioting in the city and we had to take turns to walk the perimeter of our large transmitter site at night during this state of emergency. A colleague and myself walked on an elevated bank and were silhouetted in the moonlight. To my consternation we heard a fusillade of shots and then an American soldier shouting “Hey Limey, what are you doing up there?”
(g) We had bamboo poles planted in tubs of sand on the flat roof of our offices to support an aerial system. One morning a pulley jammed on top of one of the poles on a corner of the building and I decided to climb up to release it. Half way up the pole, which had rotted in the sand, gave way and fortunately fell back onto the roof rather than thirty feet over the side of the building to the street below. My lucky day!
(f) The most important event occurred when I purchased a diamond engagement ring and sent it home to the girl I left behind, I entrusted it to the care of one of our officers who was being returned in disgrace to the U.K. To my relief she received the ring and happily agreed to marry me, we are still happily married.
(h) A period spent Charoinge installing communication radio equipment in motor torpedo boats destined for use behind Japanese lines along the Burmese coast was also very eventful.

The dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima signaled the end of the war with Japan and I was repatriated to the U.K. in 1946 via New Dehli and Bombay sailing on board a ship the City of Paris and traveling with a good friend Bill Evans to be demobbed in Glasgow.

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