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15 October 2014
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STARCHED SHIRTS IN THE INDIAN JUNGLE

by cambsaction

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Archive List > British Army

Contributed by 
cambsaction
People in story: 
Mr Leslie Fordham
Location of story: 
India
Background to story: 
Army
Article ID: 
A4139697
Contributed on: 
01 June 2005

[This story was submitted to the People’s War site by a volunteer from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire on behalf of Leslie Fordham and has been added to the site with his permission. Mr Fordham fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.]

I was born in in 1924 and left school in 1939. I was called up for the Home Guard at first and worked with anti-aircraft rockets just off Newmarket Road in Cambridge.

Later, I joined the 208 Field Regiment, Royal Artillery, as a mechanic on tanks, and was shipped out to India. I was with them until the end of the war. We worked on Sherman tanks which had been modified — they were known as Priest SPs (self-propelled).

We moved about a lot, sometimes in barracks for 6 months, then in camps on the scorching planes of India. All we were allowed to take off at night was our boots! There was no NAAFI, and lots of K rations. We didn’t have cooks — two men would just be picked out.

It was so hot that when you opened a tin of corned mutton, the jelly and fat was all liquid and ran out. We took anti-malarial tablets — tiny yellow tablets, and they turned your skin yellow!

I started as a private but went on a course and was made a sergeant. This meant I had my own bearer to look after my uniform. We liked to keep our uniforms smart and starched, even in the jungle so we used rice water. The trouble was, when you sweated, it felt all sticky!

We used to look out for wallahs — we would call out and they would come round with tea, and would make chip or egg butties. They were usually small boys, trying to make a living.

We had ways of keeping the water cool… we used to hang the canvas water bags on the front of the trucks when they were moving. When we were in camp, we kept the water in ceramic pots and used to wet the outsides so that as the water evaporated off, it cooled the water inside.

We were out in the wilds and didn’t know when the war against Germany was finished. We were getting ready to invade Japan, putting huge armour plating on the tanks. I was in the rear party, hanging about. The main party which had gone ahead came back to say Japan had surrendered.

I finished up at a place called Clement Town, in the foothills of the Himalayas. Indian guides used to take us up into the hills. There weren’t proper roads and the rear of the trucks used to hang out over the precipice. You daren't look!

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Message 1 - Starched shirts in the Indian Jungle (4139697 created 1/6/05

Posted on: 01 October 2005 by AgeConcernShropshire

My father-in-law HARRY PALMER served in the same unit as you and was in Clement Town at the same time. He was a dispatch rider.

Do you remember him? If so I would be most grateful if you could reply to this message.

Thank you

Muriel Palmer

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