Chapter 10
Hill Leave, September 1942
Part 1


The place we were going to was Chakarata in the Punjab, which was in the range of mountains that included Mount Everest. It was about 14000 feet above sea level and was a beautiful place. It consisted of a number of barrack rooms, a parade ground, a NAAFI and a cinema. Usually when units came up they were expected to do drill and exercises but because there were a few of us we were excused this, so we could spend our time just as we wished.

Hill Leave
Hill Leave
The real entertainment there was the cinema; they only changed the picture once a week but we used to have bets on it and went every night. Sometime they would put the reels on backwards, sometimes in the wrong order but very rarely in the right order, so the winner was the one who could predict the order that night.

One of the reasons for the hill camp leave was an affliction that affected almost everyone in the tropics. This was heat exhaustion, which meant that the body ceased to sweat,and came up in big blisters. If it was not treated it could prove fatal and the only known treatment then was to get you to a cold climate, and keep you there until the body returned to normal. Another one was prickly heat. This was not fatal but meant that you were continually scratching, with the possibility of infection. When we were up in Assam the locals told us that an Indian chemist in the village had a means of relieving it. We went to him and he gave us some talcum powder which he had prepared. It was certainly effective but we could not persuade him to let us know what was in it, and we had no way of finding out.

The Cinema
When our break was over we returned to Calcutta. We left the camp at Chakarata on two ramshackle old buses. The one I was on had a young lad sitting on the mudguard with two strings in his hand. When the driver yelled he pulled one or the other. Iíve no idea what they did but the bus was tearing at breakneck speed round hairpin bends on a gravel road with a huge drop on one side. I can tell you that we were glad to get off that bus.

Ever since I arrived in India I had been troubled with severe headaches and each time I reported to the MO I was given aspirin or the equivalent. It became so bad that I had difficulty in sleeping at night, so a sergeant who had similar trouble and myself used to go out into the town and go round the bars, drinking but not getting drunk, going back to the camp early in the morning.

When we arrived at Chakarata I reported sick as usual and saw an Indian doctor. He asked me if I had had my eyes tested and when I said no he gave me a note to my MO. On arriving back at the camp I gave the MO my note and he arranged for me to see an optician. The optician asked me if I had been putting drops in my eyes and on receiving my denial said that I should have seen him at least two years earlier. He prescribed glasses and my headaches vanished immediately.

When we were evacuated from Burma we lost all our kit. When I went to the stores to replace it in India I was told that they did not have sufficient to re-kit me, so I just drew what I wanted and received an official note from them listing all the items outstanding. I managed to keep this up for the rest of my time in India, just producing the note whenever there was a kit inspection, and nobody ever queried it. When I was due to come back to England I had to draw the full RAF blue uniform but life had been very easy before then.

There were a number of allowances which we received overseas. One was a colonial allowance, another a hard lying allowance (if you were not in a proper camp). There was also a shoe allowance. We were able to wear shoes instead of boots and provided you had sufficient shoe allowance in your record (Iíve no idea how this worked), you could go to the stores and replace them when they wore out. They never repaired boots or shoes. I kept this going even when I returned to England, so I never wore boots again.

Another allowance was for ice. If you were travelling in the hot weather you received a rupee a day for ice or were given a block of ice which you kept on the train to keep your food fresh. This was renewed regularly if the journey was long, which it was in most cases in India.

A number of the camps around Calcutta were simply bamboo huts which were built for us in jungle clearings. I was in the orderly room one day when the adjutant remarked that it was difficult to know where everything was. I said that what was wanted was a map of the camp and the result was that I was asked to produce one. I paced out the camp and drew maps using coloured pencils to show the position of the orderly room, cookhouse, guardhouse, sickbay and fire section. I made six maps, one for each location and a general one. From that time onwards I was the official mapmaker whenever we moved.

The huts were usually built in virgin jungle, so we shared the area with all kinds of creatures and insects. The worst of these were possibly the ants. Every so often they would decide to move their nests and would move off in a straight line to their selected site and woe-betide anyone who stood in their way. One night we were woken by someone shouting and threshing about. We turned the lights on and found one of our chaps jumping up and down and waving his arms in the air. Apparently some ants had decided to move their nest, started out and came up against our bamboo hut. Now, there were gaps in the bamboo, so they came through them. When they came to a leg of a bed they climbed up it, up the mosquito net, diagonally across it, down the other side, across the room to another bed and did the same there, finally going out the hut on the other side. They were small red ants and after a while some of them got through the mosquito net and fell onto the airman below. Because of the heat we used to sleep in the raw, so they started biting him. By the time he had finished jumping around the ants were everywhere and we didnít get any more sleep that night. Our solution was to get some large tins, put the bed legs in them and half fill them with paraffin. Water wasnít any use because they seemed to be able to swim.

When we were in the desert and other places in the Middle East we used to have church services on Sundays, but there was not an official church parade. However, in India it became compulsory, and those of us who did not wish to attend had to march to the church and stand guard with rifles outside. This was a remnant of the Indian Mutiny when all the troops were in the church with their rifles stacked outside when the Mutiny began on a Sunday morning. Iím not certain what would have been arranged if every one of us went to church.

A number of different ideas of operating the squadrons were being tried out at this time. In one case it was decided to keep two flights operational at a forward base while the other rested back at base, having only the personnel of one flight to carry out the operating. Normally there were three electricians in a flight, each looking after one aircraft but this new idea meant the we would each look after two.

Aí flight, which I was in, was the first to operate the system, but one of our electricians was on leave, and Doug, the other one reported sick, so I was left with six planes to look after. On top of that I had the vehicles in the transport section to service, and during my week had one night flying duty, one duty crew and a guard duty. I donít think I slept more than about eighteen hours during the week.

When I was pulled back to the base camp I crawled into bed and I believe I slept for about thirty hours. I woke up ravenous, everyone said that they didnít like to disturb me. I think a lot of the others complained about the system and it was soon dropped. It would have been easy to have made a mistake under the conditions that I had endured.

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