Chapter 10
Hill Leave, September 1942
Part 2


After a while we were sent up to Shillong in the Naga Hills for a weeks rest period. While we were there we went to visit the wettest place in the world. This was a village on the side of the mountain which faced towards the Bay of Bengal. Because of its position the rain-clouds coming up from the bay were forced to rise sharply and immediately deposited all their rain. It was said that it rained there for 364 days of the year and the rainfall was estimated at over 200 inches, most of which cascaded down the mountainside. It was raining when we went there. I think we would have had to be very lucky to go on the one day it didn’t rain.

One morning when we were going down to the drome we saw a small single engine plane taking off. It had just left the runway and was banking when the engine suddenly cut out and it nosedived into the ground. We rushed over to it and found that the engine had been driven back into the front cockpit. In these planes the passenger was usually in the front with the pilot behind. The airman in the front was alive but very badly injured. Just then a staff car came up and a Wing Commander got out, he was very upset and kept saying that he should have been in the front cockpit. Apparently the plane had landed to have a minor fault put right, and Paddy McQueen, who was a fitter, had corrected the fault and after refuelling said he would go up on a test flight. It was found out later that water had got into the drum of petrol which caused the engine to cut out. The Wing Co. insisted that Paddy be sent to the Officers hospital and he kept a check on Paddy’s progress until he was fit enough to be sent back to England. I did try to find out what had happened to him after the war through the RAF association but nobody was able to tell me.

In the services there were always complaints about the food and as I was on the canteen committee we regularly had meetings discussing how to improve things. We were holding one of these meetings in our signals tent when our signal officer came in. He was a Warrant Officer and an old India hand, having been out there for about ten years. He said that if he was in charge of the cookhouse he would arrange to buy a lot of food locally and would guarantee there would be no more complaints.

After he left we discussed it among ourselves, then went to the Adjutant and said that we wanted to make WO Wallace our messing officer. After he had heard our reasons the CO agreed, so we went to the signals hut and told WO Wallace. Now he was a large florid man and we had nicknamed him Colonel Blimp after Low’s cartoon character. Anyway, Blimp went straight down to the cookhouse, inspected it, and put the cooks on a charge for having a dirty cookhouse. Then he ordered them to make soup and when we went for a meal he was there dishing it out. He came to me and asked what I thought. I said that it was an improvement. He told the cooks that they would be making soup everyday. When they complained that they couldn’t do it, he pointed out that they had done it today.

At our next meeting he suggested that everyone should pay one rupee a week for extra messing and promised that he would buy chickens etc. to improve our diet. On the next pay parade he was there collecting the extra messing. If anyone objected he announced that we could not have it unless everyone paid and this airman was stopping the whole idea. The result was that everyone paid and we had exceptionally good meals from then on.

There was a town near us called Kulti where they made steel, all the people in charge being British expatriates. They heard about the show we had put on in Assam and asked if we would put it on at their club in aid of a Spitfire Fund. The CO agreed, so we repeated the show ‘Keep it Dark’ and it was a great success, raising 2000 rupees.

The authorities started about this time to build a road up in northern Assam to try to link up with the Burma Road. They took the labour from a lot of the tea plantations, paying them about ten rupees a week, which was about seven times what they were being paid on the plantations (although there they also had free accommodation, medical care and subsidised food).

The rich Babus cornered the rice market and set up stalls near the Manipur Road to supply the coolies. They charged the earth for the rice and for pots and pans. As this was miles from any other village all the extra money earned by the coolies went into the Babus pockets. Far more serious was that the cornering of the rice caused a famine in Bengal and there were hundreds dying in Calcutta every day.

When we got the papers out from England we found a report that Amery had stood up in the House of Commons and declared that there was no famine in India. A number of the troops had been writing home about what they saw happening. What the Government meant was that there was no famine among the troops. This statement annoyed us and I think the memory of this was one of the reasons for the Conservative defeat at the general election. We refused to eat rice although the rice supplied to us was polished and not the raw rice the natives ate. We used to get the children up from the villages and feed them and I am certain that they used to take food back to their families.

Discipline, for all that we seemed to have an easy time, was very strict in the RAF. I suppose it was because they had to know that we would obey orders without question. However, I remember an incident that occurred about the time that Malta was under siege. A number of airmen had just joined us, having come out from England on one of the last convoys through the Med. After this all convoys had to go round the Cape, which meant that records were often months late in arriving.

One of these airmen said that he had been passed out from training as a LAC fitter, his word was accepted and he received the appropriate pay. When his records arrived it was discovered that he had not passed the course and was an aircrafthand. Being on the Welfare committee, I attended a meeting we had with him. He still insisted that he was an LAC, so we arranged for the Engineering Officer to give him a trade test. Well, he failed the test miserably so he was demoted to ACH.

On the next pay parade, when he was given the ACH pay he said, ‘What’s this?’ It was explained to him that it was all that was due to him and that they would be deducting his overpayment in instalments from his future pay. He grabbed the money up and walked away from the table. The flight sergeant called him back and said,’Salute the officer.’ ‘I’m not saluting an officer for that,’ he said. ‘Salute the officer.’ He turned and walked away. The flight sergeant put him on a charge and he received seven days jankers. This punishment consisted of having to report to the guardhouse in full kit every morning and evening. He refused to do this so he was put on another charge. For this he received one months field punishment, which meant going to a camp in the desert where everything was done at the double, while dressed in full kit. He refused to co-operate there and the last I heard was that he was in the Citadel prison in Cairo having struck an officer. There was no way that he was going to beat the system, although I have wondered if it was his way of avoiding being on active service.

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