Chapter 9
Back to India, Spring 1942
Part 1


The ship sailed within ten minutes and we were on our way back to Calcutta. They had forgotten to put any rations on board for us. On board were a number of wealthy Indians with live chickens, but we couldn’t persuade them sell us one. So between us we had a few biscuits and two tins of bully beef left over from our last meal. We managed to make these last out for about three days and got into Calcutta on the morning of the fifth.

The morning after we left Akyab the rest of the squadron were put back on planes and flown back up country to the border of Burma and China. Some of them made their way up into China. I believe some were killed, others taken prisoner, and a few walked out over the mountains to Assam. Ron Biggs finished up in China and was heard broadcasting from Chungking.

Of the ones who walked out most of them were very ill with all kind of complaints. One of them, a corporal signaller rejoined us sometime later and the following New Year’s Eve he came to me complaining of feeling ill. He went to bed and I reported his illness to the guardhouse. He was a Scotsman, so the MP’s said that he must have drunk too much, I protested bitterly that he was in intense pain and that it could be appendicitis. I went back and sat by his bed all night, regularly going down to the guardhouse asking when the medical orderlies were coming, I must have gone there five times. In the morning I had to go on parade at eight, but I reported Jock sick and he was taken to the sick bay. They were unable to find what was wrong with him and he was sent to hospital in Calcutta where he died two days later. They never discovered what killed him. I felt that I should have created more of a fuss to get him looked at earlier.

The Squadron
When we were at Magwe a few of us had discussed what we would do if we were in danger of being captured by the Japs. We decided to be prepared to walk out and started getting some rations together. After what happened to Jock I’m glad that we didn’t have to attempt it.

When we arrived back in Calcutta from Akyab we were taken to a convent school where the nuns made us welcome and took us through a dining hall with the table all laid out with silver. They had said that they would show us to our bedrooms, but we stopped and gazed at the table. One of the nuns said,’When did you eat last?’ When we told her they made us sit down straight away and brought us a meal. For the few days we were there they couldn’t do enough for us. The local British came regularly with cigarettes and sweets.

I don’t know what happened to the rest of the squadron but gradually they started turning up at the convent and finally we were moved from there and went to Fyzabad in the United Provinces not far from Lucknow. We were joined by all of the rest of the squadron who had got out and settled down to make the most of this break from the war. The camp at Fyzabad was an army camp where a Lancashire regiment had been stationed for at least twenty years and all the bearers there had been taken on by the regiment when they were little boys. They all spoke English with a broad Lancashire accent.

The arrangement of the barracks was a open grass area with groups of four barrack rooms and a cookhouse in the centre of each group. Each barrack room had a sleeping area either side of a central messroom. We were told that we would have to elect two members each day to go to collect our food. Well, we did this and when the meal time came round were surprised to see groups of men standing around watching us. Our mess orderlies went over for the food and came out of the cookhouse carrying trays. There was a great flurry of wings as the kitehawks dived on the trays and vanished with our food.

Everyone except us enjoyed the joke and in fact, the cooks, knowing what was going to happen had not put our proper food on the trays, so we did get our meal after all. The reason for two orderlies was that one would carry the food and the other keep the kitehawks off. Naturally, when the next group of newcomers arrived we were out there to see the fun.

In the barrack rooms we had punkas,which were big sheets of cloth hung from the ceiling and joined together by a rope which went to the end of the building. Here there was a punka wallah, a coolie who sat in the corner with the rope tied to his foot which he moved up and down to keep the air moving. In fact, most of the time he seemed to be asleep because it only needed a tug every so often to keep it going.

The bearers were marvellous; if you went into the billet to have a rest on your bed and took your shoes off, the bearer would dash in and take them away, bringing then back after a short while shining like mirrors. Also the first morning I was woken by a shake and someone said,’ Shave Sahib?’ I murmured yes and he shaved me. Every morning after that I woke up clean-shaven and I never felt a thing. The bearer would wake us up with ‘Gunfire,’ which was a cup of tea and we would find our clothes all laid out cleaned and pressed overnight.

All of the members of our entertainment group had rejoined us so we went about producing another show. This time we had a gym hall with a proper stage and I was able to obtain a large sheet and paint so we made a proper backcloth.

In addition to being stage-manager, I was also appearing in the show. I had been listening to the BBC and a comedian whom I had seen in London before the war was a regular broadcaster. He was Cyril Fletcher, who used to recite his ‘Odd Odes’. I would try to copy them down and decided to use them for my act. Where I had been unable to get the full ‘Ode’ I made up the rest. I wore a collarless shirt and a bow tie around my bare neck, so that every time I swallowed it would bob up and down. The act was a great success and I now give my acknowledgement to Cyril Fletcher.

Although the show was appreciated and for the first time we had a proper theatre and plenty of good props, we still felt that something was lacking. Perhaps it was a reaction from the Burma campaign, following the desert and Greece. After all, up to now, we had always been on the retreat. It wasn’t until a bit later that we had the victory at Alamein to cheer us up.

By April 1942 they had managed to get replacement planes out to India. We went to Asansol not far from Calcutta and found that our Beaufighters had been replaced by Bisleys. We operated over the Arakan Yoma front which was the area where the Japs were able to advance along the coast toward Cox’s Bazaar and Chittagong, which was our front line.

We were constantly on the move between five aerodromes in that area; Feni, Comilla, Jessore, Chandpore and Asansol. I never understood why, unless they were trying to make the Japs think that we had more squadrons around, because we regularly had reconnaisance planes flying over. We were also bombed quite often and if a Jap plane was hit, they would try to crash it on the drome to try to cause the most damage. On one occasion a plane crashed and the Jap pilot came out of it with a tommy-gun firing at anything he could. He was shot before he did too much damage.

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