We soon got our orders to move, and learned that we were going to Ceylon for a rest and some leave for the troops, and so we returned to Chittagong and embarked on a troop ship with all our equipment. There were few other troops on the vessel so that I was OC ship and had the best cabin, not that it was a stateroom. It meant that I had to do the rounds of the ship every day with the captain, which helped pass the time. To us, who had had a ration of one bottle of whisky and three bottles of beer a month for the past year or so the cold beers and decent food were heaven,and the voyage to Colombo seemed to last no time at all. We disembarked at Colombo, and the Company moved into a transit camp, while I stayed with our new Director of Transportation,as I had to be briefed and given orders for our next job. We did not remain more than a day or two in Colombo, but went by special train to Trincomalee on the north east coast, reputed to be the finest natural harbour in the east, and a major Naval Base.
On arrival there,we were put into a camp of bamboo huts, and spent the first week or so checking our stores, sending men on leave and doing a small amount of work, building a slipway. Life certainly was not too strenuous,and so we had time to practise a bit of diving, but without the cumbersome suits. We experimented using army gas masks connected to an air compressor with a crude filter of cotton wool in the air line. This was very successful for shallow dives, and we continued using it for all our underwater work, saving a great deal of time. For leisure times there was a very good Officer’s club run by the Navy, and there was even female company in the shape of Navy nurses and a few Navy wives. For the men there was a Naafi also run by the Navy and a very great improvement on the Canteen Services (India), which we had had in Deolali. There were also many other units stationed there and one could meet new people to have a drink with, instead of the same three faces.
When we were in the Arakan an Army Order had been circulated to the effect that officers and men who had wives and families,and who wished to bring them out to India and had living accommodation for them, could bring them out to live with them when serving in a non operational area. This order specifically excluded those officers serving in operational areas and was clearly meant to benefit Staff in Calcutta or other peacetime areas. When I had received this Order,I had written a strongly worded letter and had had it forwarded to Army H.Q.through our Brigadier who had wholeheartedly agreed with me. Army H.Q. must have had a flood of such letters as very soon the Order was rescinded, the only condition now being that the person concerned must have accommodation available for his family, of course, outside an operational area, This at least meant that one could see one’s family when on leave. European accommodation in Trinco was practically non existent, or not vacant, but fortunately a fellow officer who had his wife with him in Trinco, having been working in Ceylon before the war, was shortly to be posted away, and his wife was going to India. They were living in a ghastly little native house in a back street of Trinco, and I seized on the chance to rent it as it gave me the chance of getting Budge and Sue to join me, if only for the limited time I was likely to be in Ceylon. When I left they could go to Ootacamund, a very lovely hill station in India, with a perfect climate. I rented the house and made application for them to be allowed to leave South Africa for India, which was granted far more quickly than I had feared, and very soon they were on their way.
A week or so before they arrived, I got notice of when the ship was likely to dock at Colombo and applied for a fortnight leave and was granted it. I also booked a room at the hotel in Nuwara Elyia, a hill station, for a week after they had landed. The main difficulty was finding any accommodation in Colombo, even for one night, as it was absolutely full. However, Fancott, the Gammon Company Secretary, was living in Ceylon at the time, and offered to put us up for the night, so I felt all was arranged. Unfortunately he fell ill just before Budge’s arrival and his wife cabled me that they could not have us. I was desperate, and on the day before the ship docked spent hours looking for somewhere for us to sleep. and finally got two camp beds and a cot in a kind of convent run by nuns, as a great concession
I waited feverishly for the ship to appear next day in the harbour; and when it did, cadged a lift out to it, a fellow officer in the Army being port commandant, a job he had had in peacetime. When I got on board and found Budge and Sue, of course I was overjoyed, but Sue pointed at me and said ” That’s not my Daddy “, little beast, but she looked angelic! However in our joy at being together again we ignored such remarks, and even put up with our uncomfortable lodging happily, and next day took the train to Nuwara Elyia. As soon as we got there we asked the hotel manager to find us an ayah, and very soon a minute little old Sinhalese woman presented herself with good references, and we engaged her for the week. I cannot remember much about the place except that it was very beautiful, and I think rained a lot, and also there were more flies about than in Egypt or the Sudan, as it was a peacetime horse racing centre. Clearly the horses were stabled near the hotel and peacetime standards of cleanliness had slipped. We were very careful to see that all Sue’s food and drink was sterilised.