Chapter 17

Chapter 17


Siam & India

I cannot recall a lot about Siam, or Thailand as it is now known, but I do remember it as a very welcome change from our previous stations as it seemed to have been completely untouched by the war. A disadvantage was that it seemed a lot more humid than Singapore or Malaya. We were quartered in a block of flats that had been used as barracks by the Japanese and our work was to supervise Japanese prisoners of war in the repair and reconstruction of bridges over the river. This was not an onerous job as the Japs were very well supervised by their own officers,were very well disciplined, and very polite; the only difficulty was the language problem. Shortly after we arrived my relief arrived to take over the Company, and so I quickly became less and less involved in the day to day business and more involved in arranging my own travel arrangements back to Ootacamund.


At last the day for my departure arrived, and a farewell parade had been arranged without my knowledge to present me with a hand carved tablet and a teak chest made by our own carpenters. I had served with most of the men for 3 years and I was most touched to see how they seemed genuinely to regret my going, but in spite of this I had no desire to stay. I was driven to the airport in a small convoy and boarded a Dakota of the R.A.F. which was to take us first to Comilla, whence we would go on to Calcutta. There were a few other passengers including some nurses, going back on leave or demob, and the seating was the usual uncomfortable benches longitudinally on the sides of the plane with baggage etc. in the middle. After we had been in the air for an hour or two, the pilot announced that there were thunderclouds forming ahead which he would not be able to fly through, and that he was changing course. Very soon after this announcement, he again came on the Tannoy to say that the thunder clouds were all around us, that it was impossible to turn back, and that he would have to make a forced landing. We were told to put our heads between our knees and our arms over our neighbour’s shoulders while he prepared to come down into what looked like thick jungle. I think that all of us thought that we would not survive, but there was no sign of panic. Presently we felt a tremendous crash , and a horrific scraping as we skidded through a paddy field and through the bunds around and the plane came to rest. We were ordered out as fast as possible in case it caught fire, and when we had run far enough away to turn round, saw that the plane was facing the way we had come in, and had lost an engine and broken a wing. The pilot, who was about 20 years old, told us that he had radioed base his position and that we were landing, but that he was not certain that his signal had been heard as there had been no acknowledgement, so he also left an automatic bleeper on in the cockpit. After a bit , while we were wondering what to do, and also a bit apprehensive that we might have to defend ourselves from hostile inhabitants, some villagers started to appear, and we saw that they were unarmed and apparently friendly, a relief because I was the only person with any arms , and that was the old pistol that Darby in Malaya had given me. We learned that we were deep in jungle apart from a few scattered paddy fields and some distance north of Tavoy on the Tenasserim peninsula, amongst tribes that had never given in to the Japs, or indeed to the Burmese central government. They were pretty primitive and poor, but took us to their village a short distance away, and put us all up in their huts. The pilot made them a present of the plane’s compass as a goodwill gesture, which they seemed pleased with, although what possible use it would be to them I cannot imagine. Later they brought us some eggs, so we had something to eat. It was by now getting dark,and we all settled down to sleep, the men taking it in turns to keep watch as we did not know whether they were really friendly. Next morning after an uneventful night, tortured by swarms of mosquitos, we wandered about the village, and awaited rescue. When none came the pilot tried to raise a reply on the radio, but in vain and we were discussing who should set off through the jungle with a guide to try and obtain some help when we heard the sound of motor vehicles, and shortly afterwards a detachment of Gurkhas came into the village. They were astonished to see us all alive and unhurt, as they had been told that the plane was a total loss, which of course it was, and that there would be no survivors. They had even brought along a truck full of petrol in order to burn our bodies. They radioed their base for instructions and were told to bring us all out to the nearest air strip where a plane would be laid on for us to continue our journey.


Then followed a long uncomfortable journey in overcrowded trucks on abominable tracks made worse by the torrential rain that had started. however we arrived eventually at a grass air strip where we found another Dakota awaiting us. The crew were a bit doubtful about taking off in the heavy rain from a waterlogged field, but as it was getting late, and there was nowhere to spend the night , they decided to attempt it. We were all very nervous at the prospect of another forced landing or crash but were also very keen to get away and there were no protests. In fact we took off without any trouble and soon got to Comilla where there was a proper military air field.Once there we all sent telegrams to our families or friends that we were all right, as we were told that all relatives had been informed of our deaths. Later I learned from Budge that she had never received any such telegram, knew nothing of our mishap, and was rather surprised at the wording of my telegram.


I do not remember the journey from Comilla to Madras, but I remember well the train up to Ooty, a little rack and pinion steam train fired by wood that had to be collected en route, and even more do I remember Budge and Sue meeting me on the platform, and the feeling that at last ,after all that we had been through, we were to be together again, and this time for good. Sue was very excited,and on arrival at the cottage which Budge had rented , insisted on dragging me through into the new arrival’s room without any time to put down what I was carrying, and there I saw Eryl or Pooh as she was later called, and who, at that stage of her life resembled a very small and cheerful Buddha. I was delighted to have such beautiful daughters, and have been ever since.


My demobilisation papers had come through and all that remained was for the army at Wellington, a short distance down the line,to arrange a passage home for me. Meanwhile I could enjoy Ooty, the marvellous climate and scenery, and being with my family. Time went on and no word came from Wellington, and meanwhile India was becoming not a very comfortable place to be with a family, as partition had been decided on. There were riots and massacres taking place all over the country, and the British army and Civil Service were withdrawing. Ooty was reasonably peaceful as by far the majority of the population were Hindus, with a minority of Christians, but there were disturbances in the Indian part of the town, and one never knew whether some agitator would persuade the crowds to start attacking Europeans. Eventually I decided to go down to Wellington to see what the delay was, and insisted on seeing the senior Movement Control officer, a Major like myself. He sent for the W.O who looked after the paper work, and it was discovered that that idle individual had entirely omitted to put our names down for repatriation, and we had missed several drafts. After this things moved quickly and we soon got orders to proceed to Deolali to await embarkation. We did not have long to wait and very shortly boarded a ship at Bombay bound for Liverpool. I believe that it was the Duchess of Bedford, a Canadian Pacific liner, but it was packed to capacity. and Budge had to share a cabin with the children and some other family, while I was in a cabin designed for two, but with four in it. No one minded however as we were going home to civilian life. We all had our meals at long communal tables, sitting on benches and Pooh was kept from falling off by means of a scarf fixed into Budge’s belt and into that of a very kind black woman, wife of a regular sergeant who was returning home.


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