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Gaining An R.A.F Pilots Brevet In WW II

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Gaining An R.A.F Pilots Brevet In WW II

Old 22nd Apr 2012, 20:03
  #2521 (permalink)  
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Danny nears journey's end.

Knowing that W/Cdr Richey was on board, and still fondly believing the "Spitfire Wing" story, we waited eagerly for him to introduce himself to us and to give us all the "gen" on air combat. But the days and weeks passed by and he did not appear. At first we reasoned that, as OC Troops (for he had been lumbered with that job), he was too busy with his admin duties to spare time for us. But the weeks went by and hope slowly faded - in fact I don't think I ever saw the man.

My "oppo" on the trip was a Ronnie Bray. I hadn't known him at Hawarden as he was on a different Flight to mine. Curiously, we never talked about our families and home backgrounds - or I've forgotten - rather we grumbled endlessly about our present woes and speculated on our futures. He was a nice chap, and a good friend. Sadly our ways were parted when we got to India: I don't think I ever saw or heard from him again (but I heard about him, as may crop up much later in my tale).

We left Bahia and raced across to Durban. I think we joined a convoy at some point, for just after "turning the corner" at the Cape, we ran into an absolute Sargasso sea of wreckage (from a recent U-boat kill ?), and the ships unaccountably stopped ("hove-to", I suppose, is the technical term). Why - to check for survivors, perhaps ? The silence was deafening, after the engines had been running for so long. It seemed to us that this was the height of stupidity; if a U-boat were lurking about, we were giving him a perfect no-deflection shot.

This lasted some twenty minutes then, thankfully, the engines restarted and we continued on our way to Durban. Sometime in the last week or two my twenty-first had passed unobserved. But we were allowed ashore in Durban; a party of us formed to celebrate the event (and mine may not have been the only 21st involved).

It was no drunken revel, our interest was more in real good food after six weeks of ship's rations (mainly bully beef). We booked a slap-up dinner in a posh restaurant (no problem on our accumulated unspent pay) and ate till we burst. All I can remember about that night is the restaurant ceiling: it was midnight blue covered with little silver stars which glittered in the table lights (perish the thought that good Cape wine might have played a part in my selective amnesia).

All that was mssing was feminine companionship; the only female troops on board were a party of Wren junior officers en route to Naval HQ in Ceylon. Very smart they looked, too, in their white tropical rig. But they were Officers: we were Other Ranks, and never the twain shall meet (socially) !

To the best of my knowledge, there were no ATS or WAAF in India during the war, only QAs and their RAF counterparts, officers of Princess Mary's RAF Nursing Service. The WRNS were all in Ceylon. In major cities like Delhi and Calcutta, the Army had a locally recruited womens' service, they were kitted out much like US WACs, but I forget what they were called. Anglo-Indian girls flocked to join this service, for the chance of "catching" a British NCO (or even an Officer) was too good to miss.

We did not stay in Durban long, and left alone with our escort - the biggest warship I'd seen on escort duty. It must have been a battleship, or at least a very heavy cruiser; we made a dash for Bombay together - perhaps it was after dark, for I don't recall the famous "Lady in White" of Durban singing farewell to us as we sailed away.

The last lap across the Indian Ocean was smooth and uneventful. Indeed, the sea had been kind to us during the whole of the voyage. There had been no U-boat scares. I don't remember any spells of rough weather and sea-sickness was never a problem. But there's no getting away from it, sea travel is boring. When you've seen one lot of sea, you've seen 'em all. Another fortnight , and we would be disembarking in Bombay.

That'll do to be going on with,

Danny 42C

If you're so smart, why ain't you rich ?
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Old 23rd Apr 2012, 08:22
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Having been away for the weekend at a 30 Squadron reunion (at its new home in Brize Norton), I find that we have been on a sea cruise! As always with PPRuNe one never knows what to expect next, for thanks to Petet I am fairly sure that my father must have sailed in WS14, eventually leaving Durban in DM2 for Singapore. As noted here:
WS (Winston Specials) Convoys in WW2 - 1941 Sailings
they arrived immediately prior to it falling to the Japanese. My understanding is, in the case of my Dad's ship at least, they therefore did not disembark but sailed instead to Java. It made little difference, for they were soon overrun anyway. What an utter shambles it must have all been.
An added irony, his job was shooting down aircraft as against his son's one of flying them!
I can imagine the splendour of your KD ceremonial in Bahia, Danny. Even with the passage of time some things change very little. Station parades at Changi in the 60s resembled a Boy Scouts Jamboree more than anything, with every shade from light to dark khaki to delight the eye!
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Old 23rd Apr 2012, 09:44
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I have sent you a PM.
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Old 23rd Apr 2012, 11:24
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and left alone with our escort - the biggest warship I'd seen on escort duty. It must have been a battleship,
Nice steady wartime job. Cruising backwards and forward in a U boat proof battleship alternating between the nightspots of Durban and Bombay.
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Old 23rd Apr 2012, 11:35
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I pride myself with having a military type sense of humour and I guess your banter regarding the battleship was just thathttp://www.liveleak.com/view?i=b1f_1290721871..
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Old 23rd Apr 2012, 11:37
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HMS Royal Oak wasn't U-Boat proof.
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Old 23rd Apr 2012, 12:30
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We did not stay in Durban long, and left alone with our escort - the biggest warship I'd seen on escort duty. It must have been a battleship, or at least a very heavy cruiser; we made a dash for Bombay together - perhaps it was after dark, for I don't recall the famous "Lady in White" of Durban singing farewell to us as we sailed away.

Danny - Looking at PeteT's list of escorts, FROBISHER could certainly have been regarded as a heavy cruiser in view of her armament whilst MAURITIUS, although not classed as heavy with "only" 6 inch guns was only some 10 feet shorter and displaced some 1000 tons less.

I had to smile at the reference to the "Lady in White", Mrs Perla Gibson, since I vividly recall her singing us on our way on what I believe must have been one of the last RN ship visits to Durban before her death. We had just spent a very rigorous fortnight there and it was blowing a hooley from the east, yet there she was, standing on the north breakwater, hanging on to her white hat and with her voluminous long white dress billowing in the gale, belting out "Rule Britannia" - with two servants hanging desperately on to save her from being blown into the harbour entrance. More for those interested at:

The Lady In White

Incidentally, I'm somewhat surprised at FED's comments, firstly from my long term reading of his previous excellent posts, and secondly, whilst FROBISHER and MAURITIUS may have been fortunate enough to enjoy a charmed life in the Indian Ocean, many other warships and merchant ships did not, as a quick shoogle with Google will confirm. In any case, both ships more than made up for it later, with MAURITIUS covering the landings at no less than Sicily, Salerno, and Anzio, as well as being there on D-Day at Sword Beach, whilst FROBISHER was also at Sword, and was in fact herself damaged by a torpedo in the Baie de la Seine in August 1944.

"Nice steady wartime job" indeed!


Last edited by Union Jack; 23rd Apr 2012 at 12:44.
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Old 23rd Apr 2012, 14:48
  #2528 (permalink)  
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I appreciate that they were in the Indian Ocean for a reason; an important reason. I just thought that if you were going to have to stick your neck out then cruising in that part of the world beat flogging around the North Atlantic. I am also aware that they could spend six months on board without any shore leave
At least Glojo has a sense of humour.
Just to cheer Danny up. I have been down the Atlantic on the Stirling Castle; First Class, so I know the dining room. During my day it was beef tea and deck quoits.

Last edited by Fareastdriver; 23rd Apr 2012 at 18:20.
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Old 23rd Apr 2012, 18:32
  #2529 (permalink)  
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Trying very hard to keep up with all your "edits", FED (that's banter by the way!) but it can't have been all that much fun escorting convoys without knowing whether there were any Japanese submarines lurking along a well-established route, especially when neither warship is likely to have had anything but the most rudimentary sonar, if any, and no anti-submarine weapons.

Anyway, a fair response, and you are hereby forgiven on the basis of previous good character (more banter, as Glojo would be quick to appreciate ......)

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Old 23rd Apr 2012, 19:19
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Gentlemen, Gentlemen, calm down ! We're all friends here ! I am sure Fareastdriver had tongue-in-cheek on the first Post, and I don't doubt that much the same was being said in the wardrooms and messdecks of the Naval escorts on the North Atlantic and Arctic convoys.

Once again I'm humbled by the size of things I seem to be able to forget. I said......"and left alone with our escort - the biggest warship I'd seen"......What about the Athlone Castle ? Still, for a chap who can forget three hangars (at Carlstrom), a 25,000 tonner shouldn't be too hard.

As to the size of the ship, they all look alike to me (suppose it depends how near they are). All I know was, it looked much bigger than a destroyer. In the air, all you needed to know about warships then was: keep well out of range of all of them, there's no such thing as a "friendly" ship, all matelots will shoot first and ask questions afterwards - and you can't blame them.

Fareastdriver, I'm sure the Stirling Castle dining saloon was back to peacetime splendour in your day - but you couldn't reach up and touch the ceiling from your chair, could you !

Thank you all for your interest,


Last edited by Danny42C; 23rd Apr 2012 at 19:30.
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Old 23rd Apr 2012, 23:04
  #2531 (permalink)  
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Has this Thread a Future ?

To: PPRuNe Pop, Padhist and fredjhh.

Some thoughts now that Reg and Cliff have, sadly, left us, of the few active remaining contributors who gained their pilots' brevets in WWII.

Paddy, you joined the club in October, 2003.

Fred, you joined February, 2010, and you're the Oldest Inhabitant.

I'm the "sprog" here, as I joined only in January this year. It ill behoves me to take the lead, but things have to be said.

Long term, there's no future in this Thread unless we can get more old- timers to join. The only hopes for getting more pilots seem to be for PPRuNe personal publicity at Squadron reunions and the like, and for Mr Nigel Marshall to make it a precondition for the "Project Propellers" guests before he lets them in to the cockpit (only joking ! - but it's not a bad idea: they owe him, after all).

The only other thing I can think of is (as I've previously suggested): the next generation has to buy a dictaphone and make or bribe Great/Gran/Dad into talking - provided always that he is noch geistig (still has all his marbles) - as Cliff's German correspondent delicately put it some time ago. The Clock is Ticking, chaps.

Next, it must be opened to all trades, aircrew and ground - for all have a tale to tell of their first, bewildering days and the years that followed This may well have to lead to a name change ("The Last of the Many") ?

In the long term, we'll all be dead. In the short term, I could do with some back-up (even Horatius didn't have to hold the bridge on his own). Paddy, way back you mentioned dive bombing by night. As one who had some small skill in that art by day, this raises the hair on the back of my neck. Could you please tell us more about it ? And the blind-landing business can't have been roses all the way. Things must have gone wrong. Let's hear about them.

Fred (your #2402 p.121): "I'd been on the run for six weeks". There must be two thousand words there - and then all your POW experiences - we love those, even though we hug ourselves with "there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I" relief.

This is important. Time is pressing. What do you all think might be done to save this Thread ? Or shall we just let it die ? I throw it open - don't just study the polish on your toecaps and say "Good Lord - is that the time ?"

Goodnight, all,

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Old 24th Apr 2012, 09:28
  #2532 (permalink)  
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DIVE BOMBING AT NIGHT At the time of the Confrontation it was thought that Komar class ships of the Indons could sneak out from the islands sixty or so miles south of Singapore and wreak havoc in the harbour. To counter these fast ships some bright spark thought that by dropping flares "behind" them to silhouette the target Hunters of 20 Sqn could make dive attacks using 60lb rockets. They tried it with their two seat T7 and frightened themselves. Release height is 800ft in a 60 degree dive with a six g recovery. From the bowels of FEAF an ancient aviator surfaced to say that he had done it in Beaufighters. It was called "Lightstrike" and a significant number of his oppos were lost through flying into the sea. And in any case there were only some dozen flares available in the theatre so the idea was a dead duck.
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Old 24th Apr 2012, 11:31
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Dive Bombing at Night

249 (Gold Coast) Sqn were still acting as Target marker Sqn with 4.5 inch recce flares and 8 inch Lepus flares allied with 250/1000 lb target Indicators up to the disbandment of the NEAF Strike Wing in March 1969.

El Adem main target at night from the nose of a Canberra B16 at approx 400 feet certainly stimulates the enthusiasm!!!
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Old 24th Apr 2012, 17:25
  #2534 (permalink)  
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To continue the digression, my late Uncle (not in the mob but R.A. A.A.) travelled this route, his observations were they thought they were off to North Africa but every dock worker in Liverpool seemed to know their true destination.
He said his ship was considered fast enough not to require an escort Durban > Colombo. Secondly the voyage out (apart from sea-sickness in the Bay of Biscay) was far more pleasant than the return from Rangoon via Suez.
Also whilst in Ceylon every time a Catalina was sighted they had to stand to as the Japs had some captured ones.

Finally I'd like to share a link West Derby World War 2 veteran fighter pilot back in cockpit at 89 thanks to friend - West Derby and Tuebrook news - West Derby & Tuebrook - Liverpool Communities - Liverpool Echo
Apparently Cliff did most of the flying, this was only a week before he pasted away.
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Old 24th Apr 2012, 19:37
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Pom Pax, what a fantastic link! Thanks for sharing. It's gratifying to know that Cliff was well enough to be aviating right up to the end. Huge thanks must also go to his friend Jim Coleman; Jim, I hope you've been following the thread!

Danny, good on you for taking up the mantle . Clearly there is no-one who wants this thread to die, all I can offer is to fully endorse your suggestions to throw the thread open to all who have something to offer. In fact, I'm sure we've had a few ground crew chaps on here already.

For my part I can spread the word of PPRuNe at my RAuxAF squadron Association's reunion in June, and see if any of the distinguished old boys will take the bait!
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Old 25th Apr 2012, 00:57
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Danny on dry land again.

"An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay" (Kipling: Mandalay)
I wasn't in the Bay of Bengal of Kipling's fancy, but two thousand miles West in the Arabian Sea. No matter, I could see the force of what he wrote. We'd been eight long weeks in the Stirling Castle and were due to dock in Bombay that morning.

Up at first light, like children on Christmas morn, a group of us had gathered on the foredeck to watch the sun rise over the ship's bows. It was a clear golden dawn, not a wisp of cloud in the sky or on the horizon. Slowly, out of a flat-calm sea, inched up the biggest, blazing red-gold sun I've ever seen - or ever would see - magnified by the dust haze over the land ahead.

We gazed in silence as the first waves of heat broke across the cool decks. Years later I watched many a clear sunset off the Malabar coast, trying to catch a glimpse of the mythical "Green Flash". This you are supposed to see if you look at the exact moment (but no sooner) as the sun disappears. But I never saw a sun so magnificent as on that December morning.

At this point, I propose to go off Thread and ride one of my favourite hobby-horses. (If Mr Moderator doesn't like it, I shan't mind if he chops it out). In these pages I shall have nothing to do with Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai et al (was poor Delhi hiding behind the sofa when the new names were being given out ?)

As far as I'm concerned, the good people of Bombay can call it what they like in Marathi, and I don't mind. Why should it trouble them what we call it in English ? After all, we say London and Paris, the French say Londres and Paree. The Germans say Koln, we say Cologne (sorry, can't do umlauts), and no one gets on their hind legs about it.

It's all part of an attempt to expunge every trace of a colonial past - to pretend that it had never been. If you look up the main railway station in Bombay, you'll find "Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus". A month or so ago, I was watching one of the BBC's mini-travelogues of India. "Victoria Station" said a sophisticated Indian Bombay resident, without a hint of irony. I smiled. The Raj lives !

Another example: last year I Googled "Chowringhee, Calcutta" and drew blank. (It's like Googling "Piccadilly, London", and getting nowhere). Of course, it's now " Jawaharlal Nehru Road" (after the first President of India). But what was the matter with "Chowringhee" ? It's not even an English word. And I bet, if you asked a dozen Calcutta folk at random: "where's the Oberoi Grand Hotel ?", eleven of them would come right back with "Chowringhee".

And many British place names today come directly from our Roman or Viking invaders, so what ? It's Bombay/Calcutta/Madras for me from now on - that's all I have to say about it. And perhaps I should remind some that "India" meant the whole subcontinent then.


The ship sidled into her berth in front of a massive arch, "The Gateway of India". It was just over a week before Christmas of 1942, and I was glad to get down the gangplank and see the back of the Stirling Castle (and my tree-house existence on board her!) I later learned that the Bombay waterfront had just finished getting back on its feet after a colossal explosion eight months before. An ammunition ship had gone on fire and blown up.

Bit late now, more about this soon,

Goodnight, all,


Up to Scale !

Last edited by Danny42C; 25th Apr 2012 at 16:12. Reason: Add Title, close up spacing.
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Old 25th Apr 2012, 12:32
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Fascinating reading once again Danny.

Had to stop my own research to learn all about the Bombay Dock Explosion .... I am learning so much .... keep up the good work.
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Old 25th Apr 2012, 13:17
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Even now they still call it the Bombay Stock Exchange.
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Old 25th Apr 2012, 19:52
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There's a film called 'The Green Ray:

Summer (1986) - IMDb

Some info on the Green Ray or Green Flash here:

Green flash - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Old 25th Apr 2012, 19:54
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Pennies from Heaven and Charpoys.

Wiki tells me that 50,000 tons of shipping were destroyed, the same figure damaged. The ship's boiler came down half a mile away. What also came down were 120 ingots of gold bullion which the ship was carrying, each 28lbs weight and worth 90,000 Rupees (say 6000 then, the paper equivalent today is 300,000 - but with the appreciation in the value of gold, very much more).

These were scattered all round Bombay. Wiki records that one noble citizen handed in his find, and got a 10% reward. The other 119 bars disappeared (there's a surprise), and many were the tales I later heard about cases of sudden, new-found wealth in that fair city. I would imagine that the dock floor has been very carefully swept over the years, but you never know - a scuba diver might yet get lucky, although the bars would be buried in silt now.

Wartime India was indescribable and I will not waste time trying. except to say that tender souls wedded to European ideas of civic hygiene, sanitation and cleanliness in general, were in for a nasty culture shock. The only way to survive was to adapt, and that quickly. India then was still Kipling's Inda, locked in an Edwardian time-warp.

As always in War, a Transit camp came first. This one was in Worli, a few miles north up the coast from Bombay. If you must be dumped in India, December is just about the best month for weather. We lived in bamboo "bashas" (the 70's TV comedy "It's ain't half hot, Mum" showed them to perfection), and met the "charpoy".

This is the ubiquitous Indian native bed, simple, light, cheap and ideal for purpose. I will describe it at some length, as I slept on them for the next three years. (the name formed the root of the RAF word "charping" - the equivalent of the Army's "Egyptian PT" or the Navy's "Counting the Deckhead Rivets").

A rough wooden frame has coconut string woven criss-cross across it. Your bedding goes everywhere with you in a canvas bedroll. This you unroll on a charpoy and put a folded blanket down, with a folded sheet and your pillow on top. Now you're set up. Out with your mosquito net, and tie the tapes up to wires tight stretched across the basha, or - if you're on your own - to bamboo canes lashed to the charpoy legs. Tuck the bottoms of the net under the blanket (making sure a mossie hasn't got in while you're doing it), lift just enough of the net to get yourself in, tuck it in again, and you're safe from mossies and all the rest of the creepy-crawlies which share your life.

Except the bedbug. The roughly mortised joints of a charpoy make an ideal home for these pests. After dark they come out to feast on you. When you catch one and squash it, there is a strong (not unpleasant) smell of almonds and a blotch of your blood. The only way to de-bug a bed is to untie the string, knock all the joints apart, and dunk them in kerosene or petrol. Re-assembled, even without wedges, string tension will hold the joints together well enough, although the bed will wobble a bit.

There was a de-luxe version, called in the back-to-front nomenclature of the services a "Cot Newar". I don't know who or what Newar was - probably just a place name. The idea was the same, but the frame was planed smooth, the joints better fitting, and instead of the coconut string you had two-inch cotton webbing. These luxury items were to be found only in Messes in back areas like Delhi and Calcutta.

One day I came across a broken "Cot Newar" (that must have been quite a night) and liberated the webbing. A charpoy was easy to come by, string cut off and livestock evicted. The short bits (four legs plus two ends) stowed neatly in my cockpit between seat back and armour plate. The two long sides could be lashed to to the internal bomb racks each time we moved. The webbing rolled up in my bedroll. Thus equipped, I could rig up a bed in five minutes, and get a good night's sleep anywhere I landed.

The option in forward areas (no charpoys to be had) was the issue Camp Bed, but these are far too flimsy to last a month before the frame breaks or the canvas tears - usually because a couple of mates come in for a chat, and all sit on your bed. So there was much competition for the loan of my bed whenever I was off camp - obviously I couldn't take it with me if I wasn't flying (why no one copied the main idea, I don't know). I'm sure you could get the webbing in any bazaar - but as the need didn't arise until you got to the sharp end, they hadn't bothered.

All this was in the future. It was just before Christmas '42, and I was at Worli.

That's quite enough for the time being,

All the best, chaps.


Thik hai, Sahib !

Last edited by Danny42C; 25th Apr 2012 at 20:24. Reason: Add Title.
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