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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 26th Apr 2012, 10:32
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Fascinating stuff, Danny. "Take up thy bed and fly" would seem to be the order of the day! When you say it was not taken up by others, you do surprise. The importance of a good night's sleep and the time we all spend doing so would lead one to expect that initiatives such as yours would be quickly emulated, if only by your peers. As always it is the minutiae that captures the attention. In describing in detail the process of "charping" you paint a picture of the whole. Were you awoken by the char whallah, or by a Windsor Davies type urging his "lovely Boys" out of bed? Your endorsement of "It ain't Arf Hot, Mum" conjures up glorious, though no doubt inaccurate images. More please, much much more!
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Old 26th Apr 2012, 17:49
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Petet and Chugalug, thanks for your kind words !

Petet, yes, it was quite a bang, wan't it ? We had one like it at home (somewhere round Rugby) towards the end of the war, when an underground RAF bomb dump went up. I think the hole is there yet. Probably worth a Google.

Chugalug, "It ain't arf Hot, Mum" was (like all good caricatures) very near the truth. Every serviceman knows a BSM Williams and a Captain Ashcroft. And (if he went East of Suez), a poor little Gunner Sugden, almost hidden under his Bombay bowler ! The Indian detail was good, too.

Char-wallah to waken us up at Worli ? Could be, but I think not. Everywhere else, when you got settled in, you'd have at least a part-share in a "bearer", and he would do the honours. In the war-straitened "Grand" in Calcutta, one last trace of the gracious old days: the room bearer would bring in chota hazri, tea, a piece of toast and a banana to waken you up.

Why didn't more people make a DIY bed ? I suppose we had all been brought up to "make do and mend". If your camp-bed breaks a frame, stick an ammo box under the break. If the canvas tears, a bit of string and some amateur sailmaking (by your bearer) will hold it till you can get a new bed from Stores (F.675 ? - exchange voucher - wasn't it ?)

Serious note: we haven't heard from Fred for a while. Anybody know ?

Happy days,

Old 26th Apr 2012, 21:23
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Danny enjoys his first "chukka" by rail.

I do not remember much about Worli, except that water was rather short and I developed a technique for having a bath out of a pint mug (and that takes some doing, believe me). It must have been straight after Christmas that my posting came through - 110 Squadron at Madhaiganj. Nobody in the Orderly Room had any idea where that was, but a consensus emerged that it must be in the jungle East of Calcutta. River steamers and dug-out canoes (?) were mentioned. What did 110 do ? They neither knew nor cared.

But this was no particular concern to them. They would give us railway warrants to the place and trust to Indian Railways to get us to our destination. Us ? Here my memory is rather hazy. I was in a group of either four or six. Six is more probable. Assuming six to a bunch, ours was one of four bunches posted to (respectively) 45, 82, 84 and 110 Squadrons in separate places. This accounted for 24 of the total. The other 12 (which included Ronnie Bray) were left behind and later scattered to the four winds (he ended up on a Ferry flight in Ceylpn).

Next came an introduction to the Indian railway system at Victoria Station. This huge cathedral has to be seen to be believed. Much of India's population seems to live on railway stations, and spends its time travelling in, hanging on the sides of, or sitting on top of trains. There was a theory that fares had to be kept very low - so as to be less than the smallest bribe which a guard or ticket collector would take - otherwise the railway company would get nothing and its employees grow fat.

The booking clerk had no more idea than Worli where Madhaigang was. Go to Calcutta, and ask there, was his advice. Nobody had a better idea, so we did just that. The journey must have taken three or four days, and I'll say no more about it for now as I give a full description of rail travel a bit later.

We arrived in Calcutta (Howrah station) late one evening. The RTO greeted us with the news that we'd overshot our proper stop (Asansol) by a hundred and fifty miles. There were no trains back that night. He found us an upper room with half a dozen charpoys, and some scruffy blankets, but no mossie nets, and we bedded down fully clothed for the night. (Why ? where were our own bedrolls and nets ? Don't know). We were eaten alive, even wrapped up in the blankets with only the tips of our noses out to breathe. We should all have been certain of a dose of malaria, but as far as I remember, we all escaped. Beginner's luck !

What we should have done, and what we would have done without hesitation a few months later, was to grab a taxi over to the Grand Hotel, where in those days you could get a bed in a (twin) room, no choice of room mate - and the answer's "no such luck" - (but full board), for 10 Rupees* a night. That was about 14/- (say 30 today), and on our pay as Sergeant Pilots (13/6 a day) we could afford to live like kings.

* Hereinafter "Rs10".

That's your lot for the moment,

Take care.

Danny 42C

Softly, softly, catchee monkey.

Last edited by Danny42C; 26th Apr 2012 at 21:35. Reason: Add Title
Old 27th Apr 2012, 10:19
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We had one like it at home (somewhere round Rugby) towards the end of the war, when an underground RAF bomb dump went up. I think the hole is there yet. Probably worth a Google.
RAF Fauld. 27 November 1944. The UK's largest explosion.
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Old 29th Apr 2012, 21:12
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Social life for all ranks in India

But we hadn't been out there long enough to pick up the "sahib" mindset, and realise that as the ruling class we were entitled to the best. Or rather, as NCOs, to second best. For we'd brought out our own caste system with us, every bit as all-embracing as the Hindu one.

In the British Indian social scene, the Services were the top dogs (although the Commander-in-Chief was, in theory, subordinate to the Viceroy, and the "Civil Power" was paramount). Our power had come, and was maintained "out of the barrel of a gun" (pace Chairman Mao). A commissioned officer was royalty, even the most junior second lieutenant. He was paid by the Government of India on a much more lavish scale than at home. He collected all the perks, which amounted to much more than first-class rail travel.

An officer travelling alone on duty (and, I think, on official leave) completed a "Form E" on which he could claim a refund of three first-class rail fares for the journey. This was a hangover from peacetime, when he would travel with his "bearer" (Indian personal servant - no British batmen), and his horse and syce (groom), not to mention his family and their hangers-on, and would have to buy tickets for the whole lot. The lone wartime traveller profited handsomely from this archaic perk.

A Service officer would be accepted without question as a temporary member of any British Club in India. These Clubs were the hubs of all British social life, and until near the end apartheid was the rule; no Indian would be allowed in even as a visitor (except Maharajahs!) Before getting too hot under the collar about this, remember that there was nothing to stop Indians forming their own Clubs (and keeping us out), if they so wished. But then their Caste system would require an infinity of mutually exclusive Clubs.

There was a hierarchy of British Clubs, the august Bengal Club of Calcutta (think Atheneum) granted temporary membership only to officers of the rank of full Colonel or equivalent. I got in for lunch once, with an Assistant(RC) Principal Chaplain (who rated as a Group Captain), whom I'd met on leave.

The rules allowed him to bring me in as a guest, and we smuggled in my gunner, Keith Stewart-Mobsby, who was still a Warrant Officer, disguising him as a Pilot Officer with one of my caps and a pair of my old rank cuffs. This was very reprehensible, of course, and the padre would have been drummed out of the Club had it been discovered, but Keith was commissioned soon after that anyway, and we had had a good lunch into the bargain.

The status of enlisted men - British Other Ranks - BORs -was markedly lower. Again this stemmed from pre-war days, when an officer would be upper-class, relatively well educated, probably public school and Sandhurst. His troops would all be working-class lads, apart from the rare "gentleman ranker". My father (who had spent the better part of his life in the ranks of the Army) told me once that the troops of his time were quite happy with this as the "proper" state of affairs, preferring it to serving under an officer who had risen from the ranks, and whom they regarded as being "just one of us", however good he might be.

The BOR was treated as a second-class citizen. He was paid only the rupee equivalent of his UK pay. He travelled second-class on a Warrant. No profit in that. And he was barred from the Clubs. This was not pure snobbery; the numbers involved would have hopelessly swamped them; it was simply impracticable.

This meant no social life for the troops outside barrack and canteen. In the larger towns Service Clubs were set up for all ranks and did their best to entertain them, but in smaller places this was not possible. In Railway Institutes (effectively Clubs set up by the Anglo-Indian communities who ran the railways) our troops were welcome. BORs sometimes bitterly referred to themselves as "the White Wogs"; there was some truth in this; any Indian, no matter how high his caste, came below us in the pecking order.

There is dispute over whether the (now terribly Politically Incorrect) "Golliwog" comes from "Wog", or vice versa. "Wog" was supposed to have been an abbreviation of "Wily Oriental Gentleman". How quickly standards of acceptable speech change ! In the much loved "Fawlty Towers", Major Berkeley (was it ?), a hotel resident, tells John Cleese: "Indians aren't niggers, Fawlty - they're wogs " (you'd never get away with that on TV today !)

Of course the unfairness of the social system was a problem only in back areas, where there were towns. In the field, there was no social scene at all, of course; we were all in the same boat, ate the same grub, lived with the same discomforts, saved our pay and made our own amusements. There might be a local farming village, but that was always left well alone - not that it offered much of a temptation, as a rule.

I shall be back on the train next time,

Cheers, all,


Man is not lost - much !

Last edited by Danny42C; 29th Apr 2012 at 21:30. Reason: Add Title.
Old 29th Apr 2012, 21:28
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Wog-Working On Government Service ?
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Old 29th Apr 2012, 22:04
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Haven't heard that one - although it's true that India supports a vast bureaucracy. But in my time the term was applied indescriminately to all "natives" of any rank.

Old 29th Apr 2012, 23:25
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It would seem that Indians preferred their caste system to ours, though if you are at the bottom of the heap what difference does it make? Talking of John Cleese, one recalls the sketch with the two Ronnies, culminating in Ronnie Corbett confiding that "I know my place". When I left the RAF it struck me that civilians expend much energy in disproving that, forever trying to demonstrate that they are as good as, or very likely better than, the next man. The advantage of Service life was that your rank spoke for itself (though not necessarily for your ability) and hence did not need to be forever flaunted (with the exception of SWOs and retired Majors ;-).
I recall the faded grandeur of the Grand Hotel Calcutta, but it seemed luxurious compared to the poverty out on the street which was literally home to many poor Indians.

Last edited by Chugalug2; 30th Apr 2012 at 09:06. Reason: Only two Ronnies and I choose the wrong one!
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Old 30th Apr 2012, 00:45
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I remember my Grandfather telling me local Egyptian labourers wore shirts with "WOGS" on the back-denoting that they were "Working On Government Service"
Keep the posts coming Danny.
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Old 30th Apr 2012, 16:52
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"Grand" Hotel and Wogs.


Yes, its glory was faded, wasn't it ? But you should see it now ! (Google).
And poverty ? We don't know the meaning of the word, do we ?


This is interesting - it might well be the answer. Many of these generic nicknames do have a traceable source (eg "Limey") - (but how about "Pom"?) I'm guessing that your Grandad would be in Egypt during WWII. I believe "Wog" was in use by British forces in India long before that. But then the work jackets of the Egyiptian labourers might have been so marked in the days of Omdurman - otherwise they'd be on sale in the local bazaar before very long !

Thanks, both of you. It's just the kind of feedback I need to keep me going,

We haven't heard from Fred. I'm getting worried.


Last edited by Danny42C; 30th Apr 2012 at 19:28.
Old 30th Apr 2012, 17:44
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Egypt and Palestine Danny.He was a radio technician on Catalinas as I recall.

Some years ago I holidayed in Egypt - his words were 'don't bloody trust any of 'em.They'll cut your throat for tuppence '.Had a lovely hol and returned with throat intact
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Old 30th Apr 2012, 23:35
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Danny reaches the end of the line.

At Howrah in the morning, nursing our swollen noses, we got back on the train to Asansol. Arriving there mid-morning, we found there was no way of contacting Madhaiganj, which they said was about twelve miles out.Wherever you de-trained in India, a truck from your unit must turn up at the railhead sooner or later. We settled down to wait for ours with tea, bread and fried eggs at "Wahid's" (the names that stay with you for a lifetime !)

An hour later our truck appeared on the daily mail and stores run. We chucked our kit in the back and climbed aboard. After bouncing along the glorifed bullock-cart tracks for half an hour, we turned into the camp entry road and caught a sight of the flight line. From the open back of the canvas-top we saw a number of big ugly things sitting on it. We had one or two of their airmen on board. The following dialogue ensued:

What on earth's that ?........I'ts a Vultee Vengeance, Sarge....... Eh?.......They're dive bombers.......Never heard of 'em !.......... (We knew nothing about dive bombers - neither did anyone else). We'd all seen film heroics with the US Navy doing its stuff, and everbody knew about the formidable "Stuka", but that was about all. Still we clung to our last faint hope:

What about the Spitfires we're supposed to be getting ? .........You've "had it", Sarge, there aren't any out here....... So what are we supposed to be flying ?......... Oh, Nohhh!

Oh, Yesss !......... Not for the first - or last time in the RAF, we'd been sold a pup (in fact the first Spitfires out there were Mk VIIIs which did not appear till the end of 1943). Was there ever any truth in the "Spitfire Wing" story ? - we'll never know now.

We'd no option but to make the best of our new situation. We dumped our kit in the Sergeants' mess basha, to receive a warm welcome. They took us under their wing straight away, gave us a drink (although I don't think the bar was supposed to open at lunchtimes); It didn't matter that we'd missed lunch, for we'd stuffed ourselves at "Wahid's". They showed us round the place (not that there was much of it), and took us across to the Flights to meet the Boss. We were on a Squadron now, and among friends ! It was a nice warm feeling - we were "home" at last, even though it wasn't quite where we expected to be. But it was the end of a line (for me) that had started in Padgate two years before.

From memory, I think the Boss was a Sqn. Ldr. Lambert, but things were in a state of flux. He never signed my log as, over the next few weeks, C.O.s came and went. Flight Commanders signed for the C.O.s in all the months until April, when it was signed by a Sqn.Ldr. A.M. Gill, who I know was 84 Sqdn. C.O. a bit later. Whatever, I was put in "A" Flight (Flt.Lt. R.C. Topley) to meet my fate.

Madhaiganj was just a name on the map, a small farming village like a million others in India. A local contractor had bulit a basha camp and carved out a single runway from farmland. Any necessary earth-moving had been carried out in the time-honoured way. The basic unit consists of a man, armed with a mattock or spade. I heard of, (but never saw), the supposed real "Indian Rope Trick": in which two men work with one spade, one digs it in, the other helps to pull it out with a rope on the bottom of the handle.

The spoil (20 - 30 lbs at a guess) is loaded into a shallow basket, this is lifted onto the head of one of the village women. She takes it to where it is wanted and dumps it, then goes back for a refill. Another man spreads it out. Multiply this by a hundred or two, add a "babu" to direct operations, and you've got it. He invariably wore a topee, much lighter in style than our derided "Bombay bowler": this served as his badge of authority, much like a "gaffer's" bowler at home.

It was an attactive sight to watch the women in their bright multi-coloured saris, like so many butterflies, moving in an endless chain hour after hour. One hoped that the "babu" had got the right plans. For there was a rumour that the specification for a runway stipulated the maximum permissable dip or rise along its length.

Unfortunately some contractors were supposed to have misread these maxima as mandatory features. And it was certainly true that many runways in West Bengal did have dips and humps along them. Asansol, in particular, had such a bad rise shortly after touchdown that they'd had to paint a warning and a white line across the runway (beyond which you were advised to land).

But Madhaiganj was pretty level. The only thing was that it wasn't paved, so there were clouds of dust in the dry season and it would be just a sea of mud in the Monsoon (but by then we'd be somewhere else).

Next time we'll discuss the inhabitants,

Goodnight, all.


Get yer 'air cut ! 

Last edited by Danny42C; 30th Apr 2012 at 23:45. Reason: Add Title.
Old 1st May 2012, 19:41
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Vultee Vengeance

Hello Danny,
my late father was one of the people who assembled
these aircraft which were delivered in knocked-down
form from USA. Makes the story of the crated Spitfires
a bit believable for me. Later he served in Burma.

Regards, John
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Old 1st May 2012, 21:52
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Danny. Re WOG

From the OED:

wog, n.

Etymology: Origin uncertain: often said to be an acronym, but none of the many suggested etymologies is satisfactorily supported by the evidence.


1. A vulgarly offensive name for a foreigner, esp. one of Arab extraction.

1929 F. C. Bowen Sea Slang 153 Wogs, lower class Babu shipping clerks on the Indian coast.
1932 R. J. P. Hewison Ess. on Oxf. 5 And here the Ethiop ranks, the wogs, we spy.
1937 F. Stark Baghdad Sketches 90 When I return, Nasir fixed me with real malignity in his little placid eyes. I knew she wanted me to go, he said. I could see what she was thinking. They call us wogs.
1942 C. Hollingworth German just behind Me xiii. 258 King Zog Was always considered a bit of a Wog, Until Mussolini quite recently Behaved so indecently.
1944 J. H. Fullarton Troop Target 95 Don't come at that, you Wog‥bastard.
1955 E. Waugh Officers & Gentlemenii. 323 He turned up in western Abyssinia leading a group of wogs.
1958 Times Lit. Suppl. 11 Apr. p. vi/3 We have travelled some distance from the days when Wogs began at Calais.
1965 M. Spark Mandelbaum Gate i. 13 After all, one might speak in that manner of the Wogs or the Commies.
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Old 1st May 2012, 22:12
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I thoroughly enjoy reading this thread and feel it a privilege to hear these experiences which are unsanitised and thankfully not politically correct.

THANK YOU Danny although I feel embarrassed to call you by such an informal name....
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Old 1st May 2012, 23:48
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Thanks all round !

esa-aardvark (your #2541),


I do wish I'd had the chance to talk to your late father about the assembly of the Vengeances (at Mauripur ?) He'd have been able to confirm/deny the tale (to be told a few Posts later) about this, which was only what I was told at the time (and could be complete nonsense).

As for the Spitfires, there is a thread "Spitfires found in Burma", on the "Aviation History and Nostalgia" section. It would be wonderful if it were true, but I can't believe it. Hundreds of locals must have seen the ?burials? at the time; some must still be alive; how come we've never heard a word about it all these years till now ?

Warmtoast (your #2542),

If it's beaten the OED, it's beaten me ! The expression seems to have gone all round the world. (a small point: the 1958 Times entry is usually quoted in French, and differs a bit: "Les negres commencent a Calais" - sorry, can't do accents!) I think the Times clip is a parody of this.

glojo (your #2543)

John, don't give it another thought ! It's just what the RAF called me - with a very Irish surname I had to be Paddy or Danny. It's not my real name - just my PPRuNe pen-name.

Thank you all for your interest,



Last edited by Danny42C; 2nd May 2012 at 00:17. Reason: Additional material
Old 2nd May 2012, 10:54
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I was told many years ago that it stood for: 'Wiley Oriental Gentleman'
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Old 2nd May 2012, 20:34
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Dramatis Personae

The new intake of pilots were a mixed bag. There were half-a-dozen of us, all Sergeants. I think three had come from Hurricane OTUs, three from Spitfires. To the best of my recollection, two were RCAF ("Red" McInnis and "Bud" Yates), two RAAF (whose names escape me now, as does the one RNZAF), and myself, the only RAF representative. Three went to "A" Flight under Flt.Lt. (actually he was still waiting for his "Acting" until April) Topley; three to "B" Flight under Flt.Lt D.J. Ritchie, RAAF.

During all my time in India, we were always a mixture of all the Dominions and the Mother Country, and at the end I had formed a pretty firm opinion of the various national characteristics. Canadians were a cheerful lot, a straightforward hybrid of the British and American, with the virtues and vices of each. The New Zealander was by far the closest resemblance to a Briton (in accent and manner) - indeed, he was often mistaken for one. I only came across one South African out there; he was a very nice chap, but, accent aside, seemed rather dour - rather like a Scot. The Aussies were, of course, sui generis as always !

(That should bring something raining down on my luckless head !)

Later in the war, I served several months on 8 Squadron of (for a very short time) the Royal Indian Air Force. There is no such thing as an "Indian"(ethnically speaking). There are hundreds of different races, with different beliefs, practices and mother tongues (I read somewhere that there are more different spoken languages in the subcontinent than in the rest of the world put together).

Of course, in the RIAF we all spoke English, and in those days we had Muslim and Sikh (Hindu) pilots and crews happily serving together. Sadly, a few years later, they would be at each other's throats in the first of four wars.

110 Squadron had only been at at Madhaiganj a few weeks, had just got their new aircraft, and were puzzling out what to do with them. There were more Vengeances - it may have been 84 Squadron - and some American C-46 Curtis "Commandos". This was a sort of big, fat Dakota. What they did, I dont't know, it may have been just a holding unit. They must have had their own Messes over on the far side, for we never came in contact with them.

There seemed to be little or no Station organisation, I cannot remember any Wing Commander or Group Captain. The Squadron commanders seemed to run the place as they wished. There must have been some sort of S.Ad.O. to supervise the Govt. of India Works & Bricks people and the contractor who would do all the catering for the Messes. Everthing else would be done at Squadron level; we had our own M.O. and his minions, our own Accountant Officer, our own M.T. , etc. The simple domestic tasks - like the bhisti, the punkah-wallah and dhobi-wallah - were organised by your "bearer", and that was a matter of personal arrangement.

The Sergeants lived communally, about a dozen to a basha. We got ourseves organised. Two sergeants would share a local "bearer" between them. The Rs20 a month we paid him (between us) was a fleabite on our pay (about Rs280), but as much as a local Indian doctor might hope to get.

Your bearer was your "Jeeves". He looked after your kit, your laundry, cleaned shoes and buttons (not that there was much of that), made your bed, ran errands and generally made life easy for you. He had the miraculous faculty of being able to make a char-wallah appear on demand at almost any hour of day or night. We ate quite well in the Sergeants' Mess, even if there was a lot of curry and it was better not to ask what creature had been sacrificed.

Our daily routine didn't vary much. At sundown you stripped off the sweat-soaked bush jacket or shirt, shorts and socks of the day, showered and changed into clean (long-sleeved) shirt or bush jacket and slacks, and you were ready for a John Collins in the Mess before dinner. (There was no need for underwear; and it would only give you "dhobi rash" if you wore it. This affliction was treated with "Gentian Violet"; in the showers you would give a display colourful enough to rival any baboon's backside).

At this point I should mention that we were very happy wearing shorts, even if we did look like an overgrown troop of Boy Scouts. They are far more comfortable than slacks in the heat of the day; our American allies greatly envied us in this respect.

It was a rule that ankles and wrists must be covered after dark; they are the favourite points of attack for the malaria mossie; I suppose that the superficial veins there are easier for the beastie to dig down to. Even with all the precautions and the daily mepacrine tablet, everybody got malaria at least once, and some several times, while out there. It was regarded as no more serious than
(and felt like) a bad dose of 'Flu. It put you on your back for a fortnight, and you weren't much use for a week or two after that.

On which cheerful note,

Goodnight, all,


Keep on taking the tablets !

Last edited by Danny42C; 5th May 2012 at 20:10. Reason: Add Title.
Old 5th May 2012, 22:37
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Danny's simple life in West Bengal.

A near perfect arrangement was the dhobi (laundry man). He came round every morning, collected your slacks and shorts (khaki drill), bush jackets and shirts (khaki cellular), plus anything else that needed washing. Next day it would all come back, beautifully washed and pressed. It only cost a few annas (pennies in old money). Your bearer organised it (and no doubt took his cut).

The job was done by the dhobi-wallah's womenfolk, who took it down to the river and thrashed the dirt out on a flat stone. Soap would cost money and it had always been done that way. You might wonder how long cotton drill lasted under this treatment. A long time, provided it was made in India. The tropical kit issued to us in UK was rubbish. The stuff had no guts, was rough, poorly cut and the khaki dye faded to a sort of pale yellowish buff after a few washes. The shorts hung baggily down below the knee.

One of the first things the new arrival did was to chuck this stuff away (together with the Bombay bowler), having ordered tailor-made khaki drill and cellular kit for a few rupees - 24 hr service - from the dherzi (tailor) in the local bazaar. Your Service cap was all the protection you needed from the sun, (and most people got hold of the Aussie " Bush" hat which could more easily be screwed up and shoved in some corner of the cockpit).

84 Squadron had a F/O Hartnell. At that time the Queen's dressmaker firm was Norman Hartnell, so of course he was "dherzi" Hartnell from then on !

As an officer, life was a little more luxurious, you had your own room and bearer, and slightly better facilities in your Mess. There wasn't much drinking. For a start, there was no beer. The war had cut off supplies of "India Pale Ale" and the like from home. Beer was brewed in some hill stations ("Murree") was one name, but there was no container then known to man which could hold it for more than 100 miles on rail before it exploded.

We fell back on spirits, fruit squashes and soft drinks. There was an Indian made gin - "Carew's" - and "Rosa" rum. Both were palatable in long drinks ("John Collins" was a favourite), but you had to be careful - any excess would bring a vicious hangover. We bought locally distilled whiskies and brandies (they burned with a beautiful hot blue flame). This jungle juice was not to be taken internally, but used in place of meths to fire-up the incandescent pressure lamps used in Messes (you might have one in your basha if you were lucky). There was no electricity, of course.

These pressure lamps gave a blinding light, attracting hordes of large flying insects - there was one beetle which appeared just before the Monsoon - it looked about the size of a golfball; this could give you quite a crack on the head if it flew into you at full throttle. Each basha had a humble hurricane lamp or two; this gave a poorer glow, just enough for you to visit the facilities after dark.

These would be of the "deep-trench" variety, or if "en suite", the "Thunderbox" (you might think that could not be bettered for onomatopoeia, but the Germans go one better with plumpklo). In lieu of water borne sanitation, the Hindu system has a special Caste of "sweeper", a hereditary profession to which is reserved the unpleasant but necessary task of emptying these receptacles. The Deep Trench Latrine (shades of a boring lecture on a warm Newquay afternoon) is worth a Post or two by itself and maybe it will get one.

Ablutions were communal, the bhisti (water carrier -remember Gunga Din ?) brought up hot and cold water and you just got on with it. I recall that, in most places, we rigged up a shower with a four-gallon can punched with a few holes, hung from a bamboo tripod.

These cans were everywhere. Coming with petrol or kerosene, the empties were used for water and almost everything else. The top was cut out, a piece of wood nailed across as a handle, and you had a bucket. They were halved longways to make bowls, file trays for the orderly room and drip trays for the mechanics. The bhisti used them. Half fill with water, put a blow-lamp to it, and you soon had a brew of tea.

Not that you often needed to do that. The char-wallah (really should be chai-wallah) turned up like magic in response to a call, and you soon acquired a taste for his brew. This was water (of doubtful provenance, but hopefully sterilised by boiling), tea, milk (buffalo), ghur (unrefined sugar), all boiled up together over glowing charcoal under the base of his urn. This hung from one end of a milkmaid style yoke, balanced by a tin box containing a washing-up bowl for pinki pani ( a disinfectant solution of potassium permanganate), cakes and his stock of glasses (no cups). The glasses were cut-down bottles, edges ground smooth. Carrying all this fore-and-aft, the charwallah got rich quick at two annas a glass.

More in a day or two,



All in the day's work !

Last edited by Danny42C; 5th May 2012 at 22:59. Reason: Add Title.
Old 9th May 2012, 22:54
  #2560 (permalink)  
Posts: n/a
The Vultee Vengeance (Part 1)

Now after all this, you must be wondering what we might be doing in our spare time. Flying, perhaps ? It is time to introduce the Star of the Show:

"You men call yourselves the Forgotten Army.....You've not been forgotten.....It's just that no one's ever heard of you !"
(General "Bill" Slim to his troops of the 14th Army in Burma).

Much the same might be said of the Vultee "Vengeance" aircraft which the RAF and Indian Air Force flew in support of that Army during the Burmese campaigns of 1942-44.

A few of our warbirds are still household names, like the "Spitfire" and "Lancaster". (I often wonder why the US does not honour its Douglas SBD "Dauntless" as we do our "Spitfire". Single-handed, that aircraft won them the battle of Midway, and so turned the tide of the Pacific war, which up to then had gone Japan's way after Pearl Harbor).

But most of the aircraft of those days are remembered now only by the nonagenarians who flew or serviced them, and by boys of the time (and later) whose bedrooms were festooned with model aircraft. They and their memories are fading into the mists, and I think it time to put down this memorial of my cantankerous old steed before the same happens to us. I don't think any Vengeance exist in the world today, and photographs are rare, but it was similar in size and general appearance to the US Navy Grumman "Avenger" of the same era, of which examples (at the time of first writing in 2000) were still flying (and much the same size and weight as our Fairey "Barracuda").

A great deal of what follows is no more than hearsay from those days. I had no means then, and have no means now, of verifying what I was told. We lived a happy-go-lucky life, going where we were sent, and flying what they gave us to fly, without bothering our heads about the aircraft's political background or production history. It was there and we flew it. Consequently I cannot guarantee any of my facts. But it was such a good story that it ought to be true. So here goes.

The Luftwaffe had a great deal of success with their JU-87 "Stuka" in the early days of the war. There is a lot to be said for the dive-bomber. Until the advent of modern guided weapons, it was by far the most accurate way to deliver a bomb. And in those pre-atomic days, a miss with the old "iron bomb" was usually as good as a mile. (Unless your target was a city, big enough for a navigator to find and too big for a bomb-aimer to miss - within reason - post-war Bomber Command analysis calculated an average error of several miles.)

But if you need to destroy a bridge, say, or a ship, a bomb a hundred yards off was a waste of time. You needed accuracy, and a dive bomber was then the only way to get it. People bombed low-level, of course, which meant coming in close (giving the defences a fine target), chucking the thing off and hoping for the best. Results were mixed, but still better than high-level, which amounted to scattering bombs all over the countryside in the hope of blanketing the target with some of them.

The well known US Air Corps boast about "a bomb in a pickle barrel from 30,000 feet" (with their new Norden bombsight) was met with derision on both sides of the Pond:

We mocked (to the tune of "John Brown's Body"):

"We're flying Flying Fortresses at Forty Thousand Feet ----We've stowed away inside the bay a teeny little bomb ----We'll drop the damn' thing off so high we won't know where it's gone !"-----(there are many variants and more verses of this which fellow PPRuNers could supply).

"Precision Bombing" was a myth.

The success of the "Stuka" raised eyebrows in our Air Ministry. Why hadn't we developed such a weapon ? Too late now, of course. Our aircraft factories were busy round the clock with the current types and their successors. But Roosevelt had just announced Lend-Lease and the US Navy had been operating dive-bombers for years.

Better late than never. A specification was drawn up and sent to our Purchasing Commission in Washington. A contract was signed with Vultee (a small Californian firm) to design and build several hundred aircraft ("off the drawing board") to save time. Then we put the whole thing out of mind, and carried on with the war, which was going none too well for us in 1941-42.

More later.

Goodnight, all,


Give it time ! 

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