We reach Suez and embark a few more passengers. It suddenly gets damn cold, the day before in the Red Sea, and I get my battledress out. P.T. every afternoon followed by deck hockey, a la Razmak only no roller-skates, with the ships officers, and yesterday I get invited back fro some beer – McEwans Red Label, which I haven’t seen for some years. We pass Shandur this morning and are now going through the Bitter Lakes. Sunset over that hill to the west of the refinery, and the ships silhouetted in the glow – the last one I shall sea for a bit I expect. Italians singing to a guitar, heard whilst half asleep in the afternoon – always reminds me of Somerset Maugham.
We reach Aden yesterday despite plots of four submarines near the mouth of the Gulf, one German. We have “Dilwara”, “Stratheden” and “Lancashire” in convoy, with five corvettes ahead. Aden is full of shipping but not much to see. We take on oil fuel and water and tomorrow will be “dhobie day”, as there has not been sufficient water so far. (JDW: washing day)
The Italians cause trouble smoking on deck the first night at sea, and are then told that the guards will shoot at lights, so it soon stops. I find all my luggage in “Wanted on Voyage” hold and hope I shall not lose it all if we have to trans-ship in the Middle East, as is sometimes the case. I do some sunbathing, P.T. and deck hockey and have had a drink most days too, though this is a “dry” ship. I think it has all run out now.
Quite a few women on board – mostly bags, but some of them look a little better as the voyage progresses. Three generals also. Wingate has been killed in an air crash. His force has gone in – the Japs are attacking Kohima and are around Tiddim and Imphal. I meet one McKinley, Black Watch, at my table who knows Bernard Fergusson very well, and has himself had a most interesting war so far. I have my army webbing all ready for abandoning ship, and am O.C. RAF boat stations. We hope to sit on rafts until help comes.
Much noise of children screaming all over the decks and the lounge.
Morton and I have a last brandy session until they throw us out and he tells me of his experiences with mothers and angry husbands in 2 1/2 years in India. On the 24th I embark on “Orontes”. Grindlays have all my luggage ready, and today I even find some of it in the Baggage room. Last night at 23h00 we cast off and moor in midstream and are now circling round testing compasses and “degaussing” equipment. The ship’s standing orders are “No diaries will be kept”. I have a two berth cabin with and acting squadron leader like myself – B.R. Noble. I see Johnny Benbow on the docks. He is a Captain again and due home owing to malaria. There is a pioneer battalion of Italians on board wearing pips and crowns, and a small 5 pointed star in their lapels. Morton is the officer commanding on another ship. Seton-Broughall is on board and in a bad way, also W/C Paul Ritchie, who trained with Hugh.
Morton and I have a “debauch” on Cyprus brandy with 1/2 a dozen wing commanders and squadron leaders straight out from the UK. Some retire sick and all have fearful heads the next day, so perhaps the linings in our stomachs are hardened against this rot gut liquor. This is the worst Indian hooch I ever drank. I change a lot of money with them and collect £10 travellers cheques from Grindlays so that eventually I have to change £1 back to pay for my drinks. Tomorrow we embark and I have labelled all my luggage ‘wanted on voyage’ in the hope that I will be able to sort it all out on board. Maybe they will put it in the hold, if it ever gets on board, and I shall arrive in shirt and shorts.
There is a nice cool breeze at nights and a strong smell of seaweed and excreta, as the draining is very modern but they had not enough piping to finish off as far out to sea as was originally intended. I sleep damn well. I trade my spare valise, two sheets, a pillow case and a blanket for a blue raincoat, so I am now complete except for a “fore and aft”. (JDW: anyone know what this refers to?) I wonder how soon I shall be sent out again. (JDW: in three years, as it turns out).
I leave Bangalore 8.30am on the 19th. The night before, Saturday, is whisky night and I have quite a party with Pete Lewer, Smith and some naval F.A.A. type from Ceylon. I am in good form shouting “Fall out all Brigadiers” at old Brigadier Ayles who is propping up the bar as usual and keeping a greedy eye on the few bottles of whisky they have allotted for the evening.
I travel most of the way with a Yank who has his ration lunch in a small cardboard box, all compressed and protected from the heat and the damp. I meet S/Ldr J. Hills and wife – he it was who introduced me to flying when he came over to our Mess at St Thomas Mount (in Madras) and told me how much it all cost.
Arrived Victoria station, Bombay, and met by Grindlays (Bank) who took over my heavy kit, and then out to Worli Transit Camp. I share a room with one W/C T.B. Morton, also on the boat, and we feed in a Mess arranged in a flat opposite. We spend last night drinking the worst possible Indian gin before dinner. Today we go to town, I to Base accounts to see the Committee of Adjustment to try and buy a raincoat, but I get a shirt and two collars instead off some corpse. Then to Grindlays but I find it’s a bank holiday and only the shipping department is open. Meet Morton and G/C Seton-Broughall at the Taj Mahal (hotel) for a rotten lunch, after a few sickly John Collins’ in the “Harbour Bar” first.
A large convoy is in, and plenty of officers in shorts like drain pipes and carrying Wolsey helmets in bags. Some even are wearing blue still. Bombay not too hot, but damn sticky walking around trying to get a taxi. Food is rationed and you only get three courses in the hotels at meals. (JDW: !)
Conditions for 1939/43 and Africa Stars are out. As opposed to the Army, you cannot get Africa Star if qualified for 39/43 Star. The Army is the other way round. Aircrew after two months in an operational squadron and one operation. Ground crew six months, aggregate, in an Army command:
France 3/9/39 – 19/6/40
Norway 14/4/40 – 8/6/40
Belgium 10/5/40 – 19/6/40
Holland 12/5/40 – 13/5/40
India (North West Frontier) 1/1/40 – 31/12/42
Greece & Crete 7/11/40 – 31/5/41
Iraq 10/4/41 – 31/5/41
Syria 8/6/41 – 11/7/41
Persia 25/8/41 – 28/8/41
Hong Kong 8/12/41 – 25/12/41
Malaya 8/12/41 – 15/2/42
China 11/12/41 – 31/12/43
Burma 11/12/41 – 31/12/43
New Guinea 7/3/42 – 31/12/43
Madagascar 5/5/42 – 5/11/42
Sicily 10/7/43 – 17/8/43
Italy 3/9/43 – 31/12/43
Russian Wing 7/9/41 – 30/11/41
I send my blue tunic and battledress to have it put on, but expect I shall get told to take it down when I get home – if I get home!
AOC says he will consult SASO on my report when he comes in, so I put in a minute to SASO which he says is “bloody rude”. However, he gets it changed and tells me I shall not have too initial it. Half an hour later the AOC sends for me, gives me the report to read, and demands my initials. I discover he has altered the marks on the “scoreboard” on the front sheet, mostly to 4s, and consequently below average (5) and therefore adverse.
Am all tee-ed up for the boat and hope that my kit will arrive and get safely on board with me. 25 div has gone off to the Burma front, so I hear. They have collected about 40 prisoners on the show and even had pictures of them in the “Statesman” – the first ever.