My Dad and his fellow squaddies received orders to ‘up sticks’ pronto as they were leaving Colombo for Calcutta the next day. The under equipped troop ship left, heavily laden, for India and ‘crawled’ along the coast to Calcutta. These journeys must have been a totally new adventure and mid boggling for my Dad and his fellow soldiers. I’m guessing that most of them had never been outside England, let alone sail around the World ! The journey was to take almost two weeks apparently…….they could have walked there in less time !!
Calcutta was ” like nothing I have ever seen or experienced before or since, I still don’t know whether I liked it or not, it was a nightmare”. I’m sure that somewhere underneath all this confusion, noise and exotic smells Dad must have been like a kid in sweet shop, I know him and his excitable childlike approach to life. From Calcutta the army travelled North,overland to Sikkim and finally to Delhi where there were planes waiting for them to transport them to England via Tripoli. No British Airways frequent flyer points here guys, not even seats for part of the journey and the toilets were simply a bowl behind a makeshift curtain! These planes were converted cargo planes with little or no attention to creature comforts. The battalions arrived in England (Farnborough I think) mid December and transported to Feltham barracks where they were billeted with local families. My Dad and a couple of his fellow squaddies were to stay with an Ashford (MIddx) family by the name of Carrad,it was during this stay that he met ” this lovely girl with the bluest eyes”, a niece of the Carrad’s by the name of Doreen…….my Mum, bless her. He caught the train to Boston to be with his family for the Christmas period with Doreen very much on his mind. Upon his return to his Ashford “billet” Doreen was waiting there with open arms, it would appear…….I’m getting goosebumps here!
They were married on the fifth of July that year and my Dad left for Africa at the end of the month, leaving a pregnant wife in tears (I’m sure), on the Tilbury dockside. Obviously there were hundreds of brides and grooms all experiencing the same emotional wrench at that time. Such a horrible thing for anyone to experience let alone that at the back of their minds they must have been wondering if they would ever see each other again. Dreadful times truly.
The troop ship arrived in Cape Town on September the eleventh, my Mums birthday,(strange moment here). After deftly negotiating submarine infested waters en route I’m sure the sight of Table Mountain and dry land must have been a huge relief to all the boys on board. Whereupon copius quantities of alcohol were consumed in celebration. (I don’t actually know this but…….I would put my next months pension on it happening!) The ship was moored off Mouille Point opposite the lighthouse, where strangely enough I rented an apartment soon after my coming to live in Cape Town! They were in the ‘Mother City’ for just a few days before setting sail again, this time heading for Durban further along the east coast of South Africa, “where I had my first taste of curry , loved it so much I asked one of our kitchen boys to show me how to make them”. The rest, as they say, is history. Barely a week went by when we were kids that there wasn’t curry of some sort or another for dinner. My Dad was always a little heavy handed with the spices (if you saw the size of his hands you will understand) and consequently most everything he cooked had a slight green hue to it, but not bangers and mash, I don’t think ? He began to like South Africa a lot and was considering staying on “after this bloody mess is over”. However,about a week later they received orders to move on, this time overland, to Abyssinia (later to become Ethiopia). It was during this journey and over a few weeks on the road that the Army arrived in Salisbury (now Hirare) in the “most beautiful place I’ve ever seen, it was like a piece of paradise”, we knew it as Rhodesia now Zimbabwe !!! It was at this point in his life ,when Dad was not doing his soldier things, counting pieces of paper, painting walls, typing and being marched around the camp that he decided he wanted to bring his new wife and soon to be child here to “start a new life together”. Their first born child, a daughter, our lovely big sister Pat was born on the fourth of December 1942………Pat is sadly no longer with us, bless her, and we all, miss her everyday…………..
After the army had been in Rhodesia for a few weeks the orders arrived to proceed the rest of the road journey to Abyssinia , driving through the most spectacular and at times frightening landscapes and terrain. Dad couldn’t understand “what all the fuss was about over this God forsaken place” (my words not his here!). Mogadishu was (and still is I think) the capital city and from there the Italians ran the country. The English army was there to chase the Italians out and reinstate the recently deposed Emporeur Haile Salassie and his family who where “currently living the high life in London”, in exile. My Dad actually picked up some of the local language and he remembered some of it for seventy years or more! I know this to be a fact because I was with him in London when he had occasion to visit The London Clinic on the Marylebone Road for a check up. His orderly that looked after his room and (tried) to supervise his getting undressed and ready for the consultant, hailed from Mogadishu. He began to answer her instructions in Swahili(?) just as though he was still in Abyssinia seventy years previously. I, for once, was lost for words…..absolutely amazing powers of recall. I personally have not inherited this particular gene!!