Sketch by Jack Chalker

Doolally Tap

Chapter Four

Doolally Tap

 

December 21st 1941:

Mount Vernon, carrying the 53rd Brigade, departed the convoy. The 53rd Brigade strength was made up of, the 2nd Battalion the Cambridgeshire Regiment, the 5th and 6th Battalion the Royal Norfolk Regiment, also the 6th Heavy and the 35th Light Regiments of the Royal Artillery, under Brigadier C.L. Duke, their destination, Mombassa.

Lt. General Percival, Malaya Command, had sent out an appeal for all possible reinforcements for Fortress Singapore. Mount Vernon was ordered to join Convoy DM1, en route to Singapore Island. Mount Vernon`s new convoy consisted of the vessels, Narkunda, Sussex, Abberkerk and the liner Oranje (Remember the last one!).

Meanwhile the remainder of Albert`s convoy, William Sail 12 X, continued on towards Bombay. Captain Kelly, aboard the West Point was appointed, Convoy Commodore. Escort leader, HMS Dorsetshire.

 

December 25th 1941. Christmas Day :

There can`t have been many of the troops aboard West Point who could ever have imagined, that they would be spending a Christmas Day, aboard an American liner in the middle of the Indian Ocean. Les Pearson recorded his recollections of Christmas Day aboard West Point.

 Mr. Les Pearson. 5th Battalion the Sherwood Foresters:

Christmas Day, The dinner was smashing and the units organised a pantomime, which was very good and made it a bit more like Christmas. The things we missed most, were of course our loved ones at home.

 

Jesse Adams shared his recollections of Christmas Day aboard West Point with me.

Mr. Jesse Adams. 1st Battalion the Cambridgeshires:

Christmas Day 1941, celebrated with American pumpkin pie and Lt. Lewis of the Cambridgeshires, singing “Rose of England”.

 

December 27th 1941:

Following orders from British Authorities in Bombay, West Point and Wakefied increased speed and sailed ahead of  the convoy. The two vessels arrived in Bombay late that afternoon and passing “The Gateway of India”, moored at Ballard pier. Troops and equipment were disembarked.

So this was India

India -1

“The Gateway of India”

(The Apollo Bundur)

On completion of the disembarkation of the troops and the unloading of the equipment and supplies, West Point, Wakefield and also the Leonard Wood and Joseph T Dickman, who had both caught up with their two convoy mates, refuelled and took on provisions.

 Captain Kelly reported to the British Authorities, that his ships were ready for sea. He was ordered to remain at anchor to await further orders.

 

So this was Bombay. Alf Robinson shared his recollections of Bombay.

Mr. Alf Robinson. 1st Battalion the Cambridgeshires:

We only had one days shore leave in Bombay, but that was enough. We had a few old sweats in our mob who had served in India before and they advised us to just kick the beggars out of the way, we may have looked askance, but soon found that this was the only way, as sure as somebody gave a Buckshee Anna, he was a soft touch and was immediately greeted By hundreds of hands. All of which were dirt encrusted and in some cases mutilated, when we escaped the beggars we found the ghari drivers waiting. For half a rupee they would take you for a sight seeing tour along the river, always dropping you off at either Foras Road or Grant Road (the brothel areas). The prostitutes were all young girls still in their puberty, even the most hardened squaddie was disgusted.

At that time trams were running in Bombay, as soon as they stopped at night, the beggars used to lie down between the rails to rest for the night.

The difference between Cape Town and Bombay is like chalk to cheese, I know that we were not there long, but first impressions are generally right.

 

Les Pearson recorded his experiences of Bombay.

Mr. Les Pearson. 5th Battalion the Sherwood Foresters:

On arriving at Bombay we were allowed one day shore leave. I didn`t enjoy it as much as Cape Town, but it was an experience to see more of the British Empire. The poor natives are very numerous and the place where the docks are smells terrible. I enjoyed myself very fairly as regards food and souvenirs were very plentiful.

 

Jesse Adams shared his recollections of his time in Bombay.

Mr. Jesse Adams. 1st Battalion the Cambridgeshires:

While in Bombay we went to the cinema to see “Sun Valley Serenade”, starring the ice skater Sonja Henie. The films dialogue was in English, there were a few locals in the audience who spoke no English, so one of our lads who had a few words of Urdu, very kindly “translated” for them, you can probably imagine the rest.

 

Another Bombay cinema recollection, was shared by Bill Pope.

Mr. Bill Pope. RASC :

The cinema in Bombay was quite a posh place, I had a seat in the balcony, no expense spared! When the lights went up during the interval, I found myself alongside a British Army family, the father was a Captain I think. He saw me an “other rank” Sergeant and immediately moved himself and his family as far as he could, away from me. An example of how the “old timers” looked upon us newcomers. No wonder the Indians wanted the British out.

Another Bombay memory. I recall the lovely cup of tea I received from a canteen specially dishing out Indian teas, lovely! We had mostly coffee with the American Navy.

 

After a short leave in Bombay, Albert and his fellow travellers entrained at Bombays dockside. Many of the troops were bound for Ahmadnagar, Albert and a compliment of the RAMC were bound for the infamous Deolali Transit Camp, 150 miles north of Bombay.

Bombay -1

Bombay

The Transit Camp at Deolali, commonly referred to as “Doolally” by those unable to manage the Urdu pronunciation. “Doolally Tap” was the term given lightheartedly to anyone  in the British Army showing signs of mental wear and tear. This phrase had originated at Deolali in the 19th century. Soldiers who had served their time with their Regiments in India, very often after years away from home, were sent to Deolali to await the next available troopship home. The wait could be a long boring one. The Hindustani word for fever is tap, hence the phrase “Doolally Tap”. Not a lot had changed over the years.

One of my most interesting and exciting discoveries, made during my research, was the discovery of a brief “diary”, Albert had kept of his travels from Aldershot to Deolali. I found this slipped inside the back of his Army Service/Pay Book. Before this lucky find, I had no idea Albert had ever been to India.

Aldershot to Deolali, Albert`s route -1

Aldershot to Deolali, Albert`s route

The first of my Deolali recollections, comes from Tom Bradley.

Mr. Tom Bradley. RAMC:

We spent the day in Bombay before leaving for Deolali. Deolali was an Army base for all soldiers arriving in India, well most of them, the main R.A.M.C. Depot was also there. If you went out on a draft and not with a formed unit, you went to Deolali before being posted to units throughout India, the Middle East, or South East Asia.

We left Bombay at 2 a.m. according to my diary and arrived at Deolali at 7 a.m., a journey of five hours by train, so that will give you an idea of the distance.

Deolali had no special feature, it had a rather large bazaar, mainly used by the British troops, it had been a military base for many years, going back to the 19th century. With a typical Indian landscape, rather barren and very dry due to the heat, but rather cold at night.

Deolali -1

Deolali

We spent most of our time building an Army Hygiene Field Unit, as our Sergeant Major was a sanitary inspector before  being called up, I did not enjoy this work digging field latrines etc.

Whilst in Deolali we also had lectures, I remember on Iran and Iraq, which led us to believe we would be going there. We did a lot of swimming in the nearby river at a place prepared for the troops, it makes me shudder today when I recall these swimming sessions, mind you I was only 21 at the time.

We also had time to go to the cinema in the town and also had cinema shows in the open, British troops on one side of the screen and Indian troops on the other side, incidentally we had to sit on our groundsheets.

We left Deolali by train, travelling second class, Officers travelled first class, British other ranks second class, also Indian officers travelled second class, Indian other ranks third class, Indian civilians quite often travelled on top of the coaches quite often free of charge.

 

Tom Sims recalls his time at Deolali.

Mr. Tom Sims. RAMC :

Regarding Deolali (in India Devlali), of the thirty or so places I was billeted or camped in, Deolali was by far the most boring place.

I had two stays there, one on arrival in India and another while waiting for our boat to bring us home. It was a large tented area, about 8 or 10 to a tent. The only activity was a trip to the barber, or spend hours in a building known as the buttery, just another canteen!!

While there we did have a visit from Anne Shelton with an ENSA show.

Basically Deolali was a staging post, where troops could acclimatise to India, from here the troops were posted to various parts of India. In my case to an I.B.G.H. (Indian British General Hospital) for three months and then posted to a Field Unit.

 

John Castle, shared his recollections of Deolali.

Mr. John Castle. RAMC :

During my stay at Deolali I remember doing route marches, I also remember paying a native for a shave first thing in the morning. This was a rather frightening experience, because at about 3 a.m. my mosquito net was lifted up and a great big native was standing over me with a cut-throat razor in the dark. I can remember having a decent shave before breakfast.

The incident over my watch was rather amusing. My parents had given me a watch before I went abroad and when I was in Deolali it stopped. A native watch repairer came into the camp every morning and I assumed that because the Army let him in, he must be honest. He took the back off my watch and his face fell, “I`ve got bad news for you ” he said, “ the part that is broken is only made in Germany, so you won`t be able to get it repaired until after the war ”. He said that if I would give him my watch and seven rupees, he would give me another watch. At that time we were expecting to be in the Army for the rest of our lives and I didn`t want to go without a watch indefinitely, so I did the swap.

We went back to Bombay and sailed up the Persian Gulf to Basra and then by train to Baghdad and on to Kirkuk in the north, we stayed there for four months. One day several of us were chatting and one of the lads looked at my wrist and said “where did you get that watch?” he had traded it in the previous day with seven rupees for another watch because it could only be repaired in Germany!

 

Bill Pope shared his recollections of Deolali.

Mr. Bill Pope. RASC :

We travelled by rail from the dockside to Deolali. It seemed at first a dusty, hot and lonely spot, but in daylight next day, we were more able to assess the place. The camp comprised a vast dusty (very dusty!) parade ground with “bashas” built around the perimeter.

“Bashas” were long, large huts built from bamboo mostly, the roof was made up of woven leaves and straw I think. But with no rain, there was no worry about getting wet. I think in my basha there were about 40 of us. As we were in a transit camp, we lived out of our kit bags.

Our beds (charpoys) took some getting used to. The frames were of some hard wood, with ropes across and lengthwise, a canvas bag to be stuffed with straw, to act as a mattress. When new straw was piled up outside the basha, one had to be getting in early otherwise you had to make do with the scraps of straw left by the first comers. Straw was changed twice a week, another thing we learnt, was to take our wooden beds out to be de-bugged! Just dip bed in a large tank of boiling water, with a fire underneath, again you had to get in early, for if you dallied the remaining water was thick! The idea was to kill the bugs, which were attracted by the warmth of your body during the night, they would lovingly embrace the luxury and your armpits.

The regular troops lived in more civilised quarters, with if married, bungalows for the family and servants to do the work and usually an amah to look after the children.

The regulars were in no way interested in we “transit wallahs”. We had our own cookhouse and cooks and by and large the food suited me. Banana fritters were my favourite. Our dining area was under cover, the cookhouse was some yards away. One queued up with your mess tins, these were in two halves, one for the grub, the other for tea to wash the grub down. The walk from the cookhouse to the tables was not far, but what a shock we had the first time we trod that path. The vultures (Shitehawks) were quite knowledgeable about our meal times and nose dived as one moved across. There would be a rush of wings and away would go everything off your plate. I believe quite a few chaps went hungry on that first meal parade, no refills!

Discipline was fairly easy. Morning roll call and unless

detailed for some job or other, one was free for the rest of the day. The “Char Wallahs” were our friends. They started work at about 5 a.m. serving “gunfire”(the name for the days first cup of char).

The barber was around shaving his customers. He could shave a man without waking him up! The laundry wallah would collect shirts, trousers, shorts and any other washing and bring it back later in the day. It seemed to me that the regular Army had everything organised, No Work! Leave it to the natives. I must admit that the system worked well. There was little work available outside the camps, the women and children worked in the fields, the men folk could pick up better pay from jobs with the services, Air Force as well as the Army. Poverty being rife, what we paid for a mug of tea, would keep the wolf from the door for a day.

Another memory comes to me. One night I was roused by a bit of noise from the parade ground, it didn`t seem important and I went back to sleep. Talking to the char wallah next morning, I mentioned this incident. He told me, that some villagers had buried a criminal in the middle of the parade ground, standing up!  The ground was stamped down over his head and no one could see the spot later. Apparently for some reason the victim had been sentenced to death, he was shot and to punish him even more, the British Army on parade would be treading on him. It was considered the utmost punishment, so he must have committed some very serious misdemeanour.

While at Deolali, I took a photograph of a char wallah selling tea outside our basha. I only had a pre war woolworths camera. The char wallah started his rounds at 5 a.m. each day, his helper, the man standing up, would keep the water supply going. I think a cuppa was 5 annas and was available until 10 p.m., we just had to poke our heads out and shout  “Char Wallah” and there he was, marvellous.

 

This photograph would have been taken, during Albert`s stay at Deolali.

Bill Pope`s, Deolali Char Wallah -1

Bill Pope`s, Deolali Char Wallah

Of course, not all of Albert`s fellow travellers experienced Deolali, many were bound for Ahmadnagar.

 

Jesse Adams shared his Ahmadnagar recollections with me.

Mr. Jesse Adams. 1st Battalion the Cambridgeshires.:

I was one of the lucky ones during our stay in Ahmadnagar. With my surname being Adams, it was one of the first on the list, I landed a job in the armoury, no route marches for me. We were locked behind iron gates in the armoury. The rifle racks nearest to and within reach of the gates were kept empty. We couldn`t trust the natives you see.

 

Les Pearson recorded his Ahmadnagar recollections.

Mr. Les Pearson. 5th Battalion the Sherwood Foresters:

We arrived at Ahmadnagar on the 31st of December. Our stay was indefinite at this place, plenty of route marches and revisional training to polish up that which we had practically forgot while onboard ship.

The country was very flat and there was very little shade to shade us from the terrific heat of the sun. Bugs and fleas were a very great pest as were the flies. I will always remember the unusual parades that we had called “Bugging Parades”, to get rid of the bugs out of our beds. Mosquito nets proved a great asset.

At nights, a good meal or plenty of eggs were always available at the canteen, or a trip to the village in a pony and trap was very enjoyable.

 

Arthur Bates remembers Ahmadnagar.

Mr. Arthur Bates. 5th Battalion the Sherwood Foresters:

I liked India, it was a dry heat, but cold at night and we needed our battledress rather than our tropical kit.

My bed was full of bugs, I think I must have followed a native, I got no sleep the first night, all the beds were fumigated the next day.

I remember that we were short of food while we there, our own billeting officer, had to buy our food. There were too many troops for the allotted rations, the regular Indian Army didn`t want to know. Then there were the shitehawks. I recall, we were making our way from the cookhouse with our mess tins, to sit under a veranda to eat, when all of a sudden, zoooom! A shitehawk descended, all my meat was gone! refills? had to wait and see.

One Sunday afternoon, me and a mate went snake hunting, I had a forked stick and my revolver, he had his bayonet, we didn`t see any snakes. I remember being very thirsty when walking past an orange grove, I picked an orange and a native came rushing out, he thought we were pinching. I payed him one anna, more than the orange was worth, he was very happy and came back with four more oranges.

One night we were invited to spend a night with the  Gurkhas, our names were drawn out of a hat. My name was drawn, they treated us ever so well. We were told it didn`t matter how drunk we got, as long as we were on parade at six o` clock the next morning.

 

Alf Robinson shared his Ahmadnagar recollections with me.

Mr. Alf Robinson. 1st Battalion the Cambridgeshires;

We left Bombay, travelled through Poona and ended up in Ahmadnagar in native barracks, we had a few old sweats with us who quickly put us to rights. The first job was to drag our charpoys(beds) out into the sun and bang them on the ground, to get rid of the bugs and lice out of them. How to examine your clothing and bang your boots on the ground to get rid of scorpions and centipedes, which may have crept in during the night.

Our C.O. decided that as we seemed to be there for a time, he would smarten us up, the first thing was a reveille, instead of a bugle it was a band and drums.

 

Albert Homes recalled a few of his Indian memories for me.

Mr. Albert Homes. Royal Engineers:

When we arrived at the barracks in Allahabad, we dumped our kit and we were told to get our hot meal. With our mess cans at the ready we made for the canteen, on being served I could see the left one contained rice, the right one something I couldn`t describe, I never did discover what it was. I walked up the steps to the mess, at the top of those steps an officer stood open mouthed,  huge birds descended on both my tins,  on the count of five, they were gone ! Not one grain of rice remained. I was gobsmacked. I did not miss the other food, whatever it was, but I was looking  forward to my rice, the officer said “You had better get yourself  back to the canteen, to see if anything is left, but don`t feed the Shitehawks next time !”. The next time I ran to the mess! We all had a good laugh. The featherweight touch of the birds, which were the size of seagulls, was hard to believe.

We had to keep under cover for some time, to get used to the climate, otherwise we would be no good as a working unit. I have never thought to find out if the heat was what they said it was at that time, 120 degrees in the shade!

 

Tom Sims shared another Indian memory.

Mr. Tom Sims. RAMC :

En-route to Deolali, there was a train halt, not quite a station, just a water halt for the engine, it was called Manmad. We sat there one day, waiting for the train to fill up with water. It was a very hot day and all the carriage windows were open. All of a sudden everything went quiet, there was a sudden gust of wind and monkeys swooped down from the trees, passed through and out of the carriage pinching our forage caps as they went!

Bill Pope`s, The Road To Deolali -1

Bill Pope`s, The Road To Deolali

At Ahmadnagar, India

More training to be done

We watched the Kite-Hawks flying

And saw the tree rats run

Jesse Adams.

Albert and the rest of his fellow travellers of the 55th Brigade, still had no indication as to their destination, the Middle East, Burma, Malaya?

 

Time would tell ……..

 

 

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[Alberts War] [To Leeds] [Winston´s Specials] [Cape Town] [Doolally Tap] [Singapore] [Suez] [Shitehawks] [Homeward Bound] [Epilogue]

 

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