Mombassa to Bombay
Soon after, we sailed out of Mombassa for destination unknown, however, the astronomers in our midst, soon plotted a course, east, and that meant India, and after a rather uneventful journey we arrived at Bombay.
Upon arrival at the docks we were told we had half an hour to wait for the train, which was to take us somewhere inland, and as there was a canteen along the dock, we had time to nip off and get a cup of tea.
As there were a few thousand troops on board it was a matter of moving quickly to be able to get that cuppa, and I was one of the first to race off down the quayside.
Some alterations were being carried out on the quay and they were shielded by a high hoarding, which we had to run along side to get to the canteen, and we had to turn round a blind corner of the hoarding to reach it.
Going along full blast I reached the corner first and like a flash veered to the right to get round when, Wham!!! I ran straight into an air force chap coming the other way, and I knocked him for six, bowling him, his kit bag, rifle and all, all over the place with me landing on top of this poor unfortunate lad.
I scrambled up and as he was lying on his face turned him over and apologising profusely, helped him to his feet, and when I looked at his face, would you believe it, he was a school friend of mine who had been a neighbour when we lived at Forest Hall, Northumberland.
We both stood there for minutes laughing our heads off at the incident, and Benny Daniels of the Royal Air Force collected his bits and pieces and dashed off to continue his journey to, I believe he said Persia, while I could not tell him where I was going as none of us knew. What a situation to meet a friend.
Having had our cup of tea and bun, we returned to ship and then entrained for another journey into the unknown. After several hours journey across India, and seeing a barren countryside, where many people lived in atrocious conditions, many being shacks of twigs and leaves, we arrived at Deolali up in the hills.
We had all heard of the “Deolali Tap” which for the uninitiated was a serious attack of sunstroke, and here we were in the middle of it. The camp was a mass of huts with every conceivable amenity the garrison troops required, canteens, barber, tailor, etc. etc., and a massive parade square adjoining an adequate sports complex, but the dust was almost unbearable, as the soil was baked dry as a bone.
The 9th Battalion R.N.F. had a very good football team and we were unbeaten in Blighty, however, that was to change when we played the garrison team of Deolali. After three days in the garrison the match was duly made, and in the cool of the evening, roughly about 90F, we kicked off to maintain our unbeaten record, but the heat, light ball, hard ground and the excellence of our opponents, the garrison team of regular soldiers, we were thrashed 6-0, and only the brilliance of our goal-keeper kept the score so low.
The majority of our time at this camp was taken up with the usual army routine, drilling, machine-gun training and fatigues in the cookhouse, etc., and as there was no town as such, our evening entertainment was in the Naafi canteen or gymnasium, with a film show on one occasion.
There were items of interest to us rookies, not least being able to pop into the camp tailor, a wizened little old Indian, who would measure you for a pair of khaki-drill long pants and you could wait for them and wear them within the hour, and they were a perfect fit, he amazed us.
The other interesting item was to order a morning shave from the Indian camp barber, and believe it or not he was able to shave you without wakening you out of your sleep, he had a wonderful touch.
The char-wallah brought morning tea to bed before you got up at reveille, and you had the shoe-wallah who cleaned your boots during the night ready to pull on to go for a wash and off to breakfast.
Meal times were an ordeal as you had to go into the cookhouse to collect your food, and then walk in the open air a few yards away to the mess-room (dining-room) and if you were lucky you could cross that space and keep your food intact if you carefully watched the sky.
The “villains of the peace” were the vultures, who could sweep down out of the sky and fly off with all your grub from the plate. Some said they could even whip off with the gravy, but I never saw that actually happen, although I often saw plates emptied in a flash.
They were ugly-looking creatures with a curved beak, little head with beady eyes and claws like an octopus, they were nicknamed "shite-hawkes”, as they would eat anything from ordinary food to corpses. They had a phenomena of knowing when something or somebody was about to die and they hovered at a great height, gathering in large numbers over the victim and as soon as the victim died, they would swoop and tear the carcass to pieces, leaving a skeleton only, in a matter of minutes.