The Return Trip to India

The night before embarkation was spent at the Union Jack Club near Waterloo Station in London. There were several other military families there and all were due to embark on the same boat as us, which was the P&O “Strathnaver”. It was a troop-ship and one of a class of Strath- boats, like the Strathallen, Strathmore and Strathclyde and so on, which had been contracted for use by the government for transportation of troops and their families to the various outposts of the Raj. The “Strathnaver” was an electric ship as opposed to a coal-fired steamer and was, consequently, quite a speedy ship. So much so, in fact, that we were due to sail as a solo ship and not in a convoy as so many of the other vessels did.

“We’re too bloody fast to hang around with other ships.”, the captain had said. “We’ll be in a hurry, we’ll make all speed and make it to Bombay in 11 days.”. He was right, spot on target.

But that meant that we only stopped at Suez. In any case, there was no point in stretching out the trip. The war was on. Many of the shipping lanes were thought to be mined. U-Boats were known to be on the lookout for anything which could be thought of as carrying arms or ammunition to the Forces. In fact, after the voyage the captain told us that we had been chased twice during the voyage. But, as he said, it was probably only because they wanted to see what the rush was all about and what sort of vessel was performing so well.

We travelled in darkness at night and there was little or no entertainment even for the adults. Georgie Mold, the son of another serviceman, and I decided to have a concert on board and asked for the assistance of the Deck Officer.

He said, “Yeah, that’s OK. What play are you going to put on?”

We told him we were going to write the play ourselves and engage the services of a bunch of other kids as actors. It was going to be called “The King” and we wrote in parts for all the little blighters who wanted to take up the thespian way of life. It took about two days to write and twenty minutes to perform which, looking back on it, must have been quite an achievement for a couple of nine year-olds. There was this one fellow with whom we had difficulty. He was supposed to be one of the crowd when the King appeared, and to be surprised at His Majesty’s appearance.

His one line of dialogue, with surprise in his voice, was to have been “Cor, blimey boys. It’s the King!”

But the little sod refused to say the line, commenting that it actually meant, “God blind me.” And, “I don’t want to ask God to make me blind.”

Georgie and I were thoroughly pissed off with him but eventually allowed him to get away with…

“Oh, I say, chaps! Look, it’s His Majesty, the King”, or some such crap.

The play was put on in the afternoon, on “C” Deck, and most of the parent-adults were there, cheering on their little “Oscar celebs.” We thought it was a great success and the captain arranged for everyone who took part to have a dollop of ice-cream afterwards. Which, if you think about it, was no big deal since the food, including as much ice-cream as you could eat at the table at mealtimes, was free. However, it all went down very well, but nobody asked us to put on another show. That was a pity because Georgie and I had immediately got down to writing our next play and we did so want to exclude the fellow who had insisted on changing his lines.