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Dad with his first dog in India — circa 1920

Mary and her “Dilly dog” — Karachi 1938

“Jumbo” allows “Blackie” to share his meal — Quetta 1941

“Derry” being cuddled by Sean

“Bedsocks” with Mum and Dad— Delhi 1943

Our bearer was very fond of me and would often take me to boxing matches, which were held in the lines, after dinner. One night a boxer was killed in the ring and I felt sick to my stomach. But the bearer insisted that the boxer had been very tired and had only gone to sleep in the middle of the ring and halfway through a round. I took a lot of convincing, but eventually let the bearer persuade me that he was right. Ever after that, when I had the quite common disagreement with my father about eating my food, you know the sort of thing.

“You’d better clear your plate or there will be no dessert for you.”

“I don’t care. I don’t want any dessert.”

“Oh well, that’s all right then, so you will be hungry enough to finish your plate at breakfast and if you don’t do so then, you will be served up with the same plate until you do finish it.”

I would not eat the meal once I decided that I didn’t want it and usually the storm would blow over. However, on more than one occasion, the bearer was ordered to stand by the table and not let me leave until I had finished or, once again, decided that I did not want anything to eat.

How the poor chap would try to entice me to eat.

“Firr, boxing kaisa ludega sahib?” ( How will you be able to box?)

Mum picked up the question and until her sad death in 1995, she would ask me, “Firr, boxing kaisa ludega sahib?”, if ever I refused a meal or something to eat at her place.

Eventually, the bearer would suggest that I just tasted, at least something, off the plate which, in his mind absolved him of any further responsibility and would allow him, in good conscience, to finally clear the meal from the table.

Then, if Dad asked him if I had eaten the food, the bearer would reply in that lovely indefinite way of the language, “Khaiia, sahib, khaiia, sahib.” which means, “He ate, sir, he ate, sir.” Without being precise as to just how much I had eaten


While we were in Karachi, Phil was taken very ill with a diseased heart and Mum and Dad were beside themselves with worry. Mum was at the hospital nearly all day and every day and Dad would insist that when we said our nightly prayers, we prayed for our sick sister to get well again.

Eventually, after several weeks in hospital and the special care of the surgeon, Colonel Alford, and his medical staff, Phil got better and was allowed home. We had to treat her with gentleness and love and not let her do anything which could cause a relapse in her health. To this day, she is very special to the rest of us and we still tend to show her extra care.


There is a common bird of prey in India. It’s called a “cheel” by the locals and a kite-hawk by English-speaking people. It has a wingspan of about three or four feet. I suppose an average adult bird can weigh about seven to ten pounds. It can be a dangerous creature because it seems to be able to spot food from hundreds of feet up in the sky and, if you happen to be eating in the open air, a sandwich at a picnic for instance, it is just as likely that a cheel will suddenly dive at you and grab the food from your hand – perhaps severely scratching you in the process.

There was a tree in our front garden where a kite hawk had decided to build its nest. The nest was scarcely fifteen feet away from the front of the house and directly in line with one of the upstairs windows. We had a good view of the goings on as the female kite-hawk laid its eggs and began to hatch them. Soon there were two or three chicks which we used to watch with interest from the four foot wide open window. The trouble was that the hawks seemed to object to us being so close and would, on every occasion that we stood at the window, dive at and attack us. We were scared, but kept a wary eye out for these attacking runs at us and just carried on watching. But Phil was not supposed to get excited and we had recently had our new baby, Sean.

It was the habit for the ayah to leave Sean in the pram outside the house in the evenings and Dad told us that the hawks’ attacks were becoming much too dangerous to put up with them any further. So one day he got a long bamboo pole and, from the ground, he started pushing the nest to try and dislodge it and its contents. The hawks, angered, dived at him with their talons outstretched and hit him several times, but he doggedly continued until, at last he succeeded in pushing the whole nest out of the tree and dropped the chicks onto the ground. He had his army boots on, and without so much as a second thought, he jumped on each of the chicks in turn, even as the parents continued to attack him, and simply squashed them to death. We felt a bit sick at the sight for, in spite of Dad’s warnings to us to, “Stay away, children”, we had looked on from the window. But even now I cannot see how he could have taken any different action.


At school one day, the teacher gave each of us pupils a book of twenty charity raffle tickets each priced at eight annas, and said that we should sell the tickets to our friends and/or family. The deal was that once we had sold 18 tickets we could either retain the last two as our own for entry into the raffle or sell all twenty and keep the proceeds for ourselves as “commission”. My future sales career was beginning.

Each book, I calculated would give me a one rupee commission. That sounded like good money to me and I trotted all round the married quarters and knocked on doors selling the tickets. It was a ‘piece of cake’, especially since most people bought two tickets to avoid the hassle of getting change for a rupee.

In one evening I sold the lot and earned a rupee for myself. The next day I handed in the cash to the teacher who promptly suggested that I should have another book to sell.

I was keen because I had seen a marvellous “Dinky Toy” model of a Spitfire in a toyshop in Elphinstone Street, the main shopping street in Karachi, which was marked at Rs.1/8 and I figured that I would be able to buy it if I had another eight annas. And, I thought, if I could sell yet another three books, I could also afford the Dinky, Blenheim Bomber. So off I trotted around the married quarters again. But I got scant interest this second night and only managed to sell enough to earn myself 10 annas. Well, that made enough to buy the Spitfire and so I handed in the rest of the tickets and went around to the toyshop to complete my purchase.

The little aircraft was such a marvel of accuracy to me: Though they didn’t move, the ailerons, flaps, rudder and so forth, were detailed and the plane seemed real. I “flew”— that is, I held it in the air and said “brrm, brmm” as though it was a real plane — all the way home and proudly landed it on the verandah in front of Mum. Each day, for weeks, I flew it to school and back to land it in front of the family. I promised Mum that one day I would learn to fly a real plane and take her up with me.

As it happens, I did learn to fly about twenty years later and, having got my PPL without ever telling Mum I was studying for it, I went home and announced proudly.

“OK, Mum, I now have my licence to fly and I am going to take you up with me as I have always promised.”

She hesitated for a moment, looked apprehensive and said, “Er, er, no son, I am frightened.” Seeing a quick look of disappointment on my face and, as an afterthought to console me, she added, “Take Dad!” Dad was up for it and enjoyed his flight.

Mum never did fly with me, but she really enjoyed it when I used to fly low over the farmhouse in Newbury, where Mary lived, roll the wings and wave to her. She most enjoyed it and nearly split her sides laughing when I told her that I was so low on one occasion that a tractor driver in the next field had leapt out of the seat in fear and consternation, nearly crapped himself and run for cover. She had a cruel sense of humour, our Mum did, and how we all loved her for it.


In the middle of 1940, Dad was posted back to Quetta and was commissioned through the Staff College there. The war had brought on the need for several new vacancies for officers and promotion was very rapid. Dad held the rank of WO1 at the time of his posting, but within six months he was promoted to Major.

Naturally, we went to Quetta with him. The first thing was getting started back to school, the convent, which was the same one as we had been at in 1938 before going to England. Most of the other kids were still there and we were glad to renew our old friendships — I fell in love with Mary Hill, who was now even more beautiful than ever again, — and then taking up with many of our other pre-war friends and making new ones.

Georgie Mold my co-producer on board the “Strathnaver”, was there. Dad announced that Mum and he felt our schooling was being totally disrupted by our constant postings. and it was his intention to put us in a boarding school on a long-term permanent basis, Georgie’s dad decided to do the same thing and, in fact, to send him to the same school in Mt Abu to which I was being sent.

Next door to us lived Chris and Frank Wilson, the sons of Major Wilson, of the Calcutta Horse, and they too decided that they would like to go to the same school.

None of the other boys had ever been away to boarding school before, and they only lasted for one year as boarders before they were withdrawn by their parents.


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