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got a bit hasty and dropped one of the trap wheels short of the bridge and the trap turned over leaving Mum and Dad sprawling in the nullah.

The syce was dug out from his quarters and, with the help of the other servants, righted the trap and stabled the wayward pony. Dad and Mum were not hurt and went to bed no doubt deciding that they would, in future, keep the syce with them to bring them home in greater safety.


We had two bull-terriers, — I mentioned them earlier — Socrates and Johanna, brother and sister from the same litter and they were very gentle dogs with us but “Socks”, especially, was always ready to scrap with other dogs of which there were many, and even more if you counted the strays. The pair looked identical in every way and when we played with them we found it difficult to distinguish one from the other. But Sean, as yet only three years old, knew the pair and would call out to “Socks” or “Jo”, as the case might be, and always get the appropriate one to respond. When I asked him how he knew the one from the other he called out to “Socks” who dutifully came over. “OK, now turn him over”, Sean instructed. When I had turned “Socks” over onto his back, Sean pointed to the dog’s genitals. “You see those two “lumps” near his bum?”, he enquired, “Well, that means he’s “Socks!”


Dad had several young British officers, alone and away from England for the first time in many cases, in his unit and whom he would invite around to the house for the occasional drinks party or dinner. At Christmas time, 1943, a few of them who were billeted together in a single-officers’ hut had invited the family around to drinks as a “return match”. They were almost “stoned out of their minds”, but were having fun and making the most of being together at Christmas.

One of them was swaying about riding a motor-cycle and, when Dad asked how they had managed to get petrol for even that economical transport, he was told that they had mixed kerosene and a bottle of whisky into the tank.

The rest of them were giving their, still alive, Christmas goose a “pre-execution” drink of whisky, literally pouring it down its throat. Suddenly the goose, a domesticated bird, had had enough and, with a few wobbly steps along the pathway, took off and flew away, never to be seen again. They all chortled and fell about with laughter at seeing their Christmas dinner disappear into the distance, but they did not lose out because Mum and Dad invited them back to our house for the meal instead.


These young subalterns all fancied Kathy and would line up to dance with her whenever she went to the mess with Mum and Dad. She was a good dancer, young , beautiful and exclusive to boot. Christmas was a long season which usually started in early December and carried on well into January with lots of dinners and dances for the adults and stacks of entertainment for the children. But, until you had been to a “grown-ups’” dance, you were still “just a kid”. Imagine my delight therefore, when I was told by Dad that I could accompany him, Mum and Kathy to the mess for one of the many Christmas dinner-dances.

I hadn’t the foggiest idea of how to dance, but this was an opportunity I was not going to miss. I begged Kathy to teach me to dance and all that afternoon we wound up the gramophone and practiced the waltz — one, two, three, one, two, three, — until she finally decided that I had “got it”. I wasn’t so sure, but…!

When we got to the mess I sat in my chair listening to all the fox-trots, tangos and rumbas and wondering if they were ever going to play a waltz. Kathy, of course, was on the floor and dancing each number almost before the music started.

Hooray, at last, the orchestra struck up a waltz, I rushed over to Kathy and invited her to dance but she was already on her feet with some young fellow. I didn’t get a look in ; all the young gallants were always there first and out of courtesy Kathy danced with them in preference to me.

I couldn’t do the foxtrot, quick-step, tango or any other bloody dance for that matter and so I was left at the table to brood over my bad luck and felt even worse that there were no other young ladies with whom I could, at least have chanced my new-found “waltz”. Mum, darling Mum, danced with me though, and put up with my wicked stamping on her toes. I decided then to learn to dance properly and whenever I had the chance at home, I would wind up the gramophone and grab Kathy and make her dance with me. Kathy was a real “brick” and was almost always ready to help me “trip the light fantastic”. But when I think back on our dance sessions I have the feeling that she was sometimes in another world thinking of gallant young officers and beautiful ballroom gowns and swirls in a heady mist.

Strangely enough though, Mary was my “real” dancing partner, both Kathy and Phil having disappeared over the horizon into marriage relatively early. We had a lot of fun together and really did a lot of dancing, especially when she finally left home and moved up to London in 1952. I eventually learned to make some sort of passable show of dancing — it was the “jitterbug”, “be-bop” and jive in those days — and I “pulled” lots of ladies in later life with my increasing competence.


One day Kathy was invited to play tennis with a group of young officers. I was due to take her on the carrier of my bike and drop her off. But I got a puncture on the way. It was such a common occurrence on those rotten roads and pathways, and so we had to walk. Kathy was furious in case she missed her date, but all was well and the “hungry foxes” had waited around for her majestic entrance.


Talk about foxes ; we had packs of jackals which yelped and howled right outside our windows at night. I would get up and sling a shoe at them, but they would only run away for a few minutes and then come back and start the howling again.

Our other irritating guests were pariah dogs which were mangy and sore-covered, and always suspected of carrying rabies. They invaded the lines at all times of the day and night and sometimes it became necessary to go out and shoot them. Dad usually did the job with a 12-bore, but occasionally I got to use a four-ten for the hunt.

Sometimes the pariah invasions were so bad that the local government offered eight annas as a bounty for each dog proved to have been shot on production of its tail. I thought I could easily make a living doing the job full-time, but Dad reckoned it cost about eight annas for each round of ammunition and then there was the bother of cutting the tails off, bagging them and taking them around to the paying authority for re-imbursement. I decided not to become a dog-shooter.


We did a lot of shooting in Delhi. Dad commanded a Driver Instruction unit and after the recruits had learned to handle a vehicle on an open field with lines and hazards merely drawn on the ground, they would be taken out on public roads in convoy and then into difficult terrain in some of the nearby states like Alwar and Jodhpur. Dad would survey the routes by staff car and I would go along with him, his driver and another officer from the unit.

In Alwar, which was my favourite state, the rajah gave us permission to shoot. We found lots of game, chinkara buck, wild rabbits galore, partridge and quail and stacks of wild geese and ducks.

It was quite normal practice for us to go out on reconnaissance late in the evening after Dad’s office hours and after we had eaten dinner. The result was that we used to arrive at our destination in the middle of the night. Accommodation was generally quite easy to find – usually the waiting-room on the local station – but the first thing Dad wanted on arrival was to get a cup of “char”. That meant waking the tea-wallah at the local station and setting him to fix a cup. I always felt very sorry for the bloke at Alwar station. He must have been well into his seventies and spent each night sleeping on the platform bundled up in his blanket awaiting the early morning express from Delhi. He made the tea with such an air of enthusiasm yet all the while huffing and puffing with the aches and pains of age — and all for a few annas for his trouble.

One day we came upon a lake while we were in Alwar State. With a surface area of a couple of square miles, I would swear that every square inch was covered with wild water-birds of different species. There were ducks and geese of different species, dab-chicks, terns and all sorts of others. Dad gave me the unenviable job of skirting the lake and climbing the low hill on the other side so that I could take a shot with a .22 and flush the birds over to his side. It took me a good three quarters of an hour to an hour, scrambling over the rough terrain in the heat, to position myself.

Waving to him to attract his attention, I loosed off a single round. Immediately, the sky was black with the shadows of a million birds and they all flew off towards Dad and the other officer. They must have loosed off about four rounds each of buckshot, but only a single bird came down and… into the middle of the lake at that.

“Shit”, I said to myself, “What a pair of lousy hunters!”

Anyway, it now became necessary to retrieve the single trophy from the middle of the lake and, having no boat, we engaged the assistance of a local water carrier who had a pole and a couple of “chatties”, round mud pots the size of a medicine ball, lashed to the ends. The water-carrier could not swim but, using the contraption he carried as a floating device, he pushed off from the edge and after about half an hour of thrashing about like a drowning man, he eventually retrieved it and returned with the goose.

We took it back to Delhi and, having prepared it as a roast, we ate it. It tasted like fish, awful! But we had to pick our way through the whole bird to try and find the pellets which had brought it down. It’s hard to believe, but we only found two pellets in it and when you consider that “buckshot” will usually have nine to twelve pellets a round, and the intrepid hunters had loosed off at least four rounds each, you have to ask what happened to the other 70-plus pellets which should have hurled murderously into that huge mass of bird-life That, to me, was really “shitty” shooting!

Anyway, the next day we were doing a road “recce [1] ” in a “jeep”. Dad, Maj.Greene, Dad’s adjutant who had come with us, the driver and I were there. We came across a herd of chinkara buck. The leader was a magnificent specimen with horns at least eighteen or twenty inches long. Dad thought it would make a nice trophy, neck, head and horns, for the officers’ mess. I had been busy rubbing-off and rounding the noses of the service rifle .303 cartridges, so that they would not go through and through anything shot and dangerously carry on to a distant village and injure someone.

Dad had a clip-full in the rifle. He aimed carefully and fired and the buck fell. Before you could say “Jack Robinson”, the driver, a muslim, was out over the side and haring off to cut the buck’s neck to do “halal” so he could have a bit to eat. He cut the neck right at the top under the jawbone and completely wrecked Dad’s trophy ambitions. Fortunately for the driver, he was a civilian or, I am sure Dad would have seen to it that he got a life sentence in the “glass-house [2] ”.

Returning to Delhi there was to be a rifle tournament between a bunch of American and British officers. Dad ensured that the Brits were short of one team member and I got the place. It was a marvellous afternoon’s shooting on the practice ranges and I was impressed by the Yanks and their shooting.

There was this very tall chap with the American team and he refused to take up the prone position in the free-style competition but instead sat on his backside with his knees drawn up. Resting his arms on his knees and firing sideways, he pumped off round after round at three hundred yards and scored “bulls” with every one.

The Brits said that the M1 he was using was almost unfair because it was so accurate, and they challenged him to use a British Army .303. With only two rounds to zero the target, the bloody Yank then gave us a demonstration of real shooting, standing, kneeling, prone and his special “turkey shooter” position. He virtually tore the “bull” out of the target. In fact, for a little extra fun, he would wait for the marker to signal and then aim at the marker as it was popped up. He told us he was a “turkey” shooter champion in the States.

After that I got to use different types of pistols and revolvers and then a “Tommy gun” and a “Sten gun”, and that beautiful M1. This was followed by a burst from a “Lewis” and finally, a single round with a “Bren gun”. The Yanks were impressed with my youth, I was only just 13, and they took lots of pictures to send back home.

Dad was as proud as a peacock and told everyone how he had taught me to shoot, that his grandfather had been the “best shot in Ireland”, and how the skill ran in the family. Somehow, I believe him because both Phil and Mary were excellent shots. Kieron, our younger son is no mean shot, and Karl, our elder son, was the captain of his school shooting team. They won the “Country Life” championship while he was at Epsom — this was success, indeed, because the school had never won it before. He still goes back to Bisley for the occasional “bang, bang” though, these days, I think he spends more time in the “Surrey Bar” than on the range!


Having spent so many years in India, Dad had learned Urdu very well and could read and write it like a native. He had, as a child, already acquired a smattering of Urdu from his father who had served in the Boer War and then gone to India to complete his service life. When the Second World War broke out the army wanted all British officers to learn Urdu and offered a prize of Rs.500 to each one who could pass an oral test in the language. A further prize of Rs.1000 was offered to those who could pass a written test. The prizes were intended to assist with the costs of private tutors. Dad, who even had a finger in the development of Roman-Urdu, (Urdu written using Roman characters) found out that the tests were open to ANY British officer and so one afternoon he sat the tests and earned himself “the easiest Rs.1500 I’ve ever earned in my life.”

After that Dad engaged the services of a Hindi “munshi [3] ” to coach Kathy and me in the language. Kathy was dead keen, but I could not be bothered. After all I felt I could speak the language sufficiently well already. As it happens, we used to learn Hindi in school in Abu and, what with having to speak to the servants and shop-keepers and other Indian folk, it was a case of “I don’t need it.”

Added to this, the munshi in Abu was a funny old bloke, fat and waddling, who regularly chewed “paan [4] ” during lessons and would suddenly spit a distance of a good fifteen feet between the students seated at their desks and out through the class-room window. Most of us kept a “beady eye” on the bounder in case his red and evil-looking spit came straight at us. How the heck could we concentrate? At least that was our excuse but the truth is that in five years or so he never mis-fired – clean through the window every time.

Naturally, I guess, I failed my exams in Hindi, not badly… just miserably, and Kathy…? Well, she got Honours! Funny thing is that when we have been to India together since then, Kathy does all the reading of notices and so forth and I do all the speaking ; a very good dual-act. I still can’t read Hindi to save my life.


We always went “up” to school and “down” from school, irrespective of whether home was north or south of the school. That was the influence of being in hill schools. The journey to school, except for those who lived in Abu Road, the town with the train station, was by train and bus. The buses were shocking experiences and lots of kids got sick especially going up into the hills. The hair-pin bends and the disorientating aspect from the windows of the vehicle, looking over hills and then valleys, large gorges and then damned great rock precipices were usually blamed, but the most common reason was that the buses were ancient, rattling crates with leaky exhausts which pumped fumes and, no doubt, a measure of poisonous carbon monoxide into the interior. I never heard of anyone actually dying, but then the windows were always open and a certain amount of fresh air came in and prevented total asphyxiation.

The trains were a little better. You probably had to travel for several days and nights to get to the school and consequently got your “train”ing (pun) a bit more effectively. In order to survive the journey it was necessary to have a “bedding roll” with you. This consisted of a thin mattress and a fully made-up bed, complete with pillow, tucked into an outer case, rolled up and finally tied with a couple of leather straps and carrying handle. A coolie usually carried the bedding roll and all the rest of your luggage on his head, in his hands and often, on his back, while you changed trains or arrived at or left the station.

We went up in “batches”. If your home was north of Abu Road, you went up with the Ajmer Batch while if you lived south of Abu Road you went up with the Bombay Batch. Ajmer and Bombay were the stations at which a school master or teacher would meet you, make a group and then entrain for Abu Road. From being a solo, two- or three-person travelling group, you were suddenly a group of thirty or forty young rascals. What hell it must have been for those in charge!

It was usual to join the Bombay batch and within minutes on the train to be in the banana-growing region of Bassein where you could buy a hand of bananas for one anna and a whole branch with a dozen bunches for eight annas. For two rupees, you could have as many as you could carry. Within twenty miles of leaving Bassein you’d be sick of bananas, grand though they were, and then the mischief would start. Mash a bunch of bananas in the toilet sink and throw handfuls at the innocent workmen working on the sides of the railway lines. Mostly they would be standing and looking at the train go by and would be able to dodge the pulp, but now and again you’d score a direct hit and immediately feel guilty about your heartlessness.

Ah, what the heck, let’s have some fun while we can. Coming from Ajmer, it was mostly trying to pinch some fruit from one of the amazing variety of station vendors who mostly carried their wares in open trays or in baskets on their heads. Otherwise, we squirted water-pistols at them. We were real little “shit-bags”.

If you think our attacks on the local populace was cruel, think of this. It is probably fairly well known that some families in India are so poor that they deliberately maim their children by cutting off a limb or twisting their bodies, thus making them professional beggars for the rest of their lives. In so many Third World countries life has no value. Thank God the Brits at least tried, and to a large extent succeeded, in putting an end to another evil practice, “suttee [5] ”.

When the American forces, ever innovative, came out to India and heard of the awful practices carried out, they started a new and more civilised “scam” for beggars. They taught them how to sing hit-songs of the times in English. The poor little beggars didn’t know what they were singing about, but it was quite cute to hear them.

Lay that pistol down, babe. Lay that pistol down

Pistol packin’, mama, lay that pistol down.”


Gimme land lots of land under starry skies above.

Don’t fence me in.

Let me ride thru’ the wide open country that I love, etc

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[1] Military slang. Reconnaissance

[2] Soldier slang for a military prison.

[3] Teacher

[4] A mixture of betel nut, a quick-lime derivative and other ingredients rolled into a particular leaf and chewed by many Indians. They then spit out the juices as a reddish liquid.

[5] The custom of Indian women to burn themselves on their husband’s funeral pyre.


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