Arthur’s Tale – Part IX

We eventually disembarked in Calcutta and spent a very sticky sweaty night in a transit camp.  Next day we were taken to Sealdah South Railway Station to go north to Kalkinara about 26 miles north of Calcutta to No 313 M.U, the main RAF supply depot in India for the Burma front.  This camp was spread over many miles along the banks of the River Hooghly a tributary of the Ganges.  The RAF had taken over the old peacetime jute mills and were slowly expanding by taking more to make the unit larger and being spread out over such a large area made it a very difficult target to bomb, or put out of action.

At first I was billeted at Jagatdal Mill and put to work at Reliance Mill some three miles away which meant being transported to work each day by lorry and back home at night, but later as the unit expanded I was transferred and billeted at Reliance Mill.

My first introduction to work was very depressing.  I was put to work on E1 site to store and supply engine spares and when I saw the stores go down I could hardly believe my eyes.  There was a series of roughly hewn sacks each shelf covered with greaseproof paper and laid out here and there were cloth bags containing spare parts.  Our stocks of Merlin spares were almost nil and we were supposed to be the main supply depot for Burma.  Fortunately for us the monsoon season meant that fighting in Burma was often restricted for long periods of time.  We seemed to be a little better off with propellor spares and we also had some Hamilton spares for American engines.

It was not until the war in North Africa was over that we started to get more supplies, then equipment that was supplied to North Africa was diverted and sent to us.  They also packed up all their surplus equipment and they sent it on to us.  Then Lord Louis Mountbatten was made Supreme Commander of SEAAC and things really began to move.  Vast amounts of new racking arrived, and whole godowns and mills were reracked to double height.  Thousands of tons of equipment began to flow in, other mills were taken over and goods began to flow out in vast quantities building up stores and air stores parts for future advances.  We were also sending convoys along the Burma Road and into China.  We were also sending supplies with the American US 28 supply depot to be flown over the hump into China, and as there were very few roads into Burma, much of the equipment had to be flown in by Jakarta aircraft and much of it dropped by air to forward units.  First however the Japs decided to launch a full scale attack against the 14th Army who decided to make a stand at Kohima and Imphal and as all their equipment had to be flown in and dropped by air we were called together and told that we were to work round the clock supplying spares and equipment to keep every available aircraft airborne farming supplies.  Parachutes were colour coded so that if they saw red chutes dropping they knew immediately that they contained ammunition, other chutes would be coloured green, yellow, white, black or blue each containing different equipment like food, spare parts etc.  Colours would be pre arranged so that defenders knew which chutes to go for first depending on their requirements.  The battle lasted for some time but the 14 Army eventually won, and from then on pushed the Japs back further into Burma.  Our life on camp was always hectic.  We were always having to cope with monsoons bringing heavy floods, the terrible heat and the humidity.  We were in Eastern Bengal perhaps one of the most humid parts of India.  We suffered from heat exhaustion, foot rot, prickly heat and survived many outbreaks of Cholera and smallpox in the area.  We were vaccinated many times, inoculated for Cholera every three months, Typhoid and tetanus every year.  We also had to do continuous battle with ants and termites.  The termites would get into our wooden racks eat away at the inside that they became so weak that the whole rack would collapse.  The floors of our godowns were covered in pitch and the racks were stored on steel blocks.  The walls were pitched up to a height of 4 feet.  Apparently the termites could not get through pitch.  They would burrow through the walls and come out above the pitch then during the night they would build mud tunnels up the wall and along the ceiling to drop onto our racks from above, burrow into the rack, fill in the hole behind them and eat the heart out of our racks.  So our first job every morning was to brush down all the mud tunnels the ants had built the night before and spray all the walls with paraffin.

Every now and again we were detailed to dig up the ground outside the godowns to find and block off all the entrance tunnels leading to the termite nests then the military police would sound a claxon horn for us all to put on our gas masks and gas would be pumped into the nests to kill of as many termites as possible.

We also had problems with black ants.  We could not have any food lying about without it being immediately covered in black ants.  Our tables had to be stood on metal plates full of water, which the ants could not cross.  Shelves had to be fitted to brackets so that they did not touch the walls, and metal cups filled with water fitted to all the bracket arms to keep the ants off the shelves.

Red ants were another problem as they would bite into the skin.  If we were on guard duty at night we had to make sure that we did not stand still for too long.  We certainly learned not to lean against a wall or any fixed object for too long as we would soon be covered in the little red ants keen on having a meal off of us.

 

(No offence intended by some terms in this article)

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