We were taken to Worli Camp a huge air force camp entirely under canvas. We were billeted four to a tent. The cookhouse was in a large marquee with open sides and another large marquee with open sides served as our dining mess hall.
We were soon to learn about life in India. The water was pink, known as pinki pani because it contained potassium permanganate to kill off bugs and help to purify it. Taking our meals from cookhouse to mess hall was none too easy as we all soon learned that crossing the small open space between we were subject to attack from Kite hawks, who would swoop down from behind us and grab our lunch or dinner, often knocking the rest out of our hands. We soon learned how to shield our food with our bodies to prevent the hawks taking it, but being a transit camp there were always enough newcomers coming in to keep the hawks well fed.
The toilets were long wicker huts with separate cubicles with toilet seats which were boards with a hole in and underneath were trays with liquid in which were changed from time to time to keep them clean. This was done by coolies, who emptied the contents into large tanks which were taken away and disposed of.
Before we were transferred on we were detailed to line the road for the ceremonial arrival of the new governor of Bombay. This meant a week’s training in crowd control. Some four or five thousand troops and airmen and navy personnel were to be involved. The Navy lining the road at the docks, the marines at the governor’s residence, the Air Force in the middle section and the army on both sides of the Air Force. We stood about a yard apart facing in opposite directions alternating along the road and every hour or so we were given the order to about turn so that none of us faced the hot sun for too long on our backs. We were occasionally brought to attention and then stood at ease, and when the cavalcade of cars came through they moved so fast that they were gone in a flash. We hardly had time to jump to attention and present arms. We assembled at 9 o’clock in the morning and the cars came past at 2 o’clock and it was all over in a second. We felt that it was all a waste of time, but we were just beginning to learn that this was India and it was important that the British Raj put on its display of pomp and ceremony. This is how it has always been. We were taken back to camp in our lorries much to the derision of the army who had to march.
We were to learn that we had to go through it all again a week later for the departure of the old governor.
After this we were sent across India to Calcutta by troop train, a journey that took a week and was hot, humid dirty and tiring. We were occasionally shunted onto sidings to allow mail trains through, on one such occasion we were swamped with monkeys who took everything they could get their hands on, and were such a nuisance that we had to shut the windows until the train moved on.
The doors on the trains opened inwards and we were able to sit on the doorstep to catch some breeze, although in central India the air was so hot that we had to come inside to keep cooler. The breeze and the air was baking hot. We had a buffet wagon that cooked our food and we collected it in large dixies when the train stopped at a station, or when it stopped to take on water or coal.
We were so hot and sticky that when the train stopped to take on water we would strip down to our shorts and crowd under the water tower and allow the water to cascade down on us to wash and to keep cool. There was always a rush to see how many of us could get under the tower before the train had to pull away.
One of the big problems was cockroaches. They were about two inches long and quite fat, and although we killed as many as we could there always seemed plenty more. Another problem was bugs, that seemed to be everywhere and loved coming out at night to feed on us. There were also plenty of flying insects who took a great delight in flying around in the cool of the evening and at night and sucking our blood. As a result, for our first six months in India we were a mass of pimples and sores until our blood absorbed sufficient poison to build up antibodies to cope with the continuous attack from insects. There was of course prickly heat, this was caused by the constant sweating that made our pores sore and inflamed and was very painful at times.