Arthur’s Tale – Part XI

I was promoted to the rank of Corporal and put in charge of propellor spares.  Later I was transferred to E2 site and put in charge of complete assembled and dismantled propellers and I had to learn as much as I could about propellers as quickly as I could.

Assembled propellers were delivered on 60ft Queen Mary Lorries and they had to drive across a field to reach the go-down.  In the monsoon season they used to get bogged down and we were continually digging the lorries out.

I put in a request for the Army Engineers to build us a road, but was told by my officer that there was a war on, and that the army had better things to do than build me a road, so I decided to build my own.  I noticed that the railway line from the jetty ran straight into the go down but had been cemented over inside the building and that old original doorways had been bricked up. I got my coolies to dig out these lines, and pull down the bricks and use them to line alongside the rail lines outside on the outside edges and bind them in with mud and cowdung. I did not have enough bricks so I decided to higher the main door to allow lorries to drive straight into the building.  I got my bricks but nearly brought the building down. Fortunately for me a large lintel had been set into the wall higher up which saved the whole wall from collapsing. I got my unit chippie to higher the doors and I also had my road of sort and as the railway was built on solid ground, lorries were able to drive straight into the warehouse astride the railway tracks on my brick road. I made up my mind that if I was going to be a warehouse manager when I left the service after the war I would need to learn something about building construction.

The civilian mill managers and overseers had a swimming pool of sorts which they allowed us to use on condition that ordinary service personnel left the pool immediately any civilian female entered the pool.  We had to empty it, clean it, and fill it once a week, but not use it when ladies were present. The RAF eventually took over the entire mill and the civilians had to move out for the duration.

The build up of stock was so great that I had to store assembled propellors in the open.  We stood them on railways sleepers and covered them with tarpaulins. The problem was that during the monsoon season we had to listen out for weather forecasts and when the winds were up and the heavy rainfall started we had to leave whatever we were doing in the evenings and go into work to check that all the tarpaulins were battered down.  I noticed that an overhead crane was up in the roof of the building, and ran the full length of the building but it did not work. I went up the ladder with an RAF fitter, and we cleaned it up, overhauled it, fitted new fuses and I learned to drive it. The next thing I had to do was to train one of my more intelligent coolies to drive it, and I paid him an extra 1 Rupee a week for doing the job.  The coolies were paid 8 Rupees a week, Jemadar 9 Rupees so my crane driver was on 9 Rupees. This enabled us to offload lorries that drive into the building mechanically. I had a team of two RAF fitters to check serviceability of propellors before despatch and about 60 coolies to lug and carry assembled and dismantled propellors around the warehouse as each propellor had to be laid out in the service bays to be checked for serviceability, and to see that all necessary modifications were added before despatch.  Where pitch stop modifications were required the item had to be sent to our local CMU for alterations before we could despatch.

My site officer became a stickler for discipline and demanded that I paint all the fire extinguisher stands white, to always have a cup of tea ready for his arrival when he visited the site each afternoon, and that I lined my coolier up each pay day, military style, and gave him a salam on receiving this pay.  He also insisted that I hung no smoking notices from the ceiling of all the storage rooms. The latter was not possible because of the overhead crane operating in some parts of the building, but the other instructions I carried out. I lined the coolies up each pay day in groups of 10 and as my clerk called out the names each coolie would come up and press his thumb on an ink pad and sign for his pay by pressing his thumb print against his name.  He would then press his hands together and bow his head and say ‘Salam Sahil’ and the reform and as each group of 10 received their pay they would go off to work. I would sit on my chair watching that each man followed the procedure, beside me would be my main Jamadah. He was like the general forman coolie and if I was no satisfied that any coolie had followed the correct procedure I would raise my right hand and my Jamadah would immediately strike the man and order him to obey the correct procedure.  I was not allowed to lay a finger on any coolie, but if I did not ensure that each coolie obeyed the routine, I would be reprimanded for allowing discipline to slip. The superiority of the Raj had to be maintained at all times.

Each day I would walk to work and as I approached the coolies they would part to allow me through, I would then remove my jacket and sit down and roll call would begin.  When I was present at roll call coolies had to reply ‘Ji-Haa’ to their names being called as a mark of respect to me. If I was not present they would simply reply ‘Ji’.

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