Friday, 31 January 2014

Sepia Saturday - A Wartime Traveller's Tale

Sepia Saturday give bloggers an opportunity to share their family history and memories  through photographs. 


I have few travelers amongst my ancestors.  Alice Mason nee Rawcliffe, with six children under 11 years old plus two pieces of baggage,  emigrated to New York in 1887 and has  featured before on my blog.  My aunt Peggy emigrated to Australia in 1949,  but I know little of her life there.    So here is a traveller's tale from my father.


A FAR EAST WARTIME JOURNEY 

My father, John P. Weston. served in the RAF Codes & Ciphers Branch Here is a story from his wartime memories that he wrote down for me, though I doubt if luggage played much of a part.   Left  is the only photograph I have of him in tropical kit.

"VE Day I spent at Wiesbaden in Germany.  The following day a signal arrived from London saying I was to go the Cocos Islands in the Indian Ocean, where there was a tracking station.  


I flew back home via Paris, landing at RAF Benrose, Oxford and then by rail home for 10 days leave.   I them received instructions to report to RAF Lyneham, Wiltshire to fly out east.  On the last night there, I made a telephone call home.  I said to the operator "I am off to the Far East, will you give me some extra time" - she did - which I did not have to pay for.  

Then off on a circuitous route because we were not allowed to overfly certain counties.  My travel documents said I was priority three – there were ten degrees, with Generals number one.   We flew to Marseilles, then to Sardinia (refuel), over Malta to El Adam, near Tobruk., along the North African coast past Cairo and onto Palestine for a 36 hour break and went to Bethlehem.  Our base was Lydda right on the coast.  The flies were a major menace!" 
 

"We flew onto Bahrain in the Gulf and then to Habayra (RAF airfield in Iraq) – temperature 104F when we landed there at 4a.m.  I could hardly breath.  Then onto Pakistan, Bombay, Calcutta, Madras and across to Ceylon.  I went by rail to Mountbatten’s HQ some 8000 feet in a tropical town of  Kandy. 


My stay there was brief, but I remembered the good food.  I was told plans had changed and I was rerouted to Bombay.  

It was take off in Colombo and we had almost reached the point of no return when the plane burst a tyre, which delayed us 24 hours. We took off at 4am on the second occasion. 



"In Burma things were moving to a close.  I was there at the ceremony in Rangoon when the Japanese capitulated.  I was based at the university.  We were always short of tea, which seemed odd in that part of the world, but there was plenty of cocoa.  I also had a ration of one bottle of gin and one of lime juice a month.  I used to drink that under my mosquito net at night watching the mosquitoes  run up and down the wall. 



In November 1945, I was called back for demob.  A driver took me by jeep to the airfield some 20 miles away.  I sat with a rifle (loaded) on my knee since we had to travel through some forests frequented by Dacoits (a terrorist organization in Burma).  The time was 5am. and we made it all right. I flew to Calcutta again and was there for some days.  Calcutta was an awful experience.    Flies crawled over people sitting in the gutters day and night.

We were due to take a train across the desert to Bombay, some 3000 miles.  But there was rioting against the English  in Calcutta and we had to return to camp.  Later we were taken by armoured cars to the station.  On the long journey across India, we stopped at stations to get some food.  We had this on trays, and as we walked along the platform back to the train, hawks dived down and snatched the food.  

I had a short break in Bombay before sailing on the "City of Asia" for home.  I was in charge of a deck of some 200 men.  We eventually arrived at Liverpool on Christmas Day and went to a camp at Birkenhead.  Then I caught a train to Blackpool and arrived home by taxi at 2pm. 

One of the first things I did was to cradle you in my arms – you were shy – no wonder!" 




Head  HERE to discover more travellers' tales from Sepia Saturday bloggers. 


Copyright © 2014 · Susan Donaldson.  All Rights Reserved

23 comments:

  1. I had an uncle who served in Burma with the Chindits.
    Loved your story.

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  2. Great story Sue! How wonderful that your dad wrote it down for you. Thanks for sharing it.

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  3. That's a most enjoyable story, and I'm so glad to read what your father wrote. Thanks!

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  4. What adventures your dad had. I love how he ended the letter "you were shy, no wonder".
    Nancy
    Ladies of the Grove

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  5. The journey leaves me out of breath. What a great story to have been documented and a great ending.

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  6. Thank you, all, so much for the lovely comments on my post. I feel very proud that my father left me such stories of his boyhood and his wartime experiences It is moving to read them again and I am pleased to share them with other bloggers.

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  7. I fully agree about the lovely ending to your father's story - making it so personal for you. He sounds like a very thoughtful person.

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  8. Your father sure got to see a lot of the world!

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  9. Luggage or not quite the journey You are so very fortunate to have the photos and the letters.

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  10. It's priceless when we have some written remembrances to consult.

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  11. What a great story this is as it's told by the man himself. I had no idea that Pakistan existed before 1947 - I have had to check its history..

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  12. That was some trip! What a wonderful story to have written down and to have yourself included. I wonder if the Pakistan mentioned was a city?

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  13. Now that was one exciting trip!

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  14. Wonderful story to have in your father's own words. The tender picture of you in his arms is a perfect ending.

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  15. A great story and memory of your father - and wow what a huge trip!

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  16. Amazing travel tale! You must be very proud of your Dad!

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  17. A fascinating post (as always). I suspect that if you asked the monolithic telephone companies for more time because you were going out east today you would get short shift. But at least we have Skype.

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  18. Thank you, Bob and Kristin, for raising the issue of Pakistan. I must admit this had not struck me before. I have done a quick Google, but so far have not clarified whether there was an area in the old British Indian Empire called Pakistan before partition. Or my father could have just have been referring to the fact he flew over what is now Pakistan.

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  19. The story certainly brings home how difficult travel was in those days although I imagine all the pesky flying things he mentions have not changed. It is wonderful he wrote this all down for you.

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  20. How wonderful that your father wrote all that down for you and how beautifully it ends, in his loving arms. A lovely story and well told.

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  21. A great wartime travel story, but the last paragraph is the best. Pakistan was only a regional term before 1947. Did you know that after partition, George VI took on the title King of Pakistan and then Elizabeth !! became Queen of Pakistan until it became an Islamic Republic in 1956?

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    1. Thank you, Mike, for clarifying this. I appreciate it.

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  22. "You were shy" -- how sweet! But I'm intrigued by Alice moving with 6 kids and only 2 pieces of baggage. I hope they were large trunks.

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