There we were greeted with disbelief. After the first disdainful
comments I was forced to reveal my main argument. It was in the
Admiralty instruction book that I had read in some idle moments.
There it categorically stated that if a rating did not desire advancement
he was to be allowed to remain as he was. I pointed this out to
him, but he seemed to ignore it. "You're going to be a signalman
whether you want to or not". We were both dismissed.
The following day we fell in and he announced the names of those
who had passed. Mine and Tubby's were on the list. Later he made
everyone trained operators in the same way. The Yeoman in charge
of the tests must have been one of his "chummies".
The next exercise we went on was the first and last time in India
that we saw landing craft. It was to take place just a few miles
below Bombay. We were not to take part in the landing but were to
be landed on the spot the day before. We went there in an old Indian
merchant vessel called the Jalapadma. She had one landing craft
and some lifeboats. A second landing craft appeared during the night,
apparently towed there by tug. The lifeboats were towed astern and
the landing craft hoisted aboard.
The troops due for landing were on board and looked most apprehensive.
They were little fellows, not much more than five and three quarters
high. Ourselves, an army captain and a sergeant were attempting
to launch a bren carrier from the davits. She had been equipped
with what looked like flotation bags and was being slowly lowered
into the water with the two men aboard. The sailors were fascinated.
There was a fair swell running, a precursor of a larger storm impending.
The carrier was lowered until it appeared to be floating. The officer
raised his hand as a signal to stop and lowered it as he action
signal. There was a releasing clip, as on a lifeboat, and at the
signal the sergeant released the clip. The Bren carrier dropped
into the sea and kept on dropping.
Luckily the two were wearing life jackets and were swept rapidly
astern towards Bombay harbour. I suppose they were picked up. Then,
not without some apprehension, we got ourselves by landing craft
onto the shore. Fortunately for us we were landed well down the
After we had landed our gear (and got well soaked) we established
a camp of sorts. Most of us stayed near the camp, but Jeff and I
wandered up the beach in the direction of Bombay which we could
see as it lay round a point.
On our way along the beach we discovered that a river ran into
the sea and flowed down the strand. There was a sandbar off the
beach but further off the shore was an exposed sandbar with what
appeared to be a shallow lagoon behind it. "I hope no one tries
to land off that," Jeff said.
We turned back and wandered to the campsite. As the day eventually
waned and darkness took over we lay and chatted and smoked. Meaby
took up his scorpion patrol and eventually we were all asleep and
hoping that no residue of the monsoon would arrive.
Soon after daylight we realised that the landing was about to be
attempted. The wind had increased and a fair sea was running. We
were not experienced enough to realise when it was too dangerous,
but we were soon to find out.
It was soon obvious that the pongoes were having great trouble
in embarking the landing craft which were moored alongside the Jalapadma,
but eventually some of them were released. They started towards
the shore through what seemed to be quite large waves. They approached
the shore and when it seemed they were near enough the doors at
the bows were lowered.
There seemed to be some hesitancy and angry voices could be heard.
At last two of the men appeared to have been pushed off and were
promptly swept away. Soon there was nothing to be seen of them.
We were appalled.
The craft approached a little closer and the same tactic took place.
By now, and without being told, myself and some of the other lads
had stripped off our clothes and ran bollock-naked down to the sea.
We managed to rescue five men before the craft withdrew.
The language that was called at the craft was nobody's business.
The rescued soldiers were terrified and we realised that they had
seen the sea for the first time when they had embarked at Bombay.
We stripped and dressed them in blankets. Imagine the sight. Naked
matelots meet naked pongoes.
Later in the day an army truck was sent down to take them away.
The landing was called off. About twelve men had been lost. We returned
That afternoon we were turned out as Trixie wanted to speak to
us. He said he was sorry the exercise had ended so abruptly. He
then said that we were lucky it was only a few wogs that were lost.
An astonished silence followed.
Then a sharp voice pierced the air. "You callous bastard! You're
not as good as the big toe of one of those men". Nothing further
was said and the parade was abruptly dismissed. The speaker was
Tubby. Afterwards he said he had no idea what got into him. Fools
and Horses. Tubby's standing suddenly rose in the group.