4 – Indian detour: improbable pair

Before I continue, I need to tell you how this improbable pair met. Like many of their generation, the Second World War played its part. My father left school at seventeen and went to work for a brewery. In 1939, he was called up to serve his country. The army was short of officers, and they saw potential in him. After officer training, he was posted to a gun battery on the coast.

Then the strangest thing happened, he was seconded to an animal transport regiment in India. He was put on the next eastbound convoy which had to navigate through the dangerous waters of the Mediterranean. He later told me that he witnessed several ships in the convoy being torpedoed.

The regiment consisted of 900 camels and 400 bullocks, officers were expected to ride horses, but due to a shortage they were given bicycles instead. The soldiers came from all over India and spoke many languages. This is where my father excelled, within a year he was speaking six different languages or dialects.

Dad horse 4They eventually gave him a horse and this is how he met my mother. She was sitting on a garden swing and saw him ride by. On the next pass, he was sitting astride the horse backwards, I suppose it is one way to attract a girl’s attention.

My mother’s father was a colonel in an artillery regiment based in southern India. He also owned a carpet factory and shops, his company provided carpets for the Viceroy’s official residence. Her mother was of Irish Catholic stock and my mother was born in Bangalore. One of seven children, six girls and a boy.

Vincent, her brother joined the army and was sent to Singapore, unfortunately the island city surrendered to the Japanese and he was taken prisoner. Vincent spent the war as a POW working on the ‘Death Railway’ in Burma, he survived and when liberated was nothing more than skin and bone.

Peggy, the youngest sibling, contracted polio and for safety reasons, my mum was sent to a Catholic boarding school in Ootacamund, at the tender age of three. Known as Snooty Ooty and due to its pleasant climate, it was used by the British as a summer retreat, where her parents had a bungalow. Later mum returned to Bangalore and went to Bishop Cotton School for Girls. She had a place reserved for her at Cambridge University but was unable to attend due to the war.

MumWW2 4She sometimes sang at the Bangalore Club. Being an attractive young lady, the young officers chatted and danced with her, all except one – my father. This intrigued her, little did she know he was shy and could not dance.

Their courtship involved riding, driving a horse and trap (a two-wheeled carriage) to the club and cinema. After a week, the 23-year-old lieutenant proposed to the 18-year-old colonel’s daughter.

For my grandfather (the colonel) – having six daughters – this was all too familiar territory. Any young officer who had his disapproval was transferred to other parts of India. However, my dad was made of sterner stuff, on being informed of a pending transfer, he brought the wedding forward and within three weeks of their meeting, they were married.

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