An Erk’s Progress: 6. Bangalore

We were surprised to discover that our new environment was a tented camp situated outside the perimeter wall of the Hindustan Aircraft Factory. Close by the tents was the cookhouse – a small building and about 10-12 yards from this was the dining room come canteen whilst a few more yards further on was the N.C.O.s mess. Both these were constructed of tatti panels tied to bamboo poles.

It transpired that we were here to act as a reinforcement staging post to service both British and American aircraft bound for the Far East in general and Singapore in particular. Entrance to the Hindustan Aircraft factory was via a pair of large iron gates, but before we could pass through we had to have our photos taken for authorisation purposes. Right next to the gates was a brick building, which became our watch office from which the R.A.F. side of operations was controlled by our new Duty Officer, F/O Cooper. He was a young officer who, prior to joining us had been flying Spitfires in the European theatre.

In the factory grounds was a water tower and on top of this an office had been specially built which gave an excellent view of the surrounding terrain. Entrance to this was via a steel ladder fastened securely to the upright pillars supporting the huge water tank with its roof-top wireless room as it now became.

The airfield consisted of two runways, which ran north-south and east-west. These crossed one another at a point just below our tower from which the full length of both could be seen. The junction was at the top of a hill and aircraft landing could only see this point from the touch down position on either runway. At the northern end of the N-S runway was a rather long but narrow lake and it was essential that planes using this runway, which was the shorter of the two, should touch down as early as possible.

Soon we were joined by some officers and men of the USAAF and as our watch-hut was the only one it had to be shared with the American chaps. They were there to do similar duties to us and we all got on well enough once we got to know them. Two more British officers joined us, a F/Lt. Jones as C.O., a Captain Wilson as camouflage officer, another as Engineer Officer and one Indian, F/O. Subermya, who was to act as I/C baggage and general factotum.

With no little effort we transferred our pack-set up the ladder to the tower and erected an aerial on the roof. Our duties were two-fold: to control incoming and outgoing aircraft, and also to keep in touch with other ground stations such as Delhi and Singapore.

Almost immediately the American aircraft started to arrive. I think the first three were Liberators followed by a flight of P40 fighters. At the same time Catalina flying boats touched down on the Lake and were brought ashore and parked just round the side of the watch hut. A new Signals Officer turned up about this time. He was an older man than we’d ever had before. It transpired that he had spent most of his service life in the Navy and had brought with him what to us was a very bad habit. He had a liking for semaphore and would insist on using it to pass messages from the runway up to us in the tower. This method of communication was very seldom employed in the R.A.F. and indeed I don’t think any of us had used it since we left Cranwell some five or six years earlier. In fact in the beginning it took a couple of us trying to read it and call out to a third chap who wrote it down.

We wireless operators took it in turns to keep watch and I was on one night when a “most immediate” came in. It was from Singapore and was in plain language instead of being coded. “Japanese paratroops landing on airfield – have destroyed confidential documents – good bye.” Of course I nearly fell down the ladder in my hurry to get it to the C.O. A light was on in his tent and he was in the middle of de-coding a signal, which had been passed on to him from elsewhere. “How did you get hold of this?” he asked, and was quite flabbergasted when I explained. There must have been more instructions in his version, because the very next day we broke camp and moved our tents into a group of two or three to the aircraft dispersal points amongst the trees some distance from the original site. It meant a bit of a hike to get to and from the wireless tower but we soon took it in our stride.

A mixed bag of Hurricanes, B25’s and Flying Fortresses now began arriving in greater numbers and it was beginning to become more difficult to find parking space for them.

One day a young American airman, P.F.C. Delgado, was at the window when he gave an almighty shout for us to look out. A Hudson had burst a tyre on touching down and was now off the runway and heading straight for the watch-hut. You’ve never seen a bunch of chaps move so fast – out the doors and windows. Anyway the A/C just skimmed past the side of the building and came to rest amongst a group of Catalinas – at least three were severely damaged as was the Hudson. The electrician, Deveril, was ordered to remove the battery and asked me to help him as it was rather heavy. Not a pleasant task as petrol was gushing from the wing tank. We had to be very careful as a spark could have caused a terrible explosion.

Deveril, or Dev as we called him, now moved into our tent and I noticed that he had a rather nasty cough. He had to do a little re-wiring job on an old Domini and asked me to give him a hand. Whilst he was bending to solder a connection he was overcome by a particularly violent fit of coughing. I noticed he was bringing up blood. However he said he was alright and refused my offer to see him back to our tent. That evening he had another attack during the night and then in the days that followed was really quite poorly. After about a week of these bouts of coughing I felt I had to do something and mentioned the matter to F/O. Cooper, who sent for Dev and managed to persuade him to go sick. As we had no Medical Officer of our own he was sent to see an American M.O. who straightaway transferred him to the local hospital. A few of us visited him from time to time. His bed was outside on the verandah and although he never complained it was obvious that he was gradually getting worse. It was with much sadness that we heard he had died and those of us who shared his tent gathered his belongings together for the C.O. to return to the next of kin.

There followed weeks of intense activity as large numbers of aircraft came, were serviced, and went on their way eastwards. A small plane, non-military, caused a little excitement, when, misjudging his height as he approached, crashed into the flag-pole on top of the tower. Of course the plane was a complete write-off, but fortunately nobody was hurt other than the pilot who suffered a few cuts and bruises, not to mention a rather red face. George Pell happened to be on the scene at the time with his cine camera and was thrilled to have filmed the incident. His joy was short lived however as his camera was taken from him, the film confiscated and used at the investigation into the accident. Thereafter there was a ban on the use of cine cameras.

It was quite normal for us to walk the mile or so into Bangalore to do a bit of shopping and have a coffee at a small cafe belonging to the Indian Coffee Growers Association. On one such occasion we were walking back to camp and were about half way when some twenty or so Ghandi supporters barred the road shouting “Ghandi gee” and “Quit India.” Fortunately a car drew up behind us – it was F/O Cooper. “I think you chaps had better get in” he said and ordered his chauffeur to drive on slowly through the mob. This he did though the car was subjected to a rain of blows from their cudgels.

So life carried on quietly enough and we were kept fairly busy at our normal duties.

I can’t quite remember now how it came about but I found myself transferred to a new Group Headquarters, which was being formed and was to be sited in Bangalore racecourse. Thus it was that 225 Group came into being. The grandstand became our living quarters and so was open to air all along the front where it faced the track. We had no locker of any kind and our charpoys were placed in rows along the terraces.

Our wireless station was made up of two trailers, one for the receivers and one across on the other side of the track to house the transmitters, remotely controlled by cable laid over the grass.

Hardly were we installed than there was a bit of an upset. A new young operator had been left in charge of the transmitters when, during the night watch, he was discovered by the Orderly Officer not just asleep but very, very drunk on duty. Of course he was placed on a charge right away and suffered the usual punishment for his sins.

I think I can truthfully say that 225 Group H.Q. signals was not my happiest posting. There never was that feeling of esprit de corps like that in both 20 Squadron and indeed H.Q. signals at Peshawar. Anyway time passed and we moved into the revamped tote office. Business picked up dramatically and we were inundated with “priority,” “immediate” and “most immediate” messages to such an extent that anyone wanting to send an “ordinary” message had no chance!

One day we were ordered to wear our best blues as a V.I.P. was coming and would almost certainly want to inspect the signals office. Our visitor arrived in no less a person than the Duke of Gloucester. Rather a surly figure I felt and sure enough he spotted one of my operators who had turned up in his K.D. instead of his best blues. However he got away with it by saying his blue uniform had been eaten away by red ants.

On being summoned to the orderly room I was delighted to learn that my tour of duty abroad was at an end and I would be going back to dear old Blighty on the first available troopship.


Introduction | Chapter 5 | Chapter 7


Comments are closed.

ThreesWrite in your Inbox

See the next #ThreeGoodQuestions historical research example, updates about Avarice of Empire, and my latest blogs before they’re published on the website. The ThreesWrite Newsletter is free, and you’ll never get more than one email per month.