My father and the Indian Army Board

17 Dec

IndiaAfter a welcome seven days leave I reported once again to the Pre-OCTU at Wrotham, Kent on the 1st March 1944 and this time I was a genuine Officer Cadet!

The only purpose of the Wrotham pre-OCTU was to ensure that every Cadet on leaving Wrotham for an OCTU had received the same basic Infantry training.   On entry to Wrotham we were all individually tested as to our knowledge of the basics.  In my case, I was  fully trained in weapons, map reading, compasses etc., but I had no knowledge of mines or wiring and I had never driven a truck or a motorcycle.  I was therefore put down for one weeks training on each – mines, wiring, trucks and motorcycles for a total of four weeks.

The mines and wiring training came first and we all survived without blowing ourselves up!   They were followed by the two weeks learning to drive trucks and motorcycles which for were for me the most enjoyable weeks I spent in the Army.

Truck driving came first.  After one day in camp learning the basics of the 15 ct. truck and driving around a circular learners track we spent the rest of the wheel driving around the Maidstone, Chatham and Rochester circuit.  There were two cadets and one instructor per truck and we each had several hours of driving practice every day.

The motorcycle training was even more fun!   After spending one day in camp learning the basics and driving around the learners track we spent the rest of the course driving around the roads of Kent in convoys of approximately fifteen cadets.  Fortunately there was very little other traffic on the roads which was just as well!   I soon discovered that the sensation of speed on a motorcycle was very exhilarating, but quite dangerous.

On the Thursday evening of that week, there was just one more day of the motorcycle course to complete and that would end my training at Wrotham.  At this point fate stepped in and my Army career and in effect my future career in civilian life was totally changed and very much to my advantage.

On that Thursday evening we were informed that our company of 100 or so cadets would all be individually interviewed by and Indian Army Board the next day with a view to selection to undergo our Officer Training at an OTS in India.  While we had been undergoing primary training at Maidstone we had been told about the possibility of doing officer training in India – volunteers were invited to apply.  At that time I wasn’t an Officer Cadet, I wasn’t particularly interested in going to India and I was quite content to ride along with the stream.

But now there came the very first of three occasions in my life when I saw a green light flashing and a sign marked “this way”.   It was a very strange sensation but from the time that I heard the news about the interviews by the Indian Army Board I was quite convinced that this would be my route – and that I would be selected.

So when I was interviewed by the Board the next day, I said with much confidence that I would be glad to go to India – and I was selected much to my pleasure.   However other members of our company told me later that they had said that they would be glad to go and had not been selected while others who had said they had no wish to go had been selected!

The first immediate benefit for those selected to go to India was fourteen days Embarkation leave which was from the 4 – 18th of April 1944.  On file are two documents which I had to sign at that time, firstly the Warning Order for Service Overseas and secondly the conditions concerning training at an OTS in India and subsequent commissioning into either the British Army or the Indian Army.

Passage to India

 At the conclusion of embarkation leave those of us who were going to India reported back to Pre OCTU at Wrotham.  After a few days we were sent to the Great Central Hotel, Marylebone Road in Central London which was called the London District Assembly Centre (LDAC).  There we were medically examined and received some kharki shirts and shorts.  We left London by train on the 3rd May 1944 and after an all night journey we arrived dockside at Liverpool on the 4th May when we boarded the troopship SS Stratheden of the P & O Line – 24,000 tons build in 1937; a photograph of the ship is on file.

The Stratheden sailed from Liverpool on the 5th May and sailing in convoy via the Atlantic,, the Mediterranean, the Suez Canal, the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean we finally arrived in Bombay on the 1st June.  The full story of that four weeks journey can be read in three letters which I wrote to my parents, firstly a censored letter of nineteen pages which I wrote during the journey in mid May which was probably taken off the ship for posting at Port Said; secondly pages 1-4 of a letter dated June 11th which I sent from OTS Belgaum; and thirdly pages 8-14 of a letter dated 15th December 1945 which I sent from Bangalore after the war was over in which I mentioned all the facts which I had not been able to mention before because of security constrictions.

Excerpts from the first mentioned letter “Somewhere at Sea”.   Much of it is censored so much that neither side of the paper can be read!

Dear Mother,

Well here you have my first letter from outside England although no doubt it will take some time to reach you.  We have been told our letters will be held up even when they are put ashore for about 14 days so that if this letter reaches you by the end of [censored] I shall be surprised. — We live, sleep and eat on mess-deck [censored] right in the bowels of the ship parallel with the water line.  Originally and as we all believe deliberately they put us in about the worst place in the ship with an area of about 10 feet by 60 feet for 120 people to live, eat and sleep in and with no wash place or lavatories.  Talk about sardines!  Anyhow that was soon changed and we are now, as mess-decks go, in better quarters.

There are a lot of troops on board altho’ the ship is by no mean full and in addition there is a horde of all types and species of officers [censored] of course they all enjoy cabins [censored] and have a pretty comfortable time which includes for them, as one of our own conducting officers told us, better food than pre-way curry street.  Our own food is rather monotonous and not as good as our last two places.  For the past four days our dinners have been 1) meat, beans, spuds 2) beans, meat, spuds 3) Spuds, meat, beans 4) meat, spuds, beans.  We are able to supplement our good with grub from the canteen.

We sleep in hammocks which are really surprisingly comfortable once you know how and impossible to fall from.  We sling them from the ceiling of our mess-deck and I have always a very good nights sleep unbroken by interruptions.  Of course the hammock tends to find its own level and hence is always swaying to and fro against the roll of the boat, which may help one to get to sleep for I am no more in bed than flat out. 

About the best thing on this boat is the canteen which is a shop really; this is what we can get in unlimited quantity (quite literally).  Grade 1 salmon; tins of plums and damsons (1/8); tins of jam (2/0) and marmalade (1/01); Full sweetened condensed milk (11p); toffees, boiled sweets etc (Pascall’s); Gillette razor blades (2/- for 12); cigarettes and tobacco for those who want them with the duty knocked off; articles of clothing; talcum powder; books etc. etc.

In the first two days I ate so much chocolate I got really sick of it and I’m sure it helped the sea sickness.  Since then I haven’t eaten a piece except for today when I bought 2 bars.  But anyone can go and buy 100 or 200 bars if they want to.

The jam and marmalade is of course very acceptable and supplements our very inadequate rations.  I have my own private tins and use them as liberally as possible, even in porridge.  Then the tinned fruit and condensed milk (Nestles) is really good.  Five of us at our mess-table (there are 14 per table) subscribe to share 1 tin of fruit and 1 tin of milk every supper time and are thinking of doubling the amount.  I should think that our lot of cadets buys up at least 50% of all that is bought at the canteen. 

It is good to be by the sea again; I had never realized there could be so much sea but all we can see all day long is one vast expanse of foaming green water which looks at times very nice for a dip.  We are just amusing ourselves reading the Morse being flashed from our companion ship alongside us – shades of ATC!


From the letter sent from Belguam:

Eventually we had to shift back to our original mess-deck G1 much to our dismay and there we had to exist for the rest of the trip.  And then of course, as we knew it would, it became very hot and down in G1 where we couldn’t open portholes it was really intolerable.  Sweat was pouring off us in streams all day long and a bath and shower a day became not a luxury but a necessity though even that was not much good.  Food on board remained just as bad and monotonous and in the end we were throwing away a good 60% of all our meals.  Even in the very hot weather we still had our inevitable meat, beans and spuds served up to us. 

The sweets and chocolates on board ran out just before the end but the American troops on board, with whom our chaps got on very well, made available to our chaps thousands of cigarettes and lots of sweets or “candy” some of which was very tasty.


My lasting memory of that four week journey was the vivid demonstration of British Sea Power.   Our convoy was large and it did not travel rapidly but throughout our voyage we were not at any time attacked by enemy ships or aircraft.  We were well protected – the escort was an aircraft carrier, a cruiser, many destroyers and frigates plus constant aerial cover.   It was a very impressive demonstration.

We disembarked from Stratheden at night on 1st June 1944 and were driven through the streets of Bombay to the nearby Colaba Transit Camp.  This was our introduction to the sights, sounds and smells of India!  Although it was between 10 – 11 p.m., the streets were teeming with people and livestock and many pavements were fully occupied by literally hundreds of people sleeping or trying to sleep.

In my letter of 11th June 1944 to my parents I have described at some length what we did during our five days at the transit camp.  (pages 4–7)  The monsoon had not yet broken so Bombay in early June was very hot and sticky – that explains the emphasis in my letter on iced drinks, ice cream, thirst etc.

Their house is burned down – my father’s writings

11 Nov

Roy18On the evening of Friday, January 10th, 1941, just three days before I was due to return to Bournemouth the alert sounded, as usual, at 6:15 p.m.   By 6:30 the sounds of aircraft could be heard and the anti-aircraft guns had opened fire.   We retired to our basement shelter!   This was the beginning of a major raid which caused great damage.  The statistics show three were 2,314 fires, 3000 persons left homeless, 171 were killed and 430 were injured.

For us it was a night to remember.  For the first two hours thousands of incendiary bombs and high explosives (H.E.) were dropped – and we could hear the H.E. coming down.   One H.E. bomb landed about 100 yards away from us and from the noise of breaking glass it was clear that our house had been damaged.  Surprisingly enough the all-clear sounded at about 9 p.m.  On investigation we found that indeed all of our windows had been blown out and the plaster from the ceilings and walls had been blown leaving all of our rooms in a terrible mess.  However my Mother – optimistic as usual – said that we would soon be able to tidy it all up!  My Father, who was an ARP Warden, said that he had heard the Guildhall was on fire and that many other fires were burning and that the various Fire Brigades were swamped.

When we went out into the street to inspect the damage it was soon clear that Gloucester Terrace was in danger.  Just around the corner from us in Kings Road, John Dyer’s store on the south side of that narrow road was ablaze and there was no sign of a Fire Brigade.  It was obvious the fire would spread to the north side of the road if the blazing store collapsed and if it did then Gloucester Terrace was doomed as the houses all joined to the north side of Kings Road.  And that is what happened!

As we watched John Dyer’s blazing store collapsed and set fire to the north side.  In the absence of the Fire Brigade we estimated that it would not be long before the houses in Gloucester Terrace were all on fire.  It was clearly time to save what we could and go!   Fortunately my Mother had foreseen the possibility of a speedy evacuation and most of our family’s clothes were all ready packed up in suitcases which we promptly moved into the brick shelter in the gardens.   We also moved from the house whatever we could – my Mother saved her Hoover which she had just finished paying for, I saved my stamp album and my Father and Barbara took various items.  It was soon time to go as the fire was approaching us.  Leaving our belongings in the brick shelter, we set off down Kings Road and Elm Grove passing more blazing stores including my Father’s shop which was well ablaze.  We headed for the house of Dr. Cathcart on Victoria Road South who was the owner of No. 3 Gloucester Terrace.  We arrived at his house after a fifteen minute walk at about 11 p.m. and told him the sad story.  No sooner had we done so than the alert sounded again and bombers returned for a second time.   By that time we were all too weary and unhappy to worry about the second raid!   We spent the night on the carpet of Dr. Cathcart’s living room and I believe that I slept well!

In the morning we walked back up Elm Grove to Kings Road and Gloucester Terrace.  The entire area was ruined.  The whole of Kings Road and the surrounding streets and most of Elm Grove had been totally destroyed.  The story of this and other raids on Portsmouth with photographs showing Kings Road before and after is contained in the book “SmittenCity” which is in the Portsmouth and Southsea section of my library.

When she saw the ruins of our house my Mother made the only downhearted comment which I ever heard from her during the war which was “It took twenty years to build a home but only a few hours to destroy it.”

Fortunately we had emerged from the ordeal with our lives and with those personal belongings which we had placed in that invaluable brick shelter.  We loaded everything onto a wheeled cart and set off to 23, Devonshire Avenue where my friend Ron Cox, his Mother and his Grandmother lived.  They were able to accommodate us on a temporary basis.  Two days later Ron and I returned to Bournemouth for the next school term.

At the time it seemed that the loss of our home and my Father’s shop would cause real grief for our family.  In fact it can almost be argued that it was a blessing in disguise.  The loss of both our home and the shop meant that we had to leave Portsmouth, and that was a very good move for all of us.   My parents, as soon as I have returned to Bournemouth went to London and moved in with Aunt Hilda and Molly at Southfields.   My Grandmother who had lived with Aunt Hilda for many years had moved to live with Aunt Esme in Redhill at the beginning of the war so there was a vacant room in Aunt Hilda’s flat.

My Father was soon appointed Manager of the Ealing Broadway store of Barratt’s shoes.  My sister, Barbara had to stay in Portsmouth for a while as her Income Tax office had not suffered any damage during the air raid.  She applied for a transfer to London and in the meantime she boarded with friends from the office who lived at Purbrook on Portsdown Hill.  Barbara was now nineteen and eligible for National Service and she was very anxious to join one of the Woman’s services.  However, much to her dismay her position as an Income Tax officer placed her in a reserved occupation and she was not allowed to leave it.

My Mother soon realized that Aunt Hilda’s flat at 42(A) Replingham Road, Southfields while big enough for four people would not be adequate to accommodate both Barbara and I when we arrived.   She almost at once began to look for other accommodation and soon found it.  By the time that I arrived for the Easter 1941 school holidays we were at 104, Girdwood Road, a modern house in the upper residential area of Southfields with a very good panoramic view of London and only ten minutes walk away from Southfields Station which was used every day by my Father, Aunt Hilda and Molly.

My parents claim for the loss of furniture, household equipment and clothing  at Gloucester Terrace had already been partially paid although the final payment was not made until 1947.  With the money my Mother had bought some furniture and household equipment so that our now rented house was partially fully furnished.

Suring that Easter holiday the air-raids on London continued and there were many noisy nights.  Our new house did not have a basement so we received a “Morrison” shelter – a steel contraption which fitted under the dining room table and under which two people could sleep.  I recall that I slept under it one night during one of the last major raids on London when from our house it appeared that central London on the horizon was on fire.

During that holiday I continued my explorations of the London Underground system – and managed to travel quite far afield.  By late afternoon while returning to Southfields I saw every day the shelter area in the Central London deep tube stations would already be filled with people who wanted to escape the bombing and enjoy a good nights sleep.

The Battle of Britain – my father’s writings

11 Nov

Roy16At the end of term late in July we all returned to our homes in Portsmouth and Southsea for the summer holidays which lasted until mid September, but they were to be quite unlike our previous carefree summer holidays. For this was the summer of 1940 and the Battle of Britain was upon us. Britain was in a desperate situation and just how bad we did not really appreciate. But in spite of the fall of France and the lost of vast quantities of guns and equipment in France and at Dunkirk, no one seemed downhearted or pessimistic. Our optimism seemed to be based on the old saying that “Britain may lose the first few battles but we always win the last one.”
It would be very difficult to overestimate the impact which the speeches of the Prime Minister, Mr. Winston Churchill, made on national morale at this time. Listening to his magnificent orations even after a lapse of more than half a century still moves me immensely. As Mr. Churchill said in his memoirs years later, at this time a tremendous surge of patriotism, a “white heat” ran throughout the country and certainly is was evident in Portsmouth.
With the fall of France all the south coast towns were in the front line, Portsmouth was only sixty miles from the French coast. All of our beaches were soon closed off and were mined and festooned with barbed wire. South Parade Pier and Clarence Pier were disabled so that they couldn’t be used by an invader.
The first bombs fell on Portsmouth on 11th July. By the time we returned home at the end of July our raid alerts were frequent but no more bombs had fallen.
During the winter a brick air-raid shelter had been build in our Gloucester Terrace Gardens essentially for use during daytime alerts. I would open up that shelter whenever an alert was sounded. On one occasion I had just opened the shelter within one minute of the alert being sounded. Looking up I saw a German bomber emerge at low level from a cloud and as I watched three bombs began to fall and the anti aircraft guns opened fire. I speedily retired to our basement shelter underneath our house!
On August 12th, my Mother, who was a keen and very good swimmer, said that she had heard that the swimming beach at Stokes Bay just west of Gosport was still open and suggested that the three of us should go there and swim. Barbara and I and my Mother got on our bicycles and crossed the Harbor to Gosport and cycled on to Stokes Bay. Much to out pleasure we found that the beach was indeed still open so we enjoyed a good swim on a lovely sunny afternoon. After we emerged we sat on the beach to enjoy the sunshine and almost at once the siren sounded. There was a brick shelter nearby so we began to make our way towards it. As we did the Portsmouth AA guns opened up and we saw approaching the city a fleet of German bombers. The AA fire lasted for about one half hour at which time the “All Clear” sounded.
On recrossing Portsmouth Harbor on our way home we could see fires in the Harbor station and smoke and damage in the Dockyard. On arriving home we found that a glass vase which was beside an open window was in pieces – but there was no other damage!
Other raids took place in August in early September as the Battle of Britain came towards its climax. By this time we were getting on an average of about eight air-raid warnings every day, but unless you could hear bombers and/or bombs and anti-aircraft fire most people took little notice of them and just carried on with their normal business.
The threat of invasion still remained very grave, but thanks to the valiant “Few” in the Royal Air Force it did not come to pass. I do not believe that we could really have withstood a determined German invasion in that summer of 1940. We all knew that if an invasion were to take place the church bells would ring to warn the people. On evening early in September it was rumored that the invasion had taken place but we hear no church bells as it was an unfounded rumor.
The Battle of Britain came to a climax on the 15th of September 1940 with the repulse of the last major German daylight raid on London. Thereafter the bombers would come at night.

My father’s memoirs – early days of WWII

10 Nov

My father wrote memoirs of his life, based on diaries he kept throughout his life.

This Remembrance day, I thought I’d post a few parts, to help people understand what the war was like.

My father, Roy Frederick Holland, was born on the 17th December 1924 at No 26, Ashburton Road in Southsea, Portsmouth, the second child and only son of his parents Sybil Sarah Holland and Frederick Peter Holland.

German troops invaded Poland early in the morning of Friday, 1st September 1939.  As war between Britain and Germany was imminent the plans for the evacuation of children from British cities which were probable targets for enemy bombers went into immediate effect.  As a major navel base, Portsmouth was obviously in danger and plans were ready to evacuate school children from the city although some private schools stayed in Portsmouth throughout the war and actually increased their enrolment from boys and girls whose parents would not agree to their children’s evacuation.

The Portsmouth Grammar School was faced at once with the loss of our school buildings to the Royal Navy.  The senior school had been a Naval Barracks and it was immediately taken over by the Royal Navy to house the flood of new recruits, so the school had to move!

During the morning of 1st September, we were summoned to proceed to the school as soon as possible ready for evacuation.  Those with bicycles could take them.  On arrival at the school we saw that a fleet of buses was waiting to take us to our destination which was to be close to Winchester, 30 miles northwest of Portsmouth.   There were only about 20 cyclists, including me, and we set off in very fine weather for the approximate three hour ride to Winchester.   Out personal kit, suitcases etc. had been loaded into one of the buses so we were not unduly burdened.

Our destination was a very large old country Manor House at Northwood Park, three miles west of Winchester and there we stayed for the next three weeks.  I do not know if the authorities considered that this location would be adequate for our needs or whether it was seen as a purely temporary measure designed to get us out of Portsmouth before the much feared bombing raids began.  In event, it was soon realized that this was grossly inadequate for our needs.  Each form was accommodated in one large room where we slept on straw palliasses as there were no beds!  Some private rooms were available for the masters.

The student desks, text books and other necessary equipment were delivered very promptly so classes were organized but it was all very primitive and uncertain particularly as on the outbreak of war between Great Britain and Germany on 3rd September we at once lost a good 50% of our staff – including all the younger and vigorous masters – to the Armed Services.

With the benefit of hindsight it is clear that we should all have stayed in Portsmouth until proper arrangements could be made to accommodate the school in a “safe” area.   However such was the fear of immediate and destructive bombing raids that it was considered that immediate evacuation was essential.  In the event no German bombers raided Portsmouth until the summer of 1940.

After spending three frustrating weeks at Northwood Park, we were told that accommodation for the school and ourselves had been obtained at the south coast resort of Bournemouth.  So once again we packed up and a fleet of buses appeared to carry most of the boys and staff while the cyclists pedaled three hours and thirty miles on a very pleasant ride to Bournemouth – or rather to Southbourne which is an eastern suburb of Bournemouth.  We found on arrival that the school had obtained two very large old houses called “Colvin” and “Cliff House” which were large enough to accommodate all of our classrooms and equipment.  We were to be accommodated in private homes in “billets”.   A list of available billets had been prepared before our arrival but by the time the cyclists arrived those who had come by bus had filled all the available billets so those of us who needed them were seated in buses which were driven slowly through the residential areas of Southbourne.   One of our masters had a megaphone and at frequent stops he in effect begged the residents to take in one or two boys at least on a temporary basis.  Amazingly enough the response was very good!   I and my friend Peter Hollis soon found ourselves at 15, Lombard Avenue where we were billeted for the next three months at the very nice home of two elderly sisters – Mrs. Hanley, a World War 1 widow and her sister Miss Martin.  This was certainly the best of my five Southbourne billets over the next three years – we were very well fed indeed.   Unfortunately two fourteen year old boys were a bit too much for our hosts who had agreed to take us in strictly on a temporary basis but they kept us for one term and we were sorry to leave.

The school was able to function properly very rapidly indeed in spite of all the disruption caused by the evacuation.  However our numbers were reduced.  At least one hundred and possibly more boys had left the school as their parents were unwilling to see them evacuated and had enrolled them in private schools in Portsmouth which had not been evacuated.   In our form – upper 5(A) – we had lost three or four.  However the school’s most serious loss was the 50% of its staff to War Service.  For us in Upper 5(A) who wee entering the school at the end of which we would take our School Certificate Examination the loss of staff was serious.   Gone were our very efficient Mathematics masters Major Willis and Mr. Corrier, our History master, Mr. Pye, and our two Science masters, Mr. Strawson and Mr. Stokes.  Fortunately we retained our Modern Lauguages master, Mr. Charlesworth and our English master the Reverend T.C. Heritage.  Replacement masters eventually appeared to fill the ranks of those who were serving but at best they were second rate.

In January 1940 Peter Hollis and I moved to our second billet with Mr. and Mrs. Moss at 53, Irving Road.   In April, I and Ron Cox, a friend from the Cathedral Choir, moved to Mr. and Mrs. Dalby at 17, Verana Avenue where we spent the next term.   Our hosts owned a small sailing boat which was kept on the River Stour at Christchurch not far from Southbourne and in April and May we enjoyed several expeditions in the boat down the river and out to sea.  Unfortunately access to the sea was closed off at the time of the evacuation of the British Expeditionary Force from Dunkirk at the end of May and early June 1940.

In mid May I noticed that some spots were beginning to develop on my chest.  A doctor diagnosed chicken pox and suggested I should go home for the duration of the illness so later that day I arrived home much to the surprise of my Mother.  I do not know how many of those with whom I traveled on the train were infected with my germs!

I had a restful approximately three weeks convalescence at home during which time we had our first Air Raid Warnings.   By the time I returned to Bournemouth we had hear the familiar warning siren on some twelve occasions, mostly during the daylight hours although the very first was at night.  During this period no bombs were dropped on Portsmouth and we were informed that the warnings were caused by German aircraft which were dropping mines into the sea.