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!
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.