DAD’S WWII LETTERS: Chapter 6, India: Boats & Trains

gateway of india

“Gates of India”  Bombay [Mumbai]

3-4-43:  Got passes from 1:30 til 9:30.  Didn’t get  to leave until after 2.  Everyone took off and started down town.  I got three dollars changed to 16 rupees and 8 annas.  I spent 6 1/2 rupees.  Ate twice once at coffee-house (for 1R and 1 a) and again at English canteen where I go a meal for half R.  Natives beg a lot.  Live dirty.  Spent the day wandering around.  Talked to British flying sergeant.

3-5-43:  Part of soldiers left boat for destination, cleaning detail started.  We have the run of the boat more or less.  Washed some shorts.  Had good chow for supper.    

3-6-43:  19 months service today.  Leave boat about 9 am.  Board train and leave about 10.  Arrive at British Camp about 3:30 AM.  Bamboo shacks about 2/3 way down.  Tile roof.  Dusty floor.  Natives clean quarters polish our shoes and make our beds for 1/2 R per week per man.  Went to canteen for warm soda and cake.  Can get shave for 1 a.  Bring tea around in evenings and mornings.  Talked to some of the English boys here in casualty section.

3-7-43:  *Dealale, India-location of camp.  Laid around most of the day and washed clothes.  Sent a few clothes to laundry.  Eat at dining hall taken care of by natives.

3-8-43:  Same as yesterday.  Talked with British soldiers.  Laundry came back in evening.

3-9-43:  Spent quite a bit of time at Bazaar.  Bought silver ring, towels, cigarette holder and ate at Chinese restaurant.

*Editor’s note:  Camp Deolali is located in western India, about 100 miles northeast of Bombay.  During WWII it was used as a transit camp for soldiers arriving in India and awaiting assignment in the CBI (China-India-Burma) theater–Wikipedia.

3-10-43:  Prepared to leave in morning.  On baggage detail.  Board train at about 5:30.  Pulled out at 7:30.  Have 6 men to a compartment.

3-11-43:  Had our three meals, such as they were, on the train.  Have a table in compartment to eat on.  Occasionally you see a bunch of monkeys in the trees.  Farmers threshing the crude way. There are banana trees (small).  Fields are very small.

Editor’s note:  After the war, Dad told about how they made tea from hot water, taken straight from the locomotive boiler.  “Hot water was hot water–wherever it came from.”

3-12-43:  Slept till 8 o’clock.  Went through a little jungle.  Saw a farmer plowing with oxen.  Natives look cleaner here and dress some different.  Every RR station has nice flower garden.  Every field has a ridge around it for irrigation.  People seem to live in villages.  Many of the kids run around in shirts that cover the upper parts of their body only.  Some wear nothing.  Yesterday afternoon, huts were made of stalks and straw in poorer sections.

Afternoon today-Ran through section with red clay.  Several tile roofs on brick or stone houses.  Quite a few scattered trees over landscape.  Stopped at Bilaspur, In. (958 ft. above sea level) at 5:15 PM.  Slightly sick at stomach during night.

3-13-43:  Passed through some jungle and rough country.  Stopped about 5 at a British canteen and had tea and cookies.  Saw an airfield.

3-14-43:  Still riding.  Scenery changing some.  Changed trains at midnight. 

3-15-43:  Got to bed at almost 4 AM.  Had compartment with only four of us.  Good deal.  Got off train again shortly before noon.  Did without breakfast till 2 PM.  Backed up to pier and unloaded box cars onto boat.  Coolies did the work.  Slept on top deck.  Pulled out about 10 PM.  (Saw an elephant on train.)

3-16-43:  Had breakfast consisting of wieners, bread & coffee.  Some of the natives took bananas, eggs & oranges and were selling them to the troops.  O. D. [officer of the day] finally caught on & put some more guard on duty to watch the rations.  Read short story in Reader’s Digest (Dec. issue) this afternoon.  Took a nap before dinner.  Dinner consisted of corned beef, peas, bread and butter substitute and pears & coffee.  Pulled alongside boat with nurses a couple of times this afternoon.  (Riding on Duffla).  Frequent sand bars in river and along bank.  Have passed several barges & canoes or fishing boats.  Someone said valley where river is located is 30 miles wide.  Sewed on barracks bag this morning.  Just read through diary.  About supper time (6:20).  Several card games in progress.  We pulled into the pier about 9 PM.  Worked till after midnight loading from boat onto train.  Had tea and bread about 1 o’clock.  Came to car and slept from 3 to 7.    

3-17-43:  Had bread and jam, dog biscuits & tea.  Had tea & dog biscuits for dinner again.  Pulled out about 1:30 PM.  Country is mountainous.  Saw some cars off track that had been wrecked.  People are beginning to look more oriental.  Saw some good land and some land that either never was in cultivation or wasn’t take care of.  Beginning to get in jungle.  Occasional fields.   Few wildflowers of a lavender color.  Saw some monkeys this morning.  There are lots of vultures, crows, white cranes, or a similar bird and a long-legged, long-billed bird.  There are lots of banana palms and bamboo trees.  Here in Assam the houses that aren’t made of bricks are made of woven split bamboo.  The fences are also.  The houses of the natives all have grass roofs.  There are lots of banana palms and other trees that I do not recognize.  Some are tea bush which is planted in rows.  The bush, or what ever you want to call it, is slightly higher than a man’s knees.  The tea is generally shaded by trees.  I saw white ducks, tame, the same in size as ours at home.  I also saw some geese about the size of our geese with a little different coloring.  Saw a bird the size of our robin.  It had sort of rust colored body, dark head and tail with yellow around eyes.  We’ve covered very little ground today.  Have seen several tea plantations today.  Saw some more wrecked railroad cars.  We ate better today.  We had canned rations.  All of the telegraph poles made of steel throughout India.   

tea harvest in assamTea harvest in Assam, India      

3-19-43:  Arrived at destination about 8 AM.  Americans already here.  Chinese truck drivers & guards.  Unloading baggage as I’m on baggage detail.  Ride on baggage truck to our new area.  Chinese driver, and he is rather wild.  Tents like at Lakeside.  Mess hall is bamboo.  Also latrine.  Put up racks for mosquito nets.  Plenty brush cut off campsite.  Boys cleaning it up.  *Natives building road nearby.  Women carrying buckets of dirt.  Received mail for first time since Jan. 20th (18 letters).  Made me and everyone else happy to receive mail although some of it was over 2 months old.  Got mail mailed from  Jan 2nd till Feb 18th.  Guard duty starting 6 tonight for 24 hours.  On 2 and off 4 hours.

3-20-43:  Sat.:  Off guard–did last shift.  Rather listless.  Must be climate.  Have read some of my mail.  Will have to answer it.  Received 6 more letters.  Mail up to Feb. 18th.

3-21-43:  Worked all day around tents cleaning up brush and stubs.  Wrote a letter to my parents.

*Editor’s note:  The road under construction was the Ledo Road.  It was a new supply route to connect to the Burma Road and eventually go to China–our ally.  Japanese encroachment in Burma cut off surface roads and as a result most supplies were moved by air transport over the Himalayas.  This air route was known as “Flying the Hump.”

March 21, 1943

I finally got to where I can write you a few more lines.  I don’t have too much time to write as it gets dark quickly here after supper and we have no lights.  I have a lot of correspondence to catch up as we got our mail yesterday and the day before.  I got 18 letters day before and 6 more yesterday.  I got all your letters up to Feb. 15th and Dorothy’s up to the 18th.  I sure was glad to get it.

I am in good health and enjoying being in a strange country.  I wouldn’t care to live in India, but temporarily it’ll do.  I suppose you have heard or gotten my previous letter giving you a description of the people.

The climate is warm in the daytime and cool and damp at night.  There are lots of mosquitos and insects, but we sleep under nets to keep them out.

The scenery is interesting.  A person can see mountains in the distance.  There are monkeys and elephants around close.  Our mess hall and out buildings are made of split bamboo.  It proves to be a useful wood.  A building can be mad completely of it.  The leaves are used for the roof.

I suppose you are enjoying spring weather by now as it is that time of the year.  I sure hope that I can be there next year.  Your spoke of Nelson Fenton having misfortune.  So far I hadn’t heard from what, you said, and I gather that the brooder must have blown up or something like that.  It is too bad.

He’s had his share of misfortune.

Did you receive three letters from me since January 20th?  I hope that you did.  I hope that i’ll be able to write more regular for now on.  There may be times where I’ll be unable to write, but don’t worry about it.

I received two letters from Mr. Bucholz and he said to tell you hello.  One was a seasons greetings and the other contained a circular on the religion of MME Chiang Kai-Shek written by herself.  She is the first lady of China and Mr. Bucholz said that I would read it with interest.  It proved to be very interesting, at this time especially.

I received a letter birthday greeting from Aunt May.  Dorothy sent me a cute birthday card.  I’ll be writing letters for quite a while to get all these answered.  By that time I’ll probably get another bunch.

I appreciate the newspaper clippings that you send. It makes me feel closer to home to read news from there.  I have received lots of mail since I’ve been in the service and I appreciate it.

It is getting dark so I’ll have to close for this time.  Note that I have a new APO # (689), I think I gave it to you in the last letter.  Write.

3-22-43:  Rained during night and part of day.  Helped build fireplace for kitchen out of brick and mud.  Wrote letter to my wife.  Raining again after dark.

3-23-43:  Rained in early morning.  Raining showers this morning.  Very sloppy & muddy around tent.

3-24-43:  Dug slit trench.  Rained during night.

3-25-43:  Finished slit trench.  Guard duty.  Rained all night.

3-26-43:  Finished guard 6 PM.  Showered all day.  Wrote 2 letters.

3-27-43:  Still raining–10 more men went out on D. S.  Working around area. 

3-28-43:  Showering this morning.  Working in area giving??   sidewalks.  Went to church in afternoon, but Protestant chaplain couldn’t come because of no transportation.  Sun starts shining and is pretty nice.  Ground starts to dry.

3-29-43:  Sun shines all day.  Is getting dry around area.  Wash clothes this morn.  Carry bamboo this afternoon.  Short arms at 3.  Write V-mail home.  Shoes dry today for 1st time in several days.   

I am enjoying good health and hope you are enjoying the same.  We had a nice sunshiny day today.  Our section had the morning off to wash our clothes.  I had plenty of it to do as I hadn’t much time to do it.  This afternoon we went back to work.

I made out an allotment of 20 dollars yesterday to be sent home to you.  You can invest the money for me or put it somewhere that I can obtain it when I need it after the war.  When there is enough of it you could start investing it in some livestock for me if the opportunity arises.  You’ll probably get the first payment in May as it comes out of my April pay.  I do not need all that money over here.

I went to church yesterday afternoon.  Write when you can and tell me of home.

3-30-43:  KP–Sunshine.

3-31-43:  Showers–Pay Day–212 R’s and 6 a.  Went to bazaar and bought tin of cigarettes & safety pins. 

4-1-43:  Showers.  On gravel detail.  Laid around most of afternoon.  On guard tonight.

4-2-43:  Showers–On gravel detail.  Laid around most of afternoon.  On guard tonight.

4-2-43:  Slept most of day.  Alert in evening.  Drew 60 rounds. 

4-3-43:  On rail detail, but postponed.  Feeling bad from typhoid shot yesterday afternoon.  Laid around all day.

4-4-43:  Went on rail detail till 4:30.

Editor’s note:  The frequent mention of rain made me immediately think, “Mother Nature’s welcome to the tropics.”

April 5, 1943

A few days ago I received some more mail.  One was a V-mail letter from you written Feb 28th and the other March 7th.  I had been thinking a good deal of home and was glad to hear from you.

You spoke of having not seen Dorothy for almost a month.  She has spoken of having been rather busy and I suppose she doesn’t have much spare time.

What did you mean when you said that you were really surprised at how she had changed?

We all got some typhoid shots the other afternoon and we had sore arms for a day or two.

It was just the other night that I was trying to figure out how long you had been married & just when the anniversary was.

Editor’s note:  Grandparents, George Adam & Rosa Clements, were married 2-23-07, making it their thirty-sixth anniversary.

Uncle George and Aunt Minnie [Gahr’s] picture sure looked natural.

It seems to take at least three weeks for mail to reach me from the states.

I am sorry that I cannot tell you more about myself, but I am not allowed to.  I am enjoying good health and conditions are as good as can be expected.

I go to church services on Sundays.  They are held close by and there is no excuse for not going.

4-6-43:  Rain today.  20 months in service today.  Wrote letter to folks.  No work at all today.  Did my laundry in morning, but never dried.

April 16, 1943

Dad, how is everything going about the farm this spring?  Is the tractor running OK and are the tires holding up all right?  If you could make a trade for a good F-20 on rubber I believe it would be a good deal.  I believe they are better tractors than later models.  Our old tractor will give good service yet for a while, but the chance ever comes to get a good F-20 Farmall on rubber, I would take it and you get more power and a few good improvements.

f-20Farmall F-20

What horse are you matching with old Prince now since you’ve sold old Lady?

About this allotment of 20 dollars I am sending you every month starting with my April pay.  I would like you to invest it in livestock for me after enough has accumulated.

I intend to use this money to stock up with when I get back to the farm.  If you could take this money and buy a good cow it would be a start for me.  Of course it’ll take several months to get that much money ahead.

This time of the year makes me have the urge to be back on the farm.  I am looking forward to the day when I can be back home.

Has the car give you any trouble since I fixed it up last November?  Does the oil filter keep the oil clean now?

Write and tell me how things are going when you have time.  I know that you are plenty busy this season of the year.

4-7-43:  Started on rail detail.  Labor trouble between Negroes and Chinese drivers.  Came back to camp.  Put duck boards in bottom of slit trucks this afternoon.  Received letter from D. of D. S. S. Class [Daughters of Dorcas, Sunday School Class].

4-8-43:  Carried bamboo all morning.  Worked on road in aft.  Heard orchestra over at horse medics.

4-9-43:  Started on rail detail, but came back–showers.  Wrote letter to Dot.

4-10-43:  Went to Marg–on rail detail, but came back.  Cut some wood in aft.  Helped carry a couple of bamboo poles in.

4-11-43:  Stayed on R. D. till noon.  Most of company had day off.  Breakfast at 8.  First Sunday off.  Went to church at 2:30.  Hauser came from Linurkia with knife.  Good knife with bone handle. 

4-12-43:  Changed R. Detail.  Wash clothes this morning.  Wash wool O. D.’s Come out in good shape.  Go after gravel this afternoon.  Go way on othe side of bazaar.  Get truck stuck on road on return.  Bought my ration of A. Cigarettes today (17 pkgs.) at 3 a’s a pack.  Also, tonight cookies and 1 cigar.

4-13-43:  Work had on gravel detail all day.  Guard at night.  Leitch & Myers first 2 casualties in company.  Killed in plane wreck.  They were on D. S.

4-14-43:  Work at 85th Ord.

4-16-43:  Still working at 85th.  Got caught in heavy rain in open truck.  Several beds got wet.  Lower part of mine got wet.  Third casualty in this company.  Busing.

4-17-43:  Worked at 85th. 

4-18-43:  Sunday off.  Washed, Went to church, new chaplain, very nice.  Church next Sunday at 11 AM.  Wrote letter to folks.  On guard tonight.  

April 18, 1943

This is a nice quiet Sunday.  The natives are working around here this morning and we have been washing our clothes.  Our work during the week makes it necessary that we wash today since we aren’t working.  A person can do a surprising good job with cold water and lots of soap.  Some workdays I use a whole bar of soap, which costs six annas (equivalent to 12 cents).  My coveralls are the hardest to wash as they get the dirtiest and I wear them the most.

My last letter from you was mailed on the 29th of March and I received it a couple of days ago.  The last one from Dorothy came yesterday and it was written on the 17th of March.  So air mail seems to travel the fastest.  I have to send part of my letters V-mail because of scarcity of paper over here.

We got a phonograph and radio in our company supplies yesterday.  So now we have music.  The chow whistle just blew so I’ll have to postpone this till later.

I just got back from chow and we had canned corn, corned beef, bread and butter, hot tea, and fruit salad.  Or eats are getting better than they were at the start.

I just got your V-mail letter written on the 14th which proves what I just said about air mail coming faster.  You surely have heard from me by now.  I wrote three letters on the way over and I’ve written about every week since I’ve been here in India, which was the first week in March.  Occasionally some of the mail gets lost.  A person has to take that in consideration.  So far I think that I’ve gotten most of my mail.  If you numbered each of your letters it might help me to tell if all of them arrive.

Several of the boys here have requests to home for cameras and films.  May I can get some of the prints of pictures taken over here and send them home.  I asked Dorothy to send to the publishers of Reader’s Digest and have it sent to me.  It isn’t necessary to have a letter written signed by the C. O. for that.

I’m going to church this afternoon if nothing interferes.  So far I’ve been lucky enough to be free to go every Sunday since they’ve started services in this area.

I just returned from church and we had a different Chaplain.  He is a young fellow and appears to be very nice.  He preached a very nice sermon on faith.

I have guard tonight, which comes around about every four or five days.  Starting tomorrow we have three steady KP’s.  So that eliminates KP.

Continue writing when you can.

4-19-43:  Off again.  Did some mending in the morning.  Cleaned rifle this afternoon.  Wrote to Dorothy.  Wrote to W. Dowland.

4-20-43:  Worked at 85th.

4-21-43:  Worked at 85th Ord.  B tags came in.  Everything intact.  More equipment came in. 

4-22-43:  Stayed here and cleaned tools and equipment.  Received 3 letters today, folks, Dorothy, and Carl Getz.  Wrote letter to Carl. 

4-23-43:  Went on sick call this morning for headache and general weakness.  Gave me ASA pills for headache.  Took temperature a 5 PM, none.  Stayed rather quiet for most of day.    

4-24-43:  Went to 85th to work.  No headache today, but still feel draggy.  No energy.  Guard tonight.

4-25-43:  Easter Sunday.  Breakfast at 8.  Read an old paper.  Go to services at 11.  Eat dinner at 1.  Read some in “HIstory of World” by H. G. Wells.

4-26-43:  Natives finish our basha.  Instructed to prepare living quarters in *basha.  Do my washing and Bratton & D. Lieb clean out shack, fill in and move into one end.  Read some more tonight.  Bought lantern (Fred & I) T-shirt, flashlight & knife from Sieberlich and pillow.     

Dad in IndiaDad standing in doorway of Basha

Editor’s note:  “Basha” is British military slang for shelter or sleeping quarters per Wikipedia.


Author: warturoadam77p

70 year old married retired communications worker with three grown children, transplanted from the Midwest to the sunny Gulf Coast.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.