Chapter 19: Return to Quetta, 1944
It seemed strange to be invited to report in October, almost three months before the first course for my employment, starting in late January 1945. My judgement was wrong. Welcomed by the Commandant I was told that my first to task was to get the Signals side of things right. The secondary short staff course of the time was to be replaced in 1945 by one for the Women’s Auxiliary Corps. I was to visit the proposed accommodation to plan their communications both for internal use and for indoor exercises requiring telephone work. This done I was to specify the requirement to the Post and Telegraph Department and continue liaison until the job was finished. Persistence was the skill required. It seemed to me that reference to Delhi before any action was commonly offered as an excuse for delay. However a ‘just in time’ result was achieved in all cases. At the same time it was rightly suggested that a similar internal system at the Staff College itself needed updating. It was also realized that the Signals equipment at the Staff College was outdated and should be replaced with the new sets and devices that were coming into service both from Britain and the USA.
It soon became apparent that a protracted stay in Delhi would be needed at some stage to sort out equipment and to update myself on the very wide range of Signals duties in which I had had little or no personal involvement.
I was glad to learn that I was to be employed as a Syndicate DS, the final letters translating as Directing Staff. This meant direct contact with a group of twelve students on a day to day basis. After the sixth and twelfth weeks the groups themselves moved round. For every tutorial discussion, described as a TD, a précis had to be read by students before the discussion. Additional notes were provided for the Directing Staff. Skill in syndicate work was soon acquired. After a term at the job one member of staff stated that he could now confidently run a discussion on Greek music without any knowledge of the subject or of having studied any précis or notes provided.
Newcomers given specific subjects, Signals-related in my case, were responsible for producing appropriate précis and DS notes and also lecture scripts in areas of their responsibility. The Training Team had the task of approving all our inputs. I was certainly fully occupied during this preparatory period and was also given the opportunity to take a syndicate for a few days work. Course term time was going to be hectic, as there would be many hours of homework every day; more for the staff than the students. This would involve both preparation for coming events and working through student submissions of Operation Orders, essays and the like which had to be returned with detailed exposure of faulty ‘Staff Duties’ as well as comment on the soundness of a the action proposed.
It was clear that a private life was essential and this would not be achieved living in the Officers’ Mess. The term chummery had been created in Delhi for groups of officers working at GHQ and allotted a house to share. We had the same sort of establishment. My abode was to be in the substantial pre-earthquake Commandant’s House. It accommodated four or five single officers well, albeit with insufficient bedrooms for this number. The shortage was overcome by erecting a couple of wana huts in the garden. Their basis was a roomy rectangular tent round which mud walls were raised to head height. This may sound a rugged abode in a place where temperatures in winter were well below freezing, but I do not remember it as a great hardship. Two Staffordshire Bull Terriers passed on to me by departing individuals thought it their duty to share the bed during the worst weather.
Note: a powerful earthquake hit Quetta on 31 May 1935 - 35,000 people are believed to have been killed.
We had our own staff of bearers, cook, gardeners and so on with the advantage that we could play our part in entertaining others in this very social environment. We could play our part as hosts as well as guests and enjoy making our contribution to the life of the station.
A change of Commandant took place during my time in the job. The newcomer was Major General Steve Irwin, who had been Chief of Staff to General Slim in XIVth Army. He was therefore right up to date on events of the day.
Many thoughts and memories have been driven from my mind by an invasion that was shortly to arrive.