Chapter 20: The Feminine Invasion, 1945

The arrangements for the arrival of the Women’s Auxiliary Corps (India) students were complete in time, but as far as I am aware no one had the foresight to suggest that they would change the Quetta scene in the dramatic way that they did. Whatever the circumstances in other theatres of war, many of us, students and teachers alike, had lived entirely in male society for several years, whether in operational or other employment. For myself, it was nearly six years since I had left England and this was my fourth year in the India/Burma theatre of war. Quetta was more social than elsewhere. One did at least meet the few wives of Directing Staff or students who were there, together with those who chose to stay on when husbands were sent to the wars. Elsewhere I and many others had met no mixed social life at all. This was all to change. However, what could be achieved socially was more related to the time of Jane Austen than that of James Bond.

The Women’s Auxiliary Corps (India) followed the lines of the British-designed ATS, the Auxiliary Territorial Service. Both the men and the women in their separate establishments were selected for their course on the basis of performance and intelligence. They would be worked hard for six days of the week and there was a need to put aside a daily two-hour period for reading in preparation for each following day.

India provided superb formations for operations elsewhere, but only woke up to war at home when the Japanese brought active operations close in 1942. Lady Ruthven, of the ATS, arrived in Delhi as Senior Controller, with appropriate staff and recruiting centres were set up. There were many places in which women could take on tasks as staff officers and clerical, communications and other trades, thereby releasing men for operational duties. Ordnance miraculously produced khaki drill shirts and skirts in record time and the show was on the road.

One female student remarked that early training was somewhat haphazard and that at first they were regarded as a sort of elderly Girl Guide troop. But it soon became clear that the WAC(I) were to prove very useful. The Anglo-Indian girls were first class and very capable. Indian girls were slower to enlist because of parental opposition, Sikhs being some of the first Indian women officers. Those selected for commissioning were sent to Dehra Dun Selection Board. Memories of the time include the picture of a Guards Sergeant Major trying to drill WAC(I)s who were wearing saris and of a Staff College instructor giving his first lecture faced with several WAC(I)s in the front row carrying on with their knitting. One of the benefits of war came about from the mutual respect and friendship that evolved in this women’s Corps.

The arrival of attractive young women anywhere is a feast for male eyes and in the circumstances described it was particularly so in Quetta in late March 1945. If those of us on the Directing Staff thought of the matter at all we would have foreseen interaction between the new students and their male counterparts, but this could hardly effect us, the DS. After all we were Lieutenant Colonels, old and staid, or were we? In the strange circumstances of the time I and other younger Staff members were teaching many students who were older than ourselves. We were vulnerable to the same attractions and reactions, the only constraints being ones of propriety in teacher/student relationships and possibly rank.

The personal war diary that I had started in September 1939 was still continuing at this time though it had become a more general record than the original day-by-day entry. It helps me to recreate the scene. I was at first a closely interested spectator, which was no surprise after years without eye feasting of this kind. It is natural for everyone to develop personal skill and taste in their judgement of others. People you want to meet and befriend are soon recognised and very rarely there may be an exciting discovery of someone who could be very special to you. My diary shows that Tina quickly became the focus of my attention.

‘I noticed Tina very soon after her course arrived - she is the sort of person one does notice. Attractive of course but I get the impression of a pleasing and friendly personality and more.’

Down at the WAC(I) College one day I was talking to one of their DS when Tina came up with some problem. As she left Drew Marr, the man I was with, said “How would you like a Syndicate Leader like that?” I volunteered for an immediate exchange. From time to time I would hear nice things about Tina. People liked her - she was a popular member of society, always in demand, always happy, always enjoying herself. I continued to admire from a distance, though I still hoped to discover something of these charms for myself.

An encamped exercise was being run for male students, out at Khanzai and one evening I was talking in the tented bar with a student I had known in Catterick. He remarked that one of the WAC(I) students wanted to meet me and after an anxious pause I learned that her name was Tina. Each of us had been making assessments. Tuesday, 3rd April brought the first meeting with dinner at the Quetta Club, a quiet occasion in a mixed group, after which we walked arm in arm to Tina’s Mess and sat for a while together, talking, hand in hand, before parting.

My personal servant, young Sikander Khan, my ‘Bearer’, then found a new job as a carrier of intellectual notes the mile or so to the WAC(I) Mess and bringing back replies. ‘You must come to the Club on Saturday’. ‘Of course I am coming, Nit!!’ Sikander was delighted. A few weeks earlier he had been telling me that it was time I got married and settled down. When asked where I should go to find a wife he said he had heard that lots of English girls had arrived in Delhi and that I had better go there to have a look round. I was not enthusiastic! I can see that this was a wise move on Sikander’s part for his own sake. Get your Sahib married off and you had a good chance of a job in an established household for life.

April was a happy month and one with increasingly good news about the war in Europe. Unconditional surrender by the Germans was talked of as being within reach. As can be imagined, Tina and I spent more and more time together whenever opportunity offered. A weekend break enabled us to get away together with Leuki from Tina’s course and my Air Force counterpart. Leuki was a Dutch escapee from Java. The skiing and mountain people of my course the previous year had discovered Ziarat; a couple of hours motoring to the east and this was the place to go. The village stands at 8000 feet with juniper-covered mountains rising to 11,500ft. The trees are stunted, gnarled and twisted, reminiscent of fairy tale illustrations. A police friend, Henry Oliver, had all the contacts there and sent instructions on ahead of us. Our forest camping was hilarious and the stay all too short. A juniper fire and hot toddy improved the evening of arrival; the dust of day cleared and the stars peeped through. The morning scents of thyme and juniper were inviting and Tina and I spent our day on a minor mountain expedition with fine views.

Back in Quetta there were similarities with September 1939. Everyone listened to every radio news for a declaration, but this time one of Peace rather than War. That evening we heard ‘Unconditional surrender of the German Armies can be expected in the next two days and possibly in a matter of hours’. May 8th was the day of rejoicing, but what would be the effect on us? General Slim’s XIVth Army had reached Rangoon, but still to come was the recapture of Malaya for which preparations were in hand. We could expect to receive formidable reinforcements and better machinery of war at some future date. Perhaps another two years would see the job done and there would be peace for all.

Tina’s course was dispersing for brief leave before taking up new appointments. In a quick rearrangement she decided to spend her leave with me and I obtained an unexpected week’s leave myself. We returned to Ziarat. No description of those shared days can do justice to our magical experience. We were totally alone in this beautifully forested area with its fresh mountain air. We would talk of all the things that we were going to do in the fantasyland of the future. With Tina’s creative and imaginative sense of humour there was much laughter.

Our telephoned introductions put us in immediate touch with Shah Jahan, as we called him, who was to settle us in camp and visit us mid-week to arrange provision for any needs. Donkeys and coolies were to carry tent and requirements slowly whilst we took a shorter and rougher path to our chosen destination, burning brown in the morning sun. There was no water. The streambed was dry, so we had to move on. Shah Jahan had the answer and led us to an entrancing site with a steady spring supply of ice cold water set in a grove of fine trees suitable for pagan worship. The tent could go between two trees and there was a sloping clearing for sitting and dining. A smooth sloping rock provided a sofa with magnificent views towards Shin Sobai, a neighbouring peak. The setting sun coloured it pink. We named it Bed Time Peak. When the setting sun moved off it, it was time to go to bed. We built a fireplace, gathered fuel and settled in.

The next morning BTP, some 2500 feet above us, was the obvious choice for our first ascent. It was rough going with steep slopes and long drops that Tina tackled fearlessly. My two Staffordshire Bull Terriers, Pearl and Roger, needed some help but they were excellent dogs for the climate. Different peaks were chosen day by day and in the evening we thanked each other for being the cause of our exquisite happiness. After days of this exercise the assault on Kaliphat’s 11,500-foot ascent was a stroll.

Our Castles in the Air were well developed when our days ran out and we had to leave our Garden of Eden. Thoughts of it are still deeply moving. We returned to Quetta and the next morning I saw Tina off to Karachi by train.

There is little more to tell. There were brief messages: -

From me by telephone ‘Darling Tina, Will you marry me?’ Tina ‘I must have time. We must talk and talk and talk.’

From Tina by Telegram. ‘Arrived safely. Loving you terribly, softly, darling.’ And another ‘I can think of nothing I should like more than to be your wife.’

Before our next course arrived I flew to Karachi two or three times by Liberator or Mitchell, with the US Air Force, and everything between us was the same, after which exchanges stopped. I did not know the reason why. To speculate would be fruitless. Heartbreak is a sorry emotion. Time and circumstance bring new joy but the pain is never entirely removed.

About this time I took myself to the mountains with my thoughts, a natural reaction for me. Overlooking the Staff College is Murdar and at 10,000 feet the climb is a substantial one. In its late geological state it is jagged and lacking in any worn tracks or pathways. Once climbed, I started to descend but my mind was too little on the job in hand when I found myself at a narrow and smooth chute where I had the option of descending something which I could not climb again or going back the way I had come. I descended, which was all right except that the navigable route was working me further and further round the mountain in the wrong direction. When I reached the plain I was in new territory but foresaw a long walk ahead before finding the valley road. I was already dehydrated as I had failed to start out with a water bottle. The walk of an hour and more was not enjoyable, but at least I knew what was at the end of it. Hannah Lake, the local reservoir, provided much of the water for Quetta and supply was fed down continuous open conduit made of concrete. I could drink and drink again as I walked the mile or two downhill to our house at No 1 Hannah Road. I had been foolish. No one knew where I had gone. Were I to have an accident on this untracked mountain I would never be found, and beyond that, dehydration can rapidly affect both judgement and performance.

It is possible to classify our broken affair amongst the many and varied casualties of war. The easily understood ones are the killed and wounded and their friends and relations. There were many too who suffered as prisoners of war or from disabling diseases in hostile climates. Add to these the millions whose lives were changed because of sudden and prolonged separations, promises broken and promises kept which would have been better broken. In our minor way Tina and I were casualties in this group.

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