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The Range is well endowed with scores of other huge, mainly granite rocks many of which, because of their shapes, acquired names like “Nun Rock” or “Toad Rock” or, because of stories attached to them, “Seven Sisters Rock”, “Blood Rock”, “Snake Rock” and so on. One of the most realistic is “Dog Rock” which can be seen from the main road along the plains as one approaches the start of the climb into the hills and towards Abu. It stands all of five or six hundred feet and resembles a giant retriever, outstretched and in the process of scaling the face of the first hill like a sentinel preparing to challenge any intruder.

No more than a couple of hundred yards distant over to the left of our house, as one looked out over the gymkhana field, lay the summer palace of the Nawab Sahib of Palanpur [1] . He was a delightful young man who was reputed to have broken his back while playing polo and now had a stainless steel rod inserted permanently into his skeletal structure. He always had an open door for me when I chose to visit him and he would bring out some of the toys he used to have as a child and let me play with them.

Further over in the distance behind Palanpur’s palace one can see, even to this day, the old buildings of the military hospital where my sister, Philomena, was born in 1933. Behind the hospital lies the old army barracks, now partly used by the Indian Air Force. Most of these building complexes use similar natural rock masses as their foundations.

As with virtually all Indian Army housing, ours was a military “quarter” provided by the army and supplied with furniture by the MES (Mechanical Engineering Section).

When a married soldier was posted to another station he merely packed up his personal belongings, the odd carpet, a few photographs, a radio, almost invariably a wind-up gramophone and some records. Occasionally he would have acquired some ornamental brass-ware or other bits and pieces purchased by his wife together with some odds and ends which had been accumulated — an Afghan or Indian carpet here, a locally made “peg-table” there. He then moved on to his new station. There he would take over another military quarter, be furnished with military furniture, and decorate the house with his earthly possessions. Life was fairly simple and most often somewhat nomadic. In Dad’s case he seemed to be transferred to other stations at approximately yearly intervals.

For the single soldier it was a different proposition. He lived in the barracks which were, in those days, well constructed brick or stone finished buildings with plastered exteriors, colonnades and an air of empire grandeur. The buildings were regularly white- or cream-washed and all open areas were swept continually by servants who were specially employed to keep the place “in good military order”. For someone who had just arrived from England it must have seemed strange to see sandy parade-grounds and pathways being swept clean of sand.

The barrack-rooms were large and airy, kept more so in the hot weather by a “punkka-wallah [2] ” whenever it was used by troops — even throughout the night — and housed about fifty men apiece.

A punkka consisted of a series of palm-woven “mats” which were suspended on poles from the ceiling at a distance of about five or six feet between each. A rope was connected to the mats, each one to the next and then drawn through a pulley arrangement down to ground level. The punkka wallah had to pull the rope and then let it go, causing the mats to swing to and fro, thus creating a movement of air within the barrack-room. Considering the simplicity of the arrangement, it was a very efficient cooling mechanism.

The soldier’s kit was carried entirely within, or lashed to the outside of his regulation kit-bag, big-pack and side-pack. Combatants were, naturally, also equipped with a .303 Lee-Enfield service rifle, a helmet, bayonet and ammunition pouches. Single soldiers were even more “nomadic” than their married counterparts and, more often than not, moved as a regiment or company, rather than as individuals.

If they were Horse Artillery men or Cavalry men it was usual for them to transport their mounts with them when posted. For the army, mechanisation was still only in its infancy — there were a few tanks and armoured-cars, hang-overs from the Great War (1914-1918), but they were light-weight vehicles and seemed more to have been sent to colonial corps and regiments for effect rather than real action.


One of the stories my father told me was of how the troops in Nowshera — one of his first postings in India — in an effort to get an extra five or six minutes sleep in the mornings, had engaged the services of a local “napi [3] ” to come into the barrack-room and shave them while they were still asleep in bed. Being a “bulk booking”, the deal cost each man a pittance for the service and they were all glad to pay it. On most occasions, a soldier, new to the arrangement, would awaken as soon as his face was lathered and, for perhaps the first couple of shaves he would remain awake while the barber completed the job. Then it became a habit and the soldier would have learned to sleep throughout the whole scenario.

A new young soldier, directly from his Army Training Depot in England, was posted to the unit and was allocated a bunk in the barrack-room. Unfortunately, his new comrades had forgotten to advise him of the shaving arrangements. Having had a couple of beers the night previously while he made general enquiries about India, the various military stations, what the locals were like — no doubt thinking that they were all savages — he half-slept through the lathering part of the shave but eventually awoke fully just as the napi drew out and opened his “cut-throat” razor for the shave proper. The unfortunate young man’s reaction when he saw the flashing blade wielded by a turbaned stranger was one of utter terror. He screamed out in alarm, leapt out of bed and ran for his life. The other soldiers in the barrack-room woke up with the commotion and roared with laughter at what they saw as a farce. Apparently the new soldier thereafter acquired the nick-name, “Windy”.

Me on my mule with syce, 1934

Dad on his horse — circa 1920

My father had been posted to Mt Abu in 1933. Because the army was, at that time, still only partly mechanised most short-distance transportation jobs were carried out by the Mule- or Camel Corps. Additionally, in some stations where they existed, an Elephant Brigade or even the simple bullock-cart was called into action. Dad’s unit was a company of the Mule-Corps and he insisted that, especially since he was an ex-Royal Horse Artilleryman, his eldest son (me, just 4 years old!) would learn to ride. It was natural and convenient that my beast should be a mule and, though it was docile and I had a good syce [4] taking care of me, I did get thrown several times.


There were lots of elephants, particularly in one of the other towns to which we were posted, Mhow. The Maharajah of Indore State, in which Mhow was situated, had an elephant company and used the animals for processions on state occasions. Most often they passed right by our house because it was situated on the main road from Indore to Mhow. We used to stand outside and wave to the “mahouts [5] ” and anyone else who might have been on the animals especially if there was a parade where “howdahs [6] ” were decorated and carried.

After a cavalcade had passed, there were the inevitable piles of dung, like largish coconuts, spread across the road. The servants and other locals would run out, collect the lumps and scurry away to their quarters to make them into pats for use as fuel.

As a youngster, fascinated by their behaviour and curious, I once asked Dad what they did with the dung and he, with a look of innocence and mischief, said, “They eat it.”


Part of barracks complex, Mt Abu

Married families’ hospital, Mt Abu

Kathy, Phil and me on the verandah — Mhow, 1936

The “dickie” car with Mum, Kathy, Phil and me — 1936

I must tell you a bit more about Mhow and some of the stories which occurred there, apart of course, from the important fact that Mary was born there (Jan. 14th. 1936).

Only three of us kids, Kathy, Phil and I were old enough to “fool around” at the time, and we used to lead Mum a merry dance trying to keep us under control. One afternoon she was having a “siesta” and Kathy and I were playing outside. We must have started making a lot of noise because Mum suddenly appeared on the verandah and shouted at us to be quiet. She then ordered the bearer to catch and hold us because she was going to “cut a chilli in half and rub it” into our eyes. Although we didn’t believe that she really would rub a chilli into our eyes, we weren’t taking any chances and scooted away helter- skelter out of the garden and across the fields, the bearer in hot pursuit.

Naturally, he could run a lot faster than we could but he shouted to us saying that he would not really take us back to Mum for the “chilli in the eyes” torture, and so we gladly but, somewhat untrustingly, let him catch us. By the time we got back to the house, Mum had gone to lie down again and the bearer forgot the matter too.


When Mary was born, Dad took us to the military hospital to see her and, having looked at the new baby and said our “hellos” to Mum, I wandered off down the ward looking under the beds and into any cupboards I could find. Mum was getting embarrassed because all the other new mums were curious as to what I was doing. She called me back to her bedside and asked, “What are you looking for, son?” “I want to see the box in which the baby was delivered.” I replied. Mum, Dad and all the other mums in the ward started laughing and I couldn’t understand why. “Where is the box in which she came, Mummy?” I insisted. “They’ve taken it back to put some fresh straw into it so that they can deliver another baby.” Dad said, and there were fresh peals of laughter from around the ward.

Barry with his dog — 1926

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[1] The muslim prince of the state of Palanpur.

[2] A man who operated a swinging fan.

[3] A barber.

[4] A groom.

[5] An elephant “driver”.

[6] A saddle-enclosure with seats for passengers.


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