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Mum and Dad at a dance — 1941

Xmas Fancy Dress Party — Quetta 1940.

Mary Hill growing up — Quetta 1940

St. Mary’s, Mt Abu

St Mary of the Angels Convent, Mt Abu

Kathy, “Spud” Murphy and Mary in front of the Convent — 1942

Chapter 4 – The run-up to Indian Independence— 1941-1947

Off to Mount Abu again!

My new school was St. Mary’s High School, Mount Abu, Rajputana. The girls, Kathy, Phil and Mary went to The Convent of St. Mary of the Angels, also in Mount Abu, and about two and a half miles from “the boys’ school”, as mine was referred to.


After we left for school in March 1941, Dad was posted abroad and was not allowed to tell us where he was, but he advised Mum that he would write cryptic messages in his letters to avoid the censor and to try to tell her where he was. We used to look for signs of encryption but were never able to find anything out of the ordinary though, on one occasion, he referred to some kind of deer and we went scurrying off to consult the encyclopaedia to find out where this particular species was to be found. The deer existed all along the African coast, North Africa and into Persia. It was not a decisive search. Anyway, for the record, he was posted with his Motorised Ambulance Section to Persia and then to Iraq.

Meanwhile, Mum moved to Madras and lived in a very nice house in Ordinance Lines. She was happy there because her sister, Agatha (“Dimples”), lived in Vepery a suburb of Madras and her brother, Uncle James, lived there too. I don’t know for certain, but I think Mum was allowed to choose the posting because Dad was going overseas. Dad returned from his overseas posting in the summer of 1942 and was immediately re-posted to Delhi where he was joined by Mum.


While we were in Madras, Mum got the horse-racing “bug”. The race-course was at Guindy, a suburb of Madras, and to where we caught a local train. Mum and I used to go almost every Saturday. We backed lots of winners and I think we were “ahead” almost from the start. Then on one occasion I picked a 33-1 outsider, “Another Devil” and we were certainly ahead. I, too, now got the bug but, fortunately, it never became an obsession. I still go to the odd race-meeting from time to time and, on one occasion I even went “through the card” at Alexandra Palace, but I get more enjoyment from the outing rather than the gambling.

In Madras we met up with many of Mum’s old General Hospital colleagues and on one occasion I went out for the day with a certain Dr. Cherrian, one of Mum’s old colleagues from her training years. Among several other places, we visited a factory which was contracted to produce military uniforms. There was a mass-production line, where the machinery was driven by a series of belts and pulleys, for cutting and sewing the goods.

Cherrian had gone to visit one of the operatives who was now back to work having been involved in an industrial accident a mere three or four weeks earlier. A certain caste of men, I think, Buddists, used to shave their heads, all but for a small section near the crown. This bit of hair - a “chutki”- was allowed to grow to several inches in length and was then usually plaited. The belief was that when it came time to go to Heaven, God would reach down from above and, twisting his finger around the plait, would haul the individual up to his nirvana.

In this case, unfortunately, the operative had got his chutki caught up in a pulley and his scalp had been torn off. Cherrian, as the factory doctor, was called to the scene. But the other operatives would not allow him to render any medical assistance. Instead, they themselves had insisted on administering the treatment which consisted of grinding up certain leaves with other messes, applying the mixture to the skull and then replacing the scalp as neatly as they could. The whole lot had then been bandaged and Cherrian was now coming to examine the fellow.

I stood-in while the bandage was removed and, even to my untrained eye, the repair job looked remarkable. The scalp seemed to have been newly “Vulcanised”, just as tyres were repaired in those days, and apart from a gooey seam where the adjoining skin met the rest of the scalp, it looked like an outstanding bit of work. Dr. Cherrian had seen this type of thing many times before and explained that the Indians seemed to be expert in the use of their own drug and healing formulations.

Another one of these traditional remedies was the use of the green and white mould which grew on decaying oranges or bread. It was scraped off and applied to festering wounds which then quickly healed. Quite clearly, knowing now that the mould was penicillium, this was an obvious early use of the raw antibiotic, penicillin, which only came into being in the West about 1940. Yet another traditional Indian cure which seemed to be popular was the use of a certain kind of spider’s web. I don’t know which species of spider’s web was used, but it was collected into small cottonwool like balls and pressed into other types of wound with amazingly curative effect.


Since most of the rest of the stories contained herein are centred on Mt. Abu and the goings-on thereat, it will be worth explaining a bit more about the geography of the place and its surroundings. As mentioned before, Mt. Abu is situated in the Aravali Range of mountains which lie between the mountains of northern India and the Gwalior coast. It is quite unique in that it is totally isolated as a range and surrounded entirely by the plains of northern India. In order to reach the town it is necessary to de-train at the foot of the mountains in Abu Road and then make a climb of some 18 miles by road.

Mt. Abu, also referred to as Abu, in later pages, is a centuries old, sacred town with many ancient temples and other relics of religion. Only during the rule of the British was there a development of access by metalled road which, before that, had been by pathways and, believe it or not, on the western approach, a series of steps to the top. Early residents were Indian religious orders and tribes-folk, mainly Bhils who, to this day are skilled in the use of bows and arrows ; they sometimes present a rather menacing posture but are not really so.

For those who are familiar with hilly country, the layout and construction of roads is similar worldwide, with their lateral runs slow, steady inclines and hair-pin bends. Access to Abu by metalled road was only achieved in the 1920s.

Hill stations exist throughout India and were a development by the British as places of relaxation and respite from the savage heat of the plains. Initially, they were used by the military, but soon became popular with others as places of business, and holidays alike, not forgetting the important locations of summer palaces of rajahs and newabs. In fact, although not well known by foreigners, Mt. Abu, is regarded by many as the number one destination for honeymooning Indian couples. Today the town is quite big, considering its isolation. But in the 40s it was a very small town indeed.

During the years we were in Abu there was a lot of wildlife, tigers, panthers, bears, sambar — a large deer — and blue-bull making up the big-game section, and wild-fowl and rabbit as the small-game constituent.

Shooting was mainly the preserve of the rajahs and the Indian Civil Service, but there were many poachers, among them “Spud” Murphy and some of the Brothers from the school. “Spud” was a rascal because he was aware that a licence was required to shoot a tiger or a panther but never applied for one until he had actually done the shooting. The local villagers would always come to him first — the moment they discovered that they had lost one of their precious animals in a “kill” — and in some cases actually started to construct a “machaan [1] ” for him.

In Abu, machaans were constructed when shooting tigers, and a raised platform machaan onto which to tie a goat as bait was constructed when shooting panther. “Spud” would hurry out to the scene in the early evening and sit and wait for the appropriate animal to appear and then shoot it. Then the next day he would apply for a licence and, when reprimanded for his hasty and illegal action by the local magistrate, he would claim that the beast was a “man-eater” and likely to kill one of the villagers. He always got away with the excuse: What was the point of tearing him off a strip? It was already fait accompli!

One year, I think it was 1943, there had been a number of “kills” and no amount of tracking or machaan-building seemed to induce the recalcitrant tiger to make an appearance at which he could be shot. “Spud” decided to set up a buffalo as bait. He had one tied to a stake so that it would not wander off and sat up waiting for the tiger to appear. Sure enough the tiger appeared, but when it tried to down the buffalo there was impressive resistance shown by the buffalo and the tiger finally retreated. The next night the buffalo was virtually trussed up like a chicken and set up again. Again the tiger appeared but the buffalo, hardly able to move more than its head, once again successfully fended off the tiger. As “Spud” was not prepared to risk wounding the tiger as it jumped around trying to get the buffalo, he called off the shoot. Well done, buffalo!

Other competitors for licences were the rajahs ; in Abu, particularly, the Maharajah of Bikaner. He must have shot scores of tigers and had the customary photo taken afterwards — showing him with his foot on the shot beast. If you ever go to Abu, do be sure and visit his palace, now a Government Hotel — The Palace Hotel —, and look at the walls of all the public rooms covered with photographs from the 30s and 40s, all with the same theme.

When the rajahs shot a tiger, they did it in style. A substantial machaan, almost a completely furnished tree-house, would be constructed in a tree with an easy access ladder to get to it. Over the “kill” there would usually be a high-powered searchlight erected. Often a charpoy [2] would be installed with a mattress and coverlet for His Highness. Other similar structures, though not as imposing or

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[1] A shooting platform or hideout for the hunter.

[2] A four-legged frame with a rope mesh instead of a sprung mattress.


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