Go to
Indian-Tales home


I fell in love again when we were in Ferozepore. Her name was Sheila Piggott and she was the only child of Major and Mrs. Piggott though I think her father and mother were divorced or separated. I can’t remember how I met her but I think it was at a Christmas party.

She was a beauty. ( I only ever fell in love with “beauties”, though they say “love is blind”!!). Falling in love at that age only meant that you enjoyed kissing the girl in question, nothing else, no groping or other liberties. In any case you really had to work at it to get any further, and if you got lucky you measured your progress in numbers. Number One was the lip-kiss, number Two the “French” kiss, number Three was the “Boob-rub” — on the outside of the dress of course, number Four and you had managed to get your hand into her brassiere and onto her bare “tits”, and so on until you managed to go “The Whole Way”!

I thought I had achieved a near-miracle when I got to number Three with Sheila, but it never got any further. In fact, it was only when I left school in 1946 that I managed to get to number Four (while we were stationed in Bolarum) with Grace Fitzgerald, a school-friend of Philomena and Mary. She wore a high-necked blouse with just two buttons at the throat, and it was achieved while each one of us sat alongside each other in separate deck-chairs on the verandah. Can you imagine the contortions I went through? Don’t try ; it’s wrist-breaking!


Dad — Delhi 1944

While we were in Ferozepore I was with Dad in his office when I first saw a bloke go on a “fizzer [1] ”, little realising that within a few years I would, during my National Service, be on a couple myself. Actually, Dad had asked me to leave the office while he dealt with the offender and I waited outside on the verandah and listened and took a surreptitious look through the open window. I think the bloke got one week’s CB (Confined to Barracks).

Dad’s troops had a love-hate relationship with him. On “narch [2] ” nights, for example, he would be the guest of honour and they would make a fuss of him and put rupee notes into his trouser-flies so that the dancing-girls would give him a “touch up” as they retrieved the money. He appeared shy, though that might have been because I was there, but took it all in good spirit.

However, Dad was one hell of a disciplinarian. He had been posted to Ferozepore to set up yet another training camp from scratch. The starting point was a bare field and having constructed a brick office block or two, the men who had to live under canvas while construction was carried out, were set to getting the place organised with roads, and all the other requirements of a military camp.

When there were defaulters they did the construction work, but there weren’t enough of them to make any real progress. Dad arranged that one company would, each day, be detailed to wear their “fatigues [3] ” and do construction work as well. The rest of the troops were to continue normal duties. The non-defaulters, in particular, hated doing the constuction work and complained that they were in the army and should not have to carry shovels and spades and do “nokri log ka karm” (servants work), but of course, somebody had to do the work and there were not enough civilian construction workers to do it.

As it happened, General Sir Claude Auchinleck, the C-in-C at the time, was due to make an inspection of the camp within a couple of weeks and there was to be a full military parade complete with the regimental band. Word got to Dad through one of his VCOs (Viceroy Commissioned Officers) that the men intended to complain to the “Auk” when he arrived.

On the day of the visit of the C-in-C, every single other rank in the unit was equipped, on Dad’s orders, with a shovel, spade, paint-brush or some piece of construction or decorating equipment, ordered to wear “fatigues” and carry on with the construction work – There was to be no parade at all. The “Auk” wasn’t fussed and was highly impressed with the building-works’ progress and commended Dad and the men very highly. The men realised that Dad had worked a “flanker” on them and was not to be intimidated… and they loved him again.


We were in Agra in 1944. It proved to be an interesting station in as much as Auntie Theo was there. Also, as Station Master at Agra Central Station, was Jack Robinson and cousin Edna with their kids. One of my school chums, Jimmy Campbell was there at the same time though we didn’t see too much of him during the school hols.

The USAAF had made Agra the centre of their activities in India, indeed the largest U.S.Base in the East. They had a local radio station specially set up for their thousands of troops — “Vee U 2 -ZEE W” — and it would blast out the latest swing-music and news all day for them.

I was highly impressed by the facilities which they enjoyed and so too were many of the local girls who had “chucked” their local Anglo-Indian boy-friends in favour of the Yanks — all Americans were known as “Yanks. There were often fights at the Railway Institute on dance and tombola nights and a notorious gang of Railway youths who called themselves “The Gorgonzola Boys”, God knows why, were held responsible for a dead Yank’s body found at the bottom of a well in the grounds of the Railway Institute. I don’t think anybody was ever actually charged with his death, but I think the “Gorgonzolas” were watched warily and taken quite seriously after that.

One of the biggest problems was that, for the first time in their lives the Anglo-Indian boys were subjected to the test of “excuse me” or “tag dances”, where anyone could come and “tag” your partner. Some of the Anglo-Indian girls were veritable beauties and the Yanks with no one of their own nationality available naturally made a huge play for the local ladies. The girls, in turn, were absolutely smitten by the charms of the Yanks with their smart uniforms, chewing gum, apparently unlimited private availability of “jeeps” to go for drives and picnics, and the Base PX which held all sorts of “goodies” with which the Yanks used to woo them.

The local lads really stood no chance against the Yanks when it came to grabbing themselves some “skirt”, as they put it. Having no money compared to the well-paid Americans was a bind, and led to even more fights and squabbles. Furthermore, the Americans were always warmly greeted as Allies wherever they went into military circles and they took full advantage of the “open house” which was extended.

Now the daughters of the army families became targets and the army dances and tombola venues became “fair game” too. There were a couple of sisters, the Nicoll sisters who seemed to have decided to make some money “on the game” and they were dubbed “the Nickel sisters”.

There was a lovely girl called Pat O’Reilly, a dark-haired, blue-eyed angel who I really fancied and wanted to dance with. But the Yanks were always there first and I was sick with jealousy. Then one day she danced with me and I thought my luck had changed, but I soon realised that all she had wanted to do was make one of her American fancies jealous. I finally had to put up with a great lump of a girl called Pat Crawford who I chatted up while she was cycling along the road. We met a couple of times after that but I just couldn’t bring myself to kiss her. The “romance” died a natural death.

There was one lad, Jim Whitfield, a buck-private in the USAAF from Seattle. He could hardly have been more than eighteen and he used to stroll into the Officer’s Club with impunity and come over to our table to drink a beer or two and eat whatever sandwiches or cakes were available. He was a huge lad, more interested in his belly than in girls and one day after we had been out to the movies we came back and there he was in front of our ice-box, with the door open, drinking a beer and munching merrily on a roast chicken which was supposed to have been our supper. But he made up for his gluttonly by taking us all out to Fatehpur Sikri for a picnic.

“I’ll take you out for a picnic in the jeep and you bring lots of food. OK, Mom?”, he had requested Mum.

Agra was a great place for picnics. One of our favourite spots was the gardens of the Taj Mahal where we often went for a mid-night picnic. One night Pat O’Reilly showed up with a crowd of others who were also enjoying a picnic. We joined in a game of “kissing kook” and I chased her up to the top of one of the minarets, the front one on the left as you look at the Taj, and we had a snogging session of two or three kisses (big deal… But it was.. Wow!!). I never got to kiss her again but, whenever I look at a picture of the Taj, or if I am in its grounds, my mind turns back to that night in 1944. I wonder if hers does.


Nowadays, the Taj is secured and the minarets are not accessible even during the day. I suppose one cannot complain because with tourism, terrorism and sheer vandalism places like that all over the world have become forbidden areas to most of the public ; vide our own Stonehenge and other ancient monuments.

In Agra, we lived in an very large house with about four acres of compound surrounding it. Around the perimeter on one side were the servants quarters which housed the cook, Dad’s bearer, the inside bearer, the ayah, the bolchi (cook), masalchi (cook’s assistant), a couple of maalis, the sweeper, the chokra and divers others, each in their own separate houslets and with their families.

The funniest one of all was the chokidhar, the night watchman. He was an old fellow who always carried a dundhr or lahti, a thick bamboo pole with which he was supposed to hit any intruders. He was appointed to walk the grounds and keep intruders away, but he preferred safety to valour and was always near the servants quarters, sleeping, smoking his hookah or just resting.

Terrified for his own safety, whenever he heard anyone approaching the house at night, he used to cough and wheeze and, with a rolling, grating rasp so typical of many Indians, he would clear his throat and spit out the phlegm - “haaak, thoo”.

“I’m here, intruders, awake and ready to bash your skulls in if you dare come any further.”, he appeared to threaten. Nobody took a blind bit of notice — our dogs were always the only real threat.


Mum and Dad had got married in Agra in 1924. Mum was a nurse at the General Hospital and Dad was a Lance-Bombardier in the RHA. The story behooves a telling because of the sheer farce of it. Apparently, after much chasing and much disappointment for Dad with his romantic advances, he was accepted by Mum. The way Mum used to tell the story was a complete volume in itself, but let me just tell you about the wedding itself.

Auntie Theo had agreed to hold the reception at her quite salubrious home and the district magistrate was to perform the civil ceremony at his offices. Mum was born a Catholic but, having spent several years of her early life away from her home in Mah, and living with a Protestant family, she had adopted that faith and so she was not permitted to be married in the church. A few months after marrying Dad, she reverted to Catholicism.

The big day approached and all the guests had been invited. A large matrimonial banquet had been arranged and everything was ready for the civil ceremony.

Mum and Dad on their Wedding Day — Agra 1924

Mum — circa 1924

Unfortunately, the magistrate was delayed “up-country” in one of the districts within his jurisdiction. He had sent a message to Agra that he would not be back for at least three or four days, and suggested that Mum and Dad wait until his return. However, no account had been taken of the fact that there were many guests who had turned up from places two or three days travel from Agra and who were only intending to stay a maximum of one or two days in the town before returning to their homes.

Worse still there were some of Dad’s friends who had had to apply for special leave to be present and it was not likely that they would get any extensions — time for their applications was too short anyway. Remember that at that time “fast” communication was only by telegraph and even then a “runner” had to be used to get the telegram from the telegraph office to the addressee. This could take a couple of days if they lived any distance from the telegraph station. And, of course, there would be a similar delay for a reply.

Mum was beside herself. What was she to do? Auntie Theo came to the logical decision that the couple should go ahead and hold the wedding feast and not tell the guests that they were not yet married. I think a couple of the witnesses had to be let into the secret as well.

So the banquet went ahead and nothing appeared to be out of place until it became time to retire to the conjugal home. Theo, a strict Catholic though full of fun, would not hear of Mum and Dad sleeping together without being married, not only because it was “not the done thing”, but also because of what others might say if word got out. So Mum stayed at Theo’s place and Dad had to go back to barracks where he was ribbed something rotten by his friends who could not understand why he was not in a hotel or married quarter and sleeping with his new wife.

Three days later the magistrate returned to Agra and performed the ceremony.


<< Previous Page

[1] Army slang for a disciplinary charge.

[2] Dance. Dancing girls were brought in to entertain the troops.

[3] Working overalls.


Sitemap Generator