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At Sea, in the Gulf of Oman - Thursday, December 1
Hello My Lover,
Everyone is going around today saying "we’ll be on our way home next month", which we shall, of course we leave Trinco at the end of the journey. It’s getting quite close now. Well the letters I wrote two days ago the catch of the special mail to Karachi is still on board! Everyone is very cross, having written specially, to find that the merchant ship left early and went without our mail! Otherwise though our stay at Muscat was marvellous! You step back hundreds of years when you go ashore there, it’s a very small town, more of a village really, with our Consulate, the Shaikh’s Palace, a few buildings, the bazaar, and the native quarter, all on a sandy area in a valley with mountains, bare rock, all around.
There are two primitive forts, real arab desert affairs, with muzzle loading cannon, and a wall all around, with watch towers on the hills, all heavily defended! The narrow streets (about 6 feet wide) are full of white robed arabs, with cartridge belts around their waists full of rifle bullets (some of the belts beautifully ornamented with silver) with their enormous curved ivory handled and silver decorated daggers, carrying old-fashioned single shot rifles (although quite a few have modern army type rifles), and these aren’t the army, they are the Bedouins and local arabs who seem to carry arms wherever they go.
There are two gates in the wall, each with a sort of guardroom, with guns hanging on pegs on the wall, and a heap of armed arabs sitting around, a sort of private home guard really, quite like Hollywood, and yet it’s all natural, because this isn’t visited by tourists at all, boats only come in with mail and stores.
The first afternoon Harold and I spent two hours wandering around the walls, and in the bazaar (the shopkeepers can reach across the road and shake hands, they’re just holes in the wall really these shops, in a narrow alley) and it was really delightful. We happened to be watching a silversmith at work when an old Arab (unarmed, so he was probably a big noise) with a murderous bodyguard of the heavily armed Bedouins came up and handed over a big bag of silver coins. They were Marie Theresa silver dollars, so we made signs we were prepared to buy some, and to their great interest, amid mush jabbering, two changed hands for some Indian rupees we had, so I’ve got one good souvenir of Muscat. (We still have this).
Silver 1780 Marie Theresa Thaler
They were quite friendly, and very proud of their weapons too. We had a jolly good afternoon. In the evening we went to the Consulate where all the white people were gathered (about 30!) and afterwards went as the private guests of the Manager of the British Bank of the Middle East (my contacts from Basra and Gordon Calver, very much to my advantage!) to dinner, in his house, a very old Moorish building, fascinating decorations inside, and had a jolly good evening, with long playing records etc, and came back on board at half past twelve. Yesterday was a good day too! My racing Whaler’s crew won their race in a minor sort of regatta we had, and clocked the fastest time for the course, much to my jubilation, and congratulations from the Captain and the Commander.
In the afternoon we decided to go exploring again (even at the risk of a curved knife in the back) and landed with Harold’s movie camera, and on the jetty met the American doctor from the mission, who was going over the pass to the next village Matrah where the hospital is (the only one in Oman! 15 beds!) he asked if we would like to go along, so of course we did. A spectacular ride, and an even more fascinating village, same set up, forts, walls, and heavily armed arabs, but this one is the end of the camel track to the interior and there was a "train" (camel train) in, all squatting in the sand outside the gates, and the scene was marvellous, goats, sheep, donkeys, dogs and camels, a real miscellany. We had a jolly good trek around there, and everyone was as interested in us, as we were in them. (We were the only whites in sight!)
Afterwards we went to the mission for tea and eventually back to the ship in his car again. In the evening we had the white folks on board and a collection on important arabs, to a film show about Berlin (which I don’t suppose any of them understood, "The Man Between") which was a fiasco because the machine broke down two minutes from the end so our faces were red!
We’ve had some fun today, and I reckon it gave me some grey hairs at the main switch board. Our salt water cooler intakes became blocked with jellyfish several times in rapid succession, and our generators failed one after the other, and at one period we were in complete darkness with no electrical power at all, and I was juggling for 2 hours with different generators, and different loads, quite exciting, but very relieving when we pulled up the anchor and cleared out of there. Now we’re at sea, on the way to Karachi, and resting quietly, because our programme at Karachi will be fairly heavy. I’ll leave you now my love, I hope you’re well, and all the brats too, and that you’re lasting out this letter-less period. 89 days to go, and your birthday in 14 days, watch for special delivery!
Goodnight my Love
Your Own Ken xxxxxxxxx
Karachi - Sunday, December 4
Hello My Lover,
Four letters from you since we arrived here yesterday morning, and my tie, Jolly good! I had the letters before the tie, and in one of them you mentioned something about a tie, and I didn’t know what you were talking about. It’s not too dark, it’s jolly good (after all you know we’re getting on now, we’ll have to be more restrained in our dress, I shall have to stop wearing ties with hand painted nudes on!) It goes well with my blue suit, and Terylene too, it should last a lot longer than the one you bought at Lee, which was my favourite. I’m glad you’ve lost your cold and cough, I don’t like you to be ill, especially while I’m away, and I wish I could do something about your cold feet. Are you using your bed-warmer?
This place is a dead loss! I think we should have missed Karachi out of our programme. Actually I haven’t had a chance to go ashore for a look around yet, we’ve such a crowded programme too that I don’t think I’m going to get much chance. But apparently I’m not missing much according to those who’ve been, it’s a squalid place, with little of interest, and things are very dear here, even quite ordinary things so it looks as though Bombay (our next port of call) will be more suitable.
Yesterday I had to take a party of other officers to lunch in the Tughine, one of the RPN frigates, which was quite pleasant, I had two chicken legs in a heap of rice anyway, while they told us how good a time they’ve just had in Bangkok which they visited. In the evening I went to the RPN barracks ashore where there was a very varied selection of officers, Pakistan of course, plus English, American, Malayan, Turkish, German, Iranian, from the various embassies here, very cosmopolitan.
At lunchtime today we had a crowd on board from the Pakistan Naval dockyard here, including a German with whom I had a long yarn, he was a Captain in the German Navy, was captured by the Russians during the war, and is now the Electrical Engineer in this dockyard. Many of these foreigners (and even Englishmen abroad) I’ve met have had the most interesting experiences you know. This afternoon I tried to get the water polo team off for a practice, but the transport failed to arrive, so I gave up, and had had a much need two hours sleep instead. This evening we had our usual film, "The Malta Story", which you remember we saw at Anthorn (I think), I didn’t want to see it again, but I did just so as to see the Malta scenes again, which of course I can recognise now. Tomorrow afternoon we have our pulling regatta against the RPN, my crew are the hot favourites at the moment, I only hope they bring it off.
And in the evening I have to go to a reception given by the Dockyard staff here. I shall be glad to leave here really, there’s no time to spare. Everyone is talking about going home and making their plans, we’re all very anxious to know just what is going to happen when we get back, and what leave will be given (if any!) We’re a mistrustful lot, and won’t believe anything until it happened.
I’d like to hug you tonight, and every night of course, but I’m disconsolate tonight. Schoolie has been in bed for two days with tummy trouble, but is now better but feeling weak. He’s been in the best place really.
Goodnight my lover, perhaps our next anniversary will be more pleasant,
Your Own everloving Ken xx xxxxxxx
Karachi, Wednesday, December 7
Hello My Love,
What good fortune I have! In my last letter I said how dull this place was and how glad I would be to leave, and lo and behold the next day I was selected (with Harold Wright too) as one of the officers to accompany the Admiral and Mrs Norris up to the North West Frontier to the Khyber Pass! And so I’ve flown over 1,500 miles since yesterday morning, and have been right to the frontier and looked across into Afghanistan, and have learnt an enormous amount about the tribal warfare and troubles they are having up here. I don’t know if you still have the Telegraph, but there was an article on it on the 30th November on page 9, see if you can find it.
I can only give you an outline, the place is so full of interest and history, but here goes! We left early yesterday morning, and took off from the airfield a 07.15, in a RPAF aircraft, very comfortable, a 20 seater, so we had a double seat each and some to spare, dressed in blue uniform (it’s cold up there!) and flew up, at 9,000 feet (nearly two miles high) following the Indus River. This has recently been flooding badly, and we could see it all, as it was a fine day. The trip took 4 I/2 hours, mostly over desert, and sandy and rocky hills, to Peshawar. There we were met by the Deputy High Commissioner, and all the senior army officers of the district (who were responsible for our safety up there) and treated very much as VIP’s (rather like visiting royalty) and taken off to the club for lunch.
Afterwards we set off in convoy to the Pass, a truck full of armed soldiers of the Punjab regiment, very much on the alert, a staff car with the conducting officer (a lieutenant colonel) and Mr and Mrs Admiral, a station wagon with his officers, and another truckload of armed soldiers bringing up the rear. Outside the settled area of Peshawar it’s all tribal territory, and once you’re outside the barbed wire fences anything can happen, the place itself is stiff with tribesmen with their knives, rifles and cartridge belts, it’s a sort of no-mans land, and quite unbelievable really in these modern times, the place is lousy with forts too, real Hollywood stuff, and there are tribesmen posted on all the rocky pinnacles overlooking the pass.
The scenery is fine, and the pass itself stretches for 25 miles, with excellent places for ambushes all the way through, a twisty, steep road with watch towers and guard points all the way. There is quite a good road though (which we dashed along at full speed) with the caravan track running along separately, with tribesmen with donkey trains, and camel trains trading over the border, this is known as the natural gateway to India from Asia proper.
We saw one caravan of over 100 camels, very picturesque indeed, and nomadic herdsmen driving enormous herds of goats and flocks of sheep, all armed to the teeth of course. There is also a twisty single track railway line which goes to the frontier (passing through 32 tunnels), it was built by the British Army before we left the place to rush troops and supplies up to the frontier. In some places it’s right up to-date with tank traps put there in the last war in case the Germans broke through in the Caucasus. Now it’s the Russians, who are infiltrating into Afghanistan, and would have to break through this way into India.
Road to the Khyber Pass, Afghanistan, 1956 by Marc Riboud
Rubin Museum of Art, New York
At the border, guarded by the famous Khyber Rifles, it was quite comical. The frontier guards on the other side are not at all friendly, and stand scowling at us fingering their rifles, while our guards piled out and took up strategic positions while we looked over the fort there and generally looked around, dominated by the enormous rocky mountains all around, a sniper’s paradise. All went well however, there were no incidents and we retired unharmed and got back to Peshawar just after it got dark. It’s not much better really than it was in the stormy days of the North West Frontier, and it’s quite thrilling to see the old forts and places that meant so much 50 and 100 hundred years ago when so many of our soldiers were wiped out trying to keep the Afghans and Wazirs and all those nasty wild tribesmen out of India. Just like Kipling and all the stories of the Indian Army.
I stayed the night with the Administrative Officer in Peshawar, who’s just got back from a tour of inspection of the frontier provinces (under armed escort) and the sniping and tribal warfare is a serious problem, they’ve all got guns and use them, and no-one ventures outside the barbed wire (and even sandbagged) settled areas after dark. They’re a murderous looking lot! Before dinner we went down into the bazaar (very eerie after dark) for half an hour and looked around their pottery, cloths, slippers with curly toes, (here a drawing of a curly toed slipper) and their clothes, and I was given a demonstration by a reasonably friendly cutthroat of their knives and swords and battle-axes, very ugly looking, and of course all on sale in the bazaar, together with the very efficient guns which they make themselves, excellent copies of army rifles. Afterwards we talked until half past midnight about the harvest there and so on, all most instructive.
Very thrilling, and undoubtedly the highlight of this cruise, and the few of us who went are very much envied by everyone else on board. My luck is phenomenal! We flew back this morning, a quiet uneventful trip, 4 1/2 hours, incidentally the distance by road to the frontier is just over 1,000 miles, so I’ve really penetrated a long way inland for a sailor! This afternoon I’ve been around Karachi in our jeep, the first chance I’ve had of seeing the city itself, and what a shambles it is, particularly the refugee area full of refugees from India, living in straw shanties, no sanitation or water, the smell is overpowering! The population has gone up from 3 hundred thousand to 14 hundred thousand with all the refugees streaming in from India, and it’s a real shambles.
They use enormous camels for pulling carts here, and we even saw dead one lying by the roadside, no doubt overworked! I’m quite surprised how many different sorts of camels there are; the ones here are quite different from those in Arabia and Oman, and the ones up North are much "shaggier". There seem to be 4 different varieties. Tonight we’ve had our official party on board, and tomorrow we leave for Bombay. What a hectic 5 days these have been, all worthwhile though, very instructive, I’m becoming quite an expert, an ambassador even. I was shivering this morning, and I’m sweating again tonight, what a life! Last night I was sitting over an enormous log fire, I’m just in my pants tonight!
Another letter from you today, jolly good, I’m glad you liked your chocolates, you should get flowers on your birthday. I’m glad you’re all well, I’ve put a card in for Susan, and stamps for Penny. Cheerio my love, I’m exhausted tonight, I love you and have such a lot to tell you, I hope I don’t forget it all.
Your Own Everloving Ken xxxxxxxx
At Sea - Friday, December 9
An uneventful day at sea today, except that we’ve seen lots of whales, gambolling playfully, and spouting all over the place, quite interesting, the first I’ve seen. I’m getting quite an old sea-dog really, seeing all these things (not so much of the "old"!). last night we had a film on the quarter deck, "The Conquest of Everest" in colour, magnificent scenery, quite breath taking. They must be mad to go up such awful places though, I don’t think I’d fancy that. It’s a pity it wasn’t clearer when I was up the Khyber, it should be possible to see the Himalayas and even Everest from there, especially in an aircraft 9,000 feet up.
Tomorrow morning early we shall tie up in Bombay, I’m not expecting to get ashore so much there, because we have a lot of work on now, compiling a defect list for our refit. We shall see though. I must visit the bazaars and markets. Have to be careful of visiting too, there’s been quite a bit of unrest there lately. I don’t want to be stoned! Otherwise I haven’t much to tell you today, we’re looking forward to getting back to Trincomalee for a rest now, although I suppose there’ll be much Xmas celebrating. I’ve already got one invitation for the 23rd to an Xmas party given by the Admiral. As long as I don’t have to kiss him under the mistletoe it will be OK! I forgot to tell you that the two stamps with the map of Western Pakistan on, are brand new ones, issued for the first time today I bought them, and only being issued for two months, to celebrate the unification of the States of Western Pakistan.
Sunday, December 11
Well this Bombay, and what a civilised modern-looking place it is too, it looks magnificent from where we’re anchored, large buildings on a beautiful waterfront, Marine Drive it’s called with blocks of flats, six storeys high, well-spaced out.
Marine Drive, Bombay (now Mumbai), India in 1946
It’s a city of flat dwellers really, and while it looks pleasant from a distance, of course you find the usual squalid natives and beggars sleeping in the streets. They love trains here, little ones that travel linked together in pairs, and big full-size modern ones. Plenty of modern cars, driven furiously, and alongside, ox-wagons and the usual Indian water buffalo carts. Yesterday afternoon I stayed on board, we’re having a very difficult time at the moment compiling the list of work which will have to be done in the dockyard when we come back, it has to be done by Wednesday and I can see it’s going to spoil our stay here.
In the evening I went to a formal reception on board the "Delhi", the Indian Cruiser [INS Delhi was built as HMS Achilles and in 1948 was sold to the Royal Indian Navy], after which Harold Wright and I went to meet a Mr Bradshaw who’d undertaken to be a host to two officers, and we went back to his palatial flat on Malabar Hill, the best area of Bombay about 5 miles out, and collected his wife (who used to be a Wren) and two of their friends, and went to another reception in an old Moorish house, full of priceless antiques, a wonderful place, after which we went back to the flat for bacon and egg, and caught the 1am boat back to the ship.
He used to be in the army out here, and is now a businessman, and told us a lot about Bombay and its people. At the moment, it is all decorated because King Ibn Saud (and 19 -princes!) is here from Arabia, and all the Moslems are going mad, and police precautions are enormous, they clean the streets completely that he uses, we just missed him last night. He’s making a great name for himself, he bought a cup of tea at the station an paid 1,000 rupees for it (£75) for it, and to a girl who gave him a bunch of flowers, he gave a 1,000 rupees too. He’s been presented with an elephant, a litter of tiger cubs, a litter of panther cubs and a Himalayan bear. We’ve seen some of his princes about and it’s nice to see Arabs again.
I had a letter from you yesterday, I’m glad Susan’s birthday was a great success, her hair will have to come off sometime won’t it, if it’s uncomfortable I should have it done. Now I will leave you my love, I love you, and am looking forward to seeing you again, only 79 days now.
As ever, Your Own Loving
Bombay, Tuesday, December 13
Hello My Love,
What a hectic life I’m having here! On Sunday afternoon I went to lunch with a Lt. Cdr. RN on loan to the Indian Navy here, and afterwards he and his wife and his two kids and I all drove out to Breach Kandy here, some eight miles out, a sort of club with two swimming pools, one outdoor and one in, and I had the first swim for a few weeks, beautifully warm too, and hot sun, it’s hot down here after the Gulf, after which we went back to tea, and I had my evening kit with me, and changed at their flat, an enormous flat (three bathrooms!) in an enormous building which is used as married quarters by the Indian Navy. They like it here, and they like the Indians, which is just as well because they have to live and work with them. I wouldn’t like it. They’re getting quite like the Indians themselves, the mannerisms and so on, and their kids only play with Indian children and they speak terrible pidgin English!
Breach Kandy, Bombay (now Mumbai), India about 1950
From there we went to a formal reception at the UK High Commission given for the Gambia Officers, and met the elite of the English people in Bombay. From there I was carted off to an Indian Ship to meet the Officers and their wives, (what beautiful sari’s) and one of them was telling me how her 12 year old brother was shot on the thigh during the rioting a few weeks ago, there was terrible unrest here, which has all blown over now. The other main topic of conversation is the visit of the Russians. Bombay is having a prohibition period, drinking is very strictly controlled, only by permit, and then it’s strictly rationed, it’s funny really just like America used to be I suppose.
From the Indian ship I was taken to an Indian restaurant at 11pm (still resplendent in my white mess kit)to have a typical Indian (Punjab actually) meal, which I viewed with some suspicion, but which turned out to be magnificent. It was really a barbecued chicken, which was smothered in some spiced fragrant sauce and then roasted on a spit over a charcoal fire, I was taken out to see it being done, and on completion it was slashed and sliced down the middle, and there was me surrounded by Indians (Harold Wright wasn’t with me for once, and was he envious when I told him afterwards!) eating half a chicken with my fingers, knives and forks are out for this meal! It was wonderful, I’ve never tasted anything like it, and very satisfying! And afterwards the quarter past midnight boat back to the ship, after an evening with the Indians.
Yesterday afternoon Harold and I went to see the market and the bazaars, what a noisy crowded place! We picked up a guide who took us around and was jolly good really, he did all the bargaining for us, and we saw the cloth and sari’s, and silver and gunsmiths (with some of the Arabs buying up guns, no doubt to shoot at Englishmen in Arabia!) and had a very instructive and exciting afternoon altogether. There’s such a profusion of stuff, it’s quite bewildering. We came back on board to an official "tea-party" given by us for the Indians here (of course they can’t drink "foreign" liquor only tea or orange squash!) after which we went ashore to dinner with the Lowes, the friends of the Bagshaw’s we were with on Saturday night.
This was another step in my education, because they’ve lived most of their life in China and Japan, and are really keen on Chinese things, their place is full of Chinese brocade and paintings, they have Chinese servants and we had Chinese food, complete with chop-sticks! I found I was a natural at eating with them from a little bowl, and got on like a house on fire with crab, prawns, pork, chicken, mushrooms, walnuts, and much rice, but old Harold gave it up after losing much of his and turned to with a spoon. It was wonderful, finished off with China tea, a poisonous brew (no milk or sugar) but which seemed fine with that sort of food. A real Chinese evening, lanterns and everything. And then the quarter past midnight boat again.
Today we’re resting after the last hectic three days, and I’m spending the evening on board, and going to bed early. I’ve actually been working all the afternoon. I’ve had an Xmas card from "John" in Australia (stamp enclosed for Penny) with a photo of him, Trixie (as enormous as ever) and Ann, who’s just like her mother. Tomorrow afternoon I’m going to the shops again to study some more of this Indian wood carving, and the Kashmir handsewn shawls and things (enormously expensive) and the Bokhara carpets, just for the pleasure of seeing the stuff, and it seems to give the Indians equal pleasure in showing it to us. In the evening we’re giving our official party for the English people here, and on Thursday morning we sail. Thank goodness for the peace and quiet of Trinco.
Cheerio now my lover.
From your everlasting Ken xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
At Sea - Friday, December 16
Hello my Love,
Many Happy Returns of yesterday, I’m sorry I couldn’t be with you to give you your usual birthday greeting, maybe I’ll remember to do it in March. Life is fairly dull at the moment, we left Bombay yesterday morning, and we shan’t get to Trinco until Monday afternoon, five days at sea! In our last afternoon at Bombay we went to the Museum which was quite interesting, especially the natural history section which was jolly good, tigers and panthers and so on, all the animals and fish of India, It was a very hot afternoon, and the Indian policemen on traffic duties looked funny with sunshades, worn in a special sort of harness on their belts, so that they had both hands free to direct traffic. It’s a funny place, so modern and yet so primitive with all the beggars and naked kids roaming around the streets.
The lads have been buying parrots and there are dozens in the ship (it’s quite true the sailors do come home with a kitbag in one hand and a parrot in the other) Bombay seems to be quite the place for buying them. There was calamity in the cook’s mess up in the bridge structure, one got out and flew out of a scuttle into the sea, and another got out and flew into the ventilation trunking and vanished, and then came out later on in the Marines mess deck lower down, flew across the mess and out of a scuttle the other side into the sea. Poor thing, I bet it wondered where on earth it was going. I bought a couple of cheap toys for the Buller kids in Bombay, a cap gun in a holster for one and a wooden pull-along horse with a nodding head for the other.
We had quite a job with our official party for the British people on Wednesday evening, it was supposed to be from 6.30 till 8.00 but they wouldn’t go and were still there at 9.00, and eventually we all had to be very firm and push them down the ladders to the boats, and we managed to have supper about quarter to ten! What a shower! I’m afraid Geoghegan (the lad who used to do our baby watching) is in a bad way, you remember he was ill with thrombosis from June to September, he’s been bad and in sick bay since the first week of the cruise, and will have to go into hospital again when we get back to Trinco. He still manages to keep cheerful, but the future is pretty black, his native wife is having a baby too.
Everyone is talking about Xmas now, but it’s very difficult to sum up any Xmas spirit out here, it’s too hot and sunny, and I can’t really believe it’s the end of the year yet, it’s eternal summer out here. Great calamity, this is the last sheet and they have no more small pads, so my next letters will be big ones.
Cheerio my lover,
Your everlasting Ken xxxxx
PS Stamps enclosed this time.
PPS I expect Xmas will delay our letters.
Trincomalee - Midday Monday, December 19
Hello My Lover,
We’ve just got back and tied up, it’s like coming home here, the old familiar place. Only for a couple of weeks though, and then off to Calcutta. The last few days have been uneventful, some gun firing on Saturday morning to keep our hand in, plenty of sleep, over the weekend I went back to my old practice of sleeping in the sun on the quarterdeck on Sunday afternoon. We’ve lost most of our sun-tan actually, since we’ve been up the Gulf, but the sun is as hot as ever here, so no doubt it will come back. I’m in a mess with my mail, because you haven’t said for sure whether you‘re going down to Troon, so I’ve sent Xmas cards for you and the tribe to both places. I’ve also forgotten when Iast wrote G & G, and I didn’t make a note of it like I usually do, I’ve been in such a daze lately. So I’ve sent you a greetings telegram to arrive on Xmas Day, I hope you get it. I think I won’t finish this until our mail is delivered today, then maybe things will look a bit clearer.
Mail call, and I’ve got two letters from you, jolly good, and one from Grandad too, with six pages of the newspaper serial story, he’s a scream! You seem to be managing well with your Xmas arrangements, parcels too, thank goodness I’ve none of it this year, you know it nearly drives me frantic usually. I’m very sorry for you having to do it! I think I’ve done the right thing with my letters, I addressed the last one to you to Troon, and I’ll do so with this one, it’s very difficult when you don’t know whether your wife is at her town or country residence!
I must go and see the Buller’s this evening or tomorrow, and deliver their cousin’s Xmas presents. I know I have something funny to tell you but I can’t think what it is. Our film was terrible last night, "Jupiter’s Darling" it was called with Esther Williams, it was all about Hannibal crossing the Alps with his armies to besiege Rome, but they made it a musical, so silly, elephants and everything, singing, dancing, swimming, so silly that it was funny, without meaning to be.
Now my lover, I’ll leave you, I hope you have a good Xmas, don’t get too tipsy or you’ll get morbid! I shall be glad when it’s over, they’ll all try to be so jolly on board.
As ever, You Own Ken xxxxxxx
PS Love to the kids.
Trincomalee - Thursday, December 22
Hello My Lover,
I should have written last night in the normal way, but something disagreed with me yesterday, and I felt shocking last night and had to turn in at quarter past eight, and luckily I fell asleep by half past and slept until early this morning when I felt OK. It’s funny, I was missed, and everyone thought I’d gone ashore, you could lie dying in this ship.
Well I’ve had an Xmas card from Penny and one from G&G and a letter from you since I last wrote. I’m afraid something must have gone wrong with your birthday arrangements, you should have had a box of chocolates and flowers on the 15th. It’s a pity, but I’m chasing up the Naafi to see what went wrong.
I went to the Buller’s on Tuesday, they seemed very pleased to see me, and I stayed for tea and went for a short ride afterwards, they seem very well, and asked me to go there on Xmas day, but I shall have to stay on board at midday and for the film show in the evening. That evening we had carol singers around the ship in a boat, very good they were too, it’s very difficult to feel Xmassy, here, especially in such pleasant weather, it’s hot but the monsoon is blowing with a cool wind which makes life much pleasanter. Schoolie and I had a walk around the shops yesterday afternoon, they’re all stocked upwith a lot of Japanese toys for Xmas, tripe, but cleverly made.
Today we ventured further afield to the Pettah, and tried all the mechanical toys and watched the surf and enormous waves on the beaches, this NE coast is very dangerous during this monsoon, but the waves are wonderful to watch, no swimming is allowed and very little fishing takes place except in the harbour. We watched a solitary boat, a native sailing canoe with an outrigger, come in and it was very cleverly done, they stopped outside the surf, let down the sail, lowered the mast, and undid their outrigger and towed it astern, then rowed in very cleverly through the surf, jolly clever these natives are.
We also saw a most elaborate native funeral procession, a woman who’d been killed by a motor cycle. We heard it coming a long way off, explosions of crackers, beating of drums, and weird pipe music, all to keep the devils away, and behind the men doing this were another lot strewing petals and herbs along the road, and then a procession of little girls dressed in white with beautiful wreaths of white flowers, and behind them the body in a casket, carried in a big white frame hung with white garlands, and behind them all the mourners; but the interesting thing was that the girls and the bearers weren’t allowed to walk on the ground, there was a crowd of men laying white sheets down for them to walk on, and gathering up the ones they’d already walked on, and running up ahead and laying them down again. All most interesting, and it took some time to pass, and the drum beating and fireworks are carried on without stop for three days, to make sure the devils don’t get a chance. We had a most interesting afternoon again. It’s funny, we generally catch up with some local custom of interest. Did I tell you that in Bombay the Parsees just lay their dead out on gratings for the hawks to eat; and if all the flesh is eaten off by the time the funeral celebrations are over it’s reckoned to be a good thing.
This evening we’ve had a crowd from the Mount Lavinia School of the Blind on board from Colombo, to sing carols. They were good too, made it seem a bit more like Xmas; it was surprising how good the sailors were to them too, they were given tea and biscuits afterwards, and the lads made friends with them, and collected 150 rupees (about £11) for them. The sailors are jolly good on the whole though, £57 has been collected to give the orphans at Trinco a good Xmas. We’re running a thing in the wardroom whereby our names go in a hat and are drawn out in pairs known only to the organiser, and we each have to buy a small present, something silly like razor blades for a chap with a beard, and they’ll be dished out on Xmas Day. I’ve bought a toy engine today for one of the engineers. It’s one way of making sure we all get something for Xmas, and it should be amusing. I’m afraid it’s all very artificial fun though, no-one really feels the spirit of Xmas out here.
Well my love it’s twenty to twelve, I must go to sleep now, I love you, and wish I could nuzzle you tonight and every night, I expect you’re feeling cold. Give my love to the kids, I hope they get what they want, and I hope you do too!
Your own ever-loving Ken xxxxxxx
PS A new Ceylon stamp just issued for Penny, and two old Zanzibar ones.
Trincomalee - Xmas Eve
Hello My love,
I hope you’re all set for a marvellous Xmas, and I hope my telegram is delivered tomorrow. I did think of ringing you up, it would be nice to talk to you, but one officer tried ringing up London, and the line was very poor, I decided by the time it crept down to Troon it would be even worse, and we probably wouldn’t be able to hear anyway. Never mind. We’re all set for Xmas tomorrow, it’s been very suitable weather today, cloudy and raining all day (after all it is the wet season) so it’s made everyone seem a bit more Xmassy.
We’ve got our own Xmas tree on top of the foremast, covered in coloured lights, and a big rotating star six feet across, made of fluorescent light tubes on the main mast (a Lobb idea of course) which looks wonderful, and all the messes are decorated, especially my lad’s messdeck, it looks wonderful, full of illuminated decorations and flashing signs, the lads have put in an awful lot of work down there, the best in the ship.
Everyone intends to have a good time on board, which is just as well because the people ashore here are a dull lot and they don’t seem very interested in the Navy, and hardly anyone, officers or ratings, have been invited out to parties ashore. It would have been quite different if we’d spent Xmas anywhere in the East Indies but Trincomalee. Two other frigates have come in for Xmas, the Loch Lomond and Loch Alvie [frigates], and pretty dull it will be for them too. I haven’t been ashore today, it’s been too wet for one thing, and I’ve been busy on the decorating side.
Yesterday it rained too in the afternoon, and I didn’t go ashore until the evening, and then only to go to the Admiral’s Xmas cocktail party, which was pleasant enough. Steve and Pat were there, rather down in the dumps, the children had been tiresome, and she hadn’t had her two hours sleep in the afternoon, and if she doesn’t get that it ruins her day! What a life! I should think she’ll get a rude awakening when she comes home next year.
So we’re all set for the big day, Goodnight dear.
Well, if that’s Xmas at sea, away from home, give me a nice quiet Xmas at home!!! What a day it was yesterday!
The Captain doesn’t believe in the lads being given too much drink on Xmas Day, and we had strict orders that none were to be treated, although we could do it on other days to senior ratings only, (we’re doing my lot today, Chief PO’s at lunch time and PO’s this evening). But of course, that doesn’t prevent the lads treating the officers! The day started fairly early, with different sections of the band and the lads roaming the ship singing carols, dressed up in all sorts of funny rigs, many of them in officers uniforms borrowed for the occasion, including one dressed as the Royal Marine Major, who had all his mannerisms taped, and looked more like the Major than the major did himself!
The Captain and Senior Officers did rounds of all the messes, and I and my other two officers went down to my lads messdeck where we were royally entertained for 3/4 of an hour, and had an awful job getting away. I’ve never had any rum before but I couldn’t avoid it yesterday, they were all anxious that I shared their tots, including a lot of neat stuff, and they forced cigarettes and cigars on me (I took down 500 cigarettes, 20 cigars and a big box of biscuits for them for Xmas), we joined in their carols and songs, Mr Madle one of my officers had to dance a tango with a PO to the accompaniment of clapping from everyone, and then we had to sing a duet, and listen to a long rambling speech from a PO on how good a Divisional Officer I was to them, all most embarrassing, and eventually we got away. I think they did enjoy it though, and I noticed that hardly any other officers went down to see their junior ratings, although some went to the Chief’s Mess.
I think it does a lot of good to let your hair down with the lads occasionally, the Captain came round while we were there, and thought it was all wonderful, and they even gave him some rum, which he drank to their good health, without hesitation. Well luckily the rum left me unaffected but Mr Madle staggered to his cabin and fell straight on his bed, missed our fun in the wardroom, missed his Xmas dinner and tea, and was so funny, about half past five came up on the quarterdeck and wanted to know what day it was, he was afraid it was Boxing Day, and couldn’t remember dancing the Tango or anything!
When I got back to the wardroom one of the PO’s was waiting outside and wanted to know if he could see me privately in my cabin, and as he’s had a lot of domestic problems I’ve had to sort out for him I thought he had some more, but in my cabin he produced a tumbler and a bottle of rum which I had to drink as a token of goodwill for my efforts on his behalf. You know it’s ghastly stuff, but I couldn’t refuse his gesture of goodwill and gratitude, so I managed cheerfully, but began to wonder if I’d last the day!
After that we had a screamingly funny hour in the wardroom when our presents were distributed, they were really good, the Major who is completely bald had a bottle of Brylcream and a polishing brush and duster for his head, and the gifts all took that form, something silly to do with people’s peculiarities, I had a pink plastic hairbrush with plastic bristles for my crewcut. All good fun, which put me in a good humour for our Xmas dinner which was wonderful, right down to flaming Xmas puddings, mince pies, fruit, nuts, crackers, turkey of course, and one of my gift cigars to finish off, by which time it was three o’clock, and we rested for an hour (in my case) and several hours for some of them!
We had some unintentional fun after supper too, I went onto the quarterdeck where Mr Madle was drinking his coffee (he made up at supper for missing Xmas dinner!) and started talking about the lighting on the masts and we both looked up just as the tree burst into flame (due to the rain causing an electrical short) and showers of flaming debris started falling down around the superstructure, it tickled me of course, and Mr Madle said, "Oo lumme it’s afire!" and he didn’t know which way to run, he put his coffee down on the edge of the quarterdeck and started to run forward, one of the sailors on duty on the quarterdeck heard him and rushed to the rail to see what was happening, and because he was looking up, didn’t see the coffee and kicked it clean over the side cup and everything, and the speakers were screaming for the Emergency Party, absolute chaos; so far as I was concerned the ship could have gone up in flames, it was so funny, I was just standing laughing helplessly! It was all over in a few seconds actually and no damage was done because the fuse blew, but it tickled me.
This was followed by a funny film "See How They Run" with Ronald Shiner dressed as a vicar, and an escaped convict dressed as a vicar, two real vicars and a bishop, all very funny, and it finished off the day very well, and I got to bed at half past twelve, very tired, but I suppose after as good an Xmas Day as you can have in a ship overseas. I was thankful it only comes once a year though and I pity my poor stomach with all that revolting rum in it, but luckily it didn’t seem to do me any harm.
Our ship was good really, the other two were awfully noisy, on two occasions there were lads from the Loch Lomond in the water being swept down the harbour (they’d fallen over the side) the second time it was after dark, and boats had to pick them up in the light of a searchlight, and a party ashore smashed up the canteen, and the patrol, ten strong, were helpless to stop it. Some of the marines went mad and pinched a boat complete from alongside the Loch Lomond, for which they’ll be punished in the morning, so on the whole I suppose it was a typical sailor’s day of enjoyment.
I’ll leave you now my love, loving you as ever,
Your Own Ken xxxxx
Trincomalee - Wednesday, December 28
Hello My Lover,
The pre-Xmas mail rush in England and the PO Xmas holiday is catching up with us now and we are having a few days without getting any airmail I’m afraid. Maybe I’ll get them all together.
I looked in on the Buller’s for half an hour on Monday evening and they presented me with a lovely silver cigarette case with a map of Ceylon on it for Xmas. But they are dopey! They got the kids Xmas presents mixed up and gave the four-year-old the pull along wooden horse, and the two-year-old the cowboy gun in a holster. I give up! He’d given her a cigarette lighter which they hadn’t managed to work, and they brought it to show me, complete with a pair of pliers for me to make it work (which I did of course, ahem). Incidentally, he tells me that Bill Lobb has got another son, which makes it three kids for him now, we’re a prolific lot!
I went for one of my old walks yesterday afternoon and this afternoon, up over the ridge through the jungle to watch the monkeys, it seems such long time since I’ve seen them, it was very pleasant too, warm sunshine, but a pleasant cool breeze, just like an English Summer’s day.
I’ve got some unwelcome news I’m afraid, which I’ll have to tell you now, otherwise you’ll hear it from someone else in Plymouth, Ever since we’ve been out here there have been rumours that the ship will not do her refit in Plymouth, and this has been confirmed now. It’s going to be done at Rosyth (near Edinburgh) and will take about a year. The present plan is that we get back to Plymouth at half-past eight in the morning on 1st March, and leave for Rosyth 5 days later. Weekend leave only will be given at Plymouth. It is most likely that I shall be allowed to take 42 days leave due to me then, although I shall probably get 10 days at Easter. The other thing is that is infuriating me is that I shall then become the ship’s electrical officer and will have to stay with her during the refit and take my leave at the end of it. I wouldn’t mind if the ship was staying at Plymouth, but as it is I’m anxious to leave her at the first opportunity although I can’t see any way of doing so. The only consolation is that you’ve always wanted to go to Scotland, and I suppose it’s a pleasant place in the summer. So there it is my love, it’s most disappointing, particularly as we’d planned to stay in Plymouth all next year, and I’ve been dreading having to tell you, but don’t be cross with me please, it’s not my fault, and we’ll have to make the best of our first 5 days in March.
I have already told them I shall want a married quarter at Rosyth! I shall be glad when I’m a commander (if) and can pick and choose my jobs a little more. We’re all a bit on edge now, most people (except the Scots) are very dissatisfied with this Rosyth business, and also with the leave arrangements, coupled with a feeling of getting near the end of our time our here, and we shall be glad to leave here on Monday to start our Calcutta trip, we’re all a bit fed up.
I see we’ve steamed over 24,000 miles to date, which is equal to once right round the world, quite a trip, it will be nearly 35,000 by the time we’re back. Well my love, give my love to the brats, I hope they’re enjoying their Xmas, I’ll write my next letter to Troon, and then to Plymouth after that. Cheerio Honey, I love you.
Your Own Ever-yearning Ken xxxxxx
Trincomalee - Saturday Morning, December 31
Hello My love,
Pinch and punch day tomorrow, I’ve only just got used to writing 1955 really, and now we’ve got to start on 1956, I can’t believe that the time is passing so quickly, only 60 days to go now! We had a games evening on board on Thursday, to which I asked the Bullers, it was a very late night for them, because it didn’t start until nine o’clock, and went on until nearly one! They seemed to enjoy it! They’ve asked me to go to dinner with them tonight and then to go on to a club they belong to, to see the New Year in, so it will be another late night I suppose. Tomorrow afternoon they’re going to take me out to see the hot springs in the jungle further up the coast, that should be interesting, the water bubbles up from the ground all steaming hot, just like the New Zealand hot springs. It’s a wonderful country here, hot and cold running water, every convenience.
Schoolie and I went to the Naval Mess ashore last night to their film show. We saw "Rose Marie", a new technicolour version, really corny it was though, in fact he went to sleep, the singing was OK I suppose, but the Americans ruin all their musical comedy films.
I seem to be awfully busy in the mornings these days, I had to examine two lads for Petty Officer yesterday, they passed too, and I had another one on Wednesday (he failed!) it’s quite tiring I find. Luckily the weather is tolerable now, warm sunshine, but a cool breeze with it, just pleasant summer weather really, very hot for England of course, but comparatively cool for this place. We have a big exercise on Monday, firing all guns and so on, after which we shall sneak off up to India, 4 days trip to Calcutta, that will be dull, although it’s likely to be poor weather, I don’t mind, it will be a change.
No airmail for the ship again today, I’m getting anxious to hear from you, it seems ages now. I got my illuminated certificate from Neptune today, to prove I’ve crossed the line, I’ll have to remember to carry it if I ever fall overboard because it tells the fish not to eat me! And to treat me with respect! Well I’ll leave you my love, nothing much is happening here. I love you.
Your Own Ken xxxxx
PS Love to the kids.