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Ken Lobb - The Letters (10) - January 1956

Trincomalee - Monday Morning, January 2

Hello My Lover

Thank goodness we can settle down for a while now with no more celebrations! What a lot of excitement there’s been on board over the New Year. The Commander has been promoted to Captain, and the Gunnery Officer has been promoted to Commander, so we’re more top-heavy than ever now! We’re also expecting that the admiral will be knighted in the New Year Honours, so the Gambia is doing very well one way and another.

On Saturday I went to dinner with the Bullens and two of their friends in the Dockyard here, and afterwards went to a big dance to watch all the people celebrate the arrival of the New Year; they all seemed to have a jolly good time anyway and it was very funny sitting quietly watching all the goings-on. It made me very late retiring though, after watching the silly drunken sailors reeling back to the ship (and some officers!) Three o’clock in fact. Funnily enough I was up bright and early yesterday, ten to seven, and we had the full nausea of divisions, and then I had to go to the frigate Loch Alvie, they’d invited 15 officers over at lunchtime, after which we had to tear back to the Gambia because the newly promoted Officers were entertaining everyone, and to our surprise we found we had a full Xmas dinner again, turkey, ham, Xmas pud, mince pies, the lot! I only just had time to change to catch the half-past two boat ashore, because I wanted to go and see Geoghegan and his wife before we leave today, to wish him farewell and good luck with his thrombosis.

HMS Loch Alvie
The frigate HMS Loch Alvie. Photo: Imperial War Museums FL14695

I had a pleasant half hour after that standing in the trees watching the monkeys! They were coming down and sneaking into the kitchen of one of the bungalows and sneaking out with food, cakes and even half a loaf of bread, and taking it off into the trees to eat. I watched them for a long time quite tickled, they’re so human in their expressions and actions.

Then I went to the Bullen’s for tea and after we drove out to see the hot springs, which were very disappointing, nothing like I’d expected, not really hot and boiling. I asked them to come to the cinema on board, but he was too tired, after being up late the night before, so they didn’t come. I don’t think they’d have enjoyed it though, it was "Simba", all about the Mau Mau in Kenya, jolly interesting really because I could recognise scenes in Nairobi, and the whole film reminded me of Kenya, even to the business of locking doors behind you all the time, and locking yourself in your bedroom, and the carrying of guns. It was a frightening film though, and I think I would put off anyone from going to Kenya, the native scenes were wonderful, it brought it all back to me very vividly. But late back to bed again, and up at half past five this morning, we’ve a shocking day ahead, full scale gunnery exercises and Action Stations, and then at half past six this evening off to Calcutta (getting mixed up!) I’m still without mail from you, a shocking state. I expect I shall get several at once, I hope! I’m sure the time will fly now, four weeks tomorrow we sail for home, it is hard to believe really. I hope you are well dear, and that the infants are flourishing, I’m anxious to know what they had for Xmas. By the way the next time you go to the bank, will you make sure that we’ve now finished paying for the radio, the last payment was due yesterday.

Cheerio My Love,

Your Ever-loving Ken xxxxx

At Sea, Bay of Bengal - Thursday Evening, January 5

Hello My Love,

These last have been a hectic few days, Monday of course we had a big day of exercises, firing all our guns and generally tearing about making a nuisance of ourselves, ending up by leaving in the evening for Calcutta which we reach in the morning after going up the river Hooghly tonight, a hazardous operation, there are shocking currents and sandbanks, and I don’t really expect to pass a quiet night. It’s much cooler up here, we wear blue uniforms tomorrow, and we’re expecting the temperature to drop to 45 degrees tonight, so we shall feel it after our 80 and 90 degrees all the time. Still, it will prepare us for a cold home-coming! (in 54 days time!) I’m having a very busy time too, even after working hours, I’m being silly enough to start some classes for my lot, two every evening at sea, from five to half past six, and half past seven to nine so I haven’t much spare time and what I have seems to go quickly.

I’m getting quite upset about mail, it’s about a fortnight since I had any, and I only hope there are some letters waiting at Calcutta for me tomorrow. I expect going away for Xmas, and the Xmas rush too has upset our routine. I’ve got another odd Zanzibar stamp (off an Xmas card) I’ll put in for one of the girls, as long as there’s no squabbling over it. I’m hoping there’ll be some postcards here to send too, it was hopeless at Bombay.

The Admiral has been knighted. KBE (I think) so it’s Sir Charles & Lady Norris now, what with that and the promotions, we were given the afternoon off yesterday, just to mark the occasion, not that it did me much good because I had something to do anyway.

We had a film yesterday evening “The Thing from Another World”, absolute rubbish it was though, we’d have been better off without it. Being at sea I haven’t a lot to tell you, it’s been very calm the last couple of days, though slightly rough on Tuesday. I’m going to finish off now, and give you my impressions of Calcutta tomorrow, we’ve a shocking programme ahead! Good night dear, I am so looking forward to seeing you.

Your Own ever-loving Ken xxxxxxxx

Sir Charles Fred Wivell Norris
Sir Charles Fred Wivell Norris. Photo: National Portrait Gallery x90833

Calcutta (almost) - Six o’clock Saturday morning, January 7

Hello My Lover,

We’re in a chaotic state here, we should have been in Calcutta yesterday morning, but we got marooned in the fog, night before last in this disgusting Hooghly river which is full of shoals and sandbanks, and so we had to anchor, and by the time we could see we’d missed the tide, and so had to stay at anchor all day, and pushed off at five this morning with 56 miles still to go up river so we’re over a day late arriving at Calcutta, which is the first time we’ve ever been late this Commission, and consequently, we’ve thrown our Calcutta programme into chaos. Not entirely so though, because the Admiral and his wife have landed by motorboat and have gone on ahead by road.

One good thing, the pilot launch brought our mail down to us, and I have had two letters from you, telling me all about Xmas, so I’m much happier now. I’m sorry my telegram arrived so early, it was guaranteed to be delivered on Xmas Day, but I suppose they had too many. The pilot launch also brought a huge turtle 3 feet long on board as a present for the Admiral, and of course Mrs didn’t want it killed, so we’ve got a dinghy on the boat deck full of water with the turtle living in it, and it’s being treated by everyone as a sort of pet, the sailors shake hands with its flippers and wash its back.

You seem to have had a good Xmas, (fancy walking into Cambourne and back on Boxing Day, you’re getting quite athletic. You haven’t told me what the infants had for Xmas. I’m tired already, I was up at half-past four, I can see I’ll be useless by tonight, and I have to go to some reception, at the High Commissioner’s, I think. Never mind it won’t be long now. I’ve finished the serial, the only papers we get are local ones, and an air-mail copy of the Times and Telegraph, and we get our magazines about 6 weeks late. I’ll finish this my love, to catch the 7am collection.

I love you, as ever,

Your Own Ken xxxxx

Calcutta - Tuesday afternoon January 10

Hello My Lover,

I’m all right now, I’ve had three letters from you in the last two days. I’m glad you’ve all had an enjoyable Xmas (in spite of the weather poor old Penny, being sick and having tummy ache, she makes hard work of her enjoyment doesn’t she. We’re making hard work of our enjoyment too, it’s a very rugged test of endurance and stamina! On Saturday we made the river trip successfully and arrived about half-past ten in the morning.

In the afternoon Schoolie and I sampled the local markets and bazaars, what chaos too! Although the city centre by the river here is very well laid out, wide open spaces, (or Maidans) with broad roads, statues and modern buildings full of people in flapping shirt tails though, and long nighties, and vicious looking policemen with truncheons (or lathis) six feet long. Single decker trams, interspersed with ox-wagons, and goats and cows wandering unattached through the traffic and on the pavements. It’s amazing how squalid the place is, just imagine Oxford Street in London full of half-dressed natives, with ox-wagons, animals and naked kids sprawling and sleeping in the roads, that’s just what it’s like.

In the evening we went to the UK High Commissioner’s reception, after which we went to dinner at the First Secretary’s house, where his wife (a New Zealander) already had a mixed party of Europeans and Indians and their wives, and these were the cream of Calcutta Indians. They were well-educated and intelligent. They were most interesting, all of them, and we had a jolly good evening with some magnificent food, chicken and ham cooked in rice, really wonderful. We left there at one in the morning, when one of the other Englishmen there said he’d take us back to the jetty in his car. He didn’t though, he took us to a Night Club where Hermione Baddeley was performing, but as it was after one they wouldn’t let us in so he took us back to his flat, where he had a complete transmitter-receiver installation, it appears he’s an enthusiast, and so we got yarning about that and his experiences out here, and he finally took us back to the ship at three in the morning, arranging to send his car and driver down on Monday to take us wherever we’d like to go that afternoon.

On Sunday afternoon we went for a walk to see the parks and racecourse, and part of a horse-show, and in the evening went to a party given by the local RNVR club. There we met the sister of the Director of Education in the Seychelles whom we’d visited when we were there, and looked over his training school, and she was delighted to meet someone who’d seen him lately, and we ended up by going to dinner with her and her husband in their luxurious flat where they pursued their guest for knowledge and talked until half past one in the morning! Another late night back on board!

Yesterday afternoon our car duly arrived, and by then we’d decided where we wanted to go, the Jain Temple in the north of the city (which is said to be the largest in the world) and The Kali Ghat right in the south. So now we’ve seen Calcutta from and to end and I can well believe that it is the filthiest and smelliest city in the world (as everyone tells us), We’ve made ourselves quite a reputation on board, and even among the English (who know we’ve been) in Calcutta some of whom, including the chap who lent us his car, have been 15 years here and have never dared to go to, the Kali Ghat. Three other officers set off to go, but when they were half-way through the temple they were so nauseated and sickened that they had to turn back. But Schoolie and I pushed on to the bitter end of course when we went, although he was nearly sick, and has been unable to talk about anything else since. The reason is that it’s one of the Hindu temples, and when they die they’re burnt (if they can afford 14 rupees 14 annas, about 23/- shillings) in great style, and if they can’t afford all the money, then as much as possible is burnt, and all that is over at the end is thrown into the holy Ganges. So we went to see this, it’s going on all the time in the temple and the Ghat (the burning place), and a revoltingly filthy high priest took us through and showed us the varying stages, all taking place in the open air on the banks of a river, and to cut a long story short, a thoroughly nauseating story too, we followed every stage of the "cooking," and there was no lack of bodies!

Parshwanath Temple, Calcutta, Indiana. Photo: Wikimedia Kalighat Kali Temple, Calcutta, Indiana. Photo: Wikimedia A funeral pyre, Calcutta, Indiana. Photo: Wikimedia

We reckon that we’ve achieved the height of our investigations in India now, we’ve seen everything and can relax. This place was some 5 miles from the ship, through narrow alleys packed with natives, and our driver (a Musselman, who understood no English!) was in a great sweat of fear, especially when we stopped at this place and were surrounded by a crowd of shouting natives, some of whom tried to get in the car, he wasn’t at all happy when we told him to wait while we were inside, and the perspiration was running down his face. As he couldn’t understand us either, we had to make signs to him, and from an Army map direct him where we wanted to go, We had another scene when we left, the High Priest wanted more money than the 6 rupees I gave him, and started to shout, backed up by the mob who stopped their business in the market to gather round. I could see we were going to have trouble, told Schoolie to get in, motioned the driver to start up, gave the priest the money quick, jumped in, closed the windows and shot off with ‘em jumping out of the way in all directions!

It’s an exciting life, don’t let my life insurance premium fall behind! Will finish now to catch the mail. I love you as ever,

Your Loving Ken xxxxxx

Calcutta - Thursday Morning January 12

Hello My Lover,

Your poor husband is fast becoming worn out! Thank goodness we’re leaving here this afternoon. I finished my last letter off rather quickly to catch the post, and I was telling you how we went to the Khali Ghat. We’ve learned since that the few people who go, just look over the wall for a quick look and that’s enough, so by going right in we’ve established a precedent, and are regarded with great awe by the residents here, one old doctor last night who’s been here since before World War I has never been there, nor in the Jain Temple! I reckon Schoolie and I are gluttons for punishment.

Incidentally I forgot to tell you that on Saturday afternoon we penetrated into Fort William, the HQ of the Indian Army here, it was all a misunderstanding with a Sikh taxi driver who spoke no English, but who thought we wanted to go in the Officer’s Mess there, and we had a shocking rigmarole with the guards, who didn’t speak any English either, but who eventually let us in. We thought the driver was taking a short cut, but when we found we were inside this enormous fort, originally built by Clive of India, we decided we’d better get straight out again after a drive round, and had another barney with the guards. We were told that that was quite an achievement too, because these days the Indians don’t allow white faces in anywhere.

On Monday evening we went to a big reception at the Bengal United Services Club but had a comparatively early night and came back to the ship at ten o’clock. On Tuesday I had the chap who’d lent us his car, to lunch on board, and gave him an account of our adventures which impressed him greatly. That evening I went to Barrackpore, 15 miles out of Calcutta to the Ghurka barracks for dinner, six of us went, handpicked for our stamina I think because they were certainly a hard lot out there. We learned how the ghurkas are trained, complete with photos taken before and after to show how the recruits are built up physically, talked a lot about India, before and after partition, had a magnificent supper, did a lot of hard drinking, and when the Brigadier left at midnight, started playing rough games, and returned on board at 4 in the morning!

Our only consolation was that we were in excellent condition when we left, our hosts being rather tired and worn out. I don’t think they’re used to going without sleep as we are, or maybe they don’t snatch an hour after tea.

Yesterday we had a party of RNVR officers on board, one of whom was electrical and had taken some of my lads to see the electrical installations ashore, so I asked him to stay to lunch after which he gave Schoolie and I his car for the afternoon, complete with driver, so we had a gentle drive to the bazaar area and had a quiet walk, buying nothing, just looking, much to everyone’s disgust, and came back to tea. It was essential to rest for an hour then, because last night we had a cocktail party on board, after which there was a very high-power dinner party at the Bengal Club, which is regarded as the best Calcutta has to offer in the way of high living and entertainment by the elite of Calcutta. This was given by for the Admiral, Captain, and half a dozen officers, in full mess dress, and the selection was very careful as we’ve had minor troubles with a couple of officers, one of whom was confined to his cabin yesterday (as a punishment) and is not allowed to drink on board now for the rest of this month! Needless to say those two upright intellectuals, who can always be depended on to do the right thing, Lobb and Wright, were in the Admiral’s company last night (ha ha).

I very nearly wasn’t though! I lay on my bunk to rest for an hour after tea and suddenly woke up to find it pitch dark, and was in a shocking panic I thought I’d slept right through the evening, luckily it was only twenty five past six (a bugle call must have woken me) but I was still in a panic, I had only 15 minutes to shave, shower, dress, stiff shirt and everything. Thank goodness for an electric razor! I made it, only just though, and arrived on the quarterdeck bang on time for our party, to which a good 250 people came, including Maharajahs and Maharanees, and even poor old Hermione Baddely, who’s in a cabaret show here trying to work her way out of bankruptcy apparently, a pathetic sight, very sad.

The Bengal Club dinner afterwards was excellent, a real throw-back to the “good old days” of British rule in India, with the old-timers who knew the club 30 years ago, in surroundings dating back to 1827. There were lots of toast and speeches, and the admiral was in good form, and I smoked an enormous cigar, and we played a sort of billiards afterwards, a really sedate evening, with good food, and an excellent opportunity to find out about the old India. But two o’clock to bed again!

Schoolie and I are convinced that we’ve had the maximum value out of Calcutta, we’ve seen the sordid side, the typically Indian scenes that many of the residents who’ve been here 20 years haven’t seen, and we’ve been lucky enough to go to the best official functions, and we haven’t wasted a moment. Many of the other officers have enjoyed themselves in different ways, mostly at night clubs (which I think is a waste of time) and of course some have gone too far as I have already told you.

Now we have to get 90 miles out of this shocking river, a couple of days at sea to regain our strength, and Madras next Monday morning. Only 48 days to go my love then I can put all this globe-trotting behind me and settle down and grow fat again, (maybe I’ll keep on a diet). Cheerio dear,

I love you, as ever, Ken xxxxxx

PS love to the kids.

At Sea - Sunday evening January 15

Hello My Lover,

We’ve had a comparatively quiet trip down from Calcutta. The first part coming down the Hooghly river was the tiresome, it’s 90 miles down from Calcutta to the sea, in a twisty river, not very deep, and naturally people get very nervy and on edge in case something goes wrong. Well something did, I was just sitting down to lunch on Friday when there was a shocking jar under the stern and a terrible vibration from one of the propellers (which had to be stopped) we’d just grounded and wiped off some fairings around the starboard outer propeller. We didn’t stop, but what a panic, everyone got so panicky, especially the poor old senior officers who are probably scared stiff of being court-martialled.

The same day one of my lads was found sleeping at his place of duty, and is now spending 10 days in the cells picking oakum. His crime was considered particularly serious since we were in such difficult waters. So now when we get to Madras tomorrow, we’ll have to send divers down to see how bad the damage is. It won’t be very much I don’t think, which is a good thing, we can’t have any delay at this stage! 45 days to go now, and we’re on the way back now, it’s surprising how everyone is brightening up! Every turn of the props is in the right direction.

It’s funny we stopped yesterday morning for an hour after firing at a practice torpedo, then to get it back on board. They decided to see how much damage there was under water, and they got a boat down and peered over the side to see through the beautifully clear water, and even considered swimming down with flippers and mask, but luckily decided against it. Three sharks promptly appeared and swum gently round the ship, and a line was hastily rigged, baited with beef, and one was caught and hauled up on the forecastle. It’s been skinned and cut up (and eaten by the Somalis), but when they were taking photos, one lad had his foot in its open mouth, and just as he’d taken it out, the mouth closed with a great snap! It wasn’t quite dead! He went as pale as a sheet.

Shark caught in the Bay of Bengal
Fo'c's'le with shark caught in the Bay of Bengal. The ship's gyro had gone out of sync as the watchkeeper had fallen asleep. In th left foreground is Alastair Hughes. Photo from Keith Butler, who was also on the 1955/56 commission as ordinary seaman.

I’m afraid my lads have had a rough few days lately, apart from the one in the cells, my chief is in the sick bay with thrombosis of the legs (same as Geoghegan) another lad is in with yellow jaundice, three others are sick, and one had a telegram yesterday to say his father (his only relative) had died. So I’m afraid we’re having a rough patch. I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

Today has been a wonderful day, an ideal Sunday at sea in beautiful weather. Divisions this morning followed by church on the quarterdeck, after which we had a group photograph taken of all the officers, and then the band played until lunch. After which I had a couple of hours sleep., and gave 1 1/2 hours voluntary instruction after tea, and this evening we’ve had a very good film on the quarterdeck, "We’re no Angels", very comical. If only every day at sea could be like today we’d have no recruiting problems. It’s been just like a pleasure cruise. Tomorrow morning at seven we arrive at Madras, which means getting up before six, not so good, and it means five days of hectic formal engagements, although I’ve no doubt Schoolie and I will find something to interest us.

It’s funny, I’ve just been looking back through my letters to you, and I notice for the past few weeks I haven’t been writing as frequently , I put it down to the fact that I’m using this big pad, and that my letters are in fact longer, and also I think that I’m getting so used to foreign sea-going that I no longer find so many novelties as I did six months ago. And not so much of interest to tell you. Thank goodness we’re not doing two years here, it would be awfully dull to go to the same places again. It’s only because we’ve kept fairly well on the move that this last year appears to have gone so quickly (for us at any rate), Also we has such a hectic programme at Calcutta.

Everyone is talking about train times now from Plymouth to their homes, we received an up to date timetable at Calcutta, and they’re all working out their trains for going on weekend when we get to Plymouth, thank goodness I shan’t have that bother! Now my lover I must turn in, it’s twenty to twelve, I don’t seem to get much lately at nights.

Give my love to the infants, I love you,

Your Own ever-amorous Ken xxxxx

Madras - Tuesday night January 17

Hello My Lover,

A pleasant welcome to Madras, two letters from you on arrival and another one today. One from G&G too, with one from Penny inside with a very inspired drawing of the budgies. You’re having some bad weather, but we’re sweltering in the heat again now we’ve come further south, but it’s much better here than in Calcutta where we didn’t get any sea breezes. I don’t think I’ll be able to keep you warm in bed, I’m relying on you to keep me warm when I return.

Fancy it being on the news that we were fog-bound, someone else was saying that there were pictures of us on TV last week too, what a thing it is to serve on a "crack cruiser" ha ha! As you say we’ll be setting off for home soon already plans are being made for our farewell festivities at Trinco next week, I’ve already had one invitation to a party given by the Senior British Naval Officer Ceylon, and one to dinner with his Secretary, so I suppose we shall have a hectic last week there. Thank goodness when that’s over!

Well Madras is a nice city, comparatively clean if compared with most. Yesterday evening we had our party on board to which all the best people came, and after which Schoolie and I were invited to join some of the locals at the Gymkhana Club, from where we went to the cinema (for which I was profoundly glad, at least it meant two hours rest from drinking, and although this place is supposed to be a prohibition city, it comes out from under the counter everywhere, and I’d had much brandy, whisky and even beer forced on me by then and nothing to eat since midday, I was very glad to have a rest).

The film was "Footsteps in the Fog" with Jean Simmons and Stewart Grainger, a morbid murder film, after which we went back to the club, and praise be, at half past midnight had ham and eggs and chips, for which I really was ready by then, 12 hours without anything to eat! And so back on board by 0130! The people, as everywhere else, are extraordinarily glad to have a Naval ship in though, and we can’t refuse their hospitality, it would be undiplomatic. I’ve had the best reception here of anywhere though, my mail yesterday included a letter from a local resident, addressed to me c/o the High Commissioner saying that Mr & Mrs Wright (no relation to Schoolie) would be pleased to entertain me all day, and would call for me at the ship at 10.30 in the morning.

He is the Chief engineer of the biggest cotton mill here, and picked out my name from the list of officers. Of course I was pleased to go, and sure enough his wife met me with an enormous car and chauffeur at 10.30 and we drove around the city to see its layout and visited the old fort, which has the oldest English church in Asia, and where Clive was married, and went to the Museum, and then onto their club where we collected their 17 year old daughter (on holiday from school in England) and then to lunch in what they called their “bungalow”, but which actually is an enormous mansion by our standards, in beautiful grounds, with gardener, chauffeur, butler, cook and ayah! Magnificent opulence! However they’re awfully nice people, she’s been out here since 1929 with him, and they’ve seen enormous changes in their time here. After lunch he took me to the mills, where I went over the electrical power station, and then through the processes with one of the textile men (from Lancaster) and it was very interesting, they have the biggest factory here, and the most modern machines, better than any in Europe, and much more up to date than in Lancashire.

After tea I bathed and changed into mess kit and we all went on to the Deputy High Commissioner’s house where most of the officers had already gathered, and there I introduced them to Schoolie, and the outcome was we both went to dinner with them, and back to the ship at midnight.

I forgot, yesterday afternoon Schoolie and I did our usual shopping jaunt (window shopping really) and went to a place that we’d been told not to miss, where we saw the best examples of Indian craftsmanship that we’ve seen yet. Wood carvings, inlaid work, painting, ivory carving, beautiful stuff, all quite useless though, but delightful to see, we spent over an hour in this shop examining things and we were quite overcome with it all. If only we had a house (and plenty of money) this is the place to stock it with beautiful things. We also went to a leather shop and saw alligator and snake skins, and bags and shoes made from them. There’s no doubt that the finest examples of handcrafts come from here, I’d like to bring a shipload of stuff back with me, but as I say it’s quite useless really, and we do want a motor car!

I’ve got quite used to these Indians now and can recognise the different types, for instance they are much darker skinned here in the South of India, and I’m used to their mannerisms (for instance they sort of shake their heads when they mean yes, instead of nodding) and I quite like them. Some of the most beautiful are the half caste women, and it is surprising how many Englishmen out here are married to Anglo-Indian women, though most of them will never come home to England again, where I suppose their wives wouldn’t be accepted as readily.

Well my lover I must bring this travelogue to an end, it’s all most interesting but I could go on for ever, I hope I don’t forget it all too quickly. I love you, and it’s only 43 days to go now, love to the kids.

From your ever-yearning Ken xxxxxx

Madras - Friday, January 20

Hello My Handsome,

Well that’s Madras finished! Tomorrow morning we’re off to Trinco for the last time, and will get there on Sunday morning. The programme here has tailed off a bit somehow. Perhaps it’s because it’s tame compared with Calcutta, or maybe we’re just tired and are really looking forward to 1st March more than ever. I know I went to sleep on Wednesday afternoon which is unusual really when we’re in a strange place, however tired I feel I usually go ashore to see the place. In the evening we went to the Resident Indian Naval Officers reception at a service mess here, very pleasant it was too, and of all things they had a pipe band (all black-faced) belonging to the 9th Madras Regiment. It was very novel for us to hear the bagpipes. But apparently, they are very proud of their pipe bands here and very good they are too. Once again we met a selection of influential Indians including a new type of Anglo-Indian from Pondicherry where there has been a strong French influence in the past. They are a very mixed race in places here.

Back on board early, but I wasn’t tired having had a couple of hours in the afternoon, so I read a thriller in bed. Yesterday I had my final fling at the handicraft places, I wouldn’t have gone ashore, but another officer had a car at his disposal so I went along to keep him company and eventually bought about 35/-s worth of curios. It’s very difficult, everything looks so wonderful, inlaid ivory work, beautiful carvings, and so on, and yet nothing is much use except for ornament. If we had a house there are lots of things I could buy, Indian carpets, (which are very cheap) tables and chairs, some of the staff officers living at Trinco have gone mad on household purchases.

In the evening we went to the Adyan Club, seven miles out of the city, one of the remnants of the "good old days" of British rule in India, a wonderful building, where they gave a party for the officers, with supper (very good) dancing and sitting (I did the sitting and watching) and where we joined the Wrights who gave me such a good day on Tuesday. It was very pleasant and relaxing to watch, and it didn’t break up until half past two this morning, and I finally turned in at half past three. I invited the Wrights on board at lunchtime today, which they seemed to enjoy, although I had to leave them at quarter to one (Schoolie took over then) to go to the Army Area HQ Mess, twelve miles out of Madras to lunch with the Indian Army Staff there.

Four of us went , in our jeep, and it really is a fine place, another relic of British occupation, built in 1795, and beautifully laid out and lavishly decorated with coats of arms of all the Governors of Madras since 1795 and hung about with old swords and guns, relics of the Indian mutinies. The Indian Officers were all very proud of the place and are keeping it in good preservation since 1947 since we moved out. I suppose it is now part of their tradition. Anyway, they were a pleasant lot and gave us fine chicken lunch and brought us back to the ship at half-past four. Just right for a cup of tea, after which I stretched out on my bunk and slept until seven.

I had thought of going to the cinema tonight to see an Indian film, but the second performance doesn’t start until half-past nine, and the films last 2 3/4 hours, and after talking it over, Schoolie and I decided we’d be better off in bed, especially as we couldn’t understand a word they said. Although it would have been interesting to see their style of film. They make a lot of films in India (they’re the third biggest film producers in the world) and there are at least 3 film studios here in Madras. So, there we are! I have to be up at six in the morning to leave Madras, ridiculous really, nine o’clock would be time enough.

Next week we have to start practising our farewell to Trinco, speeches from all the senior officers of course, cheering by numbers and all that. I overheard two sailors today giving their ideas of what the Admiral will say in his speech, it was very comical, and I don’t suppose they’ll be far wrong. Massawa is the next big port of call after Trinco, but I’m looking forward to doing my final shopping in Aden, rather more experienced than when I called there on our way out here. Goodnight now my love,

I love you and am looking forward to snuggling down with you.

Your Own everloving Ken xxxxxxx

Trincomalee - Monday, January 23

Hello My Love

We’ve just heard that 3 bags of air-mail for the ship have gone adrift somewhere, so we’re not very pleased about it, although I’ve no doubt it will turn up eventually. We had an uneventful trip back from Madras, a nice sleep on Saturday afternoon I’m glad to say, and we arrived back in Trinco yesterday morning, and went straight to the oiling jetty and moved across to the flagship buoy this afternoon. I’m getting quite attached to this harbour, I’m always glad to get back here, I think it is because it’s so natural, with the nice green jungle coming right down to the water’s edge, very restful and pleasant. Yesterday afternoon Schoolie and I walked across to Clappenburg Bay to deliver some embroidered tablemats he’d been asked to get in Calcutta by one of the dockyard people here. We lay in the sun and has a swim, it was a delightful day, and then delivered these things at teatime (very clever, we were invited to tea!) after which we were driven back to the ship. Cinema night, a very morbid film "The Prisoner" with Alec Guiness as a RC Cardinal on trial for treason in a Communist country, showing how, though he was innocent, he was finally broken down to confess everything. A shocking film really, but quite typical of what goes on in these places.

This evening I went to see the Bullen’s first to take him a motor to be repaired in the dockyard, and also to deliver some towels I bought for them in Calcutta (about half the price of those here). They were very unhappy, their children had been ill, then the cook had left, and she’s had to do all the work herself for two days! Finally, they asked me out to the cinema ashore but said they’d already seen the film and weren’t sure they could get a baby-sitter. I politely declined their invitation and beat a hasty retreat.

Back on board I found I’d been invited to dinner on Friday with the secretary to the Senior British Naval Officer Ceylon, and his wife. Suddenly I am in demand! I have engagements for Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Monday, and two others not fixed yet! They’ll be glad to see us leave on Tuesday really I expect. Anyway, I wasn’t cheated out of my cinema. I went to the Naval Mess ashore after supper with Schoolie to see "Father’s Little Dividend" with Spencer Tracy, a very funny film of a father’s tribulations when his daughter gets married and has a baby. So was so true to life! All the bickering’s between the in-laws about names, and trying to help the poor young mother, and driving her to tears because she wasn’t allowed to manage her baby in her own way. I could see us at almost every stage of the film and relive the troubles we had, including a rush to the hospital in the middle of the night for a false alarm! A very pleasant evening, with the cinema out on the lawn among the trees, very nice, much better than the frantic panic we have on board.

I’ll put in a photo taken of me early in the month by a marine. I was walking across the upper-deck when he said, "Hang on a minute Sir, I’ll take a picture of you." So you see me in my “working” dress (ha ha) on a rather dull day, with a strongish wind blowing. I’m afraid the enlargement isn’t very good, the small one is best, with the frigate coming up astern. I thought you’d better have an up-to-date photo so you’ll be able to recognise me next month! I’d better send G&G one too, although I suppose it will be hawked all around Cornwall!

The Captain sent for me this morning at half past seven (what a good job I was already up and had had my breakfast) to say he was writing my report and was making it a very good one. He was very pleasant about it, which was something of a surprise, because I had a shocking row with him 10 days ago when he sentenced one of my chaps to 10 days cells, because I didn’t think he’d had a fair trial and said so; although the following day at Divisions he did an unprecedented thing which caused a lot of comment at the time, by telling me to fall out my division before he’d inspected them. Which was really a very great vote of confidence in me, for everyone in the ship to see, and shows that he must have had second thoughts about the chap in cells, although by then he couldn’t change the sentence. The other thing too, which I haven’t mentioned before (because I only tell you the nice things) is that the Commander "L" and I don’t agree at all, and haven’t done right from the start, which makes the working day very difficult, although I always get the right results; and I ‘ve been rather afraid that he wouldn’t write a very good report for me, in any case the Captain has the last word! However, I had really written this year off as a professional disaster. I can’t understand it really, because I’ve never had any difficulty before. Anyway, it looks as though it will all come right in the end, I’m not unduly depressed, I get on OK with the Commander and the Captain (and Admiral!) and all the other officers. Enough of that!

Well my love, we leave for home next Tuesday the 31st January, and I’m sure we’ll all be very excited on March 1st. I’m enclosing a permit for you to come into the Dockyard on that day, although I’ll have to tell you the time later on, it will either be later in the morning, or early afternoon.

I hope the infants are well, I don’t suppose Susan and Andrew will know me, never mind, they soon will. Cheerio now my love, I love you of course.

Your ever-ardent Ken xxxxxxx

PS Don’t lose your pass!

Trincomalee - Thursday, January 26

Hello My Lover,

An evening on board tonight for a change, I’ve had a leisurely dinner followed by a cigar (I shall be swearing next!) now I’m going to write this and then to bed ands read. On Tuesday afternoon Schoolie and I went by boat over to Plantain Point, the other side of the harbour and had a swim and basked in the sun, very pleasant. The dental officer gave us a lift back around the harbour in his Morris 8, and on the last stage of our journey back to the jetty by RN bus we met the wife of one of the Admiralty civilians here who insisted that we went back with her instead of going on board, and we sat chatting with her and her husband for a couple of hours in their bungalow, and then made our way back to the ship. A pleasant change.

Yesterday afternoon I had a sleep until teatime and then went to watch my lot win a game of soccer, after which I went to SBNO’s (Senior British Naval Officer) cocktail party. After that we didn’t feel like going back to the ship and changing into uniform to have supper, so Schoolie and I and our monocle Supply Officer (do you remember whose ginger wife was having a baby when we were in Plymouth) decided to go to the Chinese restaurant in the village and have some Chinese chow for a change. Which we did, me eating with chop sticks too, though the others didn’t try. After that we went to the jeweller’s where the other chap has a very expensive set of stones on order, and had half an hours instruction in how to tell a good gem from a bad one, and had all his stock out, some hundreds of thousands of rupees worth, and had a most interesting and instructive time, buying nothing after all that, but even so the jeweller plied us with cool drinks and then sent us back to the dockyard in his car. What a funny lot they are, can you imagine that happening in England?

From there we went to the mess ashore to discuss the new officer structure, which you have heard and read about, and are probably wondering what it all means. So far as I’m concerned it means I become a general list officer, and can be employed on any duties (not just electrical work), promotion to Commander will be much later, and I’ll have to serve until I’m fifty now instead of forty-five and if I’m promoted until 53! Most of the officers are against the scheme, but they’ll get used to it, and I don’t mind what I do, I’ve always wanted to drive the ship anyway! In fact, I hope it will mean that I get a change from electrics. In any case it doesn’t come into force until January 1957. And eventually back to the ship at midnight.

This afternoon I’ve been to see Geoghegan and his wife, they’re both leaving for home in a troopship on 6th February. She’s still very small and slim, I think she’ll have white mice in April! I feel sorry for her being dumped in England in the winter, and he’ll have to go to the Haslar hospital anyway. Then I went to tea with the Bullen’s and then went down to the Pettah shopping with them, she’s been anxious to buy something for our infants and I had to go along to help choose.

And back on board for supper. So there we are, you’re up to date again. The time is absolutely flying by, I shall soon be home, trying to keep warm! Love to you all,

From Your Ever-loving Ken xxxxxx

Trincomalee - Sunday Morning, January 29

Hello My Lover,

Another couple of hectic days over, another couple to go, and then we can settle down to 7 or 8 restful days at sea, on the way home! On Friday afternoon I went to sleep and after tea the Admiral (ashore now of course in Admiralty House flying his flag from the signal tower, so we’re no longer the flagship) was holding an open house to say farewell to any officers who cared to go along, so Schoolie and I went along and said farewell to him and his wife, and discussed the better parts of the cruise, particularly the Khyber Pass. She’s very pleasant and very motherly, and as we left she said, "I shan’t forget you, you know." From there we went on to our evening engagement, at the Avery’s, the Bullen’s were also there and another couple from the civil side out here. A pleasant friendly sort of evening, they killed some of their chickens for dinner, and a good time was had by all, and they’d even arranged for the police harbour patrol launch to pick us up at the nearest jetty and take us back to the ship at midnight.

Yesterday morning I was up early and added a new experience to my list, I flew a Sunderland flying boat over Trincomalee. Notice I say I flew it and not flew in it. I really was in, but I drove it too for about ten minutes, shallow climbs and dives and turns, jolly exciting. The RAF at Singapore keep two Sunderland’s here and yesterday morning I took over a lieutenant, a sub, and three midshipmen and they took us up for a couple of hours. Ceylon looks wonderful from the air, and we did two runs across the harbour at 50ft passing up each side of the ship at bridge level, and then up the coast for 100 miles flying just over the surface of the sea, and a spell at 2,500ft. I sat in the co-pilot’s seat and when we were up the pilot said, "OK, it’s all yours, have a go," very unofficial, but jolly good fun. They’re beautifully big, steady aircraft, you know the sort the RAF had at Lee on Solent, that used to land and take off on Southampton water, we used to watch them from Hill-head.

Last operational flight of the Royal Air Force Sunderland Flying Boat from 205 Squadron out of Changi Creek in Singapore in the 1960s

Yesterday afternoon my lot beat the engineering ratings at rugby, it was a very exciting game too, very thrilling and very rough, most enjoyable to watch, much better than soccer.

In the evening we had our farewell cocktail party on board, attended by all the Service Officers here, and the higher civilians, the usual sort of thing. Only one more such parties, at Massawa, and then our social duties are over for the commission. Today we have to entertain the shore staff at midday, and this evening the marines are “beating retreat” ashore, and there’s our usual Sunday Cinema. We shall be glad to move off on Tuesday, this last week is as crowded as if we were in a strange port.

You must expect a couple of long gaps in letters now, between here and Aden, and Malta, after which after which of course there’ll be no more writing. In fact you shouldn’t write any more after the 19th February because I shan’t get them.

Well, the end is in sight (as the actress said to the bishop!) and it won’t be long now (as the bishop said to the actress!) so cheerio my love, give my love to the infants, I’d forgotten it will be pinch and punch day, as ever,

Your ever-loving Ken xxxxxx

PS A couple of stamps for Penny from someone else’s’ letter.

At Sea, going in the right direction. Tuesday, January 31

Hello My Love,

On the way home at last, after all these days of counting, although really the time has flown and watching the jungles and white beaches dropping behind this morning it doesn’t seem long ago that we first saw them. We had a wonderful send-off this morning, all the people ashore were up early and lining the dockyard, and all the launches were out, with flags flying and fireworks going off, the fire float with all its hoses going, another launch with the band playing away, it was a magnificent effort. We manned ship (sailors all along the rails from end to end) and gave three cheers, all together with caps circling together, very impressive, the Admiral made us a signal saying how splendid we looked leaving harbour. We had our paying-off pennant streaming astern too. All very touching but there’s no doubt that they were sorry for us to be leaving, which was not the case with the last cruiser out here!

The Admiral came on board yesterday morning and had all the ship’s company gathered on the quarterdeck, and had quite a lot to say about our time out here. He’s very pleased with everything, we’ve done a lot to overcome the bad taste that the last lot out here left, and he was quite overcome at the end when he wished us farewell, and scuttled down the ladder quickly, blinking furiously. I think we have done our best wherever we’ve been to uphold the interests of the Navy, and the country, and although it seems old-fashioned now, I think we have done our share in increasing British prestige out here. I certainly feel that I’ve done my share anyway!

The last couple of days have been very hectic, on Sunday afternoon we went to the parade ground ashore after tea, where our marines put on a display of drill, followed by "Beating Retreat", jolly good it was too, watched by all the Europeans here and hundreds of Ceylonese. In the evening it was our Cinema Night, "Mr Denning’s Drives North", a murder film to which we had a lot of guests, Schoolie and I asked 8 between us, including Pat and Steve Bullen, and the other Admiralty Civilians here who’ve been most friendly with us. Only five could come, which was just as well, it was so crowded, but a good time was had by all, and it didn’t finish until midnight.

Yesterday I went to watch the monkeys for the last time, and found about 30 together which I watched for half an hour. I suppose I’m simple, but they fascinate me, they’re so human. Then I went to see the Bullen’s to tea, and give the kids some sweets, and collect some things to take home. Back to the ship to change and off to the farewell party held in the mess ashore, which was really one round of saying goodbye to different people. The Admiral’s wife sought me out and said she’d brought her photos of the Khyber Pass along for me to see, and took me under a light and went through them all. It was very thoughtful of her really, she knows I was interested to see how they’d turned out. Then she told me to take which ones I’d like, she’s getting some more done, and of course I protested, but she insisted and I had a couple, one of camels and one of a fort. She must have thought I was unselfish because this morning the Captain passed me three more which she’d given to him later on with instructions to give them to me today! How nice of her.

Afterwards I went to supper with Schoolie, to the house of the shore establishment here. It was right across the other side of the harbour, a long boat ride and a tilly ride. We had a quiet pleasant evening, talking mostly, and left there at one o’clock, which meant another 2 o’clock to bed night, the last one for a long time, I hope! I feel useless this morning, it’s a good thing we didn’t have to work this afternoon, the whole ship slept solidly from 12.30 till four! I’m afraid this last month has been very tiring, but now I can relax from my arduous diplomatic and social duties and conserve my strength for next March 1st!

Incidentally we shall arrive in the Sound during the evening of 29th February, so as to get all our customs formalities over and come up harbour to the dockyard the following morning. It was quite a change to get paid this morning in real money, English pound notes, first we’ve had for months. What excitement there’s going to be, and we shall all feel so cold! I shall have to put on weight I can see!!

Cheerio now dear, I’m afraid it will be a good 12 days before you read this, when we shall be at Massawa.

Your ever-loving Ken xxxxx

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