Memoirs of an IAF Technical Signals Officer - 1
- Category: Jets and Growth 1948-64
- Last Updated: Tuesday, 05 May 2015 12:15
- Written by Wg Cdr Locksley Percival Fegredo
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Locksley Percival Fegredo was born in 1926 and joined the Indian Air Force in 1950 on completion of his University and Engineering education. As one of the first batch of technical officers, Locksley was involved in many of the pioneering efforts of the Indian Air Force involving electronics, airborne radar and communication.
The rapidly expanding Air Force employed the same philosophy of self-reliance that influenced govt decisions. This led to many opportunities unique to that period and unparalleled opportunities for furthering his engineering knowledge by undergoing courses abroad and project work at home. There was a downside to the rapid Air Force expansion; inadequate amenities, mainly accommodation for families. He was fortunate that his wife had the independence and self-reliance necessary to treat it all as one great adventure.
He would spend twenty years in uniform before deciding to try something very different and start a new life in Australia. He continued his involvement with engineering projects, this time as Systems Engineer for a large American engineering company engaged in leading edge technology in a variety of industrial projects.
Locksley passed away in NSW in Australia in February 2011, aged 85.
I have written these memoirs of my life because of a request from Samir Chopra, who was here recently in Sydney on a visit from New York. I was reluctant to write my memoirs of the Air Force at first, as I have never been involved in any combat operations. However, Samir explained that he is one of a group involved with collating articles about the Indian Air Force; and that they have already published quite a wide spectrum of experiences of ex-service men on the Internet, but none about those in the Technical Branches. He was concerned that histories of many projects and stories of the Technical and other Branches might otherwise be lost forever. I reluctantly agreed to do what I could to help and trust that what I have put down is readable and of interest to others besides my own immediate family and friends.
As I began writing, I realized that I had lived in an unique period of India's history, the first twenty-one years of my life was spent during British rule; with my father, a doctor serving in various British Military Hospitals from the North-East to the North-West of India.
Towards the end of this period, the British decided to give India independence and conducted a plebiscite, resulting in the division of India based on religion. Finally, Independence was declared; India was split in two resulting in communal violence, which at first, seemed out of control.
The next twenty-three years were spent in Independent India; literally, as I lived for considerable periods in every state of the country, and got to know the country and the people as well as one could living mainly in either Railway (with my parents), or Indian Air Force enclaves.
My early life has been unusual in that I spent it mostly away from home, in boarding school, engineering college, or Jesuit noviciate. Those that I met during these periods and the attitudes that prevailed during each period shaped much of my thinking and attitudes. I have therefore added a few details of this part of my life that might otherwise seem out of place in a document related to the Air Force. I have also attempted to describe service conditions in those early days and the heroism of wives in coping with the frequent moves and lack of accommodation. This faith in Providence is perhaps the aspect that now impresses me most.
I have unfortunately never kept a diary, so I have had to rely on an increasingly uncertain memory, especially for names and dates. Luckily, I have the Observers/Air Gunners Log book that I used for Flight Signaller duties to refer to for those events involving flights; I also used the job resume? I wrote just before leaving India for Australia, which had dates and brief descriptions of courses and postings. In all cases, I have tried to indicate clearly those events in which I have personal knowledge (or participation), from others that are based on hearsay.
PART ONE: CHILDHOOD AND SCHOOLING DAYS
Some Personal Details.-
I was born in September 1926. My father, at the time of my birth, was an Assistant Surgeon in the Indian Medical Department, posted to the British Military Hospital, Lebong; a suburb of Darjeeling. My mother had serious problems with her pregnancy and was admitted to the Presidency General Hospital, Calcutta where I was born, a seven months premature baby. My father could not get leave to be with her so she had to travel down to Calcutta, alone - part of the way to Jalpaiguri/Siliguri by 'Toy Railway' and then on to Calcutta.. Fortunately, my mother's parents lived in Calcutta and they were with her during this critical period.
I was baptised in the Catholic Church, with the name Locksley Percival Fegredo. Locksley, because my mother was highly impressed with the main character in Scott's Ivanhoe, and Percival , for my mother's father who was paralysed after suffering a stroke; a terrible cross for him to bear because he was a very active and independent man.
My mother's surname was also Fegredo; my parents were second cousins, their grandfathers being brothers. My father grew up in Lucknow whereas my mother's family lived in Calcutta and seems to have been quite rich, owning several properties.
I have a younger brother Desmond, born about eighteen months after me. My father was transferred frequently in his job. When I was about three, my father volunteered to go to Mocama Ghat to help control a Cholera epidemic, my mother and I accompanied him. While there, I picked up a serious eye infection, probably from the tiny 'eye flies' that infested the place. I remember that my eyelids were stuck together and that I was, in effect, blind. My parents took me to Calcutta for treatment. While under treatment, someone gave me a pair of spectacles probably to lift my spirits - because I could not even open my eyes. I still remember stumbling and feeling my way around in my uncle Gerald's house and creating a fresh panic when I banged into a metal 'piece' in the wall, the same height as my eyes, used for the curtain sash, and smashing the glass in the spectacles. The great fear was that some glass splinters had pierced the eyeball. However, thanks to the care by eye specialists and relatives, I survived all this with my eyesight intact and with normal vision.
When about four, my father worked in the British Military Hospital, Sialkot Cantonment. I recently made contact through the World Wide Web with a neighbour at the time- Basil Thyer, now living in Auckland, whose father was also in the IMD . Those were happy days, with an active club life for my parents. I remember there being many get-togethers and party games and our cooks vying with each other over eye-catching dishes and desserts made from spun sugar. My father also hired a horse for my brother and me to ride. My sister, Greta, was born in the Military Hospital, Sialkot in October 1932.
The only school was a small convent for primary school children, so when I was going on to six, my younger brother and I were sent to Calcutta to live with my Grandfather who had now retired, to attend St. Joseph?s College, Bow Bazaar, a two-minute walk from his house.
School Days in Calcutta.
I spent three years altogether in St. Joseph's, from Standard 1 to Standard 3. The Irish Christian Brothers along with some lay teachers ran St. Joseph's. I was successful in studies and in sports, and always among the top three positions in class. Examinations.
I still remember receiving my First Holy Communion in Standard 3, and learning a poem that has stuck with me all these years, this is how I remember the words -
Heights by great men, wrought and kept
Were not attained by sudden flight;
For they, while their companions slept
Were toiling upward in the night.
The arrangement to live with my grandparents lasted for a little over a year - I had a couple of near misses with death and the strain was too much for my aging grandparents, aunts and uncles, who all lived together. Looking back now, I can fully understand their feelings and fears, I am grateful that they kept us for as long as they did.
The first near miss was when I slipped through the rungs of a ladder sitting on a wooden platform on the first floor and which led to the flat roof of the two-storey house. The rungs of the ladder were about twenty feet or so above a stone staircase leading to the first floor of the house below the wooden platform. I somehow managed to turn and grab the edge of the wooden platform as I fell. I did not have the strength to pull myself up, and my screaming aunt got my granddad out of the toilet in a hurry. He pulled me up and saved me from serious injury, if not death. I have often recalled the one-in-a-million chance of surviving an accident such as this, and can only attribute God's special protection and my guardian angel to have brought me through. (Especially now that I live not far from the Royal Rehabilitation Centre, Ryde and sometimes see quadriplegics on wheel chairs playing tennis. This event and other observations in my life have given me a strong faith in a loving, personal, God with Whom all things turn out well in the end).
The second incident was when I almost fell off the roof, which had a low parapet wall. I was trying to hook the trailing 'manja' (thread) of a kite that had been cut in a kite fight. I was using a pole, which had a nail at its end - for that purpose. I tripped, managed to save myself from falling off the roof, but got the rusty nail through the middle of the bridge of my nose just missing my right eye. My uncle Gerald, who lived at home at the time, rushed me to hospital to have the wound cleaned and get an anti-tetanus injection. I still carry the scar and the broken nose appearance seventy years later!
My mother came down from Sialkot with my baby sister, and we lived with her in a flat to continue attending the same school. To join us, as well as to advance his career, my father obtained a year's study leave shortly after this and attended the School of Tropical Medicine in Calcutta to complete the Diploma of Tropical Medicine and Diploma of Public Health courses. These qualifications were responsible for him obtaining important positions later in Assam when seconded to the Eastern Bengal and Assam Railway.
My parents, but my mother in particular, put our education before everything else. No sacrifice was deemed too much for us to get a good education, and this message seems to have got through to us as well. My father supported her in this goal by earning extra money through private practice whenever he could do so.
School Days in Lahore - 1936 to 1937.
In 1936, my father was posted to the British Military Hospital, Lahore cantonment, so we attended St. Anthony?s School in Lahore city as day scholars, I was then in the fourth standard. I remember cycling daily to school, my brother on the crossbar of a cycle ridden by our bearer. This continued until I nearly died of sunstroke, and my parents decided to make us boarders at the school, fortuitously, because Dad was posted to Ferozepore shortly after this and we did not need to have another schooling change.
We stayed in St. Anthony?s for two years, until the winter of 1937, when I completed Standard  5; although I tried hard, my school results in Lahore were poor. The Irish Patrician brothers ran St. Anthony's, the Principal, Bro. Dineen personally taught me and for some reason considered me a promising student. This was to prove a great blessing because my father was posted to Razmak, in the North West frontier province and a non-family station, while Bro. Dineen, coincidently, was sent as Principal to St. George?s College, Barlowganj, Mussoorie. This College was located on one of the hills about eight kilometres from the town of Mussoorie.
Bro. Dineen convinced my parents to transfer us to St. George?s College Mussorie where he would now be in charge; he said that he would keep an eye on us, and we would be able to complete our education to college level without further interruptions due to my father's frequent postings. I can never be grateful enough for his foresight and concern. My brother in a visit to the school a few years ago instituted an award in his name as a token of our appreciation.
School Days in Mussoorie
St. Georges College, Manor House, Mussoorie, was one of about eight boarding schools scattered around Mussoorie. The Irish Patrician Brothers ran St. George's; they wore cassocks with a broad green sash. The school term was from late February to November when we all travelled to and from school by bus and train in three or four supervised groups to the main cities. We led a protected life in school and had a rigid routine of early rising, going to Church, attending classes, playing in scheduled games and sports, and lastly, supervised while doing our homework in a common study hall, and then to bed. School rules permitted us a visit to Mussoorie itself, only on the last Saturday of the month, where we could indulge ourselves eating in a café and going to the movies. Since the last Saturday was also used by most of the other boarding schools in the area, the cinema arranged two movies, one in the morning and one in the afternoon so that we could walk back to school before curfew ended.
This Spartan way of life completely shielded us from world events, and in particular major social upheavals like the freedom movement in India - we had no access to newspapers or radio. To compound this further, my father's postings were normally to far-flung cantonment stations where I had little companionship and spent most of my holidays exploring the countryside with our bearer  and later, after the war when my father left the army for the East India Railway, exploring the jungles of Assam with a jungle-cutter . Although India has a rich mix of people belonging to different communities, each with their own culture, language, religion and cuisine, living in Military or Railway colonies where English was spoken, I had few opportunities, or incentives to get deeply involved and learn more of them.
I stayed at St. George's from 1938 to 1944, from Standard 6 to the Intermediate Science. I was a poor student in my first year, then my fortunes changed, we got Barney McCaroll as the class 'master' in the 7th Standard; for the first time most of the subjects made sense, especially Arithmetic and Algebra. To my delight, I began to be at the top of the class and have never looked back after that.
I also owe a debt of gratitude to Mr. Atzenwiler who taught me in the Junior Cambridge class, he lived on the grounds and often watched us play; he would offer small cash prizes to those of us who could solve problems that he would set, in a diverse range of mathematical subjects. He would pick the problems out of books related to mathematics, one example that I recall, came from 'geometrical constructions for survey students'. His selections appeared to be chosen at random. These exercises first taught me not to be afraid of tackling any task or project that came my way later in life without having to have any excuses, feeling I needed always to have full formal training or preparation before tackling a problem. This gave me the self-confidence and courage needed to tackle raw problems, creatively, a characteristic that was invaluable later in life both, in the Air Force, and later after immigrating to Australia.
Solving one particularly difficult problem in geometry taught me a valuable lesson that I have adopted routinely - exploiting the power of the sub-conscious mind. This problem took several days to solve, I thought about it constantly, especially just before sleeping. One morning I woke up with the solution, having solved it in my sleep. I had the good sense to scribble down the key step that led to the solution, and then rushed along with the rest of the dormitory to wash and get ready for Mass. Later that day I looked at my scribbled note and solved the problem to the delight of Mr. Atzenwiler. (Letting go and allowing the unfettered mind do the job has also come to my help in many critical situations, such as major public examinations, completing difficult projects, even when involved in activities such as solving crosswords and anagrams).
A Franciscan Monastery was located adjacent to St. George's, between St. George's and St. Fidelis's schools. We attended daily Mass at the Monastery Church and I regularly served at Mass - in those days, there was quite a bit of Latin that had to be memorised. I became good friends with the twenty or so Italian monks who lived there. The Monastery had a large orchard and a farm and the monks were largely self-sufficient and generous to us kids. I still remember tasting the wine they made from the wild 'Foxy grapes' that grew on bushes on a nearby hill they owned - which we called Fox Hill. These grapes were small juicy purple seedless berries and were slightly sweet. Fr. Luke was in charge of the monastery, I still remember the sad day in 1942, when he stood on the pulpit at Mass, tearfully, to wish us goodbye, when he along with his other Italian compatriots had to depart under the orders of the British Government to an Internment camp.
I found that although I tried all sports I could only excel only at a few like boxing, 0.22-calibre rifle shooting, marathon-style long distance running, and freestyle swimming and diving. I won my school colours for winning the swimming championship in 1943, and now looking back; believe that I had taken full advantage of all the opportunities given me at school for studies, sports and character formation. Those were perhaps the most happy, carefree days of my life - or so it seems now!
I discovered to my surprise that it did not take much forethought or planning to dramatically improve my performance in any of the sports I discovered I could do well. I found a book on Johnny Weissmuller where he described the American crawl and during the three-month winter holiday began to study the stroke. I began to practise synchronising the arm and leg strokes, and breathing while lying across my bed, which supported my stomach and freed my arms and legs. I would then try it out in the local 'Crystal Pool' . When I returned to school the next year, I found an amazing improvement in my speed; I began to come first in the free-style events and kept this record until I left school.
I have often had opportunities to revisit Mussoorie and St. George's, but I have not yet done so for fear of finding too many changes, which may mar the happy memories of my childhood.
To describe the character of the Patrician Brothers and their relationship with the boys, I must mention the following incident:-
In 1942, my father was camped not far from Mussoorie with a regiment that was on its way to the Burma war-front. He used this opportunity to visit us in school. The Principal, Br. Phelan, accommodated him in Whitbank castle where the parlour boarders (Indian princes and such) lived. This was a short walk away from the main school building, across a suspension bridge over a deep ravine. My brother and I spent the night with him in his room. He told me years later, when I was giving him the usual school-boy horror stories about Bro. Phelan, who was then Principal, and who taught me Physics and Higher Mathematics, of the great peace of mind that Bro. Phelan had given him during this difficult period. He said that Bro. Phelan had assured him that should anything happen to him during the war, the Brothers, would give us two boys a full education without charge, and that my mother was not to worry about us in any way (or about the need for any payment). We both had won scholarships from the Anglo-Indian Education Board for our Junior and Senior Cambridge public examinations results, so this may have been a contributing factor. However, I honestly believe that the Brothers were generous and loving enough to make this offer without there being any financial compensation linked to their offer.
Incidents in life such as these have convinced me of the basic goodness and benign nature of the world God has given us, and a tendency to trust in the goodwill of others; something borne out in a life spent in many strange places.
Incidentally, a few other IAF officers also studied at St. George?s during my time:-
Denis LaFontaine who later became the Chief of the Air Staff, was two years junior to me (he and I go back to 1934 or 1935 in Lahore, when his father, Dr. LaFontaine was also posted to the British Military Hospital, Lahore Cantonment). Dennis?s parents and I remained close friends throughout their lives; and when they retired, lived as neighbours in Bangalore for some years.
Jimmy Tapsall - who became a test pilot; Girish Bansi - a fighter pilot; and Len Coelho, 'my best pal' at school, who was killed in 1948, not long after completing his flying training, I heard that the engine of his plane (a Tempest), exploded in mid-air. He did not have a chance to bail out. There were others before and after me who served in the Army and Navy as well, who also came through Manor House. I recently visited the schools 'web site' and discovered to my surprise that the Keilor brothers were also old boys of Manor House. They were there a few years after my time though, which is why I was not aware of them having studied at my old school when I first heard of their meritorious exploits during operations.
1944 to 1946 - University studies in Calcutta.
During the war, my Father served in various theatres of war on the Burma Front, including the invasion of Ramree Island. When war broke out the IMD personnel were given Commissions and merged with the IAMC . My mother rented a house in Calcutta for the duration of the war, so after completing the I.Sc in Mussoorie in 1944, I began the B.Sc (Hons Maths) in St. Xavier's College, Park Street, Calcutta as a day-scholar.
A brief side note. Malcolm Wollen, who later made his mark in the Air Force, as well as Chairman of Hindustan Aircraft Company, Bangalore lived across the lane with his sister?s family during this period, having come to Calcutta from Bangalore to do the I.Sc. examination at St. Xavier?s College. A friendship that I value began at that time and has grown over the years.
I excelled at St. Xavier's College, completing the B.Sc (Honours) in 1946 with a First Class, First rank result, which set the standard for me whenever I undertook any task later in life. I must credit both my success and my attitude to duty to Fr. Goreux, a Jesuit priest, a brilliant mathematician, (who had once collaborated with Prof. Einstein in Europe), and who personally instructed us in most of the subjects. He made himself always available to me, no matter what the time, or need was. He was one of the persons who stand out as a principal mentor in my life. I have imbibed many of his values and prized his friendship.
A lesson I learnt from him was that whenever I had difficulties in absorbing concepts, or solving problems in higher mathematics, was not to stubbornly persist and get more fatigued and confused, but to go on to another subject and get back to the problem hours later, or the next day. This takes some discipline. The difficulties that seemed insurmountable then seemed to vanish! I also found going to the movies was wonderful for me to clear my mind.
I should also mention that I did not attend the convocation ceremony and therefore was oblivious to my winning two gold and two silver medals. These were memorial awards given for various achievements each year and the winners were announced only at the time of actual graduation. These are the Dependranath Gangopadhyay medal awarded "for having obtained the highest number of marks on the combined results of Mathematics Honours in the B.A. and B.Sc examinations", the second medal is the "Manmathanath Bhattacharyya memorial medal", the third is the "Dayalchand Sen Medal", and the fourth is the "Herschel Medal". Apart from the first medal, where the inscription describes the award, I have no idea for what achievement the others were awarded. I am indebted to my brother Desmond, who was one year junior to me and did the B.Sc (Hons) in Chemistry, who spotted these awards over a year later in one of the old magazines of the University and applied for the medals on my behalf, he had to persist, because he was told that they were now time barred. He finally succeeded, and I now proudly display them in a two-way glass frame.
July 1946 to March 1947 - Jesuit Noviceate
After more than two years in close contact with the Belgian Jesuit Fathers teaching at St. Xavier's College, especially with Fr. Goreux, I developed a strong desire to follow him and also dedicate my life to serving God, with a vocation to educate the young. I applied and was accepted by the Father Provincial of the Jesuit order, and entered the Jesuit noviciate located at Hazaribagh. The period of training for a novice lasts two years and the routine is a complete departure from normal life. Self-discipline was the key feature here, the toll of the bell directed every activity; a novice was expected to instantly leave whatever he was doing to throw himself into the next item in the day's programme. Rules of silence were strictly observed, everything was done on a voluntary basis, and motivation came from one's conscience and the inner drive towards holiness. Talking was permitted three times a day, for half an hour after lunch, during games in the evening and then for an hour after dinner. The only time one could exercise the brain was while learning Latin - for half an hour only a day. We spent the rest of the day in religious exercises, meditation, spiritual reading and classroom discussion of religious texts. These texts were typically from religious classics such as Thomas a' Kempis's "Imitation of Christ", or similar.
I initially enjoyed the break from studies; the food we ate came from the Noviciate farm, tended by an Italian Jesuit brother, and was fresh and very wholesome - I felt a great peace after the hurly-burly of college life and examinations before this. Life was initially, I think somewhat like a stay at a health farm! However, after a while, I began to miss using the brain and struggling with problems, gradually the mind began to work on itself and I developed a strong case of religious scrupulosity, which provided all the mental exercise I was missing and more! This is a compulsive - obsessive disorder and destroys one's peace of mind. I suffered a great deal, it was too personal a problem to confide in other novices and because the Master of Novices (a holy man, but not overly exposed to human nature and its abnormalities) missed the condition, I began to deteriorate. I felt imprisoned, but persevered, trying to complete the noviciate, because I felt that any other course would be pandering to my weakness.
After the thirty-day retreat, sometime in January 1947, when talking was restricted to half an hour a week, I was ready 'to climb the walls'. The Rector, who had little to do with us, detected my problem and advised the Master of Novices about my mental state, who then began to take corrective action.
I was excused from all the daily routine and housed in a separate bungalow. I had a missionary priest as a companion and went to the neighbouring villages to visit those who were sick and needed attention. After a week or so of this, I was sent to St. Xavier's College, Calcutta to be among my old Jesuit friends. It was a real tonic to see Fr. Goreux and Fr. Turmes, both of whom were especially close to me. I had long talks with both, they were proud of me and wanted me to stay in their order if I possibly could. After a couple of weeks of pampering, I went to stay with a Jesuit priest who lived on his own in Ranchi running a printing press.
I think that the novice master had arranged this so that an independent person, a man of the world as it were, could assess whether I had a vocation for the priesthood or not. This priest had a unique background, he had been a fighter pilot in his youth, was a mechanical engineer, and ran the printing press which met all the needs of the Jesuit province in addition to taking on outside contracts. I still remember he had an outstanding cook; the meals were all of gourmet class and fit for a five star establishment. He tried to draw me out and involved me in structural engineering calculations that were necessary for the building extension that he was planning. I am afraid that all this was far too late. I think all I wanted then was to gain my freedom, but could not bring myself to make the final move in case I was refusing a genuine call from God and acting out of weakness. Finally, after a couple of weeks of this, the master of novices visited us, (Hazaribagh was an hour or two by bus away from Ranchi), and told me that they had now determined that I did not have a vocation for the priesthood. It was a great relief. I remember walking off to catch the long-distance bus to Calcutta to stay with my Uncle Joseph; on the way to the bus I bought a packet of cigarettes - puffing away at these symbolised (as well as celebrated) the new freedom I now had.
I should make a few observations about life in Hazaribagh, we had about six or seven Indian aboriginal novices, although they had grown up in relatively primitive conditions they were remarkable in many ways, and I learned a lot from them and got to respect and admire them. We would go, in pairs, on long two-hour walks on Saturday mornings and after saying the rosary we spent the rest of the time chatting. This is when I learnt a lot about the other novices with me.
I had often admired the dribbling skill of some of the aboriginal novices at hockey, and learnt that a hockey stick was a luxury and easy to use after the roughly shaped branches they used in their villages.
I also learnt how they would trap and kill wild deer for food - if one person spotted a deer grazing, he would wait until it began to chew the cud. He would then begin the chase on foot, thereby interrupting the final chewing process. When the deer approached the next village, he would communicate by high-pitched cooees and those from that village would begin to takeup the chase. Preventing the deer from chewing the cud resulted in fermentation of the undigested food; the gases, which then formed, distended the stomach. This, along with the continuous chasing, slowed the deer and made it easy to catch and kill. They did something similar to catch fish. A natural depression near a river would be allowed to fill, it would then be dammed. After selecting a fish, two persons at opposite ends, would keep prodding at the fish, which darted from one end to the other. After a while the fish was tired enough to be picked up easily by hand.
I should also mention Guy Carlson, although he was one year ahead of me, our routines and activities were identical. We played centre forward and left inner at soccer and combined well, scoring often. We became friends. His parents settled in Whitefield, about ten kilometres from Bangalore, where my parents and where we too lived, much, later in the mid 1960's. This fostered a friendship that has continued in Australia - as Fr. Guy, as he now is, immigrated in 1971. He is at present at St. Canisius College in Pymble, a suburb of Sydney about twenty minutes away from where we now live. He is a frequent guest at family get-togethers.
Hazaribagh, ('one thousand tigers' in Hindi), still had a reputation for having many wild animals. Although I did not see any evidence of wild animals such as tiger, or bear when I was there in 1946, some of the other novices who were city born and bred never overcame a fear of being attacked, especially during the Saturday walks through the bush. On one occasion a pair of novices played a practical joke on another pair, they hid behind bushes and made noises like a bear - one of the pair, already in a high state of anxiety, totally panicked. He ran wildly through thorn-bushes tearing his clothes and skin. We all sobered up after that and nothing like that was ever done again.
I left the noviciate and spent the next two months with my parents. The war was over and my father was now seconded permanently from the army to the Eastern Bengal and Assam Railways. He was appointed District Medical Officer and stationed at Lumding, in Assam.
I enjoyed this period in Lumding. We lived in a large house in the officer's section of the Railway colony. This was quite a grand property on the top of a hill on the edge of the jungle, which was a haven for wild animals of all kinds at that time. My mother kept a 'sambhar' deer as a pet, also a cow for milk, and housed them in the outhouses on the property at night; we would often hear the calls of jackal and the growls of tiger at night trying to get at them.
If my father needed to treat an urgent case at night, the patient's family and friends always came in a group to escort him by foot - as there were no cars in Lumding, because of the dirt roads and hilly terrain. They would always come with lanterns and empty tins to make loud noises to keep wild animals away; not an idle fear because a number of railway pointsmen had been killed by man-eating tigers, at Patharkola, only a few miles away.
I became friendly with the local people, especially with the 'jungle cutters' some of whom worked in the vegetable plot at home. I was surprised to learn that the locals were most afraid of snakes and sloth bear, but not tigers; that unless there was news of a man-eater around they had little fear of tigers.
I applied to a couple of Engineering Colleges and was selected for the Communication Engineering course at the Institute of Science, Bangalore. This is a premier all-India Institution for research in pure and applied sciences as well as engineering; one of the first Directors was Sir C. V. Raman who received the Nobel Prize for Physics. The library, designed for research use, is one of the most comprehensive that I have ever seen; it was to play a significant role in a major project that I worked on later in my life. The Tata family, who were steel magnates, were originally involved with the beginnings and fundi ngoftheInstitute.spanstyle='mso-spacerunyes' spanIn my time, the Institute was funded by the Central Government, and admitted students on an India-wide basis, I believe two per province; my admission was through the Bengal quota.
When I arrived at Bangalore, I immediately made contact with Malcolm Wollen, and met his family. A close friendship began, particularly with his brother William. William and my paths have crossed many times and the friendship has grown to include our wives now. We often visited them in Adelaide where they settled after leaving India. Sadly, William died at the end of March this year. His brother Malcolm came from Bangalore for the funeral, I also attended from Sydney. Malcolm took William's ashes back with him to distribute around his beloved Richmond Town in Bangalore where he grew up.
A couple of anecdotes will show how socially isolated and elitist we were from the rest of the communities in India at that time:
Until then my associates were friends at school, generally Anglo-Indians with a sprinkling of English nationals. My experiences of any other way of living were severely limited; I certainly had no suspicion that cuisine in North India was any different from that in the South. I walked into the dining-hall early one morning after my arrival in Bangalore expecting the usual breakfast of porridge, egg and toast. I saw white, slightly flattened cakes with a small bowl of syrup near by; there was no one else there at the time, so I thought this must be a very fancy establishment serving 'russa-golas' - a delicacy - for breakfast, perhaps as an entree?! I served myself to two or three and added plenty of syrup, I got a shock when tried my first mouthful; I found it tasteless and doughy, nothing like russa-golas. By then a couple of others came into the dining hall. They told me these were 'idlies'. I later learnt that these were steamed rice cakes, very healthy to eat, and the 'syrup' was oil. I later also discovered many other major culinary differences in South India, such as the use of savoury instead of sweet (uppama vs. suji halwa), and that South India had a very different cuisine to the north. Most of the other students were strict vegetarians. I had never heard of this either before.
English history was one of the major subjects studied in school, with Indian history as a secondary subject. With our general surroundings and influences, we were very knowledgeable about, and predisposed towards, anything British. Our view of the Indian Mutiny in 1857 for example was of an unjustified revolt by troops who should have been loyal to the British; we knew many stories of heroism by people who fought for the British. So in 1947 when Indian Independence was declared, we, in the Institute of Science had many celebrations, one was a freedom march - we walked in pairs under various arches, each depicting a milestone in the struggle for independence. One was dedicated to the Indian Mutiny, which until then I saw quite differently. As I walked under this arch, I was assailed by a flood of unfamiliar feelings, I felt very confused and in some turmoil. I realised that I had a lot to reflect on. I also discovered that people of all ethnic groups were very integrated in the south of India, unlike the interactions I grew up with in the North. It was only when I met Mary some years later in Bombay and could open my heart to her, that I really matured in my outlook. I too became very integrated with the rest of India - thankfully.
The minimum qualification for the Electrical Communication Engineering course was a B.Sc, so I did not lose the years I spent doing post-graduate studies (as I would have if I had chosen any other Engineering college who all accepted I.Sc. students as entrants). We saved time also by sandwiching practical training into the annual holiday periods to fulfil the curriculum requirements. My first year mechanical engineering practical training was at Burn and Co. Howrah, the second year?s Electrical engineering practicals done at the Cossipore Electric Supply and my Communication engineering practicals done at the Indian Telephone Company, all in suburbs of Calcutta. By electing Calcutta, I could spend a few days at home in Assam with my parents.
While near the end of my last practical training, I was asked by Fr. Goreux to accompany college students on their annual picnic day as one boy had drowned the year before - I had passed my 'bronze medallion' examinations run by the Royal Life Saving Association in Mussoorie in my last year at school;. After swimming with the boys in one of the 'jheels' - a small lake, I noticed the local herdsmen driving their buffalos into the same water late in the afternoon. I contracted trachoma soon after, and became near blind - for the second time in my life. So I went to my parents, now in Dibrugarh, to be treated by an eye specialist from Vienna, who had settled in Dibrugarh after the war. He not only cured my trachoma but also adjusted the strength of the silver nitrate solution and in this way correct my eyesight as well! Whatever the cause, I found I could now dispense with the spectacles that I had begun using during my engineering course.
A comment about employment opportunities at this time should be of interest: I met a senior Indian engineer in the Patents Office, Calcutta who told me how fortunate I was to qualify as an engineer after Indian Independence. He said that during the years before Independence, engineers with Indian University degrees could only hope for non-executive appointments, such as 'foreman'. Still, this was not much help as industry had not developed as well one might have wanted, due to the previous policy of using India as a primary producer for British manufacture - I discovered that job opportunities were severely limited.
Therefore, when I saw an advertisement for engineers to serve in the Technical branches of the Indian Air Force to help modernise the growing service, I jumped at the opportunity - I was attracted by the advertisements promising opportunities to work with leading edge technology. Training facilities had been established a year or two before in Jalahalli, Bangalore and there was some urgency to fill the courses. As a result, teams of recruiting officers each headed by a Group Captain visited the major cities; I was in Calcutta at the time and was interviewed there. They asked a wide range of questions, mainly about current events and people in the news. Since my life up to that time was spent living mostly as a hermit, locked away in boarding school, or studying engineering, with little or no access to newspapers, my general knowledge was mainly in those areas in which I had a passion - sports, such as the heavyweight boxing championships, swimming and so on. I was quite ignorant about politics, and current affairs. They must have been interested in me for other reasons I suppose, because when I could not answer most questions on current affairs, they reduced the level to asking simple questions like, 'Who is the Prime Minister of India'? I said Pandit Nehru. They had become quite suspicious by then and asked, 'What is his first name?' I could not recall the name Jawaharlal!
After it was all over and I was selected for training, I was recalled by the team and told I should wake up and join the rest of the world - I remember telling them that if knowing names of famous people was so important, then I was ready to come back the next day and they could re-examine me!
I still remember seeing the team walking down the street after the day's interviews guffawing when they spotted me; I suspect over some of the answers I had given!
1. IMD - Indian Medical Department, set up in Bengal and Madras in 1812 to 1945 to train suitable candidates as doctors. This was open to Anglo-Indians with first class Senior Cambridge Examination qualifications. The British Government sponsored the selected candidates and paid for their medical training. My father did his training at the Calcutta Medical College.
2. At that time, the term Standard was used instead of Grades - as in Australia,
3. Bearer - Families in our circumstances usually had a full-time cook, plus a bearer for general duties in the house. There were also three other domestics, usually part-time employees. These were the jamadhar (for sweeping and toilet duties), the dhobi (washer man), and the mali (gardener)
4. Jungle-cutter - this was a paid position in the Department of Health in the East Bengal Railway. He worked under the Inspector of Health who reported to my father - who was at that time the District Medical Officer posted in Lumding in the State of Assam. Lumding was a large railway junction with dense jungle all around which teemed with large wild animals ranging from tiger, leopard, and bear to rhinoceros. The jungle-cutter kept the jungle from encroaching into the township and also maintained the trails open so that others could spray insecticides to deep the mosquitoes down.
5. The Crystal Pool was a large swimming pool, part of an ice manufacturing plant in Entally, a suburb of Calcutta. The pool was originally built to cool the compressed refrigerant, and was always a comfortable temperature to swim in.
6. The Junior and Senior Cambridge examinations were public examinations with papers set by the overseas division of Cambridge University, UK. The University also appointed an invigilator to oversee the conduct of the examinations that also ensured that the answer books went back to Cambridge for marking. These examinations correspond to the Australian School Leaving and Higher School Leaving certificates respectively.
7. IAMC - this is an abbreviation for Indian Army Medical Corp. This body of army doctors was truly Indian in character. In addition, all Navy and Air Force medical officers originated in this organization.
8. The B.Sc (Honours) syllabus was completely different to the B.Sc. One could select Mathematics, Physics or Chemistry Honours, each of these included additional subjects as well as having an increased depth and scope. The usual associated subjects for the B.Sc were also needed, for example in Maths Hons 1 also did Physics, Chemistry and English.