After nearly 6 years the army finally found out what I was best suited for. I was put in charge of party to visit the local brewery. It was only a day or two before I was due to go home and I had so much to do that I had to turn down the offer. I’ve always regretted that. The men went off in the back of a 3 ton truck. When they returned the driver let down the tailboard and they all fell out!
Somewhere along the way I picked up an Indian joke. It’s about a man whose father played the piccolo in a band. They played before a maharajah who was delighted with their performance and ordered that their instruments should be filled with gold. “Man who played the drum bahut tikh. My father played the piccolo bahut kharab.” (boat teek-very good;boat crab-very bad). They played before another maharajah who said that it was the worst band he’d ever heard and ordered that their instruments should be stuck up their arse. “Man who played the drum bahut kharab. My father played the piccolo bahut tikh.”
When the time came it was back to Bombay by train. The train passed through Agra. Apparently you can see the Taj Mahal from the train but I was asleep. At Bombay we stayed briefly at the suburb of Deolalli (doolally). In the days when the British Army kept men in India for 20-30 years without home leave many of them suffered mental problems. In the terminology of the day they went mad. The British built a Military Lunatic Asylum at Deolalli. Thereafter, including my time in the Indian Army, if somebody was acting strangely you said he was Deolalli – sometimes Deolalli Tap. I’m not sure of the significance of tap. Perhaps the word used to be accompanied by a tapping of the forehead to indicate that he was missing a few sheep in the top paddock.
Our troopship was another large former passenger liner, this time the Georgic. A day or two out from Bombay we met the monsoon head on. The foredecks had to be roped off to stop people going there because the ship, big though it was, was burying its bows in the waves. Its violent motion wasn’t helped by the fact that its plates down below were all buckled. At some time during the war it had been burned out. In due course we were back at Liverpool. As we sailed up the Mersey we heard on the radio that bread was to be rationed. It had been free from rationing all through the war but now that the war was over it was in short supply.
We went by train to the demobilisation centre at York Barracks. Here we were measured for suits by civilian tailors. They called each man forward by saying “Mr So-and-so.” I hoped that when my time came they would call me Mr Lander. They did. It was a great moment because I hadn’t been called that for 6 years. Because I wasn’t a stock size they had to make a suit for me and send it on later. I was still in uniform but it was home at last.
As I’ve thought back to my early life I’ve become very aware of the truth of L.P. Hartley’s statement: “The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.” Conversely, the closer it gets to the presentday the less interesting my story becomes. With that in mind I considered making this major turning point in my life the place at which I stopped. However, for the sake of my own children, and especially for my youngest daughter, Sara, who first asked me to write these notes, I think I should go on for a few more years but I will skim over them briefly pausing very occasionally to note incidents that might be worth passing on. next