Graphic colouring by Mark Dunn
In India The Postwar Years 1945 to 1947
A Former British Other Rank's Perspective
By Former Sergeant Donald C. Thyer
14786710 Royal Engineers Survey
It is interesting to look back more than fifty years at the events, places and conditions of service associated with the role undertaken by the BORs of the RE Survey in India during the post war years of World War 11 from 1945 to 1947. During those years the British Army maintained a military presence in India. In 1947, however, when India gained its independence from the UK the gradual withdrawal of British troops from the Indian sub-continent took place.
During World War 11, a RE Survey Cadre was established at Wynnstay Hall near the village of Ruabon in North Wales. Instructional courses covering all of the trades associated with the RE Survey were taught there. The military personnel, who graduated from those army courses, were mostly wartime conscripts who prior to call-up had been primarily employed either by the Ordnance Survey or the commercial printing industry in the UK. The expertise gained in their civilian occupations coupled with the military aspects of their training brought together a most effective component well suited to the RE Survey environment.
Close cooperation in the field existed between the RE Survey units and their civilian counterparts in the Ordnance Survey. These were the RE Survey personnel who provided a comprehensive mapping and printing service to both the British Army stationed in India at that time and the Indian government. The Survey of India and the RE Survey worked in close association with one another in a similar fashion to that of the Ordnance Survey and the RE Survey in the UK. RE Survey units were stationed in three locations in Northern India during the years 1945 to 1947 namely; the North West Frontier Province, the United Provinces now called Uttar Pradesh and the capital city of India, New Delhi.
72 Base Map Reproduction Section Royal Engineers Survey Risalpur North West Frontier India 1944 - 1947
In May 1943, a Royal Engineers Survey section called "No. 6 Group" was formed in the UK. The Commanding Officer of the group at that time was a Captain Farr. The personnel posted to the group were tradesmen with the specialized training required to prepare the press plates and run the printing presses to reproduce maps for military purposes using the lithographic printing process.
"No. 6 Group" embarked for overseas service sailing on the Tegelburg as far as Suez where they disembarked and transferred to the Empire Pride for the balance of the voyage to their destination in Bombay. From Bombay the group traveled to Dehra Dun located in Northern India, a journey of four days, where a BOR Survey Cadre was located and the Survey of India maintained a printing establishment and a survey stores depot. In January 1944, the group were posted from Dehra Dun to Risalpur located in the North West Frontier Province where 72 BMRS was established. The village of Risalpur, populated with Indians of the Muslim faith, was situated on a flat, featureless, hardscrabble, stony landscape that stretched monotonously to the far distant horizon. During the summertime the daytime temperature was frequently in excess of 100 degrees F. Swirling dust storms from time to time swept across the barren landscape enveloping Risalpur in clouds of choking dust. It was in this environment, hostile to both army personnel and the litho photographic printing process that members of the unit erected on site two litho printing presses, a two colour double demy Crabtree press and a companion single colour press. The ancillary photographic plate making and proof press equipment was also installed at that time. All of the printing equipment was contained in a flat topped oblong and white washed building situated in a dusty earth packed compound which was surrounded with a eight foot barbed wire fence, floodlit at night and guarded night and day by personnel of the Indian Army. RE Survey personnel stationed at Risalpur lithographed thousands of maps for use by the British and Indian Armies during the war years of 1944 and 1945 and continued to do so until the section was disbanded in 1946.
72 BMRS was unique in that it was a mixed unit comprised of personnel drawn from both the Royal Engineers Survey and the Indian Army. RE Survey personnel; topographical draftsmen, camera operators, photo writers, lithographic draftsmen, helio plate makers, proof press operators and litho press machine minders provided the technical support to print the maps. The Indian army provided the ancillary support in the form of administration, security, transportation and catering.
The Commanding Officer of both the British and Indian personnel stationed at 72BMRS held the rank of either Lieutenant or Captain. The Indian personnel came under the command of a VCO (Viceroy Commissioned Officer) who in turn reported to the British CO. The Indian Army contingent consisted of personnel recruited from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds; Sikhs, Punjabi Muslims, Hindus, Pathans, Bengalis and Madrasis.
two years of WW11 1944 and 1945 and the postwar year of 1946, a total of
94 officers and men were stationed at one time or another at 72 BMRS.
A roll call taken in October 1946 was as follows;
RE Survey Personnel
BORs=31 (British Other Ranks)
Indian Army Personnel
VCO=1 (Viceroy Commissioned Officer)
IORs = 31 (Indian Other Ranks)
When the final order was received in October 1946 from GHQ, India, to disband the section, the CO Captain V. G. Saunders paid special tribute to the fine show of camaraderie displayed by the BORs and their fellow IORs throughout the three years of the section's existence.
At that time and place the location of 72BMRS at Risalpur on the NW Frontier of India was in every sense of that old familiar English saying; "A Far Flung Outpost of the British Empire"
Dehra Dun, located in the United Provinces (now called Uttar Pradesh) of Northern India was the main staging depot during the years 1945 - 1947 for RE Survey personnel stationed in India. During those years The BOR Survey Cadre formed the permanent nucleus of a military unit which if necessary could be expanded when the situation warranted it. The Commanding Officer of the Cadre was a Captain RE. The administrative aspects of the Cadre were handled by a small group of NCOs and sappers who were more or less stationed there on a permanent basis. There were a few IORs attached to the Cadre and they were impressed when one of the Lieutenants stationed there was able to fluently converse with them in Hindustani.
With the cessation of hostilities in South East Asia Command in 1945, the mobile units of the RE Survey stationed in the field were gradually withdrawn from locations in Burma and India and their military personnel were posted back to the BOR Survey Cadre in Dehra Dun. However, many of the RE Survey personnel who had served during the war years in Burma and India rated an early release from the army. Drafts of RE Survey personnel with low priority release ratings were therefore assembled at the RE Trooping Depot in Halifax and posted to Dehra Dun to replace those personnel who were being returned to the UK for demobilization. When SEAC military headquarters in Ceylon (Sri Lanka) and 72 Base Map Reproduction Section stationed on the NW Frontier were closed in 1946, the personnel who had served there were posted back to Dehra Dun. In order to maintain the overall strength of RE Survey units stationed at various locations in India at that time, as vacancies occurred within these units they were filled by personnel held in reserve at the BOR Survey Cadre. During the years 1945 - 1947 there was a constant ebb and flow of RE Survey personnel through the Cadre.
Dehra Dun has long been the domain of the Survey of India (SOI), which was established by The Honourable East India Company in 1767. A RE Survey officer was traditionally appointed to head the Survey of India with the title Surveyor General of India. The decision to establish the BOR Survey Cadre there was more than likely contingent on the fact that both a printing plant and a survey equipment storage facility were located there. The Survey of India printing plant was located in a compound called Hathibarkarla, an Urdu word for elephant compound that indeed had occupied the site prior to the printing plant being constructed there. All of the production facilities required to produce maps and allied publications were housed in the plant. RE Survey personnel, represented by all the topographical and litho reproduction trades were engaged working alongside their civilian counterparts in printing maps for the Government of India and the British and Indian Armies. An important requirement of the litho printing process is a stable environment. This is particularly so where excessive humidity affects the stability of the paper being printed and can cause registration problems when several passes through the press are required when printing multi-coloured maps. It took diligence, patience and expertise on the part of the RE Survey machine minders to overcome these problems during the monsoon season. The unheated buildings where all the production equipment was located were quite cold during the wintertime. In those locations where the topographical draughtsmen were engaged in preparing the black and white drawings for the maps currently in preparation, glowing charcoal braziers provided a small measure of comfort from the cold. The Indian topographical draughtsmen employed at that time by the Survey of India by and large did not speak English. To overcome this situation they drew the wording to appear on the maps by copying the letters from a printed listing of the English alphabet in the appropriate typeface.
The survey stores facility was the depository for many types of surveying instruments and special photographic equipment used by SOI surveyors throughout India. On occasion, RE Survey personnel were assigned temporary duties at this facility to assist the Indian civilians employed there in recording and keeping up to date the inventory of the equipment stored therein.
The word 'lines' was used in India rather than the more familiar word barracks to describe the billets and locations where British troops were accommodated. Wheeler Lines, where RE Survey personnel were billeted, was situated along one side of a typically Indian maidan; a grass covered open space similar in some respects to an old fashioned English green. The buildings in Wheeler Lines consisted of three billets each designed to accommodate about twenty personnel, an administration building, a kitchen and mess hall facility and a recreation building completed the military complex. BOR billets in Northern India were all constructed to a basic architectural plan. A solid concrete foundation poured to a height of approximately two feet above ground level formed the base for a whitewashed building with a thatched roof. A wide veranda with a protective overhang from the thatched roof extended along the whole front of the building.
If there was insufficient space in Wheeler Lines to accommodate an influx of personnel posted to the cadre, a group of Indian style double walled tents set up in the grounds of the survey stores compound were brought into use as a temporary measure for use as their sleeping quarters. A ditch about two feet wide and two feet deep was dug around each tent. This ditch served two purposes. To overcome the distinct possibility of torrential monsoon rains flooding the tents and also as a means of trapping the krait, a small but deadly poisonous snake which infested the area. An Indian gardening detail employed by the Survey of India to maintain the grounds were entrusted with the dangerous operation of removing the poisonous snakes from the ditch. The Indian detail was also required to periodically spray the ditches with an insecticide in an attempt to eradicate the malarial carrying mosquitoes and larvae breeding there. Commencing at the onset of the summer months, a mandatory order was issued to all those BORs who were billeted in the affected areas to use mosquito nets in their sleeping quarters as a protection against the anopheles malaria-carrying mosquito. The mosquito nets were strung between four bamboo poles attached to the legs of their charpoys (string beds).
When a RE Survey unit was stationed on a permanent site, the operation of the BOR's mess became the responsibility of a senior NCO, usually a sergeant, assisted by a sapper who filled that position on a rotation basis with other sappers in the unit. The mess sergeant was responsible for preparing the food indent requirements placed on a weekly basis with a centrally located military quartermaster stores. Also requisitioned each week were British army field rations in sealed cartons and likewise American army "K" rations. Most likely these field rations had become surplus to the requirements of the '14th' Army at the conclusion of the Burma campaign in 1945. The contents of the cartons; cheese, tinned meat, M and V (meat and vegetables), sugar, tea, crackers, fruitcake and biscuits were incorporated into the menus of the BOR mess. All of the food was prepared either by Indian civilian cooks or Indian Army personnel. The mess sergeant and the senior cook collaborated to prepare the menus on a day-to-day basis.
Every effort was pursued to maintain a superior standard of hygiene within the kitchen and mess hall facility. Kitchen staff was checked under the watchful eye of the mess sergeant to ensure their personal hygiene met with army health standards. All utensils used within the kitchen were regularly inspected to ensure their cleanliness. A weekly routine was established whereby Indian civilian or army personnel scrubbed the kitchen and mess halls floors with a powerful solution of disinfectant and water. Tables used in the mess hall were scrubbed clean on a daily basis with soap and water. It was difficult at times however to overcome some disturbing aspects of food preparation within the mess. Scorpions were a continuous pest when they were disturbed from their hiding places on the kitchen cabinet shelves where food rations were stored. Although they were promptly destroyed by the Indian kitchen staff with due care being given to their deadly sting they were never completely eradicated from the kitchen. Flour used for baking bread was always stored in sealed bins. However, in spite of these precautions the flour was always full of weevils having already been contaminated in this manner when obtained from its source, the local quartermaster's stores. When the flour bins were opened the recently hatched cloud of flies escaped leaving the flour to be sifted through the fine metal sieve to eliminate the most recent batch of weevils, eggs, and chrysalises before it was used for baking purposes. Although numerous small lizards made their home in the billets, kitchen, and mess hall facilities no attempt was ever made to eliminate their presence in that they served the very useful purpose of helping to keep these areas free of flies, spiders and mosquitoes.
The town of Dehra Dun is located in the Doon Valley between the Siwalik Hills to the south and the foothills of the Himalayan Mountains to the north. In the years that the BOR Survey Cadre was stationed there it was considered as being an Indian style semi-military cantonment. The Indian military establishment was well represented in Dehra Dun. The prestigious Indian Military Academy was established there in 1932 and it was also a depot for the 4th Ghurkha Regiment. Members of the Italian army who had been captured in the 1940-1941 East Africa campaign of WW II were interned in a prison-of-war camp located in the vicinity of the town. The town was unofficially segregated along racial lines. The indigenous Muslim and Hindu population lived in the Indian section of the town with its own bazaar. This bazaar was strictly off limits to all British military personnel. The English and Anglo-Indian community residing in their neat, whitewashed bungalows occupied a separate location in the town. A row of European style shops and the local cinema, all owned and operated by Indian proprietors, served the day-to-day requirements of the white community. There is little doubt as to the reason why a sizeable white community had settled there. When the heat on the plains of India begins to build in April and May, Dehra Dun with its location two thousand feet above sea level is spared the worse effects of the desiccating heat of an Indian summer. During the wintertime the temperature dropped to a more comfortable level to the extent that regulation battledress was worn by BORs stationed there. The snow-covered foothills of the Himalayas formed a picturesque backdrop to the town during the winter months.
Although a White and Anglo-Indian community lived in Dehra Dun there was minimal social contact between the residents and the British troops stationed there. However, a dedicated group of ladies from the White community, all members of the WVS (Women's Voluntary Service) provided a much-appreciated catering service at the local BOR's canteen, which was conveniently situated on a corner of the maidan. On occasion a dance was held in the recreational area of the canteen, however, needless to say the troops far outnumbered the ladies and the chances of engaging a dancing partner were few and far between. The most popular recreational pastime pursued by BORs from both a player and spectator perspective was football. A small inter-service football league was established including teams from the Indian Military Academy and the 4th Ghurkha Regiment. The Ghurkhas always put on a good show in that they played the game in their bare feet.
At the end of a five-day working week at the Survey of India printing plant, unless other military duties took precedent, weekends were free to pursue recreational activities. With permission granted by the OC Survey Cadre, the unit's 15cwt truck was used for field trips into the foothills of the Himalayas. On these occasions a .303 Lee Enfield rifle was taken along for target shooting. The rivers rushing down the valleys from the mountains provided a venue for those BORs who could stand the shock of swimming in the ice-cold waters. All BORs were entitled to take leave during their service in India and for those military personnel stationed in the northern part of the country the hill stations of Simla, Mussorie and Nainital were favourite destinations. A week's leave in a hill station was a welcome relief from the sweltering heat of an Indian summer if you were unfortunate enough to be stationed on the plains where the temperature frequently exceeded 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The YMCA hostel in Simla provided accommodation for BORs on leave at a moderate all-inclusive cost for meals, laundry and room service. For those who wished to venture further afield Kashmir also beckoned BORs on leave. Trekking through the Himalayas with a local guide and a couple of pack horses to carry the baggage, tents and food supplies was also pursued on leave by the more adventurous types of the RE Survey Cadre personnel stationed at Dehra Dun.
Any account of the recreational activities pursued by the personnel at the BOR Survey Cadre would be incomplete without mention being made of the 'Surveyette' magazine that was written, illustrated, compiled, printed and published by RE Survey personnel for a nominal selling price of two annas per copy. In commercial printing terms it was a 24 page self cover magazine lithographed in six colours on white offset stock, folded and stitched with two wires, size 8" wide by 10" deep. The print quality of the magazine was excellent. Those RE personnel, who in civilian life were employed in the commercial printing trades, provided the technical expertise for producing the half-tone negatives, process colour camera separations and colour retouching used in the production of the magazine. The magazine combined in printed format the literary and artistic talents of the contributors from both Dehra Dun and elsewhere in SEAC. It was illustrated throughout with drawings, photographs and cartoons combined with well written articles covering items of local interest and from former members of the Cadre who had returned to the UK for demobilization. The front cover was always printed in several colours and featured subject matter of local interest in either photographic or hand drawn illustration format. The contents of the magazine included an Editorial, Letters to the Editor, Sport News, Keyhole Korner written in a light vein that provided an outlet for snippets of information regarding a cast of characters stationed at the Cadre. Repat and Demob, always a popular feature provided its readers with the latest news from both an Indian and UK perspective. For those personnel who possessed the literary talent for writing verse of both semi-serious and comedic content, a venue for their efforts was provided throughout the magazine.
A total of six 'Surveyette' magazines were published with the final edition going to press in 1946. During its lifetime it certainly helped boost the morale of its many readers in a very positive way. For those army tradesmen who in civilian life were employed in the commercial printing industry, the photographic and technical aspects of producing the magazine provided them with an opportunity to use these skills in preparation for their release and return to 'Civvy Street' in the UK.
The BOR Survey Cadre, Dehra Dun, India was just one of several military installations manned by Royal Engineer Survey personnel during the period 1945 - 1947. In addition to its commitment to produce maps for use by the Indian and British Armies it also played a significant role in providing the technical support when working alongside the Indian civilian employees of the Survey of India. All those members of the RE Survey who were stationed in India during those years can look back with pride to the service they provided to both India and the UK during the final years of Imperial rule in India - the Raj and Jewel in the Crown of the British Empire.
The General Headquarters (GHQ), India Command was located in the capital city of Delhi. The city is actually divided into two locations namely, New Delhi and Old Delhi. The capital was moved from Calcutta to New Delhi in 1929 at which time the Viceroy of India took up residence there. The new capital was officially inaugurated in 1931. Sir Edwin Lutyens and Sir Herbert Baker designed the imposing structures of New Delhi. The new modern capital was built to a master plan. A fine highway called Kingsway (now renamed Rajpath), flanked on both sides by wide lawns and ornamental ponds, runs east and west from the Indian War Memorial Arch for over a mile to the slight elevation where the Viceroy's residence is located. Half way down the north side of the Kingsway the Indian Antiquities Building is situated. It was in this building that the Geographical Section - General Staff, RE Survey was located. The British Military had likely expropriated the building during WW11.
All of the photographic, plate making and printing presses required for the reproduction of maps and allied military publications were housed on the ground floor of the building. An area was set aside elsewhere in the building for the topographical draughtsmen and administrative staff of GSGS. The military personnel stationed at GSGS were drawn from both the British and Indian armies. The Commanding Officer of GSGS was a Lieutenant Colonel, RE Survey. RE Survey tradesmen manned all of the technical equipment for map reproduction purposes. The topographical mapping section was likewise staffed by RE Survey personnel. A white officer holding the rank of Captain in the Indian Army was attached to the section, as was an Indian Lieutenant who headed the topographical mapping section. Indian Army personnel of either ethnic origin or Anglo-Indian backgrounds undertook the administrative aspects of GSGS. None of the Indian Army personnel stationed at GSGS had received any practical training in the RE Survey trades associated with the lithographic printing process. The first Indian Army candidate to remedy this situation was a Conductor with a southern Indian background who, although he spoke English, was not conversant with Hindi. The rank of Conductor was of Indian Army origin and was somewhat similar to the rank of a British Warrant Officer. A training program was implemented for this new recruit whereby RE Survey personnel provided him with 'hands on' instruction in the various technical operations associated with the lithographic printing process.
Many branches of the British Army stationed in New Delhi were billeted in a special military camp that had been established in the grounds of Irwin Stadium. The stadium's location at the southern extremity of the Kingsway was a convenient one in that it was only a short distance via a horse drawn tonga to Connaught Place where the main shopping, entertainment and restaurants were located. However, much of Old Delhi was out of bounds to British troops. The main bazaar called Chadni Chouk (Silver Place), a fascinating place to visit was only in bounds as far as the clock tower. The MPs were permanently on duty there to make sure you obeyed the rules and didn't overstep the bounds. The army billets located within the grounds of the stadium were designed to accommodate about twenty to twenty five military personnel within each building. Warrant Officers and Sergeants lived in similar quarters except the interiors of the buildings were divided into rooms, which accommodated two NCOs. One of the unique situations that found favour with British troops stationed in India was the employment of Indian bearers. A bearer was hired to service each individual building and all of the personnel billeted in that building contributed one rupee each week for the services the bearer provided. Depending on the number of personnel billeted in each building, a bearer's wage was about twenty to twenty five rupees a week. A working class family living in Delhi during 1945 was able to live on forty to forty five rupees a month. The bearer's wage of eighty to one hundred rupees per month was therefore considered as being better then average at that time. The bearers hired by British troops were provided with a steady source of employment. The higher than average wage paid for their services enabled them to provide their families with a far better standard of living than many Indian families who lived in abject poverty.
The bearer's duties consisted of making beds, cleaning shoes and boots, polishing the brass on ones uniform, blancoing webbing equipment, sweeping the floors, dusting the shelves and most important of all keeping a strict surveillance over the building and its contents. Indian bearers spoke English, were honest, hardworking and likeable people and in many cases with a father to son service as traditional British military camp followers and bearers going back for several generations. It was a sad day for the bearers when India gained her independence from the UK in 1947. Their future looked grim in that their dedicated service to British troops would no longer be required and many of them were distraught that the occupation they had followed for so many years was now gone forever.
the grounds of Irwin Stadium, the military authorities permitted a limited
number of char wallahs and fruit vendors to hawk their wares to the troops
stationed there. The char wallah's stock in trade was a copper urn, heated
by charcoal to brew the tea and a black metal box that contained an assortment
of sticky confectionery topped with multi-coloured sugar icing. Where the
cakes were baked and under what hygienic conditions remained a mystery.
One of the char wallahs, well known to the troops stationed in the stadium,
was Mr. Fuzil. He was a pleasant old gentleman sporting a neatly trimmed
white beard appropriate to his Moslem faith and heritage. Dressed
in his white baggy trousers, white shirt, embroidered waistcoat and a musselman-style
circular fez decorated with an intricate design in gold and silver thread
he was the epitome of an Indian char wallah. Although he possessed a limited
knowledge of the English language he always addressed his potential customers
"Salaam sahib, garum chai, bahut accha hai." (Greetings sahib, hot tea, very good is)
In retrospect, there was always the potential of becoming ill when consuming food and drink that had not been prepared under the strict hygienic regulations as those imposed in British military catering establishments. There was, however, a generally accepted theory that British military personnel stationed in India over a period of time developed a natural immunity to any bacteria or parasites that may have infected the food or drink. The fruit vendors sold a variety of citrus fruits and plantains. The sale of any fruit where the outer skin had been broken was prohibited within the grounds of the stadium in as much as it presented a potential health hazard. A condition of sale imposed upon the fruit vendors by the military required a bowl of disinfectant be made available when a sale was made. The disinfectant, called 'Pinky' by the troops consisted of permanganate of potash crystals dissolved in water. When the fruit had been purchased it was immediately dipped into this solution, which hopefully destroyed any germs that may have been present on the surface of the fruit.
The warrant officers' and sergeants' mess at Irwin Stadium catered to personnel representing several branches of the British military. The head of the mess was a Regimental Sergeant Major of the Royal Artillery (regular army) and under his watchful eye its daily operation was run to his exacting standards. Mess fees that were levied to run the mess were sufficient to augment regular army food rations with such additional items as soup and the favourite brands of table sauces. Tables in the mess, which seated four NCOs, were set with white tablecloths and the cutlery used for place settings was superior to that of regular army issue. In addition, Indian mess orderlies dressed in white starched uniforms waited on the tables where their smart appearance added a touch of class to the overall operation of the mess. It is interesting to speculate as to whether a prewar sergeant's mess in India was run in the same fashion as in the postwar WW11 years.
Printed material, other than the more usual maps for military purposes, was frequently lithographed at GSGS. A topographical draughtsman with a civilian commercial artist background usually prepared the black and white artwork required for reproduction purposes. All of these special projects were assigned a sequential work order number by GSGS. The printed material always showed in small lettering the branch of the Indian army for whom the material was being produced along with the applicable work order number.
such projects come to mind. The first one, which was produced in May 1947,
was assigned the following identification wording;
Work Order Number: Hind Misc/7723 for G.S. Branch DWE. 2.
This project comprised the design and reproduction of a new set of Indian Army corps signs. There were a total of fourteen designs in the set, namely: India Command, Punjab Area, Madras Area, 7th. Ind. Div., Sind Area, Waziristan Area, Peshawar Area, U.P. Area, Delhi Area, 1 Corps, 1 Ind. Armed Div., Eastern Command, Southern Command and 7th. Ind. Div. The designs took the form of shields with each one bearing a distinctive design appropriate to the military area or Indian Army corps. A total of seven colours were run through the press to reproduce these multicoloured designs.
similar such project was produced in June 1947. This one was assigned the
following identification wording;
Work Order Number: Hind Misc/7748 for D.M.T. (M.T.I.). G.S. Branch G.H.Q.(I).
This project once again comprised the design and reproduction of ten new designs in a format somewhat similar to the one described above and was entitled:
The set comprised ten designs, namely; Army Signal School, I.M.A., Army School of M.T., Intelligence Corps School, I.E.M.E. School, I.A.O.C. School, Infantry School, Armoured Corps School, Army Medical Training College and Artillery Schools (b). Nine colours were run through the press to reproduce these signs. These two projects were typical of the ones undertaken by GSGS in providing a printing service to various branches of the Indian army.
In comparison to some Indian cities, New Delhi was basically a fairly healthy city in which to be stationed provided one obeyed the health rules imposed by the military. For instance, BORs were forbidden to drink the water from Delhi's public street fountains. The recommended places to obtain a drink within the city were service clubs, approved restaurants and hotels. Flies, which are notorious for spreading germs, existed everywhere in the city. Purchasing food from roadside stalls that had not been protected from this scourge was certainly a health hazard. Weather conditions varied greatly in Delhi from comparatively cool winters to the scorching hot weather typical of the Indian plains during the summer months. During wintertime, from late October to the end of March, the weather was pleasant. The temperature during that season of the year on occasion dropped down as low as thirty - two degrees F. However, from March to June the temperature gradually increased until it could reach as high as one-hundred and ten degrees F in the shade. The most trying season was the wet one, which commenced in July. The excessive perspiration that one experienced both day and night during the rainy season was due to a combination of the heat and high humidity. The mandatory use of mosquito nets during the rainy season provided a safeguard against this particular pest, which were so prevalent during that time of the year. To avoid succumbing to sunstroke when outside in direct sunlight, it was sufficient to wear either a bush-hat or regulation beret. The days of wearing the traditional British army topee were long gone.
The tenure of GSGS at the Indian Antiquities building in New Delhi came to an end in 1947. The Old Secretariat Building located just outside Old Delhi and close to the Civil Lines was to become the new home of GSGS for the remaining time that the RE Survey was stationed in India. It was a major task to dismantle the printing presses and ancillary equipment and move it across the city to the new site and then reassemble it. A litho printing press is a very heavy piece of machinery. The RAF stationed at the airport in New Delhi were contacted and they were able to provide the use of a heavy duty crane and the service of an operator to lift the presses onto a flatbed truck for transportation across the city to the Old Secretariat Building. All of the other equipment was relocated in a similar manner. As a measure of security the new location of GSGS was surrounded with an eight feet barbed wire fence guarded by Indian security personnel.
In order to continue the printing operations at GSGS while the equipment was being relocated, the mobile printing facility of the RE Survey was set in motion. This facility consisted of two large trucks and a diesel electric generator to power all of the printing equipment contained within the trucks. A litho printing press was permanently installed inside one of the trucks. The walls and floors on both sides of this particular truck were mounted on rollers. When these were cranked open and locked into place the additional floor space provided the machine minders with better access to make ready and run the press. In addition, the paper racks installed within this truck were used to hang the paper in order to precondition it prior to running it through the press. The other truck contained a camera, carbon arc lights, a printing down frame, chemical developing trays and press plate making equipment. The diesel electric generator to power all of this equipment was mounted on a two wheel chassis and positioned adjacent to the two trucks. In order to start the generator a rope harness was attached to the cranking handle. It required two persons on the opposite ends of the rope harness pulling in unison to start this heavy-duty generator. This mobile printing facility of the RE Survey was in operation the whole of the time while the regular printing machinery was being moved to its new location at the Old Secretariat Building.
When GSGS was settled in its new quarters, with the equipment installed and up and running, the Commander-in-Chief India, General Sir Claude Auchinleck, GCB, GCIE, CSI, DSO (later Field Marshal) came to inspect the section. The General had been appointed C-in-C, India 1941/1943-7 and Supreme Commander in 1947. He was instrumental during the years 1941/1943-5 in building up the numerical strength of the British and Indian forces, which subsequently under the inspired leadership of Field Marshal William Slim halted the Japanese advance into India and which eventually completely destroyed their army in Burma. During General Auchinleck's tour of inspection, which encompassed all of the operations carried out at GSGS, he was in conversation with many of the personnel stationed there.
During the second week of August 1947, several RE Survey NCOs stationed in New Delhi were detailed for a highly confidential assignment related to the upcoming partition of India that eventually took place on August 15th 1947. A British barrister, Sir Cyril Radcliffe, who had been appointed by the Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, had completed his assignment and made the agonizing decision as to where the boundaries were to be drawn between West Pakistan, India and East Pakistan. (Bangladesh) One of the Viceroy's limousines was dispatched to Irwin Stadium to take the NCO' to the Vice regal residence where they were escorted by a military aide to a large air-conditioned wood-paneled conference room. The Viceroy's Chief of Staff, Lord Ismay, explained to the NCOs that the boundary lines that had been established by Sir Cyril Radcliffe were now required to be plotted and drawn in by hand on a quantity of maps showing the Indian sub-continent and which had been provided for that purpose. In the late afternoon, when the assignment had been completed and the maps had been placed in the safe keeping of Lord Ismay, the NCOs were driven back to Irwin Stadium. Those maps were to remain a state secret until August 16th 1947. At a historic meeting on that day, one day after India and Pakistan had gained their independence from the UK, the Viceroy of India, Rear Admiral Louis Mountbatten, held two manilla envelopes in his hand; one envelope was passed to Jawaharial Nehru of India, the other one to Prime Minister Mohammed Ali Jinnah of Pakistan. Those envelopes contained the copies of the boundary maps...the maps that had been prepared one week previously by the NCOs of the RE Survey.
In 1947 the British troops stationed in India were granted permission to wear civilian clothes during their off duty hours. When this announcement was made, the haberdashery stores in New Delhi immediately did a brisk business in gray flannel trousers, white shirts, tweed sport coats and matching ties to outfit the troops stationed there in civilian clothes. It was rather a comical situation to witness the troops stationed in New Delhi at that time switching from a military to a mufti uniform. This switch to mufti would not have been complete without buying a pair of shoes to replace army issue boots or chapplis. (Indian leather sandals). Custom handmade shoes were readily available from the local Indian shoemaker. At the shoemaker's stall in the local bazaar you were asked to step in your stocking feet on a piece of white paper and a pencil outline was then drawn around both of your feet. A decision was then made as to whether you wanted black or brown shoes. The next item was to determine the price; this was achieved after a great deal of haggling with the shoemaker! Several days later your shoes were ready and having been custom made they were a nice comfortable fit. The workmanship was excellent and when after a few 'spit and polish' sessions were carried out by the bearer, the shoes acquired a magnificent shine. However, through no fault of the shoemaker, there was a downside to the shoes. If the shoes were worn too frequently during the rainy season they quickly fell apart. The waxed thread used to sew the leather was of inferior quality and rotted away very quickly during the wet weather.
British troops stationed in New Delhi were always well served by the institutes, clubs and canteens located there. The United Services Club was established by three Indian businessmen and was the top of the line service club for all of the three services. This was followed by the United Nations Centre that catered to all of the Allied services. There were two major canteens; the Allied Services Canteen and the Wavell Canteen. The latter was located opposite the Delhi main railway station and catered mainly to troops in transit through Delhi. There was a billiard room and swimming pool on site and one of the lounges featured a magnificent mural illustrating a mythical scene of the English countryside. If your stay in Delhi was an overnight one, sleeping accommodation was readily available there. The Y.M.C.A. and the Salvation Army Hostel also provided canteen services to British military personnel.
At Irwin stadium a unique film entertainment facility was installed for the use of the military personnel and also members of the Indian staff who also lived on the site. At one end of the tiered seating overlooking the playing field, three large tarpaulins were installed from the stadium roof down to the floor. During the early hours of darkness these screens were pulled across to enclose this section of seating. On the tarpaulin facing the seating arrangements a white film screen was positioned on which the current films in vogue were projected with an accompanying soundtrack. It certainly proved to be a popular entertainment venue for the troops and civilians living in the stadium.
Some of the information about Delhi was obtained from a booklet entitled 'Hello Chaps! This is Delhi', which was made available free of charge to all branches of the British military stationed there. It contained a wealth of information about the city; service clubs, canteens, public transportation, movie theatres, useful telephone numbers, restaurants, places of worship and historical places to visit. This pocketsize booklet was printed at The Times of India Press and consisted of forty-eight pages enclosed within a blue cardboard cover. It was an excellent publication and the author and production staff who compiled the information certainly earned the praise of the military services to which it was directed. The booklet was made possible through the generosity of an Indian businessman, Khan Sahib S. Rashid Ahmed of Meerut as, quote: "as an expression of his appreciation of the work of the Army in the defence of India".
"East is east and west is west and ne'er the twain shall meet" is a well-known quotation describing the differences between the East and the West. Be that as it may, in those RE Survey units comprised of both British and Indian personnel, a true sense of camaraderie existed. Most of the names of those IOR,s who served in those combined units have long since been forgotten. However, a few of their names come to mind; Moses, a Christian from Madras, Buster Singh, a Sikh from Punjab, Salem and Kamaruddin Punjabi Musselmen, Sultana, a Moslem from Bengal, Mohammed Khan a Pakhtun (Pathan) from the NW Frontier and Narayan, a Hindu. No matter their cast or creed they were true to the time-honoured traditions of the old Indian army prior to partition.
The BORs who were stationed in India will never forget the sights, sounds and smells of an Indian bazaar. The crowds of people representing so many different races and religions. The sacred bulls and cows foraging for food from the fruit and vegetable vendors' stalls. The stray dogs picking through the piles of garbage looking for left over scraps of food. Shopkeepers with their stock in trade neatly displayed in their open fronted stores, sitting cross- legged out front ready at a moment's notice to jump up to serve the prospective customer. Anything and everything was available for sale in the bazaar. The specialty food store selling an assortment of dried peas, beans and lentils along with a multi-coloured assortment of aromatic spices. The naked Indian children, with happy smiling faces and outstretched hands following your progress through the bazaar asking for buckshee. Permeating the air was the smell of hot curry and other Indian spicy foods offered for sale by the cries of the wayside food vendors. With a coloured cast mark smeared across his brow and wood ash covering his body, a naked Hindu sadhu sits in the roadside dust with a begging bowl at his side. A local policeman, with his long wooden metal tipped lathi, keeping a watchful eye over the passing crowd. It was all so familiar to the BORs who served in India. It is a fact that it didn't take any length of time for the BORs newly arrived in India to become hardened to the ever-present sights of poverty, disease and starvation. The squalor of the overcrowded, dilapidated, multi-storied tenements of the city dweller and the sun-dried mud brick homes with earth floors of the villagers' homes that dotted the countryside. In spite of these common deprivations the people of India possess a spirit which is irrepressible. It by far outweighs the faults, corruption and miseries, which is forever a part of their daily lives. Their land is known worldwide for its natural beauty. The historical monuments of the Mogul Empire and such buildings as the Taj Mahal reflect the artistry and workmanship that flourished during that golden age of history. The exquisite Mogul miniature paintings, which are now treasured throughout the world along with the classical music and dance portrayed in so many of the films produced in Bollywood (Mumbai) are all part of the Indian scene past and present. The philosophies related to the Hindu and Muslim cultures that always play such an important part in family life within the local community. And last, but not the least, the men and women of the Indian armed forces who stood shoulder to shoulder with their British counter parts in both peace and war. These were the people from all walks of life that the BORs came into contact with during their service in India. The total population of the Indian sub-continent in 1947 was four hundred million. Fifty-three years later in the millennium year two thousand the population of India alone had increased to one billion.
One of the last special projects undertaken at GSGS was the reproduction of a letter written by the C.I.C. India Command, General Claude Auchinleck. When it was received at GSGS, although the typewritten copy was perfectly legible, the crest at the top of the letter bearing both a coat of arms and the appropriate wording was quite blurred and indistinct. Mindful of the importance of this letter and furthermore that it bore the signature of the C.I.C. India Command, in order to improve its overall appearance a photographic enlargement of the crest was made, which was then retouched by the section's lithographic draughtsman. The letter went to press and was lithographed in two colours, red for the crest and black for the typed copy. A single colour facsimile of the letter is attached. It is worth noting that the letter was printed just a few days after India and Pakistan had achieved their independence. Copies of the letter were subsequently distributed to members of the British armed forces at their port of embarkation for their return to the UK during the latter part of 1947 and January 1948. This letter is somewhat unique from a GSGS point of view in that it does not show either a work order number or the usual identification source wording. Perhaps, however, most noteworthy of all, the all-important date on which the letter was typed is missing. Was this omission an oversight on the part of the General's staff in view of the hectic activities, both politically and militarily, which were underway at that particular time, or was it intentional...we shall never know?
The mandate of the British army to serve the Empire of India under the British Crown ended on August 15th 1947. On that day of destiny, two new countries, to become known as India and Pakistan, gained their independence from the United Kingdom and took their place as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations. Over two hundred years of military service to the Empire of India ended in January 1948 when the last units of the British Army were withdrawn from the Indian sub-continent. This record, written from a BOR's point of view is a fitting testimonial to the tenacity and dedicated service of the officers and men of the Royal Engineers Survey stationed in India during the final years of the British Raj 1945 to 1947.
Former Sergeant Donald C. Thyer
14786710 Royal Engineers Survey
Newmarket Ontario Canada