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INDIAN HILL STATIONS VISITED BY THE 42ND REGIMENT 1931-1935
This is not meant to be a definitive history of the 1st Btn Black Watch during the time it spent in India after the Great War, but merely a framework which will enable family historians to fill in some of the background of Black Watch soldiers like my father, John Davidson, who served with the regiment throughout these years. All spellings and reference to place names follow the pattern of the time.
The 1st Btn BW was stationed in India from September 1919, when they arrived at Allahabad until December 1936 which saw their departure from Barrackpore (after a stay which began October 1934). In between, short visitations were made to Quetta (November 1922), Multan (December 1925), Chakrata (March 1928), and Meerut (October 1930).
HMT Nevasa sailing into Bombay harbour
Regimental life had a rhythm, with the same things done at the same time of the year, particularly in India where the climate was a major influence. There was the Trooping Season (October-March) when men who had served their time returned to Britain and fresh drafts passed the other way. For example Private John Davidson (2751958) embarked from Southampton on 26/2/31 on board H-M-T Nevasa and disembarked at Bombay 19/3/31. Finally the battalion was joined at Meerut 21/3/31. There were 143 other ranks in this detachment. The return journey was made from Barrackpore on 29/12/35 sailing on H-M-T Somersetshire from Bombay 3/1/36 and arriving at Southampton 25/1/36.
Perhaps the most welcomed season was the hill station season when the heat of the plains (shade temperatures 44 (C-46(C) was exchanged for the cleaner and fresher mountain air. For those who remained in the heat this period was more descriptively referred to as the "Hot Weather Season" or the "Prickly Heat Season".
The season began around the beginning of April and companies would change over with the onset of the monsoon at the end of June. This second half, or "Wet Period", concluded at the end of September. The stations would be shared with other regiments enabling football and boxing competitions to be held.
The hill stations used by the BW between 1931-35 were: -
Ranikhet 1931 & 1932
Kailana 1933 & 1934
Ranikhet was a comparatively small station 6000ft above sea level in the United Provinces not far from Naini Tal and located in a densely wooded area. It had three separate camps each perched on top of a different hill. "Standing Camp", about two miles from Ranikhet itself, was considered to be the best due to its football pitch.
Ranikhet was reached by a slow, 7 mph, troop train to Kathgodam. There then followed a fifty mile boneshaking ride by bus and lorry with a halt at Bhowali where the "Char Wallahs" provided a welcomed break. At least this was preferable to the five stage route march which in the 1920's was the alternative.
Apparently the troops were quite well catered for here as the barracks were good, the work wasn't hard and there were plenty of opportunities for football and for hiring the local "tat" or pony for one rupee an hour. On the soldiering side most things, including musketry, were hampered by the precipitous nature of the country especially during the monsoon which contributed to landslides.
signal section at Ranikhet and Ranikhet barracks
The surrounding Kumain hills were ideal for hiking or, to use the term that a soldier of the 42nd would more readily have recognised, Khud walks (Khud being Hindi for ravine). This was very much a regimental institution with associated paraphernalia such as Khud walking sticks and company dogs which accompanied the soldiers on their strolls. Before the monsoon broke there was the constant danger of Khud fires which in themselves were regarded as spectacles that broke the monotony. Also the period in the mountains would allow mountain warfare training camps to be held such as that at Hawal Bagh 1932.
Khud walking and Hawal Bagh mountain warfare camp
Meanwhile, back at base, in Meerut, hot weather regulations would be in force. These precautions would ensure that everyone would be indoors by 9am/10am and not be allowed out before 4pm. Any parade in-between times was restricted to those which could take place under cover. The temperature at 7pm would still be in excess of 38C.
At 12.30pm the company would sit down to a light meal with the troops clad in singlets and white shorts. The meal consisted of a "wine biscuit and a read of Thomson's Weekly". Between 1pm-5pm there wasn't a trace of life in the barracks. Activity started with the arrival of the heavy meal at the latter time and increased from this point on.
Kailana was a very small station in the north of the United Provinces, about 60 miles from Dehra Dun and 8000ft above sea level. The station was isolated and the hills considered to have particularly steep gradients. With other regiments there was room for 1000 men. It is recorded that 550 men of the 1st BW had the pleasure, in 1933, of spending 3 months here.
The first part of the journey from Meerut to Kailana was made by train to Dehra Dun. From here the trip uphill was by bus. All available units from Scottish Motor Tractors and Alexanders were commandeered to take the 42nd to Kalsi via Jumnipur. Kalsi rest camp lay in a perfect setting at the bottom of the thickly clad lower slopes of the Himalayas. Kalsi was also well known for its bat like mosquitoes.
The short cut and at the top of the short cut
All of the baggage would be offloaded from the buses on to A.T carts and then in the cool of the evening a route march was begun to Saiah. Saiah rest camp was besides an ice cold stream, which had its source in the Pindari glacier. An early start the next day brought the troops to the bottom of the infamous "Short Cut" - a narrow and very steep hill road leading to Kailana camp.
Saiah rest camp
There were two barracks here - the upper and lower lines - with one BW company in each. It was the cause of much humour for the troops to see a procession of tired and dusty officers arriving on parade from their mess 1000ft below.
Kailana barracks and Signal section at Kailana
As usual sport dominated the activities here along with Khud walks but there was unfortunately only one football pitch. Soldiering was again confined to route marches and musketry, which were often interrupted by torrential rain or made impossible by the terrain. Other amusements were few. The Bazaar was indifferent and the Soldiers Club many weary miles away which was made worse by the complete absence of the "tat".
Kailana bazaar and Kailana neck - between Chakrata and Kailana
Lebong was the final hill station to be visited by the 42nd following its move from Meerut to Barrackpore. The journey was made by rail in two stages. Firstly from the Racecourse Station Barrackpore to Siliguri where the kit was offloaded onto the small wagons of the Darjeeling and Himalayan railway. As the train wound its way up the mountainside men on the front of the engine would feed sand onto the rails so as to improve traction. Upon reaching Darjeeling the troops detrained and set off on a four mile march to Lebong with the kit being taken by the few small motors available.
Darjeeling and Himalayan railway
Lebong was a spectacular station lying in the shadow of Kinchinjunga and in sight of Everest. It possessed probably the highest racecourse in the world. There were no tents so all of the men were in barracks which had to be debugged using blow-lamps provided for the purpose. It also turned out to be the wettest of all stations.
Once more football was the main form of exercise and entertainment. The only pitch was also used for parades, polo and hockey. Apart from this Darjeeling was the attraction and could be reached by taxi, tat or on foot involving a still climb of 1000ft.
Darjeeling of course was tea-plantation country much to the chagrin of the officers as it meant less game available to be shot. However, it gave extra motivation to those on Khud walks as the planters frequently provided tea at their bungalows as well as pineapples in their orchards. The main outing in 11935 was a trip to the river Rangneet involving a 6000ft descent in six miles. The river was 1000ft above sea level spanned by the Manjitar Bridge leading to Sikkim.
For the 42nd as they headed from Lebong to Barrackpore on November 15th 1935 a sixteen year way of life was coming to an end. December 1936 saw them leaving for the Sudan and War was on the horizon. Indian independence followed and the British Army's occupation of the sub-continent was over.
Inside the barracks
Red Hackle 1921-26 and 1931-35
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