As I mentioned in this post, I have inherited hundreds of letters that were written from my wife’s grandfather to her grandmother while they were courting. Most of the letters were written during the time while my wife’s grandfather was drafted into service during WW2. Many are from basic training and many are from his time served in India. I have not yet begun the formal process of scanning, dating and sorting the letters. This letter was floating around on top with no envelope – there is no date listed on it besides “1945”. All spelling, punctuation and grammatical errors have been left intact.
We approached the Bombay Harbor sometime during March after a months voyage across the Pacific Ocean. A month of torture I might add. No-one was more glad to see the faint outline of land that morning than I. We were allowed to go top side before sunrise that morning. Something which hadn’t occurred since we got on the blasted tub. All eyes were straining to be the first to catch sight of land. The first signs came around seven AM in the form of bouys. The ship was going very slowly we thought. Small fishing boats, some of them over fifty years old went past us going out to see to try their luck. A heavy fog prevented us from seeing the shore but as the sun came out the fog lifted and disappeared and before us stood the mystic land of India. Well, up to that time India was still considered mystic.
The unloading of the ship started as soon as we were docked. The unloading of the supplies and equipment. We just stood around gaping at the Indian stevedores knocking themselves out on the docks some thirty feet below. How-ever a new danger sprang up among the sight-seers. Large crows had begun to settle on the masts and riggings, gulls and other birds were flying just over us. Needless to say we were bombed most unrelentlessly and seemingly without cause.
We were given a partial payment that next morning in Indian money. This caused a great deal of discussion as to just exactly how much it was worth in US money. Card games sprang up and routine ship life started in again. Everyone was feeling good due to the fact that the infernal rolling of the ship has stopped and that abandon ship drill was a thing of the past. A rumor was afoot that we were going to get a pass into the city that afternoon. We did. A couple thousand men tried to get off the boat at one time. It was one hell of a mess. But after they threatened the men with a fire hose some sort of order was established and we formed a line on the port side and filed off down the gangway. A walk of about a half a mile brought us out of the dock areas and into Bombay itself.
I started out alone but I soon met up with a bunch of our gang and we started making plans. We had until ten that night. Well, it ended up with one half going to the brothels (out of bounds by the way) and the other half headed for the nearest saloon. I was in the latter half. I can’t remember much about the pub except that the drinks we had were lousy. Kirk and I separated from the gang and headed for a Hotel to get something to eat. This was about seven PM. We found the Hotel Argentina which had a very fashionable dining room. Here we had our first good meal in over a month. Fried chicken, hor’s de Houvres, and all the rest of the junk which I couldn’t read on the menu. After the meal we wandered into the saloon part of the hotel and there to our surprise were the rest of the gang. The had there arms draped over some Aussies and Limeys and vice versa. All of them were fairly well shot. It was getting on toward nine PM when we (those that were sober enough to talk) got the other fellows loaded into a horse and buggy affair and told him to proceed to the docks. Our knowledge of the Indian lingo was quite poor and for a while it looked as if we had told the driver to go to hell or something. Somewhere along the line one of the guys had swiped the Aussie’s hat and was now sitting with the driver waving the hat around hollering Hiyo Silver. We finally got him back into the buggy itself. Lucky thing too because he passed out cold in a few minutes later. If he had been on top we would most likely be speaking of him in the past tense now.
All went well until it dawned on them that no-one had bought any trinkets to send home. Close to the entrance of the dock area is also set up a shopping district which for some unknown reason was going full blast. We stopped the driver there, and stopping him was no mean task, we did everything to make him understand that we wanted him to stop for a while at the shops except shoot his horse. I was the first one finished with the shopping and came back to the buggy and sat down with the driver. It wasn’t long before there was a crowd of dirty Indian beggars and merchants around me. I bought a knife from one of them that has now a beautiful crust of rust all over it. He garunteed it rust proof though. Well, as I was sitting there minding everyone’s business, a fairly young Indian girl came up to me and made many gestures toward her mouth and the baby she had been holding. The baby could not have been more than 3 weeks old at the time. Well, she kept saying “baksheesh” in the most plaintiff voice I have ever heard and I tossed her a rupee. This was a mistake. After I gave her the money she tried to give me the child. It seems that Papa ___ was almost a real Papa that night. I had to give her another rupee to take the kid back. After that I ignored all Indians with babies in their arms.