A recent press report mentioned a foreign diplomat in our capital as saying “the climate is hell and the city is a garbage dump”. This comment jogged my memory about another foreigner — a British army sergeant — in an incident back in 1945. Early that year, when the war in Europe was drawing to a close, it was
decided to repatriate all ‘compassionate’ servicemen and women to England. They were to assemble at Deolali and then to Bombay, where they were to embark on a troopship. Pat Dunn and I (both the rank of major) had been selected to attend the Army Staff College course at Camberley in England. Our orders were to join the troopship for our passage.
At Deolali, we found the British officers somewhat unfriendly, but the Sergeants Mess was quite lively and we were invited there for a drink. Around the bar, each one offered us a tankard of beer to celebrate their homeward passage. A red-faced sergeant of East Yorkshire Regiment nudged me and asked, “Is this your first visit to Blighty, mate?” (England was always referred to as Blighty by British troops). “Here there is nothing but filth and garbage. I’m looking forward to a green countryside with no flies, dust or heat. Also my pint of beer at the local pub.”
On our arrival at London, we reported to the military advisor at India Office who happened to be a recently knighted three-star general under whom I had served in Iraq. He told us our course had been postponed by six weeks but he had arranged an official tour to all parts of the country. “The Englishman in India is quite a different person to the Englishman in his home surroundings. Get to know him, particularly in the smaller towns and villages. See me in a month’s time with your report.” Whilst in uniform, I had never received such welcome orders from a superior — it was like going on a paid holiday!
The last leg of our tour took us to Yorkshire. Unfortunately, the weather suddenly changed and it became bitterly cold, with strong winds and sleet. To add to this, our staff car broke down in a lonely area. Drenched to the skin and shivering with cold, we trudged across the bleak moor to a dilapidated pub. After fortifying ourselves with several quick ones, I was taken aback to see my Deolali acquaintance — that red-faced sergeant, sitting in a corner feeling very sorry for himself. “This country ain’t what it used to be, sir,” he muttered. “I’ve just about had it and have applied to go back. I really miss the sunshine, sounds and smells of India.”
Perhaps, like the sergeant, the foreign diplomat may also change his opinion when he returns home.