Harry Beattie


July 4 2006

Retta Beattie was approached by Larry Brown, who had received an audio tape from Harry many
years ago, asking if it would be alright to share Harry's memoirs with others who would appreciate
the stories and the times, and she graciously gave this permission.--


Below is the Larry's Explanation of how he received the tape, followed by the actual written transcription of
Harry's Tape,  plus an explanation
of some terms used which may not be familiar to all

Larry's Explanation  

This is a transcription from an audio tape sent to me about six years ago, by  Harry Beattie O.B.E.
who lives with his wife Retta, at Crieff, in Scotland.

 The intervening years, since the tape was recorded, have not been kind to Harry and he currently
suffers from Dementia, which, I understand, is quite advanced.

  I remember Harry from when he was the CEO of the Assam Railways and Trading Company in
Margherita, and at an AGM of Margherita Club, which he was chairing, he referred to the club as
"a quasi autonomous entity" all  of we assistants were mightily impressed with the phrase and
it has since been  dropped nonchalantly into conversations, many times, by those who were there!
  Some of the references to situations or people in the tape should not be misconstrued, as no
offence is intended. As Harry concludes on the tape "everything that is  on the tape, is quite true" 
He was there at the time of partition, was at Noakhali, and was very involved with,  and played a
key role to the Assam Government during the 1962 crisis with China. They were very difficult
times, particularly the former, and Harry witnessed  distressing and harrowing scenes, Harry, at home in Scotland

There are many very amusing stories but it should be remembered that many of the events happened
sixty years ago and the attitudes and the way  they were viewed were by the people who were a 
product of those often turbulent times.   

                      an informal and relaxed Harry

          In the conclusion it is particularly sad where Harry ponders on a trip that he would one day like
to make, where he and his wife, travel from Gauhati by road to Dibrugarh and beyond, calling in on
old friends and visiting familiar places. Harry truly loved India and it's people and up until his illness
he would have treasured those memories   and he and Retta  would  have made the sentimental
trip had fate not intervened.

                               a  formally attired  Harry  

 Here now is the transcript of the tape created by Harry some years ago and he called it  
"Memories of a Steamer Company Sahib"

I have also prepared a condensed version but I didn't realise that I would remember so
much.   I also  had to pick a place to start-so I just shut my eyes and let memories flood
back-sometimes they are in sequence, sometimes not-so here goes!

"How the hell did I get here" I wondered aloud, as I sweated through my mattress. I was
sweating through my mattress too. I had Dengue Fever and I was in a place called
Barisal situated in East Bengal which became East Pakistan then Bangla Desh, which
is invariably mispronounced by those mealy mouthed who purport to bring the world news
to us speaking of the present day, through the medium of television.

I was in Barisal because I had joined a firm that ran an inland waterway transport
company in the Ganges delta. Somewhere in the pelvic column of this, lay Barisal.

             The Doctor had been summoned from the Bazaar by my fellow Traffic Assistant
who thought I was bluffing,and that was saying something, we had both done six years
in the Royal Air Force
between 1939 and 1945 and had become unsympathetic and
cynical and didn't care for one another but didn't say what one had done anyway but I
did look rough enough for the attention of a
 Doctor. The one we got was a real card-he
couldn't take my temperature because I didn't have a thermometer.
The next day I did have a thermometer and so the bold Doc with all his training was
able to tell me that the  mercury had risen to 104 and that I ought to take rest but I
would feel better if I had a shave!! My companion and I told him to "beep" off and we
threatened violence so he didn't come back!

We had thought it was Dengue having heard about it, and we knew that the pain and
discomfort and sore  everything would be gone within a week.

I was staying in what was loosely, like bowels, described as floating accomodation.
Berthed against thisresidential flat-the one I was staying on-was another barge called
the 'Doolia'  if I remember correctly. It was a barge that belched foul smoke into my
sleeping quarters. Asking for it's removal nicely proved to be  a total lack of success
so I got my Bearer to make me a sling and "mati golis" that I had seen the local
children use-and so-applying wartime methods, simple and straightforward "if he's
an enemy shoot the bastard, if not and he's getting in the way of your war effort, which
included women and booze, Put the 'Beep'  on a charge!

I fired at anything that moved on the barge!

The  'Doolia' 1st Assistant thought I was a headcase as indeed the crew of the barge
did. The former didn't come to see me in case I was a dangerous species-but he did
move the barge!

I tell this story because life was so bloody awful and all appurtaining thereto - but it was
at this point that I decided to stay on in the East.
Prior to Barisal I had been in Calcutta.
I was paid R's400/-per month and my rent in Killarney Lodge, which was situated in
Wood Street , and that was a joke too, was R's 350/- per month.

On the grounds that nobody could be that stupid,I assumed that the motive behind keeping
the lads so short  of the 'ready' was to ensure that no monkey business took place-the
plot failed!

Being a true Briton, I thought that everybody loved us and I was therefore astonished to
witness large numbers  of people going round the streets in an organized manner, telling us
to 'Quit India' To them, I thought, this is ours; on the other hand I was given to wonder who the
hell really wanted a dump like Calcutta anyway. That  was a surprise but not anything like the
surprise when the Hindus and Moslems set about one another. This wasn't a football match
'daffa'-people hated each other to a degree, that World War 2 and all, I had never

To go back a few months from the 'Doolia' to Killarney Lodge where I was
accommodated with five others- two each from McNeills, Tea and Jute and Steamer Company,
had traveled out together, by sea of course,
The old hands returning from their first holiday since the beginning of the war did their best to
fill us with fear  of the East-Bara Sahibs and so on-but we were all 27 year old veterans and
considered that these blokes  were not only lineshooters-but that they were bloody bad ones at that!

The only thing that I learnt on the ship, that I can recall was that "the poor man's piano was green peas*
This bwas from a corpulent Port Commissioner Worthy, who smoked and drank too much and he
underwent violent spasms of coughing in the morning at the cessation of which he muttered
"Die you Bastard ,Die!"

The fact that Hindus and Moslems were hacking each other to bits had no effect on the six at
Killarney Lodge.
But our empty stomachs began to cause us some distress, more especially when we learned
that our"old woman with the young face" -our Landlady, was confined to her bedroom with 'the
vapours' and not  available to talk on any subject. The Steamer Company had a foodstuffs
store a long way off and in the  heat of July we had something to think about but something had
to be done. It would no doubt be dangerous  because of the sectarian violence but there
appeared to be a lull this day and I set off to walk to Jaganath  Ghat where I knew the food was
kept. Without incident I found myself outside the main Post Office in Dalhousie Square,and it
was open. I wandered around and located under the hand painted sign "UK" a  number of
bags ,which I broached and was rewarded with mail for myself and others at Killarney Lodge.
I should add, perhaps unnecessarily, that there wasn't a soul in the Post Office.  

                     Dalhousie Square as it is Today

There wasn't a soul in the streets either that is until I emerged from the site of a black alleyway and found
that two Sikhs, with swords, had done to death, a Muslim.

I think that they had kidnapped him in their open taxi but why they had decided to dispatch the poor
unfortunate there I do not know. He was, nevertheless, on the pavement, his life's blood draining into the
gutter and was in the path of where I wanted to go. The dilemma was, do I walk round him, step over him
and in the process do I get run through as well. Not surprisingly I gave a wide berth and walked round him
having decided that Sikhs in traditional shoes could not match my speed to Killarney Lodge, I confess to
being relieved when, with big bearded grins, they gave me the customary Muslim greeting of "Salaam Sahib"

I have always had excellent teeth and was a dab hand at breaking the toughest of nuts or taking knots out
of string but this was the first time I could have got a job in a Rhumba band as a castanet player with my
chattering teeth.

The bloke in charge of the Calcutta office, one Donald Stevens, whose favourite expression was "you'll get
used to it"-on reflection, I cannot recall him saying much else to me. I cannot clearly remember him but I do
remember what the top of his head looked like as this was about all I saw of him. Our American cousins
call it "the Brush Off" -don't call me I'll call you. Donald reckons that my training (what training) is complete
and that I should now go up country to commence my 'useless' period "you're no use to us till you've done
four years" -a few more perils that were in store for us were outlined by Mr Stevens, and the talk was concluded
with, as usual, "you'll get used to it"

Possibly because of my training in what became known as 'the great Calcutta killing' I found myself posted
to a Rail/River junction known as Chandpur.

In the hinterland the Hindus were being slaughtered in droves by the Muslims and the connecting vessels were
being over-run by refugees. Steamer Company Officers were required to bring some form of control-quite simply
-there was a definite danger of a vessel, flat bottomed and driven by two paddles, sinking, through sheer weight of numbers.                                                               

People piled on and stood, sat or lay down on the side nearest the shore so that they could see what was
happening. The list of the steamer was unbelievable.

Two Traffic Assistants, the lowest rung in the Company's promotion list, were sent to deal with the situation
and since the other fellow, David Blackwood, was my senior by two months, the 24 hour was divided by two
and I was given the hours of darkness-naturally.

A platoon of soldiers was seconded to us and when the first trainload that I saw arrive it was clear as to why
help was needed. The train was supposed to carry about 500 people but it was nearer 700 that burst from the
carriages and they ran to the waiting vessel brushing aside everything that got in the way. There had been
pillaging, arson, murder, rape and any of the other horrors that were current when the many had the few at
their mercy. Anyway, it was typically British: "put a couple of new boys on the job to muddle through"

But what I thought took the biscuit was when I, the newest of all, should be detailed to go to Dacca to meet
Mahatma Gandhi who was scheduled to visit Chandpur to meet the Muslim heads in the Noakhali area
where the murder and the mayhem was rife.

It was all very interesting for me and having accompanied the party-including numerous goats,pots and
pans and an incredible assortment of cooking vessels, I had the privilege of listening in to the discussions
which took place in the saloon of the PS KIWI-I think it was the Kiwi. I could only understand half of it
because Gandhi spoke in Hindi and the Muslims spoke in English. Nothing was resolved and the trains
kept coming.

The Giants
Above : The Pudda Mail  Steamer  Kiwi (built 1930) and her two sister ships were the largest mail
steamers ever built. Each was licensed to carry over 1300 passengers


 I had erected the type of barrier that I had seen in football fields and I stationed the platoon-they were
Jats-where the train stopped, and they made everyone sit down. The Corporal was a character and a very
useful man. He carried out instructions to the letter-come what may.

A bamboo passageway had been erected at the end of which a ticket was issued before boarding the ship.
I told the Corporal to let them through in ten's. It was an orderly queue that wended it's way toward the vessel
and was really well disciplined. The Corporal counted Ek..Do..Tin..and when he came to the eleventh, he hit
him with a baton he carried. If the eleventh was a woman he leaned forward and hit the twelfth!! When
questioned by me at this crude but effective form of crowd control, he said, after all "They're not Jats, therefore
of no consequence" (or words to that effect!)

I did a stint as Acting Agent at Chanugria the only interest there being a glimpse into the Marwari Jute Chippers
mind. I was then given an an Acting at Sirajganj.

It was a three hour journey from my office to the Ghat.  My office was cooled by a series of 'punkawallahs' who
lay on their backs, energizing the punkah by means of a rope tied to their big toe. There were frequent stoppages
as the bods fell asleep at which stage one had to apply 'reverse thrust' that is, one gave the punkah a hell of a
tug and the whole process went into reverse to the grave discomfort to the owner of the toe!

The three hour journey to the ghat included-jeep journey to the water's edge, and then an interminable ride by
dugout or running the gauntlet of wild pigs if one elected to go by the embankment-the latter was not recommended
without the company of another bloke and guns and since it was a one man station, it was always the country boat.
This had it's own danger. The Boatman, squatting on a 6 inch wide plank, rowing non-stop for hours was given to
concentrated and long bouts of wind. When eventually I knew how to object in the local language, he said I was
mistaken. "It was the Shishu (porpoise)" that gambolled throughout the delta waters but I knew that no self
respecting Shishu could foul the air like that!                                                                    

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              The steamer that shuttled between Goalundo and Gauhati was only an hour late when I made my first inspection trip and
so I was able to visit the Goalundo office before work was over.

I was invited that night to a party by one Jack Dominy who was the 1st Assistant-no mean rank. I impressed
Jack because shortly after we spoke I asked him "which part of London do you come from?" and he said to
me  in unmistakeable Cockney, " Ow didja know I wuz a Lundun bo-eye?"

River Steamer Routes

Goalundo was at the back of beyond and although it was a real river junction-and an important one.
There were no women on the station though there had been at one time but the Agent was a bachelor
named Spider Rose. He epitomised the Englishman abroad-phlegmatic, calm, friendly but distant
and always hoped that one would "enjoy one's stay"-which was bloody impossible!

The night came and Jack and I went upstairs to the satisfactory floating accommodation. Gathered in
the saloon of this old vessel, probably acquired from the Irrawaddy Flotilla,was a group of men,
about sixteen in number.

RV Pandaw   Irrawaddy Flotilla

There were Company Officers in the shape of Marine men, Engineers, the Resident Traffic people and
visiting Jute people from Brierly Brothers and other Jute firms trying to find out where a lost consignment
had got to.
In one corner was a bloke with a Japanese sword, standing in the attitude of a baseball player, with a
small fan, table variety, behind him.
In the opposite corner there was another fellow with a pile of tangerine
type oranges which sold at several hundred to the rupee, who represented the bowler. Over went the
ball-down came the sword-the orange went into the fan and he was out!  This play over, Jack stopped the
proceedings in order that I could be introduced and then it was my turn at bowling and batting!

Carews Gin at that time possibly 8 chips a bottle poured freely but there were no shouts and screams of
male merriment -the game was taken quite seriously. There was, however, a bit of  horseplay in the shape
of a shootout! Over some different point of view, Eric Smith and a traveling engineer, whose name escapes
me, fired several rounds from their revolvers at one and other.

Eric had got into a bath and was firing from the relative safety of that. The other bloke was lying on the floor
of the saloon and the gunfight took place through two open doors. No-one was hurt! I don't think anybody
cared one way or the other but peace was soon restored.

Charlie Hall, who had walked out of Burma into India when the Japs made their unwelcome incursion,had
gone to bed. It was thought a great idea to throw him into the Brahmaputra, mattress and all, into the inky
black, with a fair current running. He too survived!

Goalundo was an isolated place and for fun,those stationed there had to go to Calcutta. For many reasons
this could not be done too often not the least of which was finance. Therefore things did happen at this delta
station-which really was in the middle of nowhere, born of, not so much boredom,  as exuberance.

Before the war, young bloods though underpaid were a happy go lucky lot. They took their promotion when
it came and did as the Bara Sahib said, and in general, had a good life.  It was what the Empire was made
of stuff and no one baulked on the understanding of what was the done thing and what was not-Oh they had
their wild men, their parties and their beat ups, as they were called which was really going on a binge-a situation
that brought tolerant smiles to the leathern faces of those who had done exactly the same thing decades before.
The new and post war young blood was not so young-he was vastly more experienced in life and he was not
at all happy to accept a situation simply because his forebears had done so. This really was truly the time of
the 'angry young man' not years later when permissiveness commenced and the 'in thing' was to do the
opposite of what one's parents had planned.

Goalundo with it's nothing to do was literally a hive of rebellion which made itself manifest in wild exploits.  Many
good men left simply as they say now 'it was not their scene' They could not stand  discipline that did not have
a meaning. A spade was a spade and they could put up with anything as long as the explanation was
understandable and logical.

Just one story I will tell in support of what I have said-in fact what I have said is so that I can tell the story.

A traveling Engineer residing at Goalundo, by the name of Jann Pittuki considered that his living
accommodation was too small-it was in fact a cabin-a very small cabin.

Seldom was there a visitor of high rank from Calcutta-seldom was there a visitor of any rank from Calcutta
. So when it was known that a Director, James Sadler, was coming on pilgrimage, great was the
excitement. Everybody was happy to welcome the visitor and give their best. All went well primarily
because he, James, avoided asking any leading questions. But Jann said, in his stubborn Polish way,
that he was not happy and would Mr Sadler look at his quarters. A promise of better times and better
things would have done the trick but James looked around and said-"I must admit, you could not swing
a cat in here"  Unused to colloquial English (he was married to a Bengali) which could hardly be expected
to increase his knowledge of the English vernacular-Jann took the  utterance literally and incredulously
said "Who wants to swing the fookin cat, all I want is a bigger place to live!"

When I was First Assistant in Gauhati we had our club appropriated by the Government because it stood
on the site chosen for the High Court. Eventually the compensation was paid, and was, as I recall better
than was imagined but in the meantime-no club.

I was a bachelor and the accommodation on the old 'Cashmere' was spacious so on Saturdays my
quarters became the Gauhati Club! The bearers were brought along - there was no signing for drinks-
the secretary simply added up what was consumed and divided the sum equally among the  male
members. Women were treated as guests and there was no charge for them whether they be wives or
visitors-and the surprising thing was that our club bills went down! The reason for this was quite simple
-there was no need to treat.

  Kind people, no doubt to get rid of their very  old gramophone records gave them to the club and some
idiot, that was me, one night impulsively broke a record over Mahmood Ali's head-this was around midnight
and it seemed a good idea. In fact it was a great idea and it became a club ritual.

The area was combed for miles as the stocks of 78's became low and rationing was effected.

The ritual was performed only when Calcutta visitors were present.

One of the funniest things I ever saw was the expression on Mr and Mrs Bluett's faces when the record
ceremony began one night, complete abandon and screams of delight as members found their victims.
Sex was no barrier, all one needed to be in the game was a head-and a record!!

Gauhati was the scene of much dedicated work including Sunday up to lunch, and under such  
Controlling Agents as Eric Kay and subsequently Walter Ravenscroft. There was a lot of fun and
tremendous camaraderie. Irrespective of where the party was held we always finished up in the late
 hours of the morning cooking breakfast at Eric Kay's sitting room fire after the amazing and long suffering
Bearer, Sunshine, had retired the previous evening!

We dressed a fair amount in those days -it was not unusual to turn up to work at half past ten, the unofficial
tea break, dressed in one's dinner suit!

The Third Assistant at Gauhati, Eric Smith of the Goalundo gunfight thing, often had a tray brought down
from the other set of quarters on the 'Cashmere' by his Bearer.                                                                     

The Teapot contained rum and this was 'the hair of the dog'

Ups and downs there were and old Gauhati was a big and important place. It was isolated as far as Europeans were concerned. The nearest planters were just that bit too far away so we had to make our own fun.  By far my most amusing story and my most amusing memory was when Arthur Butler and I, both committee members of the Gauhati Club-the one bought with the compensation money and successor to the 'Cashmere' , sat down with a full and grave committee to decide what was to be done with the substantial stocks of alcohol now that prohibition was upon us.

The Chief Justice of Assam, Justice Ramlabhaya, was the Chairman and a number of  other important gentlemen were on this prestigious committee. For one reason or another in coming to  the decision to have a meeting.  It was hoped, I think, that this old club would be put in the exception bracket-but no-so with prohibition inevitable and  and the possible confiscation of stock, we sat down the next day  to deliberate. It did not take long to decide that the best thing to do would be to sell to members. The question was, quantity and price.

The Chief Justice who was a strict teetotaller deemed that I, as the longest club member, should be in charge and he guessed that I knew something about alcohol! Quite ironic!

The Club stocks were surprisingly large as I found, and with Arthur, as second opinion,we got down to work.

We discovered, we all discovered, things we didn't know. The stocks were much larger than we thought but not only that, there were some magnificent old wines, Liqueur whiskies, and a tremendous assortment of liqueurs and beers in bottles. Well this must have been the biggest farce that ever a man could have got himself involved in and what was to be the biggest con of all time! 

The Chief Justice agreed that I couldn't really tell the quality of the alcohol unless I opened the bottle and tasted it.  Ably backed by Arthur, I deemed lot after lot as being bad, too old, vinegary or we just couldn't sell it to anyone and have a clear conscience!

How sincerely we were thanked for our generosity in withdrawing crates and cartons and loading these on to hastily summoned trucks and Landrovers with labour to handle it!

At prices of 50np per bottle to R's5/- for Liqueur Whisky. We even favoured the Club and removed any possibility of embarrassment by taking away for disposal, old Port and French Wines which we deemed to be tainted or containing residue that could prove injurious to health.

We were more than three sheets to the wind on the amount we had tasted alone taking care to have the odd bottle of cider poured down the sink as unfit for human consumption!

At the end of a session that lasted more than two hours we were given a vote of thanks by the club committee and if the Minutes book is still there it will be seen that it was a unanimous decision!

As I go on I find that I must depart from sequence otherwise I will not get everything in. So I am about to leave for Shillong, the seat of the Government, where, perforce, I have spent a good deal of my time usually on labour matters.

It was crucial that a visiting Director should call and pay his respects to, in particular, the Chief Minister,the Labour Minister and Finance Minister-the Labour Secretary and down the Labour ladder to the lowest rank. Failure to do this could cause offence and that was truly a serious thing.

On one occasion, Jack Craig and I spent several days in rather uncertain times-meaning that we were not too popular. The reason for this being that the Company had resisted Direct Employment and was unwilling to give money for no return.We had been on the job, hanging about for appointments,waiting outside doors and appointments were being canceled at the last moment so we decided to take a break and go for an hour or so to Mike Hunt's pub in Mawphlang. I say take a break although it was at night because it was not unusual to be summoned at 9 pm as the great men took the mood.                                                         

Mike was an unusual man. He married into the Khasi Hills and being an engineer of some skill had developed a canning factory and he made some very good alcohol. He also set up an English type pub to make his European visitors feel at home and altogether it was great fun. It was 12 miles from Shillong on the road to Cherrapunji, which you may know, is the wettest place in the world.

Jack and I had an egg nog which went for 6 chips a bottle. We had a chat with Mike and then sat back and Jack listened to me reading excerpts from the Visitors Book.

Some people we knew and some we didn't. Some of the remarks were corny and some witty. One will forever stick in my mind and it convulsed Jack:

The bloke who wrote it was an American helicopter pilot with huge feet and who went by the name of Hosenose Warren-simply because he had a nose like a hose! If it hadn't been that it would have had something to do with those prominent  'plates of meat' of his. Anyway, he had written in the book:  (and the spelling is his)                                                                                                                                                                                         

                                    Thirty days have Octumber,

                                   April, June and no wonder,

                                   All the rest,

                                   Have breakfast in bed,

                                   Except Grandma, and she flies a P 38



Lockheed Lightning P38

Jack was a good Director, a fair man, and I say a thoughtful man. We traveled on business many miles over the years and of course something had to come of that. Here are two small ones:

Jack, an indefatigable worker, insisted that I brief him by note form en route to meetings at planters clubs. Flying in a Dakota at certain times of the year in Assam are terrifying and writing, in what was akin to an aerobatic performance was well nigh impossible but dutifully, I wrote the notes-and then stared sourly ahead in the twisting aircraft when Jack told me that my writing was bloody awful!    On the same trip, or certainly one like it-a Stewardess asked me if I would like some coffee,I asked Jack, who was at the window seat. Not renowned for his  patience-and above the roar of the Dak's twin engines-he said that he would rather have tea. I shouted to the girl-she shouted back that she had only 'Nestea'  I told Jack, who answered, not raising his head from his papers "Nasty is it? Ah Well", he said in resigned tones, "I'll just have the cup"

Jack and I left Loongsong, which Jack insisted in calling "the Chinese Tea Garden" and levelled out at 1500ft in a small privately owned aircraft, over the Brahmaputra. The pilot, an ex RAF man but rather vague for my liking, was in the front with Jack and I was in the back.

The engine spluttered and coughed while we were over the Brahmaputra and we started to lose height with absolutely no chance of reaching the North Bank. I leaned forward, and with some panic, yelled"there's no friggin' petrol showing on the gauge, what about your reserve?"  He threw the switch and the engine took on it's accustomed healthy note!

Flying over Kaziranga on our way to Jorhat from a North Bank meeting-the pilot in the same type  of aircraft I have just described, with a planter flying with me this time, an older man. He told us that he had just witnessed Rhinos mating -he was so excited, excited as he could be-a sight seldom seen by human beings-Directors included! Jack and I were similar in many ways and one of these was that we could not get excited over wildlife. However we were willing to have a look-and held  our breath, not because of the sight but because the light aircraft with it's engine cut for noise, was bloody near the tops of the trees! We did see the Rhinos and I remained convinced that  the beast at the back -was smiling!!

As we climbed back on course, Jack motioned me to lean over and with my ear a mere quarter inch from him he said "if you are thinking of putting that in the National Geographic Magazine, a descriptive caption could be 'two f.....n Rhinos' "  



  Two  Rhinos  at  Kaziranga

In the 10 years that I occupied the Controlling Agents Post in Assam I had three Directors.Jack Craig I have mentioned. Before him was Michael Hudsell. Michael was an extraordinary man, I say extraordinary because he refused to visit Assam. He told me himself that he was not going to visit Assam for the simple reason that if he went he would see just how difficult it was to operate the Steamer Company there. So his intention was to give instructions which he expected to be carried out and ways and means found for overcoming the obstacles that he knew existed. This does sound extraordinary-but it worked.

I don't say that it was the right way but I do say, that, knowing the man and having been there that it did work.

I paid periodical visits to Calcutta. Michael and I talked at great length in his office and he astounded me with his knowledge of day to day working in Assam very often had the solution to problems that existed and problems that he knew would exist-an extraordinary fellow and a man that I liked very much.
Before I left the Steamer Company and the man that followed Jack Craig as Director was Michael Parsons and he was the third that I had dealt with in my ten years.
Like Jack, he believed in keeping in touch with our customers. We travelled together a great deal. Our customers increasingly had the options of alternative carriers on river and rail and road and  Michael realized that we didn't just have to be good but we had to go and tell people we were good and then prove it. There is no doubt that our customers in Oil and Tea liked to see Steamer Company people and in particular, those who lived in relatively isolated areas-places not easily got  to.  Michael and I travelled a lot to the North Bank Circles.

We had been through a particularly difficult time on the river, that is the Steamer Co, with one thing and the other, and there was no doubt that we had lost custom to the railways who were going through a period of unusual and unexpected efficiency, and so too were the road hauliers. The answer to this was clear: we had to wait for nature to intervene, which it almost invariably did and then pour on the efficiency. The next thing to do was to pay visits and pour on the propaganda. The theme was they are a flash in the pan but we go on forever-better the devil you know and not only that, let us know when you're in trouble and we'll do something about it.

When one thinks that tea grows on the North Bank and on the South Bank of the Brahmaputra and the valley is a vast place and not only was there an Indian Tea Association with their gardens,the  Assam Planters Association, the Indian Tea Association et al.

It added up to a lot of travel and to do it properly meant a lot of this was over pretty rough ground. It meant a vast background of knowledge of one's subject and a promise had to be kept once given.

Dozens of things happened  to Michael and I on our travels which were mainly by road. I'm speaking of the time before the main North Bank road was tarmacadamed or full tarmacadamed but that main trunk road apart, every other road,by and large, was shingle and dust.We travelled for the best part in a Land Rover which sucked the dust into itself to an unbelievable extent. In fact  to such an extent that one could barely see out. On one occasion somewhere in the Bishnath  district, Michael, who was driving,stopped the vehicle and rolled about in helpless laughter.  In the first place, he had to stop,not because of the dust outside but because of the dust inside. We both had some headgear and we were using our neckerchiefs for nose \masks, add to this sunglasses and it was a comical and ludicrous situation and an odd sight! Not only that, we dare not, could not speak because of the dust.  We had to get out of the vehicle before reaching our next meeting, to plan the campaign. Very often to be changed on what had been learnt at the last meeting. A passing vehicle tended to terminate these pre-meeting meetings by covering us in even more dust outside as  well as inside. Stopping for a cup of tea was well nigh out of the question but the planters famous hospitality was well worth waiting for. No matter what nationality the planter was he was part of an astonishing breed of man who grew in stature with the job. In all truth, I have never before, or since, met so many people who deserve this compliment and who almost invariably were entitled to it-a bloody good bloke.

Michael and I staggered out of our torture chamber not only gasping for breath but bone shaken and tired from many miles of movement.  We had made our way with main stops and whistle stops, by road, from Mangaldai to North Lakhimpur. I usually charted the way-in retrospect, doubtless to the irritation of my travelling companion. On this occasion it must have been quite noticeable because Michael asked me if I was alright. I informed him that I had a considerable pain in my middle, not at all unusual in Assam but this felt worse. We diagnosed this as "wind" -so Michael drove and I ran ahead of him keeping up a good pace. Being a solicitous boss, he asked after some time, he stuck his head out of the window and to enquire after my health, and being a good friend I told him to take his head back in as the cure had started to work.

They had something of a party at North Lakhimpur that night and at one stage,during the sleeping hours,I told Michael that I felt as if death was approaching rapidly. But I lived on.

With the tour over I had a check at the Gauhati Mission Hospital and the check revealed that I had Amoebic Dyssentry in more than ordinary measure.

Inevitably we had to make a hurried trip to Shillong outside of the courtesy sphere. We hastened up the hill on a Saturday morning hoping that, perhaps, if those we wanted to see were doing extra time we could maybe get in to meet them. They weren't. I had learnt that there was a big 'do' on at the Club that night and since it was the gentlemen at Secretarial level rather than at Ministerial level, that we were after. We reckoned that the club, aided by festive spirit, would be an ideal atmosphere for lobbying! We went to the club at 7.30pm and rolled home about 2am the next morning


                                               Shillong   Club

                                      We had talked, as planned but we got rather carried away and had accepted a golf challenge when we were in fact, in a boastful mood.  The next morning, against the Labour Secretary and a fellow whose name I can no longer remember but he was a high powered Government servant and was finally chosen as his country's Ambassador**

Michael, I discovered after making discreet enquiries the next morning,  had gone off to church. I swallowed an aspirin and made my way to the Golf Club to await the thrashing that I felt we must get. Our opponents had left the club at a reasonable hour in good condition but we were summoned to a party and this we had to do as a refusal would have given offence.

There is nothing more boring than someone else's golf story but Michael and I went round somewhere in the low 70's thereby earning the deep respect of our opponents!

We had a successful Meeting on Monday morning at a time convenient to us!


                                                                             Shillong   Golf   Club

                                    I am going back to Gauhati again from where I will tell a number of stories. For no better reason other than they have just occurred to me! Every now and again there is an anti Bengali feeling in Assam. All are Hindus so it isn't that. They do not speak the same language-there is a considerable difference-but it's not that either.  And it's still going on if one if what one reads in the newspapers  is correct. I am in no doubt, then, as now, that the main reason is employment. The Bengalis get the jobs for the elementary reason that a Bengali at a certain Caste level is a far better Clerk. So, as happens, one lot tries to drive out the other, the idea being to take what they think  is theirs.

Such a situation occurred back in the 60's, bus burning, looting, curfew then soldiers-the same old stuff. There was a Gurkha stationed at the bottom of my drive complete with rifle and bayonet and all key personnel, such as myself, had a permit.

My job was to persuade Ghat labour to work and unload grain vessels, and that in any case,being Biharis, their lives were not in the slightest danger and this was quite true.

Each time I went in and out of my bungalow I had to present my permit to the soldier at the gate, and each time, without one single exception, he turned it upside down before saying "Accha Sahib" Anyway, the point of this story is that we had well appointed Staff Quarters only a short walk away from the main ghats , at a place called Kalgooli, out of sight of the ghat, over a hill. This was promptly attacked by the Assamese and I had to arrange a rescue through the Superintendent of Police, a good friend of mine.  He advised me not to leave the Bengalis there, at Kalgooli and he also advised me to ensure that they were well protected when I did bring them to the ghat. They had their families with them so I had them escorted to the ghat and put them on the extensive foredeck of the PS TIBETAN one of the biggest ships we had. I had it anchored in mid stream -out of harms way.

In the morning, Inder Gogoi, our Workshops Engineer, was barely able to conceal a smile and he told me that one Das, a Union Representative, had a serious complaint to make and wished me to personally conduct the enquiry. The complaint was  that someone, during the night, when he was asleep, had enjoyed his wife - she apparently had enjoyed it too because she thought it was him!

I didn't go into the question of technique with Das, but whatever, a sly dog of a fellow performed  among a foredeck full of people, and had, and still has, my ungrudging admiration.  I convinced Das that a grave loss of face would follow publicity and I did my best to explain the theory that a slice from a cut loaf will never be missed!!

Below The Assam Despatch steamer Tibetan (built 1923) and her five sister ships were the largest vessels of any class to enter service on the Indian rivers. They were 305 Ft overall lenght and had a dead weight capacity of 1,000tons at a loaded draft of 6ft 6ins.


                                   PS Tibetan

I had a call from my wife, from the bungalow and she sounded agitated and informed me 'sotto voce' that a well spoken man accompanied by his wife and child had arrived at the bungalow to talk about Staff Insurance. It was clear that she thought him a bit odd and she was right!   I hastened to the bungalow and although I had never met him I knew I was in the presence of the well known 'Oxford Das' or as he was sometimes also called 'Debagged'

He was from a well known and respected Assamese family. It was also well known that his mother locked him in on full moon nights-now it was probably his wife that locked him in!

The poor woman with him, with her child, in the bungalow looked far from happy. There was a strain of eccentricity, to put it mildly, in that branch of the family. His father was a Doctor of Medicine and a good Surgeon and I recall, years before, when I took him a list of questions, the usual thing for life insurance, he asked me if I was pregnant!

It wasn't too difficult to convince Das, to the relief of my wife who was entertaining friends to coffee, that the appropriate file was in my office and that he should follow me there.

I sped to the 'Cashmere' my floating office and got hold of Robin Barua, my Labour Welfare Officer, to find that he was related to Das, of course, and to receive confirmation from him that we were dealing with a 'nutter'

The arrangement  with Robin was, that after I had talked about the possibility of a Block Insurance for the Gauhati Staff(I don't think Das had anything to do with insurance anyway) He would enter my office.(and deal with Das)

Robin entered and feigned surprise and gave a non Oscar winning performance following the exchange of greetings. Robin told Das that he wasn't going to recommend any insurance for anybody and that the interview was over. Ignoring Robin, Das fumbled about in his dhoti for a bit and finally produced a half bottle of Indian Whisky. He took a hefty pull and in true Mickey Spillaine style, looked me straight in the eyes, banged the bottle on my desk, and said, "Have a snort!"

Covered in embarrassment and shame at the behaviour of his cousin, twice removed, Robin forcefully told Das to leave.  With dignity Das rose to his feet, walked to the door and ushered his wife and child through. He then turned facing Robin and without a fumble, produced his genitals and waved them vigorously at Robin!

For those unaccustomed to the ways of the East, this is the ultimate insult! He stalked out with  great dignity and when just outside the office he shouted to Robin, (not forgetting his Oxford accent) telling him that he could go and perform a sex exercise normally performed by two people!!  It took a long time for Robin to live this down! Polite and customary morning greetings were exchanged by the Office Staff of Gauhati with a baring of teeth and a realistic take of the genital wave!

Still in Gauhati, I have turned back the clock to 1949.  I was 1st Assistant and had made myself highly unpopular by being uncooperative with the rising Communist Staff Union, simply by insisting that they come to work, near enough, on time. I made matters worse by producing a book that had to be signed. Everyone had learned that the British were no longer in charge of the country and it was deemed to be made to book in was the work of a neo-colonialist. I was therefore marked for elimination and words to this effect were sent to the Controlling Agent, Eric Kay. He thought that I ought to have a bodyguard so he pulled Bill Mossman, (an old drinking friend) off the ship on which he was to travel to Barisal on transfer, and confined the pair of us in my quarters on the 'Cashmere' until further notice.

There was no doubt that Eric's motives were based on the desire to protect me and probably had the blessings of the powers that be in Calcutta but as I mentioned before, we were older 'young bloods' and of an entirely different type-a type brought on by wartime life. After a few days we were going round the bend and we didn't like the idea of skulking out of sight-and we didn't like communists anyway. Two nights was enough. We went under cover of darkness to the 'Dowara' which stocked 'Fontenac' beer. It was Belgian and quite palatable.

We purchased six bottles which became five when the strap on the carrier bag broke just as we were crossing a railway line. I was carrying the bag at the time and Bill was far from happy with me even though it wasn't my fault.

Making our way back to the 'Cashmere' I borrowed the Serang's bike. I got on the crossbar and Bill was in the saddle and off we went to Greengate, to visit the Ali's.  Returning in the same manner many hours later, I decided that it was time we made a stand against communism! So we got off the bike-I fell off- and Bill and I walked up and down the Ghat frontage calling for all the lily livered communist 'Bastids' to come out and fight.  Fortunately we had no takers so we mounted the bike again,and of all the foolhardy things to do, we rode the bike across the bamboo jetty to the 'Cashmere'-a distance of some 300 ft,  perhaps more.

Two of us on a bike on a rickety jetty above a raging torrent of water below!  We were grabbed by the crew when we reached the vessel and we took the ticking off the Serang gave us as just and right.

I have now gone further down the river to Dhubri. I have fond memories of this place . It was an all important Rail/River junction that served the Dooars as well as the town of Dhubri and it's hinterland. It also increased in importance-and nuisance value-as the Border Customs point, where all vessels were cleared.

I was married in Gauhati, in the wee Kirk there. Denis Hedges at the time was Controlling Agent and a good friend, gave the Bride away and Bill Mossman, to this day, still my best friend, was best man.The church organ was played by Charles Monkeith who travelled up from Calcutta for the occasion.

The Honeymoon was in Shillong where a Doctor told my wife , Retta, that she had a weak heart and should have no excitement!! We went to Dhubri where I proudly took over as Agent. (Just as an  aside, Retta did not have a weak heart and we go from strength even now)

Dhubri was lacking in people to socialise with but we did aspire to regular club nights at the Match Company, a Swedish firm-and we did visit one another. Ellen Johannsen was a good looking Swede,poor in English and a very keen gardener. Conversationally, talking about gardens, about which I knew nothing and cared even less, she said "My front side is beautiful, but you should see                                                               my back side" (I muttered that I was a leg man myself and then talked about the weather!)Our Resident Pilot Superintendent, Ted Jennings, was a Yorkshireman-a great character and down to earth. He and I, doing our job traveled quite a bit together between Dhubri and Goalundo. It was possible to travel for hours with Ted, with nothing said. You knew he was enjoying your company otherwise he would have told you so or simply sat on another part of the deck and ignored you.

One of Ted's small pleasures in life was the thought of the unfortunate man who emptied the thunderbox after he had taken the 'Baikel' out (which he did quite frequently), and had used the thunderbox on the vessel- That will, quote "take the smile off the Jemadar's face"  Paroxyms of coughing over and over-the ever present pipe in his hand.

I received a complaint from a new steamer clerk. He said that Ted had sworn at him. All travelling officers were supposed to carry a pass. We seldom did because everyone from Inspectors down knew Travelling Officers and Agents but this fellow was new. So he reported that, when asked for his pass, Captain Jennings had told him to 'pock up' and it was spelt- pock up.  I could well imagine the scene at Goalundo with steamers moving about here and there and Ted crossing from one vessel to another from a launch to a ship or a ship to a launch. I can think of it with ease-a steamer clerk asking politely "May I see you pass, Sir"  and Ted answering without so much as a glance at the clerk "pockoff"

I was faced with a Customs problem: the Pilot of a downward bound vessel, whose possessions were few, they were Rivermen who literally lived in small boats, was asked was asked by a new and smartly uniformed Customs Officer, to open his pillow whilst he examined it for possible contraband. This was really quite ridiculous as there was simply no contraband that he could have had. It was known that crew sometimes sold coal to a coal starved Pakistan at a good price but there was nothing else to take out of India to sell in Pakistan that they wanted.

The Customs Officer possibly eventually realising this nevertheless called the pilot-a monkey! This slur was not taken well and the pilot refused to pilot the vessel. The Customs Officer  said that unless the pilot opened his pillow the vessel wouldn't sail anyway. It took hours of talk to sort this out. The Customs man, being of a much higher caste than the pilot, refused to come to the office at the same time as the low ranking pilot. The problem was solved eventually by buying the pilot the best pillow in the market, much better than the one he had-and I gave the Customs man a cow. (a cow being connected to the next story)  



Above : The Haflong; overall length 145 ft , typical of the class of main line towing steamers
operated by both the IG and RSN Companies in the latter part of the 19th Century

This was considered to be a satisfactory outcome and I breathed a sigh of relief when I heard the ship's whistle blow for departure.

At 'Ramadan' a mainliner called at Dhubri for clearance and anyone who has seen one of these useful tugs knows that against the horizon one can,by and large, see right through it. It was impossible to conceal a cow on board and the Customs lodged a fierce protest guessing correctly that the only reason for having a cow on board was for the purpose of eating it in celebration of 'Ramadan' once they were safely through Dhubri   "Cow slaughter is forbidden in India and is against the law" thundered the outraged Customs Officer.   "It isn't mine" said the vessels Master

  So I summoned the Engineer-he had never seen it and he had no idea that it was on board. That could only mean that he was severely constipated because the animal was tethered near that  important place at the rear of the ship. I then went on board, really to placate the Customs Officer and to show that Agents were law abiding people and that the Company was to be trusted in all things                                                           Nobody had even seen it-then someone volunteered to say that it must have crept aboard unnoticed  when the vessel was berthed in the shoal area just below the border. I said that it must also have tied itself up which makes it much too clever to be eaten. All agreed. So I had the cow removed and then with the Customs Officers praise for extraordinary wisdom ringing in my ears- I sent it to his home for safekeeping!

I was also relieved to hear the mainliners whistle blow prior to it's leaving for Gauhati. It would be goat for 'Ramadan' this year no doubt.




        'CHINSURA'  steams along the  Pussar River   Bangla Desh  1968

The Chinese attack on Assam: I have been asked many times to tell the story of this piece of history. At the time I sent full details to the Company in Calcutta-a copy of which I still have. This is what happened or that is what happened because I was there.

I knew before anyone else with the possible exception of Charlie Hall, the Agent in Tezpur and this was due to my friendship and close contact with Jaswant Singh, the Air Vice Marshall of the IAF and the Officer in Charge, Gauhati, Wing Commander Sen.

The story has been told by me in 1962 and I could tell it again but for the purpose of these 'memory' tapes I don't think it is necessary.   A few events that are perhaps not known  and at the time  not considered to be important by me or anyone else.

The evacuations of the Europeans in the Assam valley took place between the 18th and 27th November 1962. Although by the latter date some planters were on their way back.***It is perhaps forgotten that long before this there had been war between the Chinese and India, perhaps I should have said skirmishing but they were certainly facing up to one another albeit that the latter was ill prepared but before that,those of us with contacts knew there was going to be a war.The signs were unmistakable. There were those who said that even if war did break out it wouldn't last and in the event, they were right. But remembering some of those I heard say this it was probably the first time in their lives that they were correct about anything and that was a mistake.

With the USA and Russia and Cuba rattling their sabres at one another the time was ripe for an unknown  quantity nation,like China, to have a crack the countries of the East, and so thought clearer and more informed minds than mine. The rumours were such that it was easy to think the worst.  It therefore came only as a mild surprise to me when I heard that a convoy of pregnant women,with children, had set out for Gauhati by road from as far away as Doom Dooma, as the first leg of their evacuation. I cannot say exactly when this was but I would say that roughly three weeks before the Governor of Assam ordered all Europeans to leave Assam, without option.

Telephone lines are often down and winter time, with no high winds or floods is the best time to make a call so I got word that the convoy was making for my bungalow but it was unconnected information. I had heard nothing from anyone else-and Calcutta (I think Charles Will) knew of no reason for the excursion.

However, they came and by which time I had organised beds and bungalows in various places in Gauhati. I felt sorry for the poor women who were escorted by two dolts who thought every Indian Army truck was Chinese!   They were astonished to learn that life was quite normal here-that is, in Gauhati.

I never did get to the bottom of this evacuation or the Authority or lack of it, that made the decision. I cast no blame. Jitteriness was in the air and we were lacking in sound and sure communication.

  The unfriendly attitude of Pakistan worried the Government of Assam and during these uncertain days I saw a great deal of the Chief Minister, Mr B.P.Chaliha. I very often received a short notice summons to the Dak bungalow and he and I would breakfast together consisting of a cold fried egg and a banana and tea-such as only Dak Bungalows made!!

Of all the Ministers I met in my ten years as Controlling Agent I say that Bimana Chaliha was the one with the deepest feelings of Patriotism. With just the two of us ,not even a bearer or servant in the room, he wept openly as he contemplated on what he considered Assam's bleak future. He was sure that Pandit Nehru would not fight for Assam but would make a stand in North Bengal, a theory that, to my mind contained a lot of common sense, that is if there wasn't a mighty Air Force, and I knew from Jaswant Singh that this the Indians didn't have.

Hubir Kapoor, a friend of long standing was made Additional Chief Secretary and sent to Gauhati to operate from there. Trouble, he told me, was imminent. The Britons would go-would have to go but it was expected that I would stay. I was sure the Chief Minister had talked to him but I couldn't say for sure. I was given in writing, authority over citizens of India,they were not to leave Assam by any means road,rail or air, and my directive was to keep the Ghats open at all costs. In the first place, Balbir put armed police at the ghats, not at my disposal but more or less. These were later replaced by soldiers and I am proud to say that throughout those days, when official evacuation was ordered, the ghats at Gauhati carried on as usual though for a time the Pakistan crewed vessels stayed in the Noakhali area and brought nothing in. Throughout this tense period the Chief Minister made his Headquarters in Gauhati and I called on him each morning,sometimes very early around 6am to let him know the latest about river traffic.

Before I went to the Airfield where evacuation was proceeding under instruction of the British Deputy High Commissioner, Eric Norris.

This is not really intended  to be a chronicle of my life in the Steamer Company though in places it sounds like that. Events as I have described them did take place and a deal more besides which although interesting to some at the time would neither be interesting or amusing to people unless they had actually been involved. It is this particular aspect which makes the Inchcape reunion so attractive and entertaining.  Faces long forgotten can conjure up a memory.  When I say Jock Thomas at the Dundee lunch last time (that was this year).  I recalled being caught by a clever dick of a lawyer in Gauhati, under questioning at a court in Gauhati.  I said that I had misunderstood the question, to which he sneered " you're English and you did not understand the question?".  I said that I was not English, that I was a Scot.  He then accused me of splitting hairs and merely  trying to wriggle out of the corner I was in, "not at all said I" and proceeded to lapse into broad Glasgow which was quite unintelligible.  Pointing to Jock, I said " that was the language of our country and of our youth"  - it was in fact English.

But Jock apart, no-one in the court room understood a word of it.  I have forgotten the details but the question was reframed, and this time I gave the correct answer.  The number of characters that one met, and here I was  fortunate, because my job in the steamer company demanded that I move around the Assam Valley a lot, to discuss various transportation problems.

It was not just transport of tea, but for everything that was required to grow tea.  It was my boast, and I'm sure that I'm not wrong, in that I knew every manager and superintendent, and well nigh every assistant from Gauhati to as far East as Tea grew.

I met them at work and I met them socially, and I have already said that they were a great bunch.  There was Joe Lys whose party piece when there was a visitor at Dibrugrah, was to drop his glass eye in his beer and say "keep an eye on that, Ill be back in a minute". ***

In the winter time, the planters slack period, when the golf tournaments were played and games were played in general.  The whole thing was taken seriously, one played to win. Whether it be a team match or whether it was an individual thing.

The Dewar Cup in Digboi, the Tappit Hen at Tingrai and the Johnny Walker Cup at Digboi, the Bazaloni Cup at Tam Cavers Garden in the Tinsukia area, and so on, but only one of them was not taken too seriously, and this was the Valentine Cup or as it was better known - the Divorce Stakes.

This was a husband and wife two ball effort.  It was played at a different course each year over 18 holes.  The first 9, and then lunch.

Inevitably, because of the large entry, the competitors played in sixes, and much was the banter and fun.  But it did mean that the first ones in for lunch, were as "fu'' as "puggies" by the time they were on the first tee to play the second nine.

There were often 'sing songs' at the lunch break, and on one occasion, there was Scottish country dancing in the ample space of the Dibrugarh Club.   For obvious reasons, not all the names, on this one I'm going to tell, but I was one of the six, and saw it all.

Having been in the Dooma Club for the best part of two hours for lunch, we were none too steady, and the first player, a dapper man from Digiboi who wore a tartan cap, bent down to place tee and ball into the ground and he fell over and just continued rolling down to the bottom of the raised tee!.

This failed to dislodge his cap and without so much as a smile, he succeeded teeing up the second time, and to the amazement of all and the cheers of similarly situated players, he whammed it down the middle.

The other bloke, as he strode along the fairway, decided that some of these fairways were much too dry and that his beer bulged bladder would go some way in remedying the situation.

He proceeded to spray, on the March, so to speak.  Unfortunately his wife did not share his care for the land.  He was banished at the end of the game, which incidentally, he and his wife did not win.

At this stage it is not too difficult to see that the name of the game was " the Divorce Stakes".                                                           

Tam Cavers, I mentioned a few breath's back - a quickie on him - he and his wife Nan were returning from the Club when they hit something hard on the way.  They stopped the car, went around to the front and discovered they had killed a black leopard, a fairly rare species of animal- and a big one!.

So between them, they got the beast into the boot of their Standard Vanguard, not without difficulty, with a view to one day spreading it in front of their fireplace. They noticed, however, that it had a broken leg.

On they went to Bazaloni, somewhere near Tinsukia, and on arrival there, they opened the boot to hear the most fearful roar!.  No, not a drunk planter or someone like that, who had somehow climbed into the boot by mistake.  The big cat had only been knocked unconscious and was far from being dead.  The snarls became muffled as Tam shut the boot lid. He could not release it as it had a broken leg but to open the boot to shoot it would have put him in grave danger, however, ingeniously, he  ran a pipe from the exhaust to the boot. Through the  carbon monoxide-the animal fell asleep and died-and  Tam and Nan would still would have a prized rug!

Out of Gauhati there were unscheduled stop overs for passengers due to bad weather, or the other common phrase, "due to technical fault".  We met and bedded for the night numerous interesting people.  There was a Mr and Mrs Palmer.  If I remember correctly, the company asked me not to put them up " airlines"** as they usually did.  The unfortunate man had a dreadful experience of being in a scheduled line Dakota which had crashed and caught fire at Tezpur in which a number of people had died including one of our own very junior officers.

By coincidence we also had that night Wesley Killicks staying with us, he was an old salt who was inclined to use old salt language no matter who was about. He was an amusing humorous fellow with a fund of stories and he puffed constantly on a cigarette through a holder -and dropped ash on himself plus the seat he was sitting on and onto the carpets of the house, much to the annoyance of host memsahibs.

We weren't too sure if Mr.Palmer,*** with his brand of acid humour, would go well with Wesley.  After baths and freshening up, the small talk began with us being a little apprehensive.  We were delighted because as the night wore on Wes has scarcely uttered a word.

That is, until we got to the subject of children at puberty and teenage stage and the things they picked up from oneself at careless moments.

Suddenly, Wes turned to me and said "You know that young bugger of mine, Michael" Coolly, I said I did.  " Well" said Wes, "we were in a car at the Park Street lights, when he was just a slip of a lad.  The lights turned to green and at just that, a Taxi cuts across me bows and from the back of the car, much to my surprise, young Michael shouts, "ya whore's bastard"-- " you're right" said Wes, to Mrs Palmer, "you've got to be careful in what ye say".

To our amazement, Mr Palmer howled with laughter and from then it was all go!.  Wes was just the therapy that Mr Palmer needed and he left for Calcutta  the next morning, I swear, a new man.

I'm sure I cannot finish this record without telling this particular story.  The thing is, I'm not sure if it's a fact - but I'm told it is a fact.****

There was a time when labour relations with Management right throughout Assam was not particularly good and the idea was, that as much as possible, labour had to be kept amused.

Film shows were arranged.  Someone suggested that perhaps the British Council or an organisation like them could arrange plays that the labour could put on for themselves.  And it took off, the labour liked it.

The shows were a great success and so were the plays too.  This particular story is about the Merchant of Venice and it is said that the Manager along with his Bara Babu decided that they could lay on this Merchant of Venice and the Babu undertook to put it into Hindi.  And so we come to this particular scene.

The scene that I think is excruciatingly funny is: Here we have a stage set with a partition down the middle, all the labourers are in complete silence staring at the "stars" on the stage, it goes like this-

Knock Knock

   Kaun Hai?                                   (who is it?)
   Ham Shylock Hai                         (my name is Shylock)
  Kya Mangta                                 (what do you wan
  Ham Adha seer gosht mangta      (I want a pound of flesh)        
  Jao salah kabhi nahin dega         (Be off you bugger-I'll never give)

Now it may not be true - but what a great story it is, and what a lot of fun it gives in the telling.

I spent 27 years in Assam and I had lots of laughs, plenty of memories, and my wife and I hope one day to make a sentimental journey, starting at Gauhati and going by road up the South Bank all the way to Dibrugarh and beyond - meeting people that we still know, on the way.  Maybe this will not happen but we're going to try to make it happen.  It was a large slice of our lives and an enjoyable one.  We made friends and very few enemies - in fact, none that I know of - and it's great to meet some of these old friends at the Inchcape show each year.

I think of more stories as I go along, but I think that will do in the meantime.  I can only hope,  that those who listen to this, will enjoy it as much as I have enjoyed telling it.  One thing I can say for sure is that everything that is on the tape, is quite true.

   Harry Beattie, Crieff,   Scotland.



Some explanations:

               * a poor man's piano is a very old expression and is defined in the Urban   Dictionary as 'a bowl of beans'  (also green peas)  example:-George had  a poor man's piano for dinner. i.e. He had a bowl of beans or peas.                                
**      the gentleman in Shillong who became  Ambassador would have been Stanley Nicholls-Roy.    

***   only a few planters left their gardens.The great majority stayed.

  I watched the convoy that Harry refers to on the main road outside Bogapani Tea Estate.     I had the transistor radio glued to my ear and at about 2.30am IST , as the convoy was                                     passing, on Voice of America, I heard that a cease fire had been declared!

  This caused great consternation to those of us who had amassed massisve Club Bills thinking that they would be never called in. How wrong we were!!

  ** "Airlines" accommodation was where people stayed in guest houses etc and which were arranged by the Steamer Company.  VIP's, Company Directors, and friends would be looked after by the Controlling Agent at his home in Gauhati  

***  Joe Lys's eye was the subject of many stories. It's said that if he had to leave the garden, he would place the eye on a tea bush and tell the Garden Babu to relay to the pluckers, that he was 'keeping an eye on them'!!

***  could be Richard Palmer of Jokai Assam Company. 

**** it occurred at a concert given in honour of Visiting Director, Jack Kilburn  at Bogapani TE , about 1956