TEA PLANTERS and RESIDENTS
THE 1962 SINO-INDIA WAR
1962 War Background
Anyone who has travelled in the higher areas of the Central Himalaya will appreciate that just where the boundary is between India and China/Tibet has been a problem for many years. Historically The Great Game revolved around moving or defending boundaries dependant on the relative strengths and subsequent threats of hostility between Britain, Russia, Tibet, China and to some extent Persia. For much of the boundary with India while there were occasional border posts at well frequented passes only a very small length of the border was actually marked.
In such circumstances in 1914 McMahon of the Survey of India was instructed to undertake to survey and mark where he considered the boundary should be. Despite a long history of offers and negotiations between the various parties total agreement was not, unsurprisingly, ever reached and despite the huge effort the McMahon Line was largely ignored.
All along the south side of the Himalaya the passes were utilised (and still are today) for grazing flocks owned by Gujars who are self sufficient nomadic herdsmen reputed to have arrived in the area with Gengis Khan. They herd their animals to graze the valleys ascending to the higher passes in the spring/summer then as the snows arrive being forced back down to the plains in the autumn. Understandably, where the actual McMahon Line was situate was entirely academic to the Gujars. Even to today such a system endures
During the 1950's China expanded into parts of Tibet. The Dali Llama fled into India accompanied by thousands of Tibetan refugees but both the World and India, diverted by the cold war and Korea took little notice.
In the remote border area of Aski Chin the Chinese engineers built a modern road which had great strategic value in allowing China quickly to readily move troops about in the area. The only response from India was for Jawaharal Nehru to make a placatory speech to the Indian Government on September the 4th 1959.
Despite the fact that behind the scenes India and China were on a collision course World concern was not roused. It was felt to be a minor matter springing from the doubtful identification of the McMahon Line. Indeed, Nehru's speech had referred to "this little strip" of territory as if it did not seriously matter. In fact China had built a 300 mile military road across some of the most hostile country in the World which enabled the Chinese to have good access to their "line of actual control" and it was not long before pressure was being applied against the Indian military manning their "line of actual control" By contrast to the Chinese forces, the Indian forces had to be supplied by at best mules through snow filled passes. In winter it took three weeks to get supplies to the Indian front line whereas the Chinese could complete the same task in 3 hours.
Getting reliable news in Assam as to what exactly the situation was proved near impossible. All India Radio would report the Indian Forces making a brave stand at a certain point while BBC World Service reported the same place falling to the Chinese several days earlier. Most of the places in the Aski Chin area were very remote and generally unknown to the planting community in Assam. However, reports were soon coming through of Indian forces being routed by superior numbers at Walong at the head of the Lohit Valley and Bomdi La within motoring distance from Tezpur. By the second week of November 1962 it seemed likely that the Chinese would soon be arriving on the plains and it was in such panicky circumstances that the planting fraternity hurriedly had to decide what to do.
The ABITA assumed a positive role and grouped gardens into ‘escape teams' with a Group Leader who was required to maintain communication, hold meetings and organise their group to get out of Assam as soon as possible. Most people opted to exit into East Pakistan by road via Badapur Ghat. Some opted to cross the border from Shillong. One group having assisted the Oxford and Cambridge University overland expedition into Burma in 1961, planned to walk out down Stilwell's Ledo Road. Others planned to boat out down the Bramaphutra.
The United Kingdom Citizens Association played an active part in evacuating large numbers of Anglo Indians. Return to top
Until I started collecting reminiscences from various people living in Assam (or who had been in Assam in 1962) I had not realised how little most residents knew about the 1962 War with China. Communication was difficult, many estates not having a reliable phone.
Very few people appreciated that the Chinese had occupied three separate sectors of India's disputed border as what news there was tended to be of events on the Se La/Tezpur sector which was directly connected to tea planting areas around Tezpur.
Incredibly some tea planters never heard about the war till after the ceasefire.
Not all planters acted in an exemplary manner. Some fled and left both garden and friends. When I set about setting down a similar document in 2005 several senior managers maintained that "digging up old wounds" was totally unnecessary. With the passing of time such views have also passed into history.
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Maps & Books.
My superintendent, Joe Lys gave me a set of one inch scale British O S maps of Assam on the strict understanding that it was illegal to hold such maps and I should not divulge where they came from. Joe had retained the maps from days when he had flown about Assam in a dilapidated Auster. The maps were in a poor state but after getting the garden dhobi to iron them out were quite usable. The maps were dated, I recall, from 1926 Survey of India. However, particularly in the hills there were large blank areas marked "Not surveyed".
At Independence the Indian Government took over the Surveyor General's offices at Dehra Dun in the Survey Colony once commanded by Everest.
Maps in India have remained restricted. There are road maps and "trekking" maps published by or under licence from the Survey of India. The road maps are quite adequate for touring but as their name might imply are restricted to the more populous area. The trekking maps are only available for relatively popular tourist areas and tend to be unreliable in terms of updating. In the Garhwali and Kumaon it is quite usual to find roads closed for various reasons or bridges collapsed.
One year I applied (in writing) to have an interview with the Surveyor General. He confirmed that in restricted areas no non-resident was permitted to carry unauthorised maps. So for many years it had been illegal to carry maps of any description. Similarly, I discovered, it was illegal to photograph bridges, petrol filling stations and railway stations. The Surveyor General, who was himself Assamese did however invite me to inspect the Everest Museum and the surveying equipment used by Everest even though it was situate in a military restricted area.
In the Times Atlas Aski Chin is clearly identifiable by the large "bulge" in the Indian frontier to the north of Ladakh. The area is largely barren salt dessert where during the 1950's China built a road some 300 miles long which was over land which the ownership was disputed with India. It seems extraordinary that no one noticed such an incursion and one is forced to wonder if Nehru did not view it with a Nelsonian eye in the hope that the problem would simply go away. It did not and as time passed it became clear that the road had considerable military benefit to the Chinese. The border dispute had for years gone on along some 2,000 miles of India's frontier.
In Assam which in 1962 was not then split up into autonomous sub-states of to-day a section of the frontier at Thag La had been the subject of continuous negotiations between India and China. Border posts had been sited and re-sited as negotiations had succeeded or failed The post which was manned by the Indians and was most controversial was Dhola (not the Dholla near Saikhowa) which was accessed from the Tezpur via Tawang above which were the two passes of Se La and Bomdi La. Dependant on the weather conditions and time of year it could take three weeks hard trek with mules to get to Dhola from Tezpur. The Chinese who overlooked the Dhola post [which was itself at 18,500'] from the heights of Thag La to the north could victual and supply their forces within a matter of hours. When the Battle of Thag La raged Brig. Dalvi in his book Himalayan Blunder describes whole areas of the battle for which the Indian forces had no adequate maps. Much of the battle orders were on hand drawn A4 sheets
A third area of battle was at Walong above Tezu at the very north eastern corner of Assam. This area which like Tawang was a historical trading route had been the subject on longstanding dispute and a significant battle was also fought there just before the Cease Fire when the Indian Army were routed mainly due to lack of supplies Apart from planters in Cachar and southern Assam it began to look as any planters remaining in Assam could be caught in a pincer movement between the Chinese forces approaching from Tawang and Walong.
As tea planters it is fair comment to say that we were not generally encouraged to take an interest in politics, local or otherwise. As a result, apart from those who held a treasured Inner Line Passes we took limited interest in what was going on in the hills as well as pronouncements from the Lok Saba.
The books I recommend are as follows:-
India's China War, Neville Maxwell, Jonathan Cape.
Himalayan Blunder, Brig. J. P. Dalvi, Natraj Publishers Dehra Dun.
The Battle of NEFA, G.S. Bhargava, Allies Press.
The Untold Story, Lt. Gen. B.M. Kaul, Allied Publishers.
China Invades India, V. B. Karnik, Allied Publishers.
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Squadron Leader John A'quino
I was garden assistant at Dikom when Squadron Leader John O'quino arrived to reopen the Chubua Airfield which had been unoccupied since the American USAAF abandoned ‘flying the hump' at the end of WWII. The airfield had no buildings and jungle had grown prolifically through cracks in the concrete runway. Readers who spent time in Assam will recall that the Americans not only built a concrete runway but also concreted the main Dibrugarh - Tinsukia highway 37. It was the only place for miles around where you could ‘put your foot down'.
Officers and airmen of the IAF vanguard who moved into Chubua had to initially endure a Spartan lifestyle living under canvass in rudimentary conditions. When I invited John round to my bungalow for a drink he was keen to accept but made it plain that what he would really most appreciate would be a hot bath
One of the few commodities which found its way through the tragically mis-managed supply system of the Indian military was rum and my bungalow quickly became an annex to the non-existent Chubua Officer's Mess which produced a massive cache of rum in exchange for hot baths!
It turned out that John was a keen angler and I offered to take him to the Dirok River where we had a wonderful day catching several chocolate mahseer peculiar to Assam which John had never seen before. He noted the height of the pristine jungle in the Dirok Reserve Forest and said to me with some feeling that he hoped he would never be forced down in such countryside. Driving back to Dikom John thanked me for a great day and asked whether he could return the favour by taking me to a venue of my choice up the Lohit. He would arrange an Inner Line Pass for me. We fixed a Sunday when I should report to the airfield guardhouse at half past eight where he would meet me.
As I drove up to the tented guardhouse John was talking to what appeared to be the pilot or crew of a Sikorsky 36 helicopter parked some 100 yards from the guardhouse. The plan was that we should be flown up to wherever we wished so long as it was en route for Walong where the helicopter was on duty shifting stores and supplies. Having completed its duty the helicopter would pick us up and fly back to the Chubua base.
I had never flown in a helicopter and this Sikorsky which while flying looked a reasonable size, now, close-up on the ground it looked massive. We scrambled up steps into the cavern-like hold where an airman gave us each ear protectors and a sick bag indicating that hand signals were the order of the day. The helicopter had only two windows into the hold and it was almost dark.
We noisily took off.
We had arranged to go to the upper mukh on the Sibia but before very long a "message" arrived that John and I should move up to the cockpit. The cockpit was insulated from all the noise in the hold and as we were flying low up the Lohit we saw several planters in their speedboats setting off from Dholla Ghat to various angling venues in the river system. The pilot explained that the map his navigator had bore little resemblance to the landscape below us. We flew a bit lower and where the Sibia was clear it was possible to see shoals of fish.
We landed amid a cloud of sand and having unloaded the fishing kit and lunch the helicopter made off to Walong. It was only just after 9 o'clock and had taken us but 20 minutes to fly from Chubua. Normally to be up the river by 9 o'clock I would have left my bungalow before 6 o'clock.
We walked carefully up to the junction where the water coming down the Sibia was gin clear. Conditions were ideal and it was not long before we had both caught a fish. As I helped John unhook a fish of about 7 lbs. the distant drone of a speedboat came from the main Lohit and it soon became clear that it was headed to where we were. Whoever it was made ‘heavy weather' of getting across the sandbars at the mouth of the river and there were several prolonged periods of silence when I assume prop' sheer pins were being replaced.
Eventually a boat hove into view and seeing us at the junction moored up about 200 yards downstream from us. In the stillness of the morning we could catch snatches of conversation and it soon became clear that it was Vic Swales and Peter James. From snatches of conversation it became clear that they thought we were camping further up the river.
About mid-day we took a break for lunch and Peter and Vic came over to where John and I were sat on the warm sand. I introduced Peter and Vic and we talked mainly about the morning's fishing. Peter and Vic had caught several barsa.
Vic asked whether we were staying overnight to which John replied that much as he would like to have camped, duty at Chubua called.
Clearly Peter and Vic remained puzzled.
However, precisely at 1500 hrs. as arranged, the unmistakable sound of a helicopter approached from the upper Lohit and put down 50 yards from us.
Peter and Vic waved. No doubt wishing they could have been transported over the sandbars of the Sibia Mukh.
Roy wrote this bit on the Squad.Leader - he was Roy's next door neighbour when he was at Dikom
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On the 21st November 1962 we happened to be on holiday in the U.K. travelling up to Scotland with our sons two and three years old. Staying in a hotel as the news of the Chinese cease fire came through - we broke into a joyous dance much to the amusement of the rest of the guests. We obviously explained to them the reason for our joy! The onward journey was a much happier one.
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I started my tea planting career at Killiden T.E. in 1948
On the 21st November 1962 I was acting manager at Chubua which was one of the largest and amongst the oldest estates in the Dibrugarh District.
Adjacent to the estate was Chubua airport, a small occasionally used airport for flights to Calcutta. Mohunbari was the main civil airport for Calcutta.
When the Chinese invaded on the North Bank they also made an advance towards Digboi Oil refinery a distance of some 50 miles from Chubua. The Indian Air Force took over Chubua airport and started transporting men and supplies to a place called Walong a pass and border post some 40 miles north of Digboi. Dakotas continually flew over the estate and the area became full of military activity a big camp being set up near Panitola Club
As the Chinese continued to advance it was decided to evacuate women and children. The Chubua base commander offered to fly the women out in his Dakotas from Chubua which was arranged through the local British U.K.C.A. .
We all met at Panitola Club (only one suitcase allowed) and were transported to Chubua. I think there were at least 8 Dakotas which took off for Calcutta.
My wife and Leslie our daughter were very lucky as our company sent them to U.K.. The club was left with fathers, bachelors and senior Indian Army staff.
The Chinese thankfully halted at Walong after some heavy fighting and with some presumed American intervention the Chinese withdrew all their forces leaving the boundary between the two countries intact.
Chubua airport was enlarged and is now the main military airport for traffic between Assam and Calcutta.
Remarkably some areas of Assam never knew anything about the invasion: My good friends Vera and Peter Bullock returned to Kellyden T.E. from a fishing trip to the Manas with a mahseer tied to their front bumper and drove all the way from the Manas without any knowledge of the invasion which must reflect the relative isolation which many planters lived in.
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. . . . . . Soon after this however, the Chinese Army invaded India over the Himalayas - they had always claimed Assam as being their territory, and it was recognised by many countries as being "under dispute". The invasion over the mountains was a long time coming and the period leading up to it left us all with a feeling of scariness, uncertainness and, I suppose, excitement. A few weeks before our evacuation took place, the ‘memsahibs' and children had been flown to safety in Calcutta and most went on to England. It was difficult in such circumstances to concentrate on the plantation work but never-the-less it left us with plenty of time to ponder what the future might hold. I distinctly remember weighing up the pros' and cons' of staying on regardless of what orders we might receive to evacuate and thus face the consequences of possible capture by the Chinese. I thought of staying on to the last moment and then making my escape over the Bramaphutra and into the relative safety of the South Bank. I was single and had no domestic responsibilities. In the end however, I, like the other planters on the North Bank made my way by car to Tezpur on receiving instructions to do so. I was no hero after all.
The India Air Force arrived to fly us out. Convoys of cars from all along the Assam valley processed to Tezpur where we abandoned them in an orderly fashion outside the airport. None of us thought we should ever see Assam again - I was particularly disappointed at leaving my car behind - it had been in my possession for such a short time. On a sudden impulse and not wanting the Chinese to commandeer a brand new vehicle, I gave the door on the driver's side a playful kick as a final gesture. I was surprised to see it made a considerable dent in the side as if it were made of tin!
The final invasion into the plains did not materialise - troops moved in so quickly that they over-ran their supplies. By the time they had reorganised international pressure forced negotiations on the warring parties and a Our Calcutta agents fearing riots on their estates if labourers did not receive their pay asked me and two other senior Assistants to return to Assam on their behalf. We were provided with .45 service revolvers and cases stuffed with banknotes and we were on our way. We arrived at Tezpur Airport by military aircraft - all seemed quiet and we soon found our respective cars (mine with dent in it) and set off in different directions to the various estates belonging to the Balmer Lawrie Group, where we were able to assure the various labour forces of the imminent arrival of their "Sahibs" The situation remained uneasy for a long time and some of the sahibs evacuated to Calcutta refused to return - especially those who had experienced Japanese captivity in WWII. They were dismissed which made way for a few more positions at the top .
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I have vivid memories of the 21st November 1962.
Mike and I were living at Borengajuli T.E. and our daughter was ten weeks old.
Like all the memsahibs we were given very little time to prepare and met (I think) at Gauhati to cross the then un-bridged Bramaphutra River and then fly on to Calcutta. I still have the letter I wrote to my Mother in Sydney. Without exception everybody had a bottle of alcohol of some description insisted upon by our husbands!
The flight down to Calcutta was horrendous and I remember many of the service wives having goats and sewing machines with them. The plane did not have ‘pukka' seats and we had to hang on to a rope for take off.
On arrival at Calcutta I was lucky enough to be looked after by the Australian High Commissioner and enjoyed the life in Tollygunge!! I eventually flew home to Sydney for a month.
Mike came to see us off and I asked him to bring some clothes down. He brought my wedding dress! Quite the biggest argument we ever had!
When we returned to our bungalow; it was just as we had left it. Dogs had been fed: small change on the bedside table etc. We could never really thank our staff enough as in a way we had abandoned them. Of course there were lots of alias "Donald Ducks" and "Goofy's" on the bar bills at the Mangaldai Club!
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We were in Duklingia Tea Estate in the Mariani District at that time. My father Paresh Nag had taken over as the General Manager of the tea garden in 1959.
Tensions for weeks were running high in our bungalow. My sister was nine and away at boarding school in Shillong. I was three years old. Orders had come from Jardine Henderson's head office for all women and children to evacuate the gardens. My father was staying back. I remember hushed conversations in the evenings. My mother crying. She did not want to leave my father in the gardens alone. Rumour had reached that the Chinese were close to Tinsukia. We had an airstrip in Duckingia just outside our malibari gate. The Jardine's yellow Cessna used to land there, carrying the VA back and forth to Calcutta. The pilot would stay in our bungalow. He would give us rides as children and we would fly low over Kaziranga and chase the water buffaloes. One time the water buffaloes got chased into a nearby tea garden and there were complaints. The Manager reported seeing the yellow Jardines plane. My dad was not pleased. That stopped the joy rides for me. But I digress...
Back to 1962....
I seem to recall a cold foggy November morning. A big hulk of a cargo aircraft - a Dakota C-47 had made a bumpy landing on the Jorhat airstrip. This was going to be the last flight out of the gardens. Our bungalow was full of planters, their wives and children who were traveling on that plane to Calcutta. They had come from gardens from all over the district and gathered at our bungalow. I was crying and clinging on to my dad. Many of the ladies and children were crying as well. Things were very uncertain. Nobody knew what was going to happen if Assam fell to the Chinese. Planters were expected to stake it out alone. All they had were their shotguns and sporting rifles. There was no army or police help forthcoming. Many of the wives were worried they would never see their husbands again.
The Dakota plane was rudimentary to say the least. Aluminum folding chairs were tied down to the floor and when the plane took off the chairs went skidding all over the place and you had to grab onto to one another and slide en masse as there was nothing else to hold on to. A young man on the plane served us orange squash and it was quite a dilemma holding on to the cup to avoid spills. The aircraft was not pressurized and cold blasts of air seemed to shoot up from holes everywhere. The plane had no windows. It was dark - like traveling inside a box. And the groans and rattles from the engines! We were given cotton wool to plug our ears. Nobody could hear a word so there was no conversation.
We landed in Calcutta airport after what can only be described as a long, harrowing flight. Most folks were airsick in the plane, including me. As soon as we landed we got the news that the Chinese had surrendered. So Mom and me stayed a few days in the city and flew right back. This time I think we flew back in the Jardine's Cessna, not the Dakota, thank god.Return to top
The Daily Express.
Headline: Indians face mass attack as key town falls
From Geoffrey Thursby, New Delhi November 1962.
Heavily outnumbered Indian Troops are to-night engaged in a furious encounter with wave after wave of Red Chinese in the most deadly and serious attacks since the border began in 1959.
The mass attacks came after the fall of the important town of Walong, 16 miles inside Indian territory at the eastern end of the frontier near the Burmese border.
Now the Chinese, less than 90miles from the Digboi oilfields, are surging on - heavily attacking new Indian defence positions 12 miles from Walong. The vitally important Walong has already fallen and the Indian Defence Ministry says, the Chinese have launched as new "major offensive" in the Jang area four miles east of Towang.
Now the shelling of Indian positions in the important Chushul area of Southern Ladakh has begun. A break-through would bring the Chinese on to a major Indian road network. The capture of Walong gives the Chinese immediate command over the routes to the Assam plains and Burma.
The Indian Defence Ministry spokesman described the fall of the village as "a big setback".
"Our troops put up the most stubborn resistance and inflicted heavy casualties on the Chinese aggressors before they were forced to withdraw" he said.
Collator's note: This typifies how news was very slow to reach the public and why many in the planting industry were fearful.
The fastest news was from Air America followed by BBC World Service. The Indian newspapers tended to be several days behind events which service could be matched by British broadsheets sent from U.K. by Air Mail.
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An incident which involved Jimmy Pariat who was posted to Behora in Sibsagar District on the South Bank:
The Chinese were making rapid progress and it was rumoured that they would soon be across the Bramaphutra River. Most of the ‘burra sahibs' had been evacuated and Jimmy, a young assistant, was, like other young assistants continuing to work and "hold the fort". These young assistants thought that with the Chinese takeover being imminent they may as well have a good time. So they spent much of their time in the Dhunsari Club playing tennis and generally having a good time which included downing copious quantities of alcohol as if there were no tomorrow. They reasoned that with the Chinese arriving the bills would not be put up. This went on for some time and their club bills were assuming astronomical proportions but this situation seemed to bother no one at all However, the bombshell did drop when, out of the blue, the Chinese announced their unilateral Cease Fire. It was said that the Dhunsari bachelors were the only people in the valley who were unhappy when the Chinese withdrew! The club bills amounted to large sums, quite beyond the ability of junior assistant's to pay and people were at their wit's end as to how the outstanding sums might be paid! Some companies graciously stepped in and paid the dues. The pragmatic view was that it was however less than the hire of a C-47 Dakota freighter would have been to have evacuated the bachelors in the first place!
Another story centred round Mangaldai involved a tea garden close to the Bhutan border. It was said that the manager being a very conscientious fellow, duly sold off the garden to the garden Kyar when he was told the arrival of the Chinese would be arriving within a day or two. He dutifully took the cash to the company's head office in Calcutta and handed it in after which it is understood he was promptly fired on the spot!
Another incident was at Rupajuli in the Thakurbari District On the morning when the manager had left for the airfield for evacuation to Calcutta the burra bungalow bearer came running to the remaining senior assistant informing him that the burra sahib had forgotten to take a big bag which he had left on the veranda. The assistant duly went to collect the bag and was shocked to find the bag stuffed full of cash. Money presumably meant to be taken to head office. He quickly rushed to the airport, managed to get a seat on a plane and after landing in Calcutta made straight for the office handing in the cash much to the relief of his manager.
During the emergency Tezpur Club became the hub for all reporters, journalists, intelligence officers Indian Army and Air Force officers etc. One day at the bar a planter was introducing himself to another person explaining he was in tea and (not knowing he was talking to an Army officer in civvies) in turn asked the stranger where he worked to which the officer crisply replied.
"In the soup"!
A lot of garden jeeps, lorries and drivers were commandeered by the Indian Army.
Once in a while the drivers had a lot of spare time and were just hanging around. One particularly regimental army officer was offended by such a waste of effort and took it upon himself to teach the drivers the rudiment's of foot drill. One of the (many) problems was to get drivers to respond to commands of "left" or "right" as such commands were meaningless to the new recruits. One bright Nike assisting the parades suggested for "right" they might use "brake" and for left "clutch" which worked perfectly!!
By October 1962 the Indian Air Force had re-opened the ex-USAAF Chubua airfield albeit being in a parlous state having been abandoned to nature since the Americans moved out in 1945. During the intervening years however the airstrip had been used occasionally for freight into Assam as well as luxury chilled foodstuffs for planters who could afford such. From Dikom T.E. it was quite usual to see a Dakota bouncing along the now somewhat bumpy strip. During the "Hump" campaign most of the flights to Kunming had been in either freight cC 47 Dakotas or the larger C-46 Commando.
One day as I cycled round the tea sections on the east (Chubua) side of the garden I was surprised to see a number of aircraft "parked" in the revetments off the runway. These aircraft were not Dakotas. Leaving my bike in the tea I walked across the intervening rice fields. As I approached the aircraft I noticed they were parked "tail up" not as a Dakota "tail down". In the shade of the plane's wings there were a number of crew including several grey haired somewhat portly gents together with younger crew members in denims. As I approached it became clear that they were Americans and very soon an elderly pilot introduced me to his colleagues as
"This Limey who had just walked in".
The planes, of which there were 7 or 8 turned out to be Lockheed C-69 Constellation freighters which were bringing urgently needed military arms for the Thag la and Wallong fronts. The planes had been de-mothballed (and some of the pilots?). and brought into service on the thinking that they were the last non-Dakota to use the strip whilst ‘flying the hump' and as such could cope with the runway conditions at Chubua.
As I headed back to Dikom I was stopped by two civil policemen who demanded to know how I had got past the sentries at the main gate. I pointed to my bike propped up against the tea 100 yards away and left them arguing as to how they should report the incident.
Dev Bhagat was originally employed as the Jokai pilot but by 1962 Balmer Lawrie had discontinued running a company plane. Dev and Joe Lys nonetheless maintained an interest in flying.
One day on my way back to Dikom from a trip to Dibrugarh I was parched and decided to drop in to Lahaul (Bokel) club for a quick beer. There were only two people in the club, Dev and Joe, both sitting at the bar where it was pretty obvious they had spent some considerable time propping up the bar. They were arguing heatedly on the relative merits of single engine vs. twin engine craft and after a long silence it looked as if Joe had finally won the argument. Dev pointed unsteadily to Joe's glass eye and said.
"Well you're just a single engined bastard".
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I was at Loongsong in the Nowgong district in 1962.
Two things have always remained in my thoughts about those difficult times.
Walter Johnson was one of the assistants with me at Longsong. Walter returned from his first home leave with a very expensive long wheel base Land Rover fitted out for tropical climate. Walter's Land Rover and two of the estate's lorries were commandeered by the Assam Government for the war effort.
I was friendly with the D.C. and asked him if he could do anything to relieve Walter's plight. Right away the good person he was I the D.C. said
"I know what I can do I will commandeer the Land Rover for my own use."
Walter got his Land Rover in good condition when things got back to normal. We never saw our two lorries again! (or any compensation).
The District Commissioner of the Nowgong area was a Mr. Das. He issued an order that as the Indian Army was in retreat in the face of the Chinese invasion all non-Indian Nationals must leave the area at once and make their way to the airport at Gauhati some 400 miles away to be flown to Calcutta. About 10 or 12 of us with women and children formed a convoy of cars and drove through the night arriving in Gauhati early the following morning to be met by Harry Beattie and the High Commissioner.
After a day of waiting about at the airport not knowing what was happening the Indian Air Force flew out the women and children to Calcutta. It was the next day they took on us men; a night in the open as the airport was very basic in those days.
My wife Eileen and I had walked out of our bungalow leaving everything we had. We were fortunate our two children were in boarding school in the U.K..
The Chinese called a cease fire and the men returned to Assam to find that not a thing had been touched and the bungalow servants waiting to greet me. What loyalty and trust.
One or two of the young planters in my company in Upper Assam did not bother to evacuate and stayed put hoping for "Brownie Points" I think.
I had just got back to Longsong when Hughie McCloud turned up having travelled all the way from Dibrugarh planning to take over the garden perhaps but looked very sheepish indeed to find me at home; he did not seem able to tell me why he had come. Hughie had worked with me at Longsong at one time.
It sounded very good staying on to' hold the fort' but it would have been very different kettle of fish if the Chinese Army had continued their advance into Assam.
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I was not on the North Bank at the time of the invasion but was involved at the time from the Calcutta end having been transferred from Assam in 1960 to take over the duties as James Findlay's V.A..
Our North Bank personnel were flown to Calcutta. The planters were held there pending clarification of the situation. ‘Expat' wives were taken to our South Indian estates and the Indian ladies went to their respective homes. Paddy Mcloughlin, the then Manager of Lamabari turned up at our Calcutta flat complete with the company heavy rifle highly indignant at having to leave his estate.
As soon as permission was given to return I was sent with a suitcase containing lakhs of Rupees to pay Staff and Labour. My first visit was to Hattigor where Norman Jackson was Manager. And incidentally was my first posting in 1952. I was amazed at the loyalty of both Staff and workers, everything was ticking over. The only thing that caught my eye in the Manager's bungalow was that all the photos were turned face down! I also remember sending emergency food parcels to all estates! On reflection a rather pointless gesture but it was the thought that counted. Return to top
I was based at Pengaree T.E.
Late 1962 was a very eventful time in north east India. Historically, there had always been border problems with China, but in that September the situation became extremely volatile when India sent many thousands of troops over the border to stop the violation of disputed land near Walong. This was met with resistance from the might of 50 divisions of Chinese infantry. (Division = 50K).
I was woken one morning to the sound of distant gun fire, shouting and general mayhem. My bearer came running in shouting "Sahib, sahib Cheena admi hi" (Chinese people coming). There was so much shouting and panic it was difficult to fathom out what was going on. The communication systems at that time consisted of only one land line which as you can imagine was saturated. I managed to drive through a very unhappy crowd to the main office on the plantation where I met up with several other managers, all of whom were as equally confused as I was. We had received fragmented information through All India radio and the World Service but the main news was about the Cuban crisis.
Late that afternoon, a contingent of high ranking Indian Army officers arrived at the club and briefed us on our position. Apparently, the Chinese army had reached north of the Brahamaputra River which was only 20 odd miles away and the Indian Army was in full retreat. The estimation was that the Chinese army would cross the river and be with us within the next few days. Assam, as well as being very fertile, rich in tea and rice was also the home of the Burma Oil Company with rich resources of heavy crude oil. I had to drive through these oil fields each day to reach my house. It was rapidly becoming clear to me what the likely outcome would be. The West was tied up with the Cuban crisis. India had border disputes with Pakistan and Kashmir and so an ideal opportunity presented itself for China to take over these valuable assets with little or no resistance. Of course, this was emphatically denied by the Chinese government.
There were about 1000 Europeans and other nationalities including women and children in north east India employed either by the oil company or the tea plantations. Late one afternoon, I received a message from the field director to start evacuating the families in my area. They were to proceed to a local airstrip where they would be flown out to Calcutta by the Indian air force. My job was to explain this without panic and to ensure all parties acted immediately. I remember driving between the various groups trying to remain calm and collected whilst reassuring them and giving instructions. It was a strange feeling. Clearly, the adrenalin was flowing and I felt a certain excitement as well as fear in what I was doing. Many hours later, having completed my mission, I arrived back at our main club designated as the operations HQ where some of my colleagues had gathered to review the current situation. During that evening we had the privilege of a visit from the Indian high command and Sir Paul Gore Booth, UK government representative. They were very reassuring and told us not to worry too much about the present situation and explained that the RAF were in Singapore ready to fly us out, should the situation get worse. However, there was one slight problem; the RAF didn't have any aircraft available for rescue attempts at that time due to being on a war footing as the Cuban crisis was getting out of control. "Not to worry, the problem was being looked into by the MOD" we were told! Later that evening, Sir Paul and his entourage flew out by helicopter. How very reassuring! We spent the rest of that night and the next few days debating our options and possible escape routes whilst consuming copious bottles of 20 year old malt whisky. In those days imported whisky was about £20 a bottle but what the heck-we would all be dead within a few weeks so our mess bills would never need paying. Little did we know how profound the consequences of that evening would be?
Two days later (I don't remember much about the first 24 hours); I was ordered to the HQ of the Oil Company. There were quite a few associates and friends there. We were briefed by a couple of army officers about the current situation and were informed that if and when the Chinese crossed the Brahmaputra, the proposal was to blow up the oil refinery and the oil wells. I had a dreadful feeling of what was coming next. If this event came about they would be looking for volunteers to assist with this operation as most of the Indian armed forces were tied up in combat or retreating. Thinking back to my job description, I could not remember if sabotage was included. Surely, they could not be serious. I know I am the sort of person who relishes a challenge but blowing up refineries was stretching it a point too far and in any case if I was captured by the Chinese I would be shot instantly as a foreign saboteur. That was also not in my job description. We were left to debate who did what and when. It was a farcical situation, as I remember it. A group of amateurs planning a highly complex and dangerous operation like something out of mission impossible and more suitable for Indiana Jones! It was eventually decided by the army powers that be and with a considerable amount of reluctance on my part that I would assist in blowing the back road leading to one of the entrances to the oil fields. In theory, this should have had a knock-on effect and destroyed a few oil wells in the process. With a bit of luck that would have had a chain effecton the rest of the oil wells throughout the oil field. I doubt that James Bond could have planned it better. I should perhaps point out that my knowledge of explosives was not altogether non - existent. After all, I had been known to let off several batches of fireworks in my time!
Now you could call it a coincidence, but on the day President Kennedy gave the ultimatum to Russia to remove the missile carrying fleet based off the Cuban coast, the Chinese armies started to retreat north. I have to say this came as a great relief as I did not relish the thought of becoming a dead hero.
It was only then, that the gravity of the situation became real and we were all very sombre for the next few weeks as we reflected on what might have been. Life gradually returned to normal although it was many months before the families returned. It was a difficult time trying to reassure the local people that the danger had passed as they could hardly understand what had happened in the first place.
The harsh realities of the past month hit home one fine morning when I received my mess bill for those nights of planning the end of civilisation. Converting the sum into to-days rates - approximately 1 month's pay! It was then that the real fear took hold. How was I going to pay this? Was this to be my downfall? After lengthy discussions, it was finally agreed by the honourable committee, that although the bar committee were very unhappy at seeing so much of their precious stock of fine imported whisky consumed, they were sympathetic to the situation and after all, the circumstances had been somewhat unusual. It was agreed that the sum in question was to be written off as long as we did not repeat the exercise in the name of any other national emergency! Return to top
I was at Meleng T.E., Jorhat District when the Chinese invaded India. My wife and youngest daughter were with me there and I well remember taking them for ‘training walks' into the nearby Reserve Forest, toughening them up with the idea that we might try to get out of Assam via the Naga Hills. We had packs etc. with survival gear all ready. Then the order came for wives and children to be flown out. They flew from Jorhat down to Calcutta. Contrary to company orders two planters fled the North Bank with the wives and children: Ken Pearson who was Superintendent in the Doom Dooma area who had had a horrendous time as a Jap' WWII POW. The other planter who fled was ‘Orange Bromhead' a Balmer Lawrie employee.
John Willis, Jokai Visiting Agent and Alistair Lawrie arrived at Melleng unexpectedly a couple of days later en route from Calcutta to Upper Assam to check on the situation.
I submitted a scheme to the ABITA by which planters with military experience could take lorry loads of labour up the Trunk Road (now Highway 37) towards Sibsagar, digging defensive positions for the Indian Army as they retreated - at defendable points such as the Dihing crossing. Despite pointing out that I was well qualified for this, having seen action throughout the Normandy campaign before being sent out to the Indian Army; my offer was declined
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I came out to tea in January 1961 and was posted to Kumargram T.E..
November 1962 is such a long time ago but one or two memories remain with me.
Kumargram in those days was about as remote as you could be in the Dooars being as it was at the extreme eastern end on the Assam Boundary. The District, Jainti Sankos lay between the Sankos and Rydak Rivers and consisted of three gardens in ‘the Corner' with another three gardens across the Rydak. We only saw the planters from those gardens in the cold weather. When the Rydak had fallen back to its cold weather level a "kutcha" bridge was built. This was usually by about the end of December and of course was washed away again when the monsoon returned. The Sakos only had a cold weather ferry. Getting in or out was not easy and consisted of a numerous journeys in small boats across the many channels of the Rydak.
My manager Tim Cooper had retired earlier that year and we had an Indian acting manager. It was a long period of acting manager as the incoming manager was recovering in U.K. from a serious assault. There was thus only one European manager on Newlands and Andy Bose was on Sankos
When ‘the balloon went up' communications were at best difficult - all sorts of rumours were circulating. We could see IAF cargo planes flying over on their way to Assam and of course it was not long before some of our garden transport was requisitioned for Indian Army use. Not to be recommended.
As things progressed we were advised to send women and children to Calcutta. Quite difficult given the state of communications. This is where it became interesting. The Indian managers, mine included, had ‘disappeared' along with all the manager's keys. We carried a large amount of cash for wages it being difficult to ensure regular payments to the labour.
It soon became apparent that certain individuals were no longer with us. The labour were not long in working out what was going on and they did not really swallow our explanation that they were just taking the women and children over the river. As far as the labour were concerned they had "bhug gear". They were correct in their analysis.
Being a young bachelor, I was not too concerned about the situation. A bit naïve I suppose. However, after a while the braver Indians returned and eventually our, by then, very battered transport.
I suppose in the scale of things not all that exciting. More so for my family back home in Scotland. Nothing to do with this incident, but later on in 65 when I was in Mongaldai Dist. on Orangajuli, there was the conflict between the Indian Army and what is now Bangladesh. That was a lot closer. My wife to be was due to fly out at that time, but my manager, a panic monger, did not think it safe for her to come out. However she did, without incident and we were duly married in the Club by Padre Innes in Oct 65. After we returned from our honeymoon in Shillong, a telegram arrived advising that the flight from London had been changed. So much for communications.
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On the 21st November 1962 I was assistant to the manager of Cinnitoliah T.E in North Lakhimpur, Jimmy Gilchrist. Unlike some estates, Cinnatoliah was lucky enough to have virgin land to the north of the estate. This land had been cleared and cultivated and planting was about to begin. It was the time of full moon and visibility was amazing - it was even possible to read by moonlight. Jimmy and I had discussed the possibility of planting by moonlight when it would be cool and so give the tea bushes a better start. I am sure that this practice was common but Jimmy and I thought it was quite an innovation.
The third night's planting had just ended and the workers and tractors were leaving. I was about to start my pride and joy a three-year-old Lambretta scooter and return to my bungalow for a well earned bath and cooked breakfast when Jimmy came dashing up in his Jeep.
"I've had a dispatch rider arrive with a letter from the Indian Army - the Chinese Army has just invaded India not too far away from here and we have to leave immediately for Tezpur - have to be there at 10 a.m. We have to take Passports, 1,000 Rupees each from the garden safe and very little else. I'll pick you up in 15 minutes!"
No time now for bath or breakfast. All that I did have time for was to pick up my Passport, a clean set of underwear and socks, two bottles of filtered and boiled water, a packet of biscuits and explain to my servants what was happening and ask them to take good care of my scooter. Would I ever see them, my scooter, my few possessions in the estate again? No one could answer that, we were being evacuated!
Tezpur was at least 100 miles away, a good part of the journey on "kutcha" roads, so no way would we be able to make in by 10 a.m. Being India we reckoned that 10 a.m. meant 12 noon and so we may be in time. In time for what? We didn't know what to expect if indeed we did manage to make it as far as Tezpur.
During the journey we pooled our resources. Four bottles of water suitably boiled and filtered [no plastic bottles in those days], three packets of biscuits, a few pieces of toast rescued from Jimmy's breakfast table, slightly more than 2,000 Rupees and two jerry cans of petrol. This did not amount to much especially when we had no idea where we would eventually finish up.
I do not remember much about the journey to Tezpur except that it was fast, furious and very dusty with Jimmy constantly reminding me to look out for attacking Chinese aircraft.
To-day's Tezpur airport is very different from Tezpur airport of 1962. It was a grass strip with a small terminal building with minimal facilities. On this day it was quite chaotic with planters and their families everywhere with no one seeming to know what was happening.
About 2 p.m. the Indian Air Force came to our rescue. Two large transport planes had arrived and everyone embarked in an orderly manner. Women and children first, followed by married men and then the bachelors. A great sigh of relief we were on our way to safety. But no - after take-off we landed on the south bank of the Bramaphutra in Gauhati.
Gauhati airport was not much different to Tezpur airport with very little to offer in the way of food and drink. By this time we were all hot, sticky, dirty, unshaven and ravenously hungry. Having been up all the previous night. I was very tired and the adrenalin rush of the early evacuation had worn off leaving us feeling rather down.
Eventually the shout went up again for women and children and married men to embark for yet another plane, I think two planes took off leaving a handful of bachelors. The feeling amongst us was pretty grim - someone had told us that we would be picked up eventually - but no one knew when.
One of our members was a Scottish bachelor who was on the point of retiring after 35 years service in tea. With a sigh he put his small case on a table and said that this was as good a time to have a drink as any. Two bottles of Scotch malt whisky appeared and almost as quickly disappeared down several thirsty throats. Two large measures of whisky on empty stomachs had a strange effect on us all and made our predicament seem less threatening.
It must have been about 7 p.m. when the unmistakable sound of a Dakota DC-3 was heard. We rushed to the terminal door and were greeted by a beautiful Indian Air Lines stewardess. Her question of "Anyone for Calcutta?" was drowned in a chorus of "Yes please!"
We were flown directly to Calcutta, arriving before the women, children and married men who were being flown round N.E. India to avoid the non-existent Chinese fighter planes. What a sight we were. All dirty, sweaty and dishevelled and not entirely sober. One of the party had a heavy rifle and two others had shot guns - we must have looked like Dacoits.
The first priority was food; on arriving at the Amber restaurant we were refused admission because we were not wearing ties! Upon explaining that we were the first of the refugees from the invading Chinese Army we were allowed in and treated like celebrities!
The next days passed in a blur. I remember that bachelors from Duncan Bros. were billeted in the chummery above Duncan's Head Office because all the hotels were full with the influx of evacuees, but we did have our meals at the Grand Hotel.
China's unilateral cease fire took effect and was supported by U.S.A. to the point that we were allowed to go back up country after four days.
On arrival back on the estate, Jimmy and I could not have been made more welcome. All the staff workers and servants were delighted to see us and thankful we had returned safely. My scooter had been crated and luggage packed - all ready to collect if we had returned in a hurry.
We later heard that on a few estates the management were given a very hard time when they returned, being accused of abandoning the staff and workers to the tender mercy of the Chinese.
My "borrowed" 1,000 Rupees had to be repaid in several monthly instalments! Return to top
In 1962 I was manager of Behali T.E., one of three estates belonging to the Majuli Tea Company situated on the North Bank of Assam. In August of that year I was on leave in U.K. for six months and left the estate in the very capable hands of my Acting Manager, Hamish Pirie.
Having a wife and three young children it was indeed a shock to hear of the Chinese incursion into India in November. On hearing the news I went to the offices of George Williamson in London to see if I could return as soon as possible and was told to try and enjoy the rest of my leave!
My wife and I returned to India by ship in January and we were informed at Bombay that it was highly unlikely that we would be allowed into Assam. However, the Calcutta Agents, Williamson Magor and Co. made arrangements for us to fly by Dakota via the' back door' of Dum Dum airport to Kolapani, an airstrip on Mijicajan T.E. some ten miles from Behali. On the way we landed at Misamari, Thakurbari District to be greeted by Indian Troops who wanted to know where we were going with our family! Hamish met us at Kolapani and we duly arrived on the estate.
As the Chinese had come further into Assam most of the planters were evacuated from the North Bank but Hamish Pirie, Michael Rome and Peter Swer remained behind as they were in different districts and could monitor their own and neighbouring estates.
The Agents had two Auster Aircraft, one belonging to the Majuli Company and one belonging to Bishnaught Company. The two planes, along with one belonging to Ted Kenny of Mangaldai were taken to Sangsua T.E. near Jorhat where Pat Williamson ( Head of WM & Co in Calcutta) stationed himself with John Morice (VA to all WM's estates). Every day one or other would fly over to see if any of the remaining planters were still on their estates. The Managers were told to place a sheet on the ground of the Manager's bungalow lawn if they were still on station and the plane would then land on their garden strip to make enquiries of the situation.
Hamish insisted in remaining in his car when they landed as he thought he might be forcibly thrown into the plane and flown across the Bramaphutra.
The plane also brought over sacks of cash to pay the Labour for various other companies and different Agency estates, It was Hamish's job visit all the neighbouring estates and hand over the money so that Staff could pay their Labour.
Hamish had his Mother staying with him to begin with and told his Assistant Chandra Kant to take her to catch a plane at Tezpur which was the evacuation point for local planters and their families - he was told to return to the estate after seeing Mrs Pirie safely into the plane. He caught the plane and finished up in Lucknow!
On the day which was to turn out to be the Chinese's cease fire day Hamish sent his Staff off by lorry to the Bramaphutra to catch a local ferry. Hamish himself planned to follow but had to pack first. Whilst doing his packing Hamish had his radio on and suddenly heard that the Chinese had made a unilateral Cease fire. He immediately sent a driver off to bring his staff back from the ferry.
Pat Williamson then stationed himself at Pertaghur T.E. in Bishnaught District in order to try and restore some sort of normality Planters were sent to any needy estate when they returned from Calcutta.
Peter Swer was told to stay and use whatever he found in the Superintendent's bungalow. He occupied the superintendent's bungalow at Phulbari but had something of a rude shock when the Superintendent returned unannounced from Calcutta after being evacuated and accused Peter of eating all his sausages which had been in his fridge'. The Superintendent said that he would ensure Peter Swer got the sack for the theft! Peter immediately drove to Pertaghur and told Pat Williamson;; the result was one Superintendent taking early retirement!
On my return to Behali the Labour were very supportive of Hamish and could not speak more highly of him as he had stayed with them and had not "bug gear" as most other planters had done!
It was a trying time for all planters, most of whom were dedicated men and did all that they could on their return to bring things back to normal as soon as possible.
In my case I felt on reflection that something was in the air when my Head Fitter asked to be relieved from his post earlier in the year as he wished to join his relations in Calcutta. His name was "John" (all Chinese residents in India were known as "John"). John had bought a radio from a previous Manager and had erected a very large aerial at his house on the estate. Return to top
Assam November 1962
I was factory manager at Limbuguri Tea Estate (near Guijan); Roy Watson was the manager and Clem Brown garden assistant. My wife, Grizelda had only been out in Assam for a year when the Chinese invasion of India occurred. The first event to impact on us was a very late night visit from Roy Watson to tell us Grizelda was to prepare herself for departure and we were to assemble at Panitola Club as the women and children were to be flown out of Assam the next day. Much surprise and excitement !!
There was a big gathering of ‘ex-pats' at Panitola Club next morning including people from the Doom Dooma, Digboi, Margherita and Dibrugarh districts. My mother Clare and Bill Thorne, Grizelda and I stopped off at John Thyne's bungalow at Panitola T.E. on the way; he, poor fellow, was supposed to be going off to Africa to get married ! Once assembled at the Club the women and children were dispatched to Chabua airfield to be flown out on several aircraft organised by the Indian Airforce. It was all a bit of a squeeze I understand but Grizelda was given a comfortable seat in the cockpit of her transport courtesy of the base commander, John Oquino - much to Mother's envy, she being a ‘burra memsahib'! I understand some male individuals also evacuated at that time ---- never to return !
It being the cold weather season on the tea estates work continued much as usual on pruning etc., out on the garden and maintenance work in the factory, however, because of the situation, day to day life became rather less routine - the future being so uncertain. At Limbuguri the garden assistant went AWOL for some time, off boozing with his chums and I found myself frequently despatched to Tinsukia for mail/news etc.
Some days later I was summoned to the superintendent's office at Balijan North to be instructed about a Company emergency evacuation plan in which I was supposed to spearhead the convoy (why me you may well ask). I was told later it was decided by the great and the good that as I was the only commissioned company member with active military service, familiar with fire arms and was inclined to spend much of my free time wandering round in the forest etc. Fat lot of good that would have been if we had had to evacuate by road, however it did feel strange to be on a war zone frontier but not part of the military set-up ------ this was to happen to me again years later in Uganda !
Meanwhile Grizelda was flown back to a freezing London where she was able to stay with her father at Cheyney Court and mother pulled some strings to stay with the Brook Bond M.D. in Calcutta (along with Diana James? ) having refused to be sent back to the U.K. I was left with a menagerie of a dog, a male otter, a slow loris, several parakeets and a collection of ducks. My biggest problem being Charlie, the otter, who missed Grizelda and set about looking for her well prepared to bite anyone who got in his way.
As time passed the uncertainty over what the Chinese objective might be, not to mention how the Indian forces were going to prevent them flooding down into Assam should they wish, became only too real. Indian Air Force ‘Otter' aircraft flew over Limbuguri every morning, returning early afternoon and daily flights of ‘Vampire' fighters went and returned over the tea estate. The news was not good with tired ill equipped military coming back from the hills apparently totally outmanovered by the Chinese. Ex.Pat. attitudes became increasingly worried as to the outcome, thus plans developed on how to escape should we find ourselves trapped in upper Assam, the Chinese having come through to Tespur etc. Daft ideas like hiding out on the river for months before having a go at floating downstream pretending to be a country boat; escape up the Stilwell Road toward Burma; not too good as the road eventually leads into China! One or two of us had a plan to trek out using the Tipong track suspension bridge over the upper Tirap and thence into Burma and onto the Nampuk River and down stream onto the Chinwin. Neither scheme would have been very practical but we were young and adventurous so they seemed a viable possibility at the time for those of us familiar with the forest terrain and that area of the country.
The other serious ambition was to make sure that all the imported Scotch whisky etc., in the clubs (Panitola, Doom Dooma, Digboi and Margherita) was consumed before the possible enemy arrival! This was pretty well achieved by the time the Chinese turned back up into the Himalaya. A number of gardens on the north bank were quickly evacuated, Peter and Helen Naug arrived at Limbuguri and his manager, Jimmy Knight, was billeted at Balijan South as I remember. Neither family returned to their north bank tea estate which was eventually sold to a local merchant.
Although the plucking season was almost over there was quite a bit of packed tea in transit or awaiting despatch, this resulted in packed invoices having to be stored in the factory and some concern arose as to just where the recently despatched tea had actually got to. However, as it transpired all invoices eventually reached Calcutta safely. At Limbuguri we were still also involved in tea seed production and sale. Two consignments of seed vanished completely, probably dumped somewhere due to transport to the north bank being stopped, anyway they were never located again. Meanwhile for some reason the fishing and duck shooting season was incredibly good! I can't remember a season were the numbers of waterfowl on the Dibru Muk, main river and Buri Suti Bheels were so numerous and some of us were able to take full advantage of this whilst there was a feeling that we might not be there very much longer!
All in all I have to confess I seriously enjoyed this period of tension, disruption etc. and eventually was rewarded with a four year contract promotion which to say the least was quite useful as our remuneration in those days was pretty mean. Strong friendships with the Indian airforce chaps based at Chabua developed. John Oquino and several of the ‘Otter' pilots out of Chabua and especially Otter pilot Rambir Singh - who later married Helen Naug's sister Audrey - and became first a Wing Commander in the Indian Airforce was seconded to Zambia on behalf of the United Nations and later flying for Air India International (Boeing 747). However subsequent life in the tea industry in Assam was never quite the same again. Soniton was never quite so much bother as the union leader he had been (he was from Limbuguri tea estate), the country's economic difficulties impinged on the Indian tea industry especially the overseas owned companies and the inevitable Indianisation thus seriously got under way. Many Ex.Pat. planters were soon made redundant and the management of tea estates was rapidly made more cost effective.
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CHUBUA - CIVIL ENGINEERING.
Not long after Wing Commander John O'quino had established the Indian Air Force base on the former WWII USAF base at Chubua the IAF's fixed wing aircraft began to arrive. Fighters included Gloster Meteors, De' Haviland Vampires and Hawker Hunters. Most of the transports were Dakotas, DC-3 or C47's.
The Dakotas, of course, had no problem landing even on the overgrown strip but several of the fighters finished up damaged on the side of the runway. One unfortunate Hunter pilot went straight off the end of the runway, the plane finishing up on its nose in the middle of the Dikom rice fields.
The monsoon would soon be approaching and the rice paddies surrounding the airfield soon began filling up with water. There was no heavy machinery such as earth scrapers or bulldozers available.
It was decided in consultation with the Indian Tea Association in view of the seriousness of the emergency that local tea garden labour would be employed to extend the runway. [This was very much history repeating itself - during WWII similar gangs of garden labourers had built roads into Burma to attack the Japanese forces.]
Dikom being the nearest estate I was 'volunteered' to supervise the necessary work.
I was to arrange to temporally employ just over 600 workers from the labour lines at Dikom, Chubua and Nahortoli estates. I also re-employed a retired Jemedar supervisor from Nahortoli Tea Estate as my 'right hand man'.
The Garrison Engineer took me out to the Wilton end of the runway which ended abruptly before dropping about 15' down into the water filled rice fields. We marked out a 150 yard extension to the runway with bamboo posts. These posts marked both the edge of the proposed runway as well as the required height of the embankment. The Engineer suggested that I organise my labour force to take the soil to make the new embankment out of the waterlogged paddy land. I pointed out to him the impractability of his proposal, not to mention the aggravation that would be caused by digging up Dikom labourer's rice crop. In the end we decided on an area of higher ground just to the side of the end of the existing runway.
Meanwhile my Jemedar had appointed some half dozen Sirdars who spent several days recruiting unemployed men and women in the local labour lines.
Each gang was about 100 labourers. They were told they would have to work (and be paid) in pairs.
The Jem' and I arranged a starting date with the Engineer and the word was sent to the lines.
It was one of those tasks that seemed in theory to be simple; but putting the theory into practice required much effort.
The area from which the spoil to make the runway extension was to be taken was slightly larger than a football pitch. The whole area was marked with chalk dust into 12' x 12' squares. Using the draughtboard analogy; on day 1 the labour force dug out the black squares - day 2 the white squares - day 3 the black squares etc. etc.. For a day's pay; two labourers dug a 12' x 12' square 2' deep and carrying the spoil to a point indicated on the extension. However, those labourers with their 12' x 12' square to dig furthest from the new bank took considerably longer to complete their task than those whose square was near to the new bank. To compensate for this the whole labour force was rotated round the site on a day by day basis.
Somehow it all miraculously worked.
Each morning my newly recruited labour force could be seen heading from all directions for the Chubua strip carrying their baskets and digging tools. Some of the digging pairs were man and wife, some were two women and some two men: They all had the same task (and pay). They were paid cash each day.
As the days of March passed the new bank slowly extended across the paddy fields and the hole beside the runway grew deeper and deeper. By then end of March the 'hole' had to be accessed via several earth ramps and 'stairways' cut up the sides of the excavation.
When I approached the site I could not help sometimes mentally comparing the project to some Hollywood biblical film set.
Eventually the Garrison Engineer announced that we had shifted enough spoil and that the new runway extension would be sufficient for the IAF's needs.
My 'private army' was stood down and paid a cash bonus.
In the middle of the subsequent rains I learned from John that the 'Dikom Pukri', (pukri lit. - pond) as 'the hole' had become known, filled up to the brim with water. A luckless trainee pilot had finished up veering off the runway into it with disastrous results. His plane had completely disappeared under nearly 30' of water and the pilot had been very lucky to escape with his life.
A newly arrived bulldozer spent much of the following winter levelling off the whole area.
There was an interesting sequel to the event:
After the new piece of runway had been laid it was necessary to top the surface with broken stone to form a firm foundation for the tarmac surface. This stone was brought as large boulders from the banks of the Bramaphutra some 15 miles distant from the airbase. The stone had been brought by country boat down from the higher boulder reaches of the Siang River and was unloaded onto ageing ex-American Army 6 x 6 GMC lorries which brought the stone to the site. The whole complex operation involved a chain of contractors. The first contractor collected the boulders from the banks of the upper Siang as the river dropped after the monsoon. Next there were contractors who ran flotillas of country boats that brought the stone about 30 miles down the river to the nearest point of the Bramphutra to Chubua. The next link was a contractor who ran the fleet of lorries to bring the stone to the new runway and finally there was a contractor who employed hundreds of casual labourers to break the stone. Many of the labourers who worked at the last task were the same ones who had originally built the new bank. They would sit by a pile of boulders breaking them with a home made hammer. Big boulders about the size of rugby balls were first broken by men who passed the smaller pieces to women who hammered them down into aggregate of about 2".
At my morning office one early morning I noticed a smartly dressed Bihari in European clothes who presented himself to my Manager, David Gibb.
The visitor spent half an hour in David's office before departing in a chauffer driven brand new Ambassador saloon.
David came into my office.
"We've just had an unexpected windfall" he said. "The contractor delivering the stone to the new Chubua airfield extension is having trouble with the railway authorities to get permission to take the stone hauling trucks over the railway level crossing." David continued "He wants to use the track across the rice fields from Wilton. Not only is he able to make this road up so that it would take the trucks but he has agreed to donate a thousand Rupees to the Dikom labour social club."
"In addition he gave me a bottle of Scotch" said David with a rare smile.
It sounded an excellent arrangement and I gave the matter little further thought (other than to have some suspicion of contractors voluntarily making donations).
About a week later, one of the Sirdars who had been employed to run a gang during the excavation and embanking of the runway came into my office. He had been hardworking and reliable and was someone in whom I had total trust.
He explained that he was now in charge of a gang of labourers breaking stone but they had had to be laid off because there was no stone to break.
I was surprised because I had seen numerous lorries loaded with stone passing through the tea garden on a daily basis.
The Sirdar asked me to look into the matter and make my own enquiries. Despite my further questions he was no more forthcoming and left the office.
Next time I visited the sections of tea nearest the airfield I carried my bike over the intervening rice fields to the new runway to see what was going on. On the new extension there were a few women breaking stone. As I walked up they greeted me as well as complaining that they did not have enough work. They were paid on a piecework basis.
As I stood there chatting with them a GMC lorry loaded with boulders approached from the far end of the runway.
One of the women said urgently "Sahib, boyt ow! Dekayee!" [Come and sit down near me and watch]
I sat among them on a pile of stones.
The lorry, heavily loaded with boulders, was approaching amid a huge cloud of dust from the far end of the airfield nearest Highway 37 and headed towards the new extension. It did not however stop but continued past and down the newly made road to Wilton: The road that David had given permission to be used.
I cycled on to the Garrison Engineer's office which was situate by the main gate. When I arrived, the Garrison Engineer was engaged and so I sat in the shade of a golden mohur tree outside his tented office. After a short while. A loaded GMC arrived at the main gate. The driver collected a brass talla (counting disc) from the gatekeeper and drove off down towards the runway extension. Only after it had passed did it strike me it was the same lorry that had driven by when I had been sat with the women at the stone breaking site.
Eventually I got in to see the Garrison Engineer. He was very pleased with the progress being made with the runway and most grateful for the work I had supervised. Everything, he said, was going according to schedule.
When I suggested to him that his stone delivery service included a lorry which was simply driving round in circles whilst logging up deliveries; he did not believe me. I was in the middle of explaining how the contractor had arranged a temporary right of way through Wilton when, through the tent window, I saw the same lorry re-appear once more at the main gate.
The Engineer and I jumped into his jeep and followed the lorry down the runway. It did not stop and disappeared into the rice pathar near the Sessa River.
The lorry driver had an unexpected reception committee waiting when he next arrived at the main gate!
The last I saw of him was a dejected figure with a black eye being led away in handcuffs.
Collator Return to top
As to what I was doing on 21st November 1962 my mind is a blank.
I assume it was after the main evacuation of the wives and children. All I remember was that prior to the evacuation I was trying to get Son David and Enid to safer places based on information from Peter James, our superintendent who was in touch with Brooke Bond Head Office.
Firstly I took them along with Penny Palmer and our ayah to Shillong, stayed a night or two in the Pinewood Hotel before returning to Hansara T.E.. Later I collected them from Shillong and came back to Doom Dooma. A few days later the RAF flew in a Hastings aircraft and took wives and children off from Dibrugarh to Calcutta en route to U.K. However, just after the flight left the ground we heard that there had been a cease fire/withdrawal by the Chinese. Enid stayed in Calcutta with David much to the wrath of Peter James who thought she had returned to U.K. with the other wives. I was then allowed to fly down and bring her and David back up to Doom Dooma.
I helped my colleagues drink the club stocks dry in celebration! Return to top
Brigadier Chitranjan Sawant, VSM.
In the summer of 1996, more than 35 years after the 1962 War with China, I had an opportunity to stand on the Chinese side of the Dhola ridge and see our own battleground in NEFA [The North East Frontier Agency, now Aranachal Pradesh] the same Dhola ridge where the PLA [People's Liberation Army of China] had attacked the Indian forward positions and rolled down the Se La to Bomdi La track to the foothills near Tezpur on October the 20th 1962
I was visiting Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, as an independent TV producer for documentaries on Tibet. Having seen NEFA from the Indian side, I asked my hosts if I could have a view of the area from the Chinese side. There was a stunned silence in the banquet hall where the Chinese and Tibetan administrators had hosted a dinner for me. Finally the Tibetan Head of Administration, on cue from his Chinese advisor, said
"Brigadier, you may see but not shoot".
I accepted his suggestion and next morning Chinese army Mitsubishi Pajeros took me and my TV crew to the area.
Tough terrain indeed. But not tougher than the one on our side was my silent verdict after a mental comparison. The altitude was high without causing respiratory complications because of thick foliage. And, exactly like on our side, local cowherds tended their flocks completely unawed by our presence.
The Chinese military intelligence officer (or so I presumed) who doubled as liaison officer appreciated my desire to take a close look at the imaginary international border and touch the Indian soil with reverence.
"Sying-sying" he said in Chinese Mandarin, indicating his o.k. I lost no time in taking a military look at the massive Dhola ridge from where officers and men of the PLA had descended on the Indian territory using ropes, bypassing our formidable infantry positions and attacking the nerve centre 7 Infantry Brigade HQ.
The brigade commander, Brigadier John Dalvi, was literally caught with his pants down. The PLA had taken its first VIP red tab prisoner of war. Many more other ranks [junior commissioned officers and jawans] were to fall into the net later. It was indeed a disgraceful show and serving subalterns and captains like me felt let down by those who mattered in the military and civilian set-up.
On the ground hallowed by selfless sacrifice made beyond the call of duty by many of my Brothers-in-arms, I stood in silence for more than the customary two minutes. Many images flashed across my mind as I recalled the dramatis personae, both the living and the dead. They seemed to communicate moments of agony and ecstasy depending on courage or cowardice. There were examples galore of both.
Sipahi (later Naik and in present folk law Captain) Jaswant Singh of the 4th battalion of the Garhwal Rifles manned a post with his light machine gun on a road bend near Se La top. In that bitter snowfall, when the Chinese attacked his post in wave after wave, he stood his ground with grit and determination. His fellow soldiers fell fighting. Out gunned and outnumbered, he still kept the enemy at bay until he finally succumbed to his injuries. His body was never found but his memory remains fresh in folk law. Every evening, successive units at the post prepare a bed for him and food is served for his soul. The local hill population describe him as ‘Captain Sahib'. I am told that even now his paltan (battalion) refuses to suffix ‘The Late' to his name.
Then there was a Captain (now a retired Colonel) S.N. Tandon, who won a Vir Chakra for gallantry. He and I were gentlemen cadets at the Naushera company of the Indian Military Academy in 1959. He confided in me in the late 1960's that when the soldiers of the PLA captured him as well as his commanding officer, the latter started crying, moaning that he would never be able to meet his wife and children in this life. Tandon being a bachelor had no such emotional outburst.
The Chinese commissars, Tandon told me later, devoted a lot of time and energy to brainwashing Indian officers and men in the PoW camps but this did not have much effect because of strong family loyalties and most of the prisoners remained steadfast and committed to the Indian values of life.
My reverie was broken by my film crew, who pointed out it was getting late and time to report to base.
"Where did you face us in 1962?" asked Mr. Quiao, one of the Chinese Officials in a light hearted manner.
"Here, there and everywhere" I replied and we all laughed the moment away.
Tomorrow would be another day I said to myself and tried to sleep. Sleep however eluded me that night. The 1962 debacle of our army kept haunting me. Jawaharlal Nehru's words that China had stabbed India in the back by launching a dastardly attack crisscrossed my mind many a time. Now some four decades after the bitter war I was their guest.
The Chinese always kept emphasising that they were not the aggressors. Chou En-lai, the then Chinese Prime Minister and other Chinese decision makers had taken Nehru's off-the-cuff statement made in Madras on October 12th 1962 that he had "ordered the Indian Army to throw the Chinese out" very seriously.
The PLA in Tibet, where they had been entrenched since 1950, mobilised to launch a pre-emptive attack on NEFA.
In an academic discussion with my Chinese hosts I asked them "Didn't you fire the first shot?" The Chinese replied that after Nehru's provocative statement amounting to a declaration of war, a self-respecting nation like China could not have waited to be attacked.
I recall that the Americans were very sympathetic to the India Army's debacle in NEFA and were convinced that China was the aggressor. If memory serves me right the Americans used the term ‘Himalayan Pearl Harbour' to describe our discomfiture as akin to their own.
The other view was that we Indians got what we deserved: The author of India's China War, Neville Maxwell, exonerated the Chinese and said blaming them was a ‘soothing fantasy' for the Indians.
When I look back of these 40 years of my own experience in the Indian Army as a student of military history I feel that the last word on the subject has not been said. Perhaps a latter-day historian with an unbiased mind and access to de-classified war diaries may arrive at this image shattering deduction: The unpronounced rivalry between Nehru and Chou En-lai to play a dominant role as Asia was the root cause of the military conflict in 1962. Of course, undefined and un-demarcated borders in the high Himalayas were a British legacy that the independent Indian government carried forward. The British imperial military power could sustain the theory of undefined borders and make inroads into Tibet. But independent India without the backing of a mighty military machine, found the vagueness of borders a heavy burden which was difficult to carry out and not easy to shake off.
The Chinese were gaining strength day by day after 1st October 1949 when New China was born. Consequently when the Chinese moved into almost independent Tibet in 1950 the India foreign policy makers did not even whimper let alone think of an intervention. The remnants of the Indian and Post Office in Lhasa were wound up post-haste. The Indian tri-colour was never to flutter in the Lhasa breeze again.
Reverting to military operations in NEFA we find that the 4th Indian military division degenerated into a complete rout without giving a sustained battle to the intruding Chinese. When the PLA launch its first wave of attacks on October 29th some Indian units in Walong on the far eastern side did offer determined resistance but on the Dhola, Se-la, Bomdi La axis it was a complete rout.
In all fairness to the Chinese it must be mentioned that they offered a ceasefire and a negotiated withdrawal from Indian territory when they met stiff resistance in the Walong sector. However the Indian Army and political leadership . . . "wishing to throw the Chinese out". . . found that to be a humiliating proposition. But throwing the Chinese out remained wishful thinking
On November the 15th some Indian Army units launched a counter attack and gained limited success. There was a short thaw in the battle. Then the PLA inducted more men and new guns to renew a determined onslaught which totally routed the Indian side. The magnitude of their attack has to have been seen to be believed.
Rumours in the Indian rank and file aided the Chinese more than their own military tactics. A mere whisper of Chinese soldiers being seen in the vicinity would send rank and file running for cover where none was available. To our eternal shame, the commanding general and his colonels, leave alone the jawans, deserted their posts and gave the Chinese army a free run down to the foothills near the town of Tezpur. Disabled jawans who had lost their limbs in snow literally walked in to Chinese PoW camps cursing themselves and their officers for their sad state.
But military strategists all over the world appreciated that the Indian jawans, even while retreating from battle never abandoned their rifles. An unprepared army, ill-armed, ill-clad and ill-trained for mountain warfare, had been ordered to give battle to seasoned PLA officers and men who had had more than a decade's experience of mountain warfare in Tibet. The majority of Indian soldiers did not have adequate winter clothing or proper foot ware for snowbound battlefields. Ammunition was in short supply because quite a few ponies carried commodes for officers instead of ammunition for soldiers. The command and control from corps HQ downwards was non-functional.
Lieutenant General B.M. Kaul, commanding general of the newly raised 4 Corps at Tezpur, had never commanded an active fighting outfit not withstanding his Sanhurst training. Instead of planning military strategy at Tezpur or in forward areas, he wasted crucial days in Delhi nursing a sore throat.
While the military situation of the Indian army was in such a mess, the Chinese once again caught us by surprise declaring a unilateral ceasefire as they had no visible Indian units to fight. In one stroke they scored a military-cum-diplomatic victory.
I shall be failing in my duty however if I do not stress the tribute due to the gallant, of those who fought to the last round and last breath. Among them stands tall Brigadier Hoshiar Singh, commanding officer of the Se La brigade who gave a bloody nose to the Chinese even after being cut off from his division HQ at Bomdi La. He made the supreme sacrifice in action.
Subedar Joginder Singh too went beyond the call of duty, inflicting heavy casualties on the enemy and saving the lives of his man. The nation honoured him with the Param Vir Chakra, the country's highest gallantry award in war, posthumously. They who died for the country still live in their countrymen's memory. Return to top
Peter was on the North Bank while his two younger Brothers John and Jack were on the South Bank.
Jack recalls how Peter recounted to him how he was awakened early one morning to find a Chinese army scouting unit bivouacked under his bungalow at New Puru Barri.
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Larry Brown 1962
When the news of the invasion first reached us there was immediate discussion within the Makum, Namdang Tea Company as to what should be done. Safety of the women and children was paramount as was the wellbeing of the garden labour. Some lone voices mooted the destruction of prime movers and machinery but it was agreed that everything should be left in working order and it was hoped that any new taskmasters would prove to be benevolent towards the labour.
When I asked Peter Furst, a senior manager, as to the possible outcome should we opt to stay he said.
"Ceremonial execution old boy"
There was an air of finality that the under-equipped Indian Troops would be overrun and that Assam would be occupied by the Chinese. At the Club we younger Assistants made plans to make our escape over the Patkoi Hills that bordered Namdang and into Burma and then down the Irrawaddi or alternatively to follow the same route via Pangsau Pass as the refugees fleeing the Japanese had done in 1942. All who went to the club drank heavily!
On the 21st November I was standing on the main Assam Trunk Road just outside the entrance to Bogapani T.E. watching to convoys of cars and busses making their way from Digboi to Mohunbari Airfield at Dibrugarh where RAF Hercules sent from Singapore were waiting.
It was 2.30 a.m. and from the little National transistor radio that I held to my ear - an announcement from the crackly Voice of America told me "The Chinese have declared a cease fire!"
I did not know whether I should jump out and stop the convoys but I decided that all will learn of the cease fire in due course and they would have a nice expenses paid break in Calcutta or U.K. Return to top
Quote from the Independent Saturday 27th August 2005: World Section,
JFK was ready to use nuclear bomb on China, tapes reveal
By Andrew Buncombe in Washington
There are crackles on the tape but the message is clear. President John F. Kennedy and his advisers considered using nuclear weapons against China if the Communist nation attacked India a second time.
The date was May 1963 and the year before China had attacked India along its 2,000 mile Himalayan border, overpowering and defeating the poorly trained and badly equipped Indian troops. At dispute were two areas under Indian control Aski Chin in Ladakh and another on the North-East Frontier.
When Mr. Kennedy and his senior officials met in the white House, a cease fire had been called between China and India, with each side having lost 500 troops. But the US President and his advisors discussed the possibility that China might attack again and how they should respond to requests for help from Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
On the tape made public this week, Robert McNamara, who was then Mr. Kennedy's Defence Secretary says "Before any substantial commitment to defend India against China is given we should recognise that to carry out that commitment against any substantial Chinese attack we would have to use nuclear weapons. Any large Chinese Communist attack of any part of that area would require the use of nuclear weapons by the U.S. and this is to be preferred over the introduction of large numbers of US soldiers.
Moments later having listened to Mr McNamara and others "We should defend India and therefore we will defend India" He does not specify whether he would authorise a nuclear strike and some analysts have said such an opinions would have been dismissed the next year when China tested its first nuclear weapon.
Maura Porter, archivist for the John F Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston which released the recordings, said they offered researchers and historians a unique perspective "to the inner workings of the Kennedy White House". She added: "When one listens to this recording and others at the Kennedy Library, they hear first-hand how critical national security matters were debated and discussed".
Steven Cohan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said the U.S. had long been warning India to be wary of China's expansionist intentions.
[In 1962] they came in and swept the board clean in a brilliantly planned invasion. Nehru was in a panic. He gave a speech in which he basically said to those to those Indians [in areas then occupied by Chinese forces] "good luck and goodbye; we cannot defend you". He was desperate and wrote letters to Washington asking for our help".
Mr. Cohan believes that Mr. Kennedy's senior officials may have raised the nuclear option to deter the President getting involved on India's behalf.
On the tape, General Maxwell Taylor, then Chairman of the joint Chiefs of staff, tells Mr. Kennedy: "This is just one spectacular aspect of the overall problem of how to cope with Red China politically and militarily in the next decade. I would hate to think we would fight this on the ground in a non-nuclear way"
Mr. McNamara told the International Herald Tribune that he could not remember the conversation but that the recording is probably correct!"
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As you know Padre Wyld died in 1973 but his memories remain
I was the Indian Tea Association Chaplain:
Soon after the Chinese attacked and entered Indian Territory there was a sense of panic and many "ex-pat's" were being evacuated though some who had not been ordered out by their companies remained on their estates.
It so happened that an ex-pat "burra mem" was sitting on her bungalow veranda trying to act calmly while sipping a cup of tea. Suddenly a jeep came up the drive with a Chinese looking person sitting in the front.
Here they come thought the burra mem and determined not to show the Chinese that she was scared stood up, head held high and stiff upper lip.
The jeep came to a stop in front of the bungalow and as the Chinaman stepped out he shouted.
"Salaam memsahib I am from . . . " (he gave the name of his garden). My burra sahib has sent me to do some repair work on your bungalow"
He was the Chinese carpenter from a nearby garden and in the hiatus of all that was going on it had been overlooked to tell said burra mem that a Chinese carpenter was being sent to the bungalow
Time to substitute cup of tea with a glass of gin!
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A Villager's View
The weekend before the Cease Fire I went duck shooting on the bheels at the back of Daisajan. I had previously spent two years as factory Assistant at Tippuk and had got to know well the villagers and the wide expanse of bheels to the West of Daisajan T.E.. In Daisa village, just beyond the garden lived several families of Muttuck tribals and I developed a very close friendship with them and in particular a great character called Pekoe.
The bheel area had largely formed as a result of the 1950 earthquake when levels throughout the valley had been affected. The bheels ranged in size from smaller than a tennis court to several miles long. Through the bheel area ran a labyrinth of small streams and rivulets mostly covered with purple flowered water hyacinth. Ducks en route to central India assembled in the area in massive flocks
The only way to move about the area was by dugout. Having started shooting about 0830hrs by mid-day Pekoe was ready for a break and at my agreement he paddled towards the shade of a large jack fruit tree and lit up yet another birri.
Usual topics of conversation in such circumstances included who was sick in the village, who was getting married, what the rice crop threatened to yield, predations of elephants and wild buffalos etc. etc.
October could be hot mid-day and as we sat in the welcome shade an IAF transport plane noisily flew by some distance away
I asked Pekoe if he had heard about the war. He confirmed that he had heard about it at Daisajan bazaar but he was not concerned at the news because he believed the Sahibs would soon be along to sort out the Japanese as they had in WWII.
When I told him that the hostile forces were Chinese he was adamant that I had been misinformed.
"Anyway" Pekoe said. "Any ‘China-log' would be unlikely to find their way to such a remote village as ours which even the Sircar's ‘Census Babu' had failed to find".
He seemed remarkably unimpressed.
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What were you doing on 21st November 1962?
The Planter's generation who experienced the traumatic days of the 1962 Sino-India War have a unique tale to tell and if we don't tell it soon it will be beyond recollection. It was a time which showed up poor management as well as being a time for capable hands to step forward.
If YOU have any recollections please let me know and it can be my winter's project to sort them out in some kind of readable order.
Even those who exhausted club's stocks of alcohol are by now, I guess, unlikely to be billed!
Send them in any form; postal address is The Pightle, Nowhere Lane, Great Witchingham, Norwich NR9 5PD, email is email@example.com.
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Gerry Halnan.s great story of the Sino-Indian war
India - Invaded - 1962
the story of Mohan driver of Banarhat Tea Estate
Peter Hardy's article in the January - March 2009 edition of the Camellia magazine prompted me to let you know what it was like in a different area of tea to receive the shock ‘news of an invasion.'
In late October 1962, when I was the manager of Banarhat tea estate I was wakened from a deep sleep at 3am by the ringing of my recently installed telephone. The voice of Brigadier Hugh Stevens, OBE, secretary of the Dooars branch I.T.A was on the line. For my sins, I happened to be the Sub District chairman at the time and thus he was on official business despite the hour!
Then ‘hello Gerry this is most urgent'. The Chinese have broken through the Macmahon line and infiltrated Indian territory at alarming speed. The Indian army up there cannot cope and the main body of their forces are coming across India from Goa by train. I want you to get as many vehicles, (lorries and jeeps etc) as you can muster from your gardens, and get them down to rail head at Siliguri by 8am if possible. Do your best and keep me informed.
From that point onwards I lifted the phone at least 15 times in quick succession and passed the vital message on. Many and diverse were the responses I received, especially from one or two Scott's planters not pleased with being roused before ‘murghi-dak'! However they all soon wakened up to the necessities and confirmed that they would do their best.
I was requesting a minimum of two vehicles per garden which would leave us with tractors and the odd car to run the estates.
I then roused Joan, my wife, put her in the picture and sent chowkidars to rouse my drivers who attended the burra bungalow promptly. I explained the situation to them and asked for two volunteers to drive our almost new three ton lorry and my two year Willis jeep ( in pristine condition) to Siliguri a distance of 100 miles, pick up the troops and deliver them where directed by their officers. All three drivers were willing and I chose two of them. Mohan driver was selected for my jeep and he returned speedily wearing an ex military great coat, beret, woollen socks and canvas shoes.
Tanked up, they were on their way by half past three and subsequently I learned that they had made the R.V. on time.
Soon we heard of troop trains passing through Banarhat railway station bound east wards and fully laden with soldiers.
Rumours were rife of planters passing through the district in various forms of transport and dress, (one in his pyjamas) mostly heading west.
We also heard later in the day that many garden lorries, packed with troops, including our own vehicles had been seen passing on the road Eastwards through Dalgaon district.
Meanwhile, work continued on the garden almost as normal.
I went down to Brigadier Stevens's bungalow, about 4 miles away, where several senior planters from estates further East, had gathered and were sitting with a memsahib on the veranda. Soon Hugh Stevens arrived back, carrying his D.B.B.L 12-bore on his shoulder, at best, a token of defiance!
Plans were outlined to prepare for possible evacuation and we went our various ways.
In the next couple of days we divided our attention between normal work and keeping abreast of the latest media reports from the front.
Very promptly an R.A.F. troop transport plane landed at Telepara airstrip from Singapore to uplift wives and children and fly them to Calcutta. This I managed to organised without a hitch.
Soon troops were arriving in the district and being camped out in the various Reserve Forests, such as Moraghat, which I discovered when I drove into the latter before dawn and even challenged by a Sikh soldier at a camp perimeter, with loaded rifle and fixed bayonet. I quickly submitted with hands held high and retreated whence I had come!
Thereafter much was confusion we could get no information from any source apart from the Calcutta Press whose headlines proclaimed that 10,000 Indian troops had been surrounded and ‘put in the bag' in the Sela Pass area above the snow line!
We expected the worst! The Chinese would be all over us in the next few days. Binnaguri managers decided we would see it through with our labour force and do what we could to alleviate matters in the event. Willie Cheyne of Dumchipara T.E suggested that we be given machine guns and we'd sort them out!!! That was Willie! The rest of us expressed more sober solutions.
Suddenly and within a day or two of the bad news, we were informed of the magical and lightening withdrawal of the whole Chinese Army back into Tibet. Surprise, surprise, not to mention relief!
After two weeks my lorry and driver returned ‘battered but intact', but the driver could give no word about Mohan and the jeep, apart from seeing him on the first day.
I was approached daily by his wife, with child in arms, asking for news of her husband. No request for information yielded any fruit from civil authorities, military sources, nor from Head Office.
My Chinese carpenter (probably nearer sixty than fifty years of age) had been arrested and trundled off by the police to ‘God knows where' and his wife and children were a daily demand on my concern.
Shortly after, my lorry driver's return, I received a small postcard from Central India addressed to me. As I remember, it read like this:
I am sorry to report that I have lost your jeep in Sela Pass. I have lost one foot by frostbite and fear I may loose the other. Please ask my wife to purchase one black cock and one white cock and do a puja for me and pray for my health.
Offering my salaams,
Your obedient driver,
The memory of this poignant and pathetic little chit, still brings a tear to my ageing eyes, whenever I think back to those days.
There was no return address, although he was obviously in a military hospital somewhere in central India.
I passed the note on to his wife and she performed the rites requested.
I did not learn the fate of Mohan, nor of my Chinese carpenter, before leaving tea for good in February 1963, which I did for family reasons. My feelings were very mixed. It was as if I had two families and therefore split apart and I left with much sadness.
In 2008, accompanied by my daughter, Jennifer (born in Darjeeling in 1950) and her husband, I re-visited India, taking in Darjeeling, the Bengal Dooars and Assam, and enjoying the great hospitality of Ronnie Babycon Managing Director of Andrew Yule Tea Department.
I visited all the estates on which I had worked as assistant and later manager from 1947, staying in the bungalows of Karballa T.E. and Khowang T.E. This was an extremely enjoyable experience and the warmth of hospitality extended, was overwhelming.
During my visit to Banarhat T.E I learned that Mohan driver had returned to the garden and his family, a hero. His other leg completely healed. He had received a medal and a considerable compensation. Unfortunately he had not banked his reward, but foolishly kept it in his house where one night he was attacked and killed by dacoits and his fortune stolen.
I was further informed that my Chinese carpenter (whose work would have challenged Chippendale), had probably been sent back to China, in an exchange deal, for captured Indian soldiers.
How unfair can life be?
I cannot vouch for the accuracy of these accounts, but they were told to me in good faith.
What I can confirm is that my old dhobie came running to me shouting ‘I knew that face,' salaaming most profusely, and he contacted my Kitmagar, Banoo, whom I visited the next day in his home (which he reminded me had been built in my time as were over 400 others, and still in good condition).
Banoo was ailing and at 72 had been dressed to meet me, surrounded by his extended family that spilled out into the road.
There were quite a few other workers who remembered me and I was most grateful to see that they were well nourished and better clothed than they had been in my days.
Come to think of it, so am I !
I offer my congratulations to their present day ‘Mai-Baps', who are carrying on the old traditions, of care for their flock.
With apologies to all well - meaning accountants I recommend my old school motto:
‘Deo non Fortuna' (For God and not for fortune) probably they would prefer ‘Deo et Fortuna' (for God and for fortune) with which, after further consideration, I think I would agree.