Friday, 8 October 2010

Introduction - Part 4.

It was lunch time when we arrived at a transit camp, sorted into groups, we left our kit and were taken for lunch which was now to be called tiffin. The food was very good, lots of salad, so far it had seemed a holiday, a great atmosphere, especially following a great cruise, the start of many in the years to come.

The Athlone Castle we understood would be making its way to New Zealand and Australia for met, grain and tinned goods, then returning to England through the Panama Canal.
We were soon to experience a rather primitive means of travel, the trains. Twelve of us were to be posted to Alor Star, now know as Setar.

About 4.00pm our transport took us to Singapore railway station where there were other RAF men waiting to be directed to which train to board. The train had two modern carriages, one a diner, the other was air conditioned first class. In contrast the carriage we were to travel in, was wooden with wooden seats, wooden shutters in place of windows, no air conditioning, but a small platform at the end of each coach. We found there was enough air rushing in through the shutters.

The locomotive was burning wood, the air was full of particles of ash which rained down continuously. We were on our way, our packed evening meal eaten, there was plenty of chat and suggestions as to what would follow.

The night was warm so made ourselves as comfortable as was possible and slept fitfully whilst waiting to see where our next move would take us.
We eventually stopped next day at Kuala Lumpur, we had taken 14 hours to travel 300 kms, this train was no Flying Scotsman.

It was breakfast time, so were directed to a restaurant on the station, also available were wash and brush up facilities. We were not rushed so enjoyed stretching our legs and taking our time.

Kuala Lumpur station was and still is an impressive building. We were looking forward to the day ahead as we pulled away.

Daylight made the journey more interesting with mostly jungle around. Looking down as we travelled on bridges over rivers large lizards and alligators could be seen, below one particular bridge the alligators were jammed together like logs. I did wonder if passengers threw unwanted food over at that place.

As the sun went down and darkness fell we began to wonder how much further. After about 2 hours of darkness we arrived at Alor Star.

As we picked up our kit bags and stepped out into the night air, we saw our transport waiting for us, a corporal had come to collect us. There were strange insects all around the station yard, most of the noise came from large frogs, fireflies inhabited the shrubs, this really was the tropics. The RAF station was about 12 kms away. Driven directly to the dining hall a nice meal was ready for us. It seemed a long time since sitting at a table to eat.

The corporal departed saying he would return in an hours time to escort us to our quarters. There were plenty of lights as we followed him to our hut which was European build native style, built on 4 foot piles, a veranda walkway to the entrance with large shuttered openings in place of windows, a type of rush thatched roof. Inside were our beds, lockers and mosquito nets on a frame above the beds, our new home. Showers, wash basins and toilet blocks were situated between the huts.

We were given breakfast times and then instructed to return to the hut where a sergeant would visit us to acquaint us with rules and what would be expected from now on. He eventually left and our first thought was that a nice shower would be refreshing after our long journey. The cold water was a bit of a shock, no hot water was needed, the night was hot and humid. After showing I felt pleasantly refreshed, falling asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow. The room was quite long where all twelve of us slept.

In the morning we went for breakfast feeling a little out of place amongst the suntanned airmen, some asked where we had come from and conditions at home. Most of who we spoke to were regulars who had been away from home for two to three years and were due to go home for a spot of leave.

On arriving back at our hut, our sergeant arrived, formed us up, told us he was in charge and set some rules. Before 4.00pm in the camp and any time spent in town, tropical hats were to be worn. No walking through long grass between huts and around the camps, snakes were there and if trod on would bite. Work stopped at 4.00pm, Saturday and Sunday were free unless there was a parade or other assembly. He took our identity cards saying he would have camp passes made for us, we would collect them at the gate guard room when leaving camp and hand them in on our return.

A native man introduced himself and said he would be working for us, paid weekly by ourselves, and his duties were to keep our hut clean, polish our shoes and brass buttons, make our beds and would work until 4.00pm each day. His weekly wage was a ridiculous sum, roughly a tenth of each of the twelve occupants daily pay.

Private buses ran a regular service from the camp into Alor Star where there was a cinema that showed mainly native films. There was another cinema that was situated at an East Surrey Regiment Army camp two or three kilometres walk down the road at a place called Jitra, this showed Hollywood and British films.

The sergeant continued delivering his instructions, saying, you can have today off, report to me tomorrow morning at my office when I will have work for you.

I rested until tiffen time, Bill and I were still keeping each other company, so after our meal had a walk round the camp to familiarise ourselves with the layout and came across the Narfi where one could have a chat or a drink. We did go during the evening but as neither of us drank, didn’t stay long. We were soon back in the hut swapping tales with others in our group and all keen to get our passes to see what it was like in town.

Next morning we presented ourselves to the sergeant to be told our duties. We were not happy. Bill, myself and another chap were detailed to work in the dining hall, to ensure the local labour cleared and cleaned the tables after the airmen had eaten, working out the shifts ourselves each one of us would do. Back in the hut that night we were all feeling rather dejected, these were not the duties we had expected to be doing.

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