Journey to Valsura -1
1942 - 1946
Extracts from the diary of the late
Commander MFB Ward, Royal Navy (1901 - 1978)
The First Commanding Officer of I.N.S. VALSURA 1942 - 1946
Edited by his son, Colonel Robert Ward, to mark the occasion of his visit to I.N.S VALSURA on 25th October 2012
My father often talked about India warmly, particularly his time as the First Commanding Officer of I.N.S. VALSURA from his arrival in March 1942 until 1946. He had narrowly avoided death on 14th September 1939 when H.M.S. ROYAL OAK was sunk in Scapa Flow just after the start of World War II. This was one of the Royal Navy's biggest ever losses of life from a single ship. He suffered from smoke and oil inhalation to his lungs and via his stomach and took some time to recover.
In the Spring of 1942, he was sent to India to find, build and set up the Royal Naval Indian Torpedo School somewhere on the North West Coast of India. Initially, working out of Mumbai (then called Bombay) with frequent visits to Delhi to secure the necessary permissions. The story starts in March 1942 with his 3 week journey to India via South Africa, Cairo and Baghdad.
The next step was to found a temporary school in Mumbai before approval was forthcoming for the move to the present site in Nawanagar (now known as Jamnagar). This was achieved with much help from, amongst others, His Highness, the then Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar who personally took a great deal of interest in the building and subsequent development of the school. In the process Jam Sahib gave much of his own real estate including some of his excellent shooting grounds.
The move to the present site in Jamnagar was achieved with much help, amongst others, from His Highness, the then Maharaja Jam Sahib of Nawanagar
My father was very proud of his achievements in establishing I.N.S VALSURA and setting standards for his trainees who rose to the occasion magnificently and I am sure that these same standards, in the finest traditions of the Indian Navy, continue to be upheld to this day.
My father was a frequent diarist and it is from one of his diaries that I have been able to extract and edit this booklet. He was also an avid reader and his observations on the current books he was reading are of considerable interest. In the course of his time in India, he rubbed shoulders with many prominent people both military and civilian; again there are many shrewd comments on how the war was going from time to time. He was keen on sport and there are episodes of tennis, golf and shooting with Jam Sahib, riding and generally enjoying the countryside. His only regret was that my mother never managed to join him.
I have tried to stay truthful to his written word but here and there I have had to make a few minor changes to make better sense. I also may have inadvertently made some spelling mistakes of place names for which I apologise in advance but deciphering my father's writing was sometimes a matter of my judgement! I do hope, even though in places his comments are somewhat personal, that his story will be of interest to many readers as an accurate chronicle of his life in India during World War II.
I am totally indebted to my PA, Valentina Hall who worked tirelessly in her own time to type up the diaries and also to Martin Lewis of Lewis Design who did all the artwork, design, setting out and getting this publication printed. Without them I could not have managed this project. Finally, I am grateful to Lizzie, my wife for her forbearance when I was constantly proof reading and editing. The end result is in my view, well worth the time and effort.
Wednesday 11th March 1942
My last day in England for I wonder how long? (Editor's Note: My father had married 2 years previously having been sunk on H.M.S. Royal Oak in Scapa Flow on 14th October 1939. He was one of only 414 survivors from a crew of 1247; it was one of the biggest Royal Navy losses of all time.)
Note: The contents of the intervening days are available in the attached pdf file.
Thursday 2nd April 1942
The plane left at 0230 a very early start but it was great fun roaring up the Shat-el-Arab between the flares burning smokily on their floats. It was practically full moon and the river looked lovely in the moonlight which shone also on the myriad irrigation cuts which produce so much food in this neighbourhood. These cuts are made in systematic patterns, rather like a lot of complete fish bones dug into the ground and filled with water. The natives scoop the water out of these channels and throw it onto their crops. It was pretty to see the silhouette of our aircraft against the sky with the moonlight gleaming on the wings and the blue flames leaping out from the exhaust pipes.
An Air Vice-Marshal has joined us. He has been air attaché at Moscow for three years and is going to Delhi direct from there. A most interesting and charming man. He says that the Russian opinion is to the effect that in the end the struggle will be decided by strength in manpower. The drain in machines is greater relative to "production" than the drain in men. The losses on both sides have been stupendous. The Russians are really keen on the 2nd front idea - their aircraft are good and well operated. He inferred that organisation is still not their best point and there is a very large wastage. Food in Moscow is very short but that in Russia is no new thing or great hardship. For other reasons the Russians consider this the crucial year in which the war must be won.
Breakfast at Bahrain - excellent. Later that day we fly over the tip of the Oman peninsula barren lava mountains a thousand times more bleak to look at than any sandy desert. Refuelled at Jiwani and landed at Karachi at 1830 local time. I report by telephone to New Delhi and receive orders to go to Bombay via the Navy Office Karachi. Try to talk to Delhi myself but can't get through. Arrange air passage to Bombay.
Friday 3rd April 1942
Good Friday. Leave Karachi 0630 and arrive Bombay at 1300 via Bhuj and Ahmedabad. A three engined ten seater American Stinson aircraft of the Tata airlines did the trip. So ends my great flight to India. It has taken a day over three weeks of which eleven were spent in "waiting" and eleven in flying. The route was Poole, Foynes, Lisbon, Bathurst, Lagos, Douala, Bangui, Liberge, Bumba, Stanleyville, Juba, Khartoum, Wadi-Halfa, Cairo, Haifa, Habbaniyeh (Bagdad), Basrah, Bahrain, Jiwani, Ahmedabad, Karachi and Bombay. A total distance of 12,500 miles made up as follows: Foynes 340, Lisbon 900, Bathurst 1800, Lagos 2000, Duala 405, Bangui 640, Liberge 70, Stanleyville 640, Malakal 840, Khartoum 450, Cairo 1200, Tiberias 300, Habbaniyeh 580 Basrah 340, Bahrain 400, Karachi 1000 and Bombay 550.
Arrive Bombay via Bhuj and Ahmedabad, pock marked with bullet holes as if pepper potted
I sent a cable to Trishy to tell her that I'd arrived. It only cost 2.4 rupees or 3 shillings and 4 pence and will I hope get there in 2 days' time. It really is wonderful to think of that. There are no letters for me yet and as the quickest of all mail letters take 2 months. I've got another five to six weeks to wait.
One of the passengers in the Stinson was an American who had been through the first raid on Wake Island and had seen Pearl Harbour after the attack and had helped clear things up. He emphasises the infinite accuracy and extent of the Japanese's intelligence and the very careful planning and execution. Pearl Harbour was done with three merchant ships, to save aircraft carriers and obsolescent planes. Nothing "new" was risked. It was timed to coincide when the personnel were at breakfast "in the (reputed) biggest mess hall in the world", others were in church. Both buildings were demolished and most of the people in them were killed. Whilst aircraft were bombing these specific objectives, others were machine gunning anyone who attempted to escape. This gunning was done so intensively that the walls of adjacent buildings were pock marked with bullet holes as by a pepper dredger. One machine full of bombs flew straight into the main hangar through the wide open doors. Another flew straight into the old target ship which had been moored only a few hours since in the aircraft carriers billet. That is why the Japs made such a concentrated attack on this old warship ship and sunk it. The total loss in ships was comparatively small. America should recover practically completely from that blow in three months; in fact she should have restored the status quo by now except that she lost one battleship sunk and another with a further 3 months' of repairs to do. That is the one which capsized and then righted.
Finding the place for I.N.S. VALSURA
Saturday 4th April 1942
Saw the Commodore today. At least he saw and recognised me. Everyone is very pleasant. I think that I shall have to do most of the deciding and doing. I am delighted at the prospect.
Monday 6th April 1942
Went to see a possible "site" yesterday and had tea at the Golf Club. To St Thomas' Cathedral first thing to make my Easter Communion. There is something altogether wonderfully ecstatic about this feast. It is so truly sympathetic with and allied with spring. Today I have seen a large number of people and I have learned a lot.
Wednesday 8th April 1942
I am intrigued by the idea of "Fantasia" but I don't think that music can conjure up pictures as vivid or in such a continuity of logical sequences. Still it is a clever idea. I could not really listen to the music and enjoy the picture at one and the same time.
The sun at setting today looked like a huge golden yellow balloon bathed in yellow light. It looked larger and nearer that it seems to in England. Even on the most humid days we never get that yellow look there.
Saturday 11th April 1942
Left Bombay for Delhi at 2000 in the "Frontier Mail". I had a berth in the air conditioned coach which was a great boon as it is not only cooler but it is much quieter being insulated from sound as well as from heat. It is also well lit. I had the great good luck to travel with Admiral Ross Turner and his secretary Royston Brown. Lucky for me not only because they are such excellent travelling companions but also because as I have as yet not got a "bearer", I was made comfortable by theirs.
I had lunch with Arthur Codrington Ball (ACB) who looked very well and with undiminished twinkle in his eye and a small beard. It was delightful to be with someone who knows Trishy well, indeed a great admirer. He was also kind enough to congratulate me in most unequivocal terms - as though I almost deserved my very great luck.
Sunday 12th April 1942
I slept quite well in my new bedding roll mattress and sheets. We are rolling through some incredibly depressing country to the very sobering thought that the Cripps mission has failed in its immediate object. I have been lent a most excellent novel "the Connecticut Captain" by Forester.
Tuesday, 14th April 1942
New Delhi is really marvellous - marvellous. Had a telegram from Trishy which was delightful. Met Bill Adams and had dinner with him. Have not seen him since 1935. He left Singapore in January and was in the Colombo raid. He is most outspoken about the shockingly weak way in which the labour force is being mismanaged in the UK. He is the man who built "the last stronghold of London" in Whitehall. He has been practically round the world since September. I am working very hard.
Wednesday 15th April 1942
The sky was very overcast at 1400 today. Later a tropical thunderstorm broke and with a temperature of 110°F there were falling hailstones definitely as big as marbles. I picked some up that fell into the forecourt where I was sheltering. The hail was accompanied by a violent gale which tore small trees out of the ground, smashed windows and signboards and blew the heavy iron top off a lamp standard. The roads were littered with broken branches and the leaves were as thick as a carpet.
I met the Admiral this afternoon; it is now eighteen years since I last saw him. He was full of an infectious gaiety and by no means borne down by the war. He told me that "I had the right ideas".
There are about 30 tents attached to this hotel. I occupy one of them. Things are not too bad and my bearer and the thought that a Post Captain of great merit and presence has another does much to console me. I met Michael Malim (a family friend).
Sunday 19th April 1942
I went to lunch with Sir Maurice Gwyer - Chief Justice of India. There were six other guests including the "Times" correspondent, the head of the A.I.R., the "Christian Science Monitor" correspondent and a charming and very pretty Indian girl. The lunch was very pleasant and being a cool day it was almost like being back in England. The garden was lovely and very green and I could see it through the window smiling at me as I talked. I heard a lot of most interesting opinions on the Cripps' talks. There is a very definite feeling that a mistake was made in promising too much at the start and that Colonel Louis Johnson's efforts were looked on with disfavour by both sides as unasked for stepping in where the boldest angel might well fear to tread. Sir Maurice is most kind and charming and evidently thinks very highly of Charles (my mother's brother). I wrote to Trishy and to Mother.
Friday 24th April 1942
Dined with Sir Maurice. A most pleasant evening. I met Peter Fleming. We sat at a circular table so that this Major Fleming was practically opposite to me and conversation was easy and general. I thought what a good looking, charming fellow he was and what a perfect conversationalist, and said to myself that he must be an ADC. I was quite correct in that surmise, but it was later that I found out that he was Peter Fleming brother of the James Bond author, Ian Fleming. At the time Peter was in charge of military deception operations in Southeast Asia.
Sunday 26th April 1942
Last night whilst shopping I ran into White who took me back to his bungalow for a drink. He has a very charming wife. Wrote to Trishy, Mother, Aunt Lillie, Bobs, Mrs Tarelton and again to Trishy. Am reading and enjoying fairly well AEW Mason's "Francis Drake" and enjoying considerably Arnold Bennett's "Literary Taste". I had now hired a bicycle which is a necessity as no one under rank of Brigadier may use a car unless he is a visitor and I've now ceased to be that. I've also bought a tennis racquet.
Tuesday 29th April 1942
One month ago today I landed in India. Played tennis and enjoyed it.
Saturday 2nd May 1942
Alison invited me to play tennis at the Gymkhana Club. Although it was very hot and muggy and with a temperature of 108°F, I very much enjoyed it. It is a very good club rather like a faint shadow of the Garden Club Colombo. There are people who play worse tennis than I do, but not very many. I wondered what Trishy would think of my performance. It varies very considerably and on some days I optimistically think that it is quite good. There are of course some extremely good players here in this country. Whilst we were playing I could hear the "clop" "clop" of the horses being walked back after the races. What a magic sound. If I do eventually go to wherever the naval station will be that I will live under the shadow of the flag of a Maharaja and I do hope that I may possibly have a pony or two.
As I was in a boot shop yesterday buying some white canvas shoes I suddenly saw a pair of butcher boots (for horse riding). "How much to make me a pair of those" I asked. 80 rupees with shoe trees. A good buy but I did not there and then close with it. Much wiser to wait and see how things turn out. However, as I was leaving the owner came out and told me that particular pair was mine for12 rupees and that they would fit me like a glove - to my amazement they did. So I bought them naturally enough!
I do hope that I will soon get a letter from Trishy; life would be really marvellous (in a selfish way) if she were hereabouts. Delhi is for me full of ups and downs - trivial annoyances like punctures when your bearer can never be found, all magnified in importance by the heat. On the other hand, the good things of life, when had, are very pleasant.
Monday 4th May 1942
A red letter day indeed - my first "news" an airmail postcard from Trishy. Mary-lu's weight today is 16 lbs 13 oz. She highly approved of being six months old and when put on the floor rolled over onto her side under her own power. Thanking me for my postcard from Lisbon (posted 18th March) which arrived this am. The airmail postcard from Trishy was written on 27th March and so took five weeks to come.
I played tennis with the marker at the Gymkhana Club.
Thursday 7th May 1942
I have been lent "Sea Power" which I find most interesting. I have also taken out of the Library - the England of Charles II - Arthur Bryant, the Princes of India Sir William Barton and "How to live in England on a Pension". The last is really a very lucky dip indeed and in spite of its funny title is good and as far as I can judge, sound.
My scheme is now before the Defence Department. The excessive dryness here has taken all the stuffing out of the paper so that the ink runs at the slightest provocation. I can find no cure for it.
Friday 8th May 1942
It is interesting to note that Mahan's "Influence of Sea Power" was read with such interest in Germany that the Kaiser determined to build a big fleet. Fear of this new form of German military power drew us closer to France who in 1905 asked that the largest possible British Army should be sent to align itself with and act under the orders of the French Army. Such ideas were of course at that time not only repugnant to us but totally opposed to our traditional strategy. The most amazing part however is the queer series of chances by which the sending of the expeditionary forces became a "fait accompli". The peculiarly stealthy almost underhand methods of Sir Edward Grey, the Foreign Secretary and Field Marshal Sir Henry Wilson are quite astounding. How very much do the greatest issues seem to depend on chance or the curious personal leanings of one man and the quiet reserve of another. Both terribly wrong.
Played tennis at the club. Had a letter from Leslie (my mother's second brother) at which I was very pleased. There seems to be little chance of our meeting in the near future though one can never be sure.
My "scheme" is not passed by the Defence Department and must be referred to the Secretary of State for final approval. If that takes a month it will be two months after my arrival here before anything concrete happened.
"England can never be a continental power - in the attempt she must be ruined. Let her stick to the sovereignty of the seas and she may send her ambassadors to the courts of Europe and demand what she pleases". Napoleon at St Helena
Wednesday 13th May 1942
Called at 0415 - owing to the really excellent work and efficient organising of my bearer I was on the Willingdon aerodrome at 0545. There were the usual delays and eventually we took off at 0830 and arrived over Jamnagar at 1210. We flew around for a little while and finally landed at 1230 after an exceedingly bumpy last ten minutes. We were met and driven straight to the Palace where we were presented to the Maharaja the famous "Jam Sahib" who though he is at present living at Balachadi a place 17 miles from Jamnagar drove in to meet us. The most senior of our party is a Commander. We were then driven to Balachadi through the most attractive country I've yet seen in India. The Maharaja led in his air conditioned Packard. The first people I met on arrival were the Sinclairs whom I had not seen since Aden. They appeared to be as delighted as I was. Since Aden he had been our representative in Tibet and had some good stories to tell about it.
Afterwards went to Rozi which is the Maharaja's game reserve, I've never seen so many hare, partridges and cheetah. This is where we are thinking of putting my school. A metre gauge railway runs right across Rozi and to a mile long concrete pier which is wide enough for 3 of us to walk abreast on it. The railway is run for the passengers using the Kutch ferry. This runs all year through including the monsoon. The sea was not bad in spite of a stiff and very pleasant land breeze. The channel will need dredging. The site for school appeals practicable and good. The town of Jamnagar is delightful. I think it has all we can want; three cinemas, football, hockey and cricket. A club with tennis and golf; boat sailing and of course marvellous shooting. The great thing about this place is the atmosphere - it is electric; it takes its tone from its Head (I assume this the Maharaja) and is correspondingly first class. There is a Polish refugee camp for 500 people not far from here. It is half built and has taken a fortnight to do. As the Engineer told me our Head requires us to get on with the work. Everyone is most pleasant and helpful. All the people cheerful, healthy and handsome.
Thursday 14th May 1942
Slept exceedingly well. Today I am to go out to "sea". Made my sea trip. There is no doubt about it this is a most excellent and suitable place. Today the sea was rather rough but it is as calm as a mill pond all year round except for May, June and July with part of August and December. Even in these months it is calm in the early mornings.
After tea we were taken round Jamnagar town which is certainly even more fascinating on better acquaintance. The Jain temples were particularly splendid, though it does seem quaint that the outside bottom storey should be leased for shops but I am told that this is also done in certain Protestant churches in Montreal. Anyhow, Jamnagar is a very fine town. We then saw His Highness's (HH) private zoo which contains some very fine Indian lions, leopards and panthers amongst other things. From there we went on to the Garage where there are about 70 cars of all kinds, magnificent machines in blue and silver fitted with all sorts of luxuries including air conditioning. There were two very small Lanchesters outwardly replicas of the big cars but electrically driven and for the use of the children. There were state cars and hunting cars, Rolls-Royces, and Austin Twelves. Then in another garage were the lorries, the petrol carriers and all sorts of other vehicles. Next to His Highness's Coach House where we saw state coaches completely covered with silver; the only "baser" parts visible were the tyres. Beautifully worked, beaten silver, hundreds of years old. Next on to the horses - ninety-six of them, fascinating and not least the local Kathiawar breed. The last thing we saw was the club - a really magnificent place - given by HH for the purely nominal sub of 2 rupees a month, there is perfect tennis, far far better than the I.D.G.C., a lovely swimming bath, squash courts, and excellent public rooms. This really is a wonderful place.
Friday 15th May 1942
Called on His Highness to take my leave (as he goes away tomorrow) and to thank him. He is most gracious and kindly. That is the predominant note, his kindness. He is most entertaining; a perfect host and a brilliant talker who having lived a full and eventful life is able to tell many a good yarn of his army days. This he does with gusto and a flair which makes his stories so exceedingly worthwhile listening to. I also had the privilege of my first long conversation with Duleep (the famous cricketer). Once more I was captivated by his charm and kindliness. Cricket apart, he is most entertaining and delightful to talk to. He is tremendously sympathetic. CB Fry was his guardian whilst he was in England. I never knew before today that Fry was one of the most brilliant scholars of his year, which included FE Smith and John Simon.
In the evening went to the Jam Bungalow where I saw the best men's tennis four I've ever seen: HH, Geoffrey Clarke the Military Secretary, Franjo Kukuljevic (Croatian tennis player) who was ranked as No 10 in the world in 1939 and Max Ellmer, the Swiss champion. It was marvellous to watch. At about 1900 HH suddenly said "lights" and the court was perfectly floodlit. They played three sets in all. Two straight off then a rest before the last one. I've never seen such hard hitting, thwack, thwack, thwack the ball whizzed straight over hardly dropping an inch. Several balls and one racquet string burst.
After tennis HH talked till 2100. I felt that he might be enjoying it also.
Saturday 16th May 1942
Bidden to lunch at 1330. Man Villas, the Palace we are in, is expressly for guests. HH is living in another about half a mile away. We arrived and were brought in to the room where HH was sitting alone with his brother Duleep. The others remained outside on the veranda. I wondered at this as they included such people as the Home Minister of Jaipur State. However, perhaps we are more "visitors" than they are.
Everything was very informal. HH said sit anywhere and I was lucky enough to sit opposite him. He was most interesting and told story after story of big game hunting and stalking. He does not do much shooting now but his knowledge of and affection for these animals must be amazing. Story after story of lion, tiger and panther shoots, of elephants which ran away (including one from which his Uncle "Ranji" (the famous cricketer and inventor of the leg glance) that got away by sliding down its tail, another story of breaking "the golden rule" (never go after a wounded animal immediately) held us absolutely enthralled. I almost forgot to eat my very excellent curry and was quite amazed to find that it was 1510 when we got up. About thirty guests - one lady.
In the evening we played tennis with the two "pros" - they were most kind to us and served up "easy ones", put the all the balls back fairly and often whenever we hit the ball at all reasonably said "well played sir" in a tremendously encouraging tone of voice.
After HH had played, I had one or two small points to ask him about and also wished to say goodbye (his projected journey has been put off) and to say thank you. He was not only exceedingly kind and gracious but also most interesting. He talked to me for an hour and a half. Told me that we could have what we wanted. I was to write to him personally on any matter on which I needed information.
After the "business" was over the talk became general, and changed over many subjects like the late King, Queen Victoria, Nelson, Stafford, Cripps, training of officers and other things. HH (and I gather family) were educated at Malvern. The Rev Reginald Erksine Foster, known as Tip Foster was their guardian. He did 13 years' service in the Army which included active service in the Great War. In the dining room there are two very interesting pictures of "Ranji", one as a General in the last war and the other with two lions which he shot. He was in the world's best four shoots either with rifle or shotgun. In the latter he used a 20 bore and he was so accurate he could afford to. He also used to let anyone have the first four shoots and then kill the bird himself. HH also told me how with the rifle where someone else had missed Ranji shot a panther at 240 yards! He killed it absolutely.
After my "audience" we were taken onto the lawn to see the new moon for which they'd just fired a gun. That is a local custom. I thought that I should now be dismissed but not a bit - I was given the most interesting half hour's talk on India which it is possible to conceive. It lasted till 2120 when the party broke up.
Sunday, 17th May 1942
Left Jamnagar at 0930. I have really enjoyed my visit. It has been delightful to get out of the so-called British India into something at once more pleasant and better run. Nawanagar is quite exhilarating and things are done there at a speed which would possible seem indecent to the I.C.S. As to HH it is a great honour and privilege and above all a lively delight to have known him and his very charming brother Duleep.
I hope to get back again soon.
© Robert Ward 2012
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