Thoughts of Calcutta

Even though Calcutta is a 170 km (100 miles) from the sea the river Hooghly is large and deep enough for deep sea ships to sail to Calcutta to load and discharge.

The Company that I worked for began life in Calcutta in 1856 so it was not a surprise to see other BISNC (British India Steam Nav Co) vessels working cargo and waiting for the schedule time to go alongside to processing passengers as Chakdara approached lock gates of our berth. The white vessel in the above photo is a BISNC a passenger ship.

The distinctive black funnel with two white bands has had connections with Calcutta for over a hundred years.
Until 1911 Calcutta was the capital of India and an extremally import city and ‘the’ place in which to do business.

The founders of the Company were two Scottish partners William Mackinnon and Robert Mackenzie and according to legend they wanted a house flag for their new company.
Being Scottish they wanted a blue Scottish flag, but to differentiate it from the national flag of Scotland they wanted a triangle cut from the fly. An outline of the new flag was drawn for the flag maker.

Instead of using the Scottish flag as his guide the flag maker used a St Patrick of Ireland flag as a guide

and produced a white flag with the triangle cut from the wrong flag. The partners were not happy, but being penny wise they kept the incorrect flag which over time became famous from London to Shanghai as the BISNC flag.

 

Remember cigarette cards and how children would collect them . .

perhaps when the children grew a little older, they took advantage of sailing in the school ship Dunera. The above badge would have been given to each child that sailed in Dunera.

Dunera was originally a troopship but when trooping by sea ceased, she was converted back to being a school ship, at which she was very popular with students. 

The British India Company grew to become one of the largest shipping companies in the world.
In the 1940’s the rail network of the UK was controlled by four major companies. One of the Big Four was the Southern Railway and they decided to create a Merchant Navy Class of steam locomotives.
In 1945 locomotive 35018   was completed and was named British India Line.

Unlike BISNC, 35018 aka British India Line is still in service pulling coaches full of holiday makers around the UK – the smell of a steam engine never to be forgotten.

The partners of the new Company had their eyes on the future and as such in 1856 they bought their first vessel,

Cape of Good Hope
500 gt – single screw, tw0 cylinder, 120 HP, 9 kts.

On her arrival in Calcutta, she was used by the Indian Government as a troopship during the Indian Mutiny. She carried troops from Trincomalee (Ceylon) to Bombay & Calcutta in India.

Governments had a habit of requisitioning passenger ships for trooping requirement during times of war.
BISNC vessels were no exception and to use Dunera as an example she was built in 1937 and served as a passenger ship and a school ship until the outbreak of the Second World War.
She carried New Zealand troops to Egypt, she carried deported aliens from the UK to Australia, which history has shown was a very a controversial voyage.
She took part in the invasion of Madagascar with another company vessel Karanja in which my father served during the invasion. 
She took part in the Sicily landings and was used as the headquarters for the US 7th Army for the invasion of the South of France.
She carried occupation troops to Japan, took part in the reoccupation of Rangoon in Burma and the landings to recover Malaya from the Japanese.
Later she trooped wherever she was required until in 1960 when the British Government decided that trooping by sea was no longer required because they would be using aircraft to deploy troops.

In 1961 she was refitted as a school ship once again, twenty-two years after her first voyages as a school ship, and in 1965 I sailed in her as a cadet.

  In 1967 Dunera was sold to Revalorizacion de Materiales SA of Bilbao, Spain and scrapped. 

Back to Chakdara 1964 – 

We berthed alongside in Kidderpore Docks.

Once alongside we began to work cargo. The problem was the monsoon season. We had to contend with heavy rain that stopped after about an hour allowing work to resume, and then perhaps half an hour later the rain would start again. We had a system of tarpaulin tents attached to the ship’s derricks and as soon as the rain started the tent was hauled up to cover each of the hatches to protect the cargo. Our time in Calcutta should have been for a few days, but turned in to more like a fortnight, all due to the monsoons. Even visiting Calcutta, itself was no longer a pleasure, due to flooding and heavy rain.

and the locals thought it was all just too much . . . 

Due to our inability to keep dry, when out and about, we entertained ourselves onboard, and of course the entertainment revolved around beer.

Each evening around 10.00 pm one of the cadets would go ashore and buy curried suppers for those involved in the entertainment.
We used to toss a coin for the first and second nights and after that took it in turns.
I lost the toss on the first night and trudged ashore to the local street stall just outside the dock gates. The food, various curries and rice, was packed in banana leaves, and tied with strong cotton. I hurried back with my load and handed the parcels around and sat to enjoy my own with another cold beer.
Unthinkingly I used the banana leaf as a vegetable. I thought the leaf was edible, forgetting that it was in place of a newspaper wrapping that we used in the UK for fish and chips.
Fortunately, I did not finish too much of the leaf, just enough for me to realise my mistake, but enough to keep me ‘regular’ for the next two days.
Of course, the others noticed me eating the leaf, but didn’t say anything – friendship?

Finally I don’t wish to bore you but . . . 
at certain times of the year the Hooghly River becomes a dangerous ‘beast’ particularly when the bore runs.
Vessels anchored or moored in the river working cargo must make special arrangements to protect the vessel during the bore. The Bore is strong enough to damage ships or cause them to be washed ashore if the captain has not made the correct arrangements.

Calcutta bore  

Certain ‘Calcutta’ bores have been given a special name called The Baan after a German motorway ( Autobahn ) because The Baan is twice as fast as a normal bore. This Bore has become a challenge to certain people. 

Surfboard riding

Don’t forget that Calcutta is 170 km (100 miles) from the sea. 

HMT Dunera

dunera_troopship

HMT Dunera (B.1937)

She is shown as a troop ship when visiting Malta, I think the photo was taken in the 1950’s.

A couple of years ago Maureen and I completed a road trip around NSW, South Australia and Victoria.
During the trip I planned to drive from Beechworth to Mildura; both towns are in Victoria. The drive to Mildura would take over six hours, because the distance was over 600 kms.
As I’ve aged I don’t like long drives, so I looked for a half way stop for the night, and a small town called Hay (which is in NSW), looked about right.
On checking for motels, I found out that there was a museum called the ‘Dunera’ Museum,
I had sailed in the Dunera as a cadet in 1965 when she was operating as a school ship, so a visit to Hay was now a ‘definite’.
I was puzzled as to why Hay would have a museum for a deep-sea ship, when the town was 800 km (500 miles from Sydney harbour) and 400 km (250 miles) from Port Phillip Bay in Victoria? Very odd.

Dunera03

Dunera as she looked when I sailed in her in 1965. (She was 28 years old at the time)

When I booked the motel, I mentioned that I was particularly interested in the Dunera Museum, and the motel owner, Leanne, asked if I wanted her to contact someone to show us around the museum. I jumped at the offer.
On the day of our arrival Leanne asked me to phone David Houston, who was the Museum’s Chairman, because he was keen for us to meet.
David was kind enough to offer his services and to show us around the museum the following day. We planned to meet at the museum 9.00 am.
We were very fortunate to have David as our guide, because his knowledge of all things about Hay is unlimited.

DSC03486r

We met at the Dunera Museum, which is located inside two railway carriages at the railway station.
The above station was built in 1882, to help with the export of wool. The last passenger train left this station in 1983, after 101 years of service, and in the following year the last goods train left. The station is now a museum piece, which is also used by the Dunera Museum.

DSC03487brighter

The reason that the museum is located at this station is because this is the station where the trains from Sydney arrived to disembark Austrian and German internees from the UK, during WW2.
They’d sailed from Liverpool in the UK on the 10th July 1940 in the troop ship ‘Dunera’.
The photo above shows two of the original railway carriages that brought the internees to Hay. The two carriages now hold the artifacts of the museum.

DSC03488rA third carriage is waiting to be renovated and added to the museum, but like most things, it takes money.

1,984 Austrian and German, mainly Jewish, refugees from Nazi Europe arrived in four steam trains, with a total of forty-eight carriages, that travelled for nineteen hours non-stop, from Sydney.
The Australian army marched the internees to camp 7 & 8 on the Dunera Way. This road can still be seen today – it is still called Dunera Way, but today it will take you to the Hay racetrack. The camps no longer in exists.

DSC03503r

I found this photograph on the internet of the internees marching to the camp.

The original camps were paid for by the British Government who had interred all ‘enemy aliens’ by 1940, after the fall of Belgium, Holland and France.

The ‘Dunera Boys’, as the first intake of internees were called on arriving in Hay, were moved to another camp in Victoria in 1941 to make way for 2000 Italian POWs.
By 1943/44 the Dunera Boys had been classified as friendly ‘aliens’ and many joined the Australian & British armies.
At the end of the war 800 remained in Australia and the remaining 1200 either returned to Europe, the UK, or emigrated to the US or Canada.

Between 1940 and 1946, 6,200 German, Italian, Japanese and Australian internees, as well as Italian and Japanese POWs were housed at the Hay camps.

Life for the Dunera internees in the camp was hard, and difficult at times. The camps were built at the showgrounds and the racetrack and consisted of three compounds each holding about one thousand men. The compounds had huts, roads, water supply, and electric lights.
The land on which the camp was built was semi arid, but the internees managed to build a farm and they created market gardens. This gave them fresh vegetables, poultry, milk, and fresh eggs for their own consumption. They ran their own schools, and even had their own money.

DSC03504rc

                 The coloured marking is due to reflection when I took the photograph.

The local newspaper printed the money, which the internees designed. The scroll around the outside is barbed wire, but hidden in the barbed wire is the comment ‘we are here because we are here, because we are here . . . . ‘
The names of a number of senior internees are incorporated in the wool of the sheep, and at the camp fence are the words ‘H.M.T. Dunera Liverpool to Hay’ all hidden unless you know where to look. The designer was an Austrian, George Telcher who had designed Austrian currency for the Austrian government.
At an auction in 1999 the printers proof of a two-shilling Hay camp note was estimated at $18,000. A well used ‘sixpence’ note recently sold for $2900.

Within three months of the ‘new’ money being released  the authorities put a stop to the printing as it was (still is) illegal to print ‘currency’ in Australia, other than the printing of money being authorised by the Federal Government.

DSC03489r

As you enter the museum the sign above is attached to the railway carriage.

DSC03516rcr

Unfortunately Menasche Bodner died in the camp in November 1940. He was the only Dunera Jewish boy to die in the Hay camp.

DSC03521r

The plaque at the camp site marking the 50th anniversary of the internee’s arrival. There is nothing left of the camp today.

If you plan to visit the Hay area, try and plan your visit for when David is around, because he will make your visit memorable. Although he is in his eighties, he is as sharp as a tack and old enough to remember the first train arriving when he was five years old. David brought to life the misery of some of the internees, as well as the happy side for others.
The picture below is of the main information sign in the grounds of the railway station, at the end of the platform.

DSC03493r

This painting below is of some of the internees who returned for the 70th anniversary ceremony.

DSC03500cr

If you wish to read some of the personal stories of the men who are now known as the Dunera Boys, may I suggest you open this link Dunera Association and sample the monthly news sheet – very impressive.

At the end of the war the Japanese internees were ‘returned’ to their ‘home land’, Japan. The problem was that many who were sent to Japan were born in Australia, and didn’t have any concept of living in Japan. Their first concern was that they couldn’t speak Japanese! Don’t you just love officialdom?

To end on a lighter note –  Lieutenant Edgardo Simoni (seen below in 1974),

the fox

aka The Fox (no connection with me) was an Italian POW who was captured in North Africa and sent to Muchinson POW camp near Shepparton in Victoria, Australia. It was a high security camp.
He escaped, but was captured a day later and placed in solitary confinement.

He managed to secure a small hacksaw and during a number of nights, while singing Waltzing Matilda over and over, cut through the bars of his cell. Later he apologised to the other prisoners for keeping them awake!

His cell had bars on all four sides and the whole area was painted white. As he cut the window bar he hid the cut by using white soap to fill the gap.

Once free, he stole a boat and rowed down the Murrumbidgee River towards Melbourne. (This event reminded me of the Great Escape movie).

He eventually made it to Melbourne (but not all the way by boat), and managed to get a job selling cosmetics (his English was very good).
He was very good at his job and became the top sales person for the company, and was awarded a prize and appeared in a local newspaper. He wasn’t recognised, even though he was top of the most wanted list across Australia.

He was free for ten months and doing well for himself until a guard from the camp spotted him in the street and greeted him with ‘Hello Eddie, how are you?’ and that was the end of his freedom.

I have heard a slightly different story that Lieutenant Edgardo Simoni was working in a tailor’s shop, rather than cosmetics.

At the end of the war the Lieutenant was repatriated to Italy where he remained in the army ending his career as a Colonel.

In 1974 Colonel Simoni returned to Australia on a ‘remember when’ trip to retrace his escape route, but the weather was against him and he was older.
The prison from where he escaped is now a museum and they have a plaque in his cell commemorating his escape.

The BBC made a film of his exploits.

As an aside – H.M.T Dunera, stands for ‘His (or Her) Majesty’s Troopship’ Dunera, not as I have seen on the internet ‘Hired Military Transport’ – I have also seen photographs of the Dunera showing her sailing in the 1920’s, which would have been awkward as she wasn’t launched until 1937.
The original Dunera was built in 1891, for the  British India Associated Steamers for the Queensland to Calcutta route, but was transferred to the Calcutta / London route in 1892. She was scrapped in 1922 so there is little chance of seeing any Dunera in the 1920’s.

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: