As I grew up, I often asked my dad, as any kid would, ‘What did you do in the war?’ He rarely replied. The war stories would come at Sunday lunchtime after he’d had a glass of wine or after dinner when my parents entertained. He was a bit of a raconteur my dad, though I never really took enough advantage of the facts to get him to tell me ‘all’. Although some of his stories were, how shall I put it ‘larger than life’ I have verified the bare bones of them from his papers after his death.
So, there he was, a mid-thirties Asian doctor with nowhere in particular to go. I suppose he could have travelled to Sweden to find my mother again but I suspect visas and entry papers might have been a problem. I have a reference provided by a ship’s Captain, which indicates that he became a ship’s doctor shortly after leaving Japan. Then the trail goes blank for a while.
He travelled to Liverpool. Joining the Royal Naval Reserve, he became a Lt. Commander and ship’s doctor. I used to have a photo of him with the rest of the crew of one of his ships and I have his service record so I have a pretty good idea what he got up to.
I’ve seen a shore leave pass of his dated 1940 and the photo inside, shows him in a white uniform. What he told me was that he went ashore to visit family. He soon learned that his father had died and in his absence, everything was divided up between his siblings. I doubt if he was a much easier man to live with than I am, and I know he felt that being disinherited, he wanted no more connection with his family. Leaving India once more he swore never to return.
Over all he had a difficult war. He was on the North Atlantic convoys between Canada and Irkutsk, Northern Russia. Many of the merchant ships were sunk by U-boats during those years and from what I have read, three minutes overboard and it's a watery death. I recall him saying that they rarely ventured out on deck because the seawater froze and built up making the deck slippery. At the end, he reckoned the weight of the ice would weigh the ship down to problematic levels too. Among the less likely stories were that he claimed it was so cold in Irkutsk that if you went for a wee outside, you had to knock the ice off your John-Thomas, but I always took that with a pinch of salt since he usually went on to say it was so cold at night, you had to knock the flame off the candle because that had frozen too.
And all the time he communicated with Märtha. I don’t have the letters they wrote but I know she sent him photos of herself, which he kept for the rest of his life. Märtha used to say how parcels would arrive out of the blue containing coffee and sugar, both of which were in short supply even in Sweden. A stewardess aboard one of the ships landing in Göteborg (Gothenburg) would telephone and my mother would turn up to pick up the parcels. Martha stayed in touch with the stewardess for years after the war, her name was Astrid.
Meanwhile, Bishwa was in the Med. There he was torpedoed. The ship sank and all his friends went down with the ship. He was lucky because he was in the saloon at the time near the top of the ship. He was thrown several feet in the air and struck the table (fixed to the deck) with his chin. He spent twelve hours in a life jacket floating with a jaw broken in three places but was lucky enough to be picked up by a Greek ship. Unfortunately, there was no doctor on board to set his jaw, so he made do with a straw. He was stuck on that ship for three weeks before they could off-load him to a Naval Frigate.
In his time he had shore leave in Australia, South America, USA and of course in Liverpool. As far as I am aware although they wrote to each other, there was no way for my parents to meet, but meet they did at the end of the war.
More about that next time.