VOLUME 1 - CHAPTER 4 –PART 1
Most of the large armies in the world were created to fight wars, but for much of its history the British Army was intended for the most part to control and guard the Empire. A large and restless part of that Empire was the vast continent of India, which always required a considerable part of the army to keep it under control. So at this point in my story the North Stafford’s were dispatched to India, and I believe it was the large military base at Secunderabad in central India, that became their home, and was to remain so from the 1920s until they returned to England at the outbreak of the Second World War.
A glance at a map of India gives immediate clues to the reason why the British Raj created a power base in the central state of Andhra Pradesh. This princedom had once been the largest and most powerful state in India, and the location of Hyderabad its capitol, was a strategic one being well placed in relation to other important centres, such as Madras, Pondicherry, and the great ports of Bombay and Calcutta. Secunderabad was situated about 25/30 kilometres North of Hyderabad and was the Indian equivalent of Aldershot, being entirely military. It was created by the British Army for its own exclusive use, and would not have existed otherwise. Once the regiment arrived at this base it was to remain there for a number of years, apart from the requirements of operational activities.
Being now in what could be viewed as a settled environment, and part of a very large and well organized military structure, the battalion soon found that it had many activities available to it which quickly led to a way of life and a standard and quality of living that they had never imagined by the troops. For the average Englishman it was an exotic life to say the least, and for many Europeans this vast exotic land was a game of chance, it could provide rich rewards, but it could also mean an early death from disease or some other product of an alien environment.
My father now took advantage of the opportunity to study, but in his early years in India it was his physical prowess that became the magic key to future success. Already a pugilist of some skill and experience it was not long before he was winning bouts in the boxing ring representing the regiment. His value and talent in boxing and other sports were soon recognized and from that time he was to enjoy something of a privileged position which brought him accelerated promotion and improved job opportunities.
It was as early as 1923 that corporal Bishop represented his unit in the Secunderabad Garrison boxing tournament, fighting as he always had in the 'Fly Weight' division. Even at this bottom end of the boxing spectrum the competition was fierce, and there was many a budding champion ready to give his all to prove himself. It was a large garrison and the boxers were soon to become well known and to hold a special place in the opinions of their fellow soldiers; those that brought glory and credit to their regiment attained the status of heroes and such members of the regiment were always well cared for.- By this time he even had a nick name by which he was recognized, they called him 'Chota' which in the Hindu tongue means 'Small'.- Eventually Billy fought in the final of the British Army In India Boxing Tournament, losing the final bout on points to a man who had also been a professional. - Dad was to tell me that by the time he reached the final in this competition he had already dislocated both of his thumbs and could not punch properly. Even so he managed to stay on his feet until the end of the fight, and had even scored enough points to make the final decision a close one. - Such courage and such values made him a man to be admired, and though I never felt great affection for him, I did respect him and felt determined to live up to his standards.
It is true to say that success breeds success, and now events were moving in the right direction; sporting achievements yielded other gains. The battalion sports stars were vital to the reputation of the unit and they had to be looked after and rewarded; which is possibly why my father was given a job in the orderly room, and a promotion to sergeant. Now he did not have to spend all his time on drill and spit and polish and all the other mundane chores which are a large part of a soldier’s life. There was plenty of time available for training of course, as much as he wanted, and it soon became apparent that there could be further advantage if he was to diversify into other sports. As a good all round sportsman Dad was to become involved in hockey; eventually winning his badge as a referee, and in rugby, playing as scrum half for the battalion team.
By the time 1926 arrived the future was looking rosier than ever, and to improve matters even more the powers that be realized that my father’s seven year period of service was fast coming to an end and that they had to ensure that this very valuable member of the unit must be persuaded to continue his service. It may be jumping to conclusions to say that this was the reason for further improvements in his circumstances, but there was little doubt that he received special treatment about this time in his career. He was given the opportunity to study and soon qualified as a Warrant Officer Class Two, and a further promotion to Staff Sergeant. He was befriended by some of the officers, which was a very unusual occurrence, there being very strong and marked class divisions in the British Army, and still is. However, some of these socially superior beings did behave quite well towards him, and this must have helped him to make up his mind when it came to deciding whether to sign on for a further seven years service.
ANOTHER NOTE HAND WRITTEN ON THE BACK OF AN ENGAGEMENT PICTURE
Taken in May 1928; on leave from India for six months - It was taken on the occasion of my engagement before returning to India. I returned in 1932 and got married on 16th May 1932.
Aged at engagement Billy 26 years & Mary 17 years - Married ages – Self 29 & Mary 21
(Note my father was born on 19th January 1903 which would have made him 25 years and 5 months when he got engaged in May 1928, and 29 and 5 months on his wedding day which was 16th May 1932.)
There was no end to the advantage of being a good sportsman. Some of these things were worth doing simply because they had social advantages to them, such as golf and horse riding, and Dad did all of these things. However, there was one sport that was not only a social advantage it was a game that he grew to enjoy very much, a game he was to excel at. It was tennis, and this game now began to open many doors for him.
Strangely it was an accident that resulted in him being introduced to the gentlemen's sport of tennis. It seems he had received a very bad kick to his right knee whilst playing rugby and the Medical Officer had told him that it would probably not be wise for him to continue playing a physical contact sport. Initially he was introduced to the game by one of the officers with whom he had made friends, though it is possible that the officer in question, being a keen player had seen this as a chance to make the young NCO into a worthy opponent against whom he could practice and improve his own game. It was not long before my father found that he had a natural aptitude for the game, and that it would be a great advantage if he could improve his skills.