Thursday, 2 February 2012

With his usual single mindedness………….

Volume one - chapter four – Pa

………….. he proceeded to apply himself to the game of tennis, spending many hours practicing the weaker aspects of his game. He was never coached by an expert the game being approached in a much more amateurish way in those days. Being self taught his game developed one or two unusual characteristics which might not have been considered desirable by the experts. For example he had a way of moving close to the ball when playing a back hand shot, and by dropping the head of the racquet he drove the ball with a lifting movement which put a considerable amount of top spin on it. Not an orthodox shot by any means, but one which seemed to beat even the best of opponents. - Years later he was to play intercity tennis and even a county match, and his unusual style continued to prove disconcerting and effective. - In time he was to develop into a most effective player and though he enjoyed many hours of pleasure from the game, he would be the first to admit that it also proved to be a great advantage to him socially.


My father pictured in India about the time that he was promoted to Staff Sergeant.

Playing tennis with officers was only the beginning; my father’s growing skill made him a desirable partner if one wanted to win in doubles. There was much social tennis and a large part of it was with society outside the military, including educated upper class Indians, who enjoyed tennis and had many wealthy clubs. Most of these upper class Indians were only too delighted to invite English sportsmen into their midst. By the end of the 1920's life had become very good indeed for my father; further promotion resulted in an administrative position running a supply office in Calcutta. Now Regimental Quarter Master Sergeant, Bill Bishop was enjoying life very much indeed; though there was an unpleasant interlude when he went down with a bad attack of malaria, one of the hazards of life in India.

By the end of 1931 father had accumulated almost a year’s home leave and was beginning to yearn for the chance to see England once again. The army had a system which allowed about a month to six weeks home leave for each year served in India, though a paid passage to England was only provided once every 3 or 4 years. It was not only leave that had accumulated, but also pay; NCOs were much better paid than the lower ranks, but even so a soldiers pay was not likely to make you rich. Over ten years of frugality had resulted in a tidy sum in the bank. I also suspect that another reason for this longing to see the green fields of England again came from the fact that my father had developed the habit of writing home regularly, and he had become aware of the fact that young Mary Jones had now developed into a most attractive young woman.

At 29 years of age my father was at the height of his prospects, or so he imagined. He had a good position, living the life of a Pukka Sahib with his own accommodation and servants. He was not bad looking, with wavy brown hair, a tanned tropical look, and the slim wiry build of a sportsman. It was a good feeling to have some authority and have other men show respect, and to know that one looked good in a smart uniform. Regular soldiers of the peace time army were able to have good quality uniforms made, and looked very smart in the regulation blues which were the walking out dress at that time. Comparing his present state of affairs with the life he still remembered so vividly, he must have known that he was going to make a very good impression when he finally returned on his first leave. In fact there must have been times when he could not wait to get home and show them all just how well he had done.

The British Army has never been renowned for its liberal attitudes, nor has it ever made any effort to profess to any form of social equality; if anything it is more rigid in its social and class attitudes than civilian society. Allowing for this fact, it still has to be said that in India NCOs and even the rank and file achieved a standard of living superior to anything they had ever experienced in their lives before. Even commissioned officers to a large degree found the quality of life vastly superior to the life they normally lived in England. In India every white man was a person of some importance, whereas back home they were mostly just run of the mill individuals.

India was an enormous country of mostly poor people and in such a place even the meagre paid soldier felt well off, and was treated as such by the natives. It was a heady and novel experience for the average Englishmen who, like my father, had known no privileges in their mother country. For the first time in their lives they knew what it was like to have some power and authority, and what was more edifying a superior social position. They were no longer on the bottom rung of the ladder so to speak, and how quickly they accept an improved standard of living. How easy it seemed to move up to better things, and how difficult it is to go down again if, and when, circumstances require it. The English seem to have a natural inclination to adopt a superior stance, and so it did not take our military personnel long to convince themselves that such extremely pleasant circumstances was their natural lot in life. Human nature being what it is, anyone with a good opinion of himself wanted to don the cloak of superiority, after all why should it be the exclusive province of officers. Wasn't every Englishmen a superior being? It was not difficult for every man and his dog to decide it must be so. These early years in India changed my father forever and though he experienced very little difficulty making the adjustment, he was to find that it was not so easy to leave the past behind.


My father at the time of his marriage in 1932 the year before I was born

My father developed the habit of writing home every week to ten days; it was something he did all the years he was away from home. At first he wrote to his Grandmother who had been the mother figure in his life when he was young. For her he had a very strong affection, which he never lost, in fact it would not be exaggerating to say he loved her and had a great respect for her. Later he wrote to his intended wife, and a romance by post developed which called for regular correspondence. After he married he wrote to his wife at least once a week, using a fountain pen that my mother gave him as an engagement present. I still have that pen which my father gave to me, maybe to encourage me to remember my duty and write home. In spite of a lack of skill, I did try to meet this obligation though the pen in question was not part of it. Today this pen is in a sad state of repair, the nib was replaced after about 30 years, and the cap also replaced about the same amount time. The filling mechanism has gone, but the original barrel with its two 22 karat gold bands still reminds me of my father.

By the time he married he had served about 12 years in the army, and probably thought he would be a soldier for life. He had no idea what the future held; not that knowing would have made any difference to him.


On honeymoon at Blackpool; with his raincoat on

It was not possible to tell from these pictures that he had malaria in his system, and that bouts of fever were to attack him at intervals for many years. This was a common thing among the military serving in India.

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