Back in 1944, my father Philip was still in The Royal Air Force. He was based in India and worked in the meteorological department. Like other British military personnel sent to the sub-continent, he was fearful of a Japanese invasion that never happened. Hindsight can be a wonderful thing.
In the late spring of 44, just before his thirtieth birthday, he was granted a fortnight's leave with an air force companion called Arnold. They planned to travel north from Delhi by train - nine hundred miles to Srinagar in Kashmir and then on to the Ladakh region up in The Himalayas.
They aimed to do some high level trekking in the mountains and have a genuine adventure nine years before Chomulungma (Mount Everest) was first scaled.. You can imagine that at that time - in the middle of a world war - there weren't many foreign trekkers out and about in The Himalayas and you can also imagine that in those days the kind of mountaineering gear we can easily buy today was simply unavailable - especially in remote regions of northern India.
Dad kept a diary of that memorable fortnight and when he got back safely to Delhi, he wrote a detailed account of the adventure. There are fifty pages of closely typed script. They are aging and turning brown now and some of the type is blurring. It can be pretty hard to read.
The account is in my possession and I know that I should take the trouble to read it all - every single word and perhaps transcribe it too. It would only take me a week or so to do.if I put my mind to it I doubt that anyone has read the whole thing since my father typed it out so painstakingly. I should read it all in honour of him.
However, all I have ever done is to dip into it and read small chunks. He called it "Kashmir Journey" and has then handwritten an alternative title - "The Lure of The Ladakh". Here he is on the first page in a sleeper compartment heading away from Delhi and out into the Indian night:-
The carriage was almost continuously illuminated by brilliant blue-white flashes of tropical lightning. while the roar of the train and any other sounds were obliterated by the flood of sound created by the storm. Worst of all, as I lay there I realised that something was not quite right with my bed. My pyjamas and sheets had a dampness that was something more than one would normally associate with monsoonal weather.. I sat up, switched on the light and horror of horrors! I found that my snowily dhobied sheets were now covered with a patch of dark grey filth that was streaming down through the ventilator above my chest. The rain had infiltrated our compartment bringing with it accumulated dirt and grime from the roof of an old Indian railway coach. What a mess!
And this in from page 34 when the Himalayan adventure is fully underway:-
To take The Himalayas lightly is the greatest mistake, almost crime, that a climber or trekker can make. These mountains never cease to reveal some new trait of weather, surface, slope or hazard and one has to be ever watchful and plan each stage with great caution. Here there are mountains that take months of organisation and a month of climbing to reach the summit. There are no Alpine pygmies that can be climbed in a day from some luxurious Swiss valley hotel. As we sat around our table, the mountain giants stood sentry over us in silence and in the colourful illumination of another majestic sunset.
Perhaps writing this blogpost will inspire me to read the whole account - some seventy six years after it was written. Dad died in 1979 when I was twenty five. If he had still been alive today he would have been 106 years old. I don't think that a single day has ever passed by without me thinking of him. I know this might sound pathetic but even now, I still miss him.
What I would do is transcribe it and make it into a self-published book with an ISBN using lulu.com, and send a copy to the British Library. They would then add it to their catalogue, preserving it for posterity. We've made two ~80-page books of writing by n-grandparents in this way. An alternative to arduously transcribing it is to scan it in at high-res and use OCR software, although it is probably no less effort in the end.ReplyDelete
Thanks Tasker. Appreciated. Any chance that you could transcribe it for me? I will give you a tenner for the job.Delete
Get someone to read it while you type.Delete
It's very well written and deserves to be published and preserved for future generations to read and enjoy. Would you like to visit the Himalayas and retrace your father's footsteps? I miss my parents too.ReplyDelete
During his service in the RAF he visited Kandy in Sri Lanka. I have been there and felt his spirit in that place. This was enough for me. The Himalayas are too darn big. I prefer The Yorkshire Wolds.Delete
You are not pathetic because you miss your dad. You are human and will always miss your dad. You were very young when he died. Transcribe your dad's book if for no other reason than to leave a legacy for his great-grandaughter, Phoebe and to honour his memory.ReplyDelete
Two visitors from Toronto today! (see below Elaine). I believe your words will add fuel to my mission. I know I should do it.Delete
What an amazing thing to be able to read. I would also urge you to transcribe it as you have the time. Is there a climbing museum that might be interested in properly archiving the original? It might be quite the historical document to conserve.ReplyDelete
Two visitors from Toronto today! (See above Margie) You and Elaine should get together for a good old chinwag! And thanks for your words too - more fuel for this old engine to get cracking on the job!Delete
Not pathetic at all to miss your dad! How I wish I'd had a dad that I miss. It is obvious that the writer-thread which is woven into your being was part of your father too. There must be some way to photograph the pages and enlarge them on your computer to make reading them easier. That would help.ReplyDelete
I think that if I tackle it with my reading lamp and a ruler I will be okay Mary. Thank you.Delete
Do you have siblings? Nieces? Nephews? I can tell you that something like this might be a treasured by your family. You could illustrate it with little pen and ink drawings.ReplyDelete
Hell - you are a hard taskmistress Debby!Delete
I went through some of mum's old papers and found telegrams of congratulations on their wedding and a paper leaflet written in german that I can only assume was dropped by the Allies in Germany, I translated the leaflet from German to English. I bought archival sleeves for the papers because they're getting worn away from handling. The archival sleeves aren't expensive and will keep the papers intact for Phoebe when she's your age:)ReplyDelete
I can see where you get your love of hiking from.
Hiking and writing it seems!Delete
Thanks for your practical advice Lily.
Good advice from Tasker.ReplyDelete
Gold is how I'd describe your father's material: I liked the photo of his MSS.
The nub of the narrative is like a novel I'd want to read.
1944: Two men attached to the RAF's Meteorological Office in Delhi go on a mountain trek, beyond Ladakh.
John Masters wrote a novel, The Himalaya Concerto: the shadow lying over his story was fear of Chinese invasion of India. In your father's life it was the Japanese.
The tropical lightning striking the train is a detail that could be Kipling.
I am sorry you lost your father when you were only twenty-five.
Thank you John.Delete
I could add a chapter of my own in which the two young men had an encounter with an Abominable Snowman!
Definitely think you should transcribe it, even if you just did a paragraph or two each day (small writing does take a toll on the eyes--or you could set it under a standing magnifying glass to ease the strain). His words capture a period and events in time that should be preserved. Clear to see where you derived your writing talent.ReplyDelete
You aren't alone in missing your dad. I still miss mine. He died when I was 33. This year would have marked his 109th birthday.
Is it too late to say - sorry for your loss Mary?Delete
You seem to know what to do with typing manuscripts out. How much do you charge?
Not only was your father a skilled writer, but he must have been a fine person if you still miss him. How lucky you are to have had him.ReplyDelete
Not everybody is as lucky as I was - to have had such a father. He was greatly respected in the village where I was born and grew up.Delete
Regardless of the fact that those quotes are really interesting I, too, think that you should publish it. I have little interest in my family tree. That is because I have always been acquainted with it because my maternal great uncle made it his life's work. He was fortunate enough to have been reasonably wealthy and spent his much of his leisure time and most of his retirement following the leads in Church registers etc. The lineage goes back nearly 1000 years. I've never studied it (although, as a child, I earned pocket money by typing large tracts of it on my Mum's Underwood). However my brother (who has also studied our genealogy) has and says there is a 'leap of faith in some village or other, back in the 1500s (I think). The point of this digression is that, much to my surprise, my son and a niece are also very interested and have asked me to make sure that when I go all the photographs from the 1900s onwards are all duly annotated so that they know who their ancestors are. My former wife has hundreds of old photos but can no longer recall who anyone is and that information is therefore lost and gone for ever. For some people their antecedents are very important. Be spurred on by the fact that your Granddaughter may be one such person.ReplyDelete
I must admit that my main motivation to type it out would be for the interest value - the adventure of a young man in India during a world war. In a sense it is almost incidental that that young man was my father.Delete
There is nothing pathetic about missing someone you love, no matter how many years have passed.ReplyDelete
Your Dad was a good writer - I can see where you have your talent from! He would have been proud to know his son has become a published author, and illustrator :-)
The account definitely deserves to be transcribed and published. A good project for you to work on when the weather or other circumstances prevent you from walking.
You know how to make a guy feel good about himself Meike!Delete
What a remarkable adventure. You should definitely see if you could publish it, or at least put it online. Others would love to read that otherwise-lost bit of history! I've heard Srinagar is beautiful but I don't think it's safe to travel there these days because of all the conflict with Pakistan over Kashmir. There's a great old Bollywood movie called "Kashmir Ki Kali" that was filmed there in the early '60s, and it looks amazing. Oh, to travel in space AND time!ReplyDelete
My dad was in India before Pakistan even existed - before partition.Delete
What an adventure. It deserves to be recorded for others to read YP.ReplyDelete
I wonder how much it would cost to post the manuscript tp Peel on The Isle of Man?Delete
I agree with Tasker. Your Dad's journal of that trip is wonderful and well worth preserving and even sharing. When Phoebe is grown she would cherish having such a remembrance of her Great-Grandfather.ReplyDelete
I feel you pushing me Bonnie! Thanks.Delete
What a marvellous and amazing adventure. His descriptions are vivid and entertaining to read. Do make sure the document is preserved or transcribed.ReplyDelete
How are you at typing Andrew?Delete
Yes you must make sure that your Dad's adventure is preserved for future generations to enjoy. My Dad's war service was in Egypt and Italy and although we have some small photos from that time we have no written record of his adventures. Sadly he too died suddenly when I was 24 but I felt his spirit with me as I carried the rosary beads he had brought home from Rome in 1945 on my own Italian journey 70 years later.ReplyDelete
It's great to know where our talents come from and your Dad passed you a great gift. We are all left wanting to know how the story ends.
Okay. I am feeling the pressure now Adele. We lost our fathers at pretty much the same time in our lives.Delete
Most of us remember and miss our parents. From what you say this journal would be worth while to type out. However, that's easy for me to say since I won't be doing it.ReplyDelete
It will take many hours to type out.Delete
You should transcribe it. Then you would have read and preserved it.ReplyDelete
In the years I worked for my township, I undertook to scan and upload all the town minutes to the website. The township was founded in 1805, so a lot of minutes. I had only a clunky old scanner, so as a page scanned, I read another, to pass the time. Fascinating stuff. You dad's account of the Himalayas will be equally cool.
Thanks for your kind encouragement Joanne.Delete
What's pathetic about missing your dad?ReplyDelete
Just the fact that I am 67 years old and should be all grown up by now.Delete
That is so very interesting. People wrote in so much more detail in those days when they were recording events. I hope you do decide to type them all out it would be a marvellous lasting tribute to you father.ReplyDelete
The love of nostalgia in action!Delete
I think that your Father's journal would be a very interesting read...I can see where you get you writing skills from!ReplyDelete
A few years ago I read a novel called " The Kashmir Shawl" by Rosie Thomas. It is the story of a young woman who finds a finely made shawl amongst her grandmother's effects and goes to Kashmir in search of its origins. A fascinating read.
That does sound like a good read Frances. I can see some of my precision in my father's writing too. I guess it is in the blood. My daughter has it too.Delete
There are plenty of agencies that would type it out for a relatively small fee.ReplyDelete
The last time I paid anyone to type anything for me - my university dissertation - she made a right mess of it. It was so disheartening.Delete
Get yourself a C-pen scanner with built in OCR capability. You will still need to join words split between 2 lines and tidy up the occasional misreading, but it will ssve you masses of typing time.ReplyDelete
Sounds hard to me given the brownness of a lot of the paper and the paleness of some of the typing.Delete
Sounds like it might be worth while to give it a go, especially if you have future generations to leave it behind to. I have too many old photos without notes of who is who, and also various notes after my paternal grandfather who was a journalist with focus on local history. But they are scattered notes of this or that, and not clear to if/how related to family or not. (The typed notes are probably quotes that grandpa in turn copied from other sources; unclear for what purpose.) I've done a little bit of digging into family history, but neither my brother nor I have children (and dad was an only child), so my motivation is a bit wobbly. (After me, who'll be interested?) - After my grandfather died (at age 65) my parents did complete and published a limited edition of a book that he had been working on more systematically though, about small homesteads/crofts in the parish where he lived (a photo of each + short texts about who lived there and when). And that has been much appreciated by the local history society. My dad in turn was interested in railway history and wrote or participated in writing four books about old railways, which were published while he lived. After his death, my brother and I donated all of his railway-related papers and photos and unsold books and whatever (a big room full) to the national railway museum. Much to our relief, three guys from there came down with a big truck and took it all away... I have only kept one copy of each of the printed books, and haven't even read those properly (too full of technical details for me). But it's good to know the main part of their work has been saved for whoever might be interested in the future.ReplyDelete
How marvellous that your father's railway material did not end up on a bonfire or in a skip. You and your brother did the right thing. Your father would surely have been pleased with you. Thanks for calling by once again DT.Delete
You've had some very interesting and positive suggestions YP, and I'll add mine - that you should definitely try to transcribe the manuscript and then publish it, or at least have it bound into a book. A lovely legacy for Phoebe, who will never know of her great-grandfather unless you leave her something tangible - and what better than a book?ReplyDelete
Incidentally my father was in the RAF too, and in the same area, or Theatre of War I think they referred to it. Mainly based in Sri Lanka (Ceylon then, of course), with the occasional foray across into India. He had something to do with Radar, though he never gave away any information. He'd signed the Official Secrets Act when he studied at Cranwell College, at the beginning of the war, when Radar was in it's infancy. I still have some letters he wrote to my mother, mentioning the fantastic things that they were doing, and what brilliant minds he was working with. I still have some photos too, taken when he was at their base camp in the jungle.
A lovely account of your father.. thankyou for sharing. For some reason I love to hear of Ceylon... sounds so exotic - more so than Sri Lanka to me.Delete
As a meteorologist my father also spent time in Ceylon CG & Elle. Perhaps my father bumped into your father in Kandy CG. They could have had a couple of beers together or walked by the lake which I also walked around in 2013.Delete
A bit late to the table... but definitely I would encourage you to read and the with your transcription done, see what you want to do with your fathers account from there.ReplyDelete
Like you I felt a particular bond with my Dad who died when I was just 13yrs and that was in 1963 and yet he is often in my thoughts along with my Mum - and even though Mum and I never really gelled I miss her independent and somewhat fiesty personality very much in my day to day life.
I was only thinking today how transient text messages and emails are! There will be little written word in the form of letters or cards for our grandchildren to ponder on and unless there are written journals - how will they know what our lives were like in the 21st century? I have letters written to my father from my grandmother and after her death my grandfather during the 2nd World War.. my Dad kept everyone - so they obviously meant a great deal and although many speak of people I do not know, the fabric of their life and the way they lived is woven through those letters... lovely reminisces and very special to me. Give that grandbabe a tickle under her chin for me. Hugs Elle xx
What a lovely comment Elle. Thank you and may I say that I am sorry for your loss even though your father left the land of the living in 1963? To lose a parent at thirteen is a heavy load to bear. By the way, I have already typed out two of the fifty pages.Delete
Thank you for your kind words for me YP.Delete
Enjoy the journey with your fathers story, from the passages you shared here - he enjoyed spinning the tale.