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Sainfoin’s War
By W.J. Mitchell and Colin Buckenham




In addition to my old shipmate’s stories (Dick Imrie and Ray Self) I too remember that eight days leave in Darjeeling. I recall how we travelled through the night by train from Calcutta with every halt along the way punctuated with the cry of the Cha Waller, hot, strong and sweet tea served up in the earthenware dishes smashed after use and costing two annas, and how in the next morning we arrived at Siliguri, this being the junction where the standard gauge track gave way to the narrow gauge railway that would carry us about 9000ft. up to the leave camp in Darjeeling, and it was here that we were provided with breakfast (spuds and bullybeef) before continuing our journey. After a fantastic trip of several hours we finally arrived tired, hungry but decidedly chilly as the air at that altitude was a whole lot cooler than that in Calcutta. After a hot meal and allocation of quarters we were issued with warm clothing i.e. Khaki battle dress and most important our beer issue for the next eight days (ice cold) and sheer bliss after the luke warm stuff we'd been used to in Calcutta, and so to bed. On awaking next morning the sight through our windows was the most fantastic thing that I have ever seen. There was Mount Kangchenjunga with the early morning sun rising over it, and in the far distance was the peak of Mount Everest with the early mist just beginning to clear. This view from our hut would cost many hundreds of pounds to the traveller of today, and was something that we could never have afforded in our day. Darjeeling was a place of many faces, old wooden houses, shops and teahouses, there was also the rather smart bungalows of the British Sahibs and wealthier locals, and it was into this scene that several of us galloped on our hired ponies, this being the best and only method of transport. Needless to say, being sailors didn't make us the best of horsemen and as we arrived in town our worthy steeds decided it was rest time so they just stopped dead in their tracks and we all fell off in an untidy heap on the street. Picking ourselves up we strolled down the street as if this was our usual method of dismounting. I don't think any of us managed to get off our pony in a dignified manner. We always fell off. Somehow I think the drink had something to do with it. On one run out we had gone for a ride up Tiger Hill and as it was rather a steep climb it was a little difficult staying in the saddle. One of the lads slowly slid backwards off of his pony, and feeling a bit put out, slapped it's stern end. Back went the ponies ears, and the last we saw was this chap in full flight with the pony chasing him. (He turned up several hours later looking a wee bit rough).


The Railway up to Darjeeling
This image was also taken from an old card print

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Our eight days of rest? Sightseeing, Climbing on (and falling off) our ill tempered little friends, Drinking cool beer and making idiots of ourselves in general soon came to an end and reluctantly we prepared for our return to Calcutta. With our gear loaded onto army trucks we arrived at the station and there was this Indian coach driver offering to transport anyone who wanted to go by road down to the junction at Siliguri. "I take you much quick Sahib, we arriving before train, only twenty rupee Sahib" he said. So eight or ten of the lads decided to take this offer of a quick down, and within minutes the ancient coach left in a cloud of dust, disappearing round the bend like a bat out of hell. Some four or five hours later our train pulled into the junction, and when we saw the state of the poor devils who had taken the fast ride down we just fell about laughing. They seemed to have aged about ten years on that journey down. Apparently the driver was slightly `Doolahli', he had flung the old coach around bends at breakneck speeds with the wheels sometimes hanging over sheer drops of hundreds of feet, and all the time he was entertaining his passengers with songs that must have been top of the Hindustani hit parade. He was completely oblivious to everything whilst those poor fools at the back were joining hands and singing `Abide with me'. I have often wondered if those lads ever got over the ribbing they received after our return to Sainfoin

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