MANGAL SINGH SERVED WITH 4th INDIAN DIVISION SIGNALS REGIMENT IN NORTH AFRICA
MS: 1939. I had come to Cairo in September. Because that peacetime so Division had got to live in other place, other Brigade after that they came one by one to Egypt. So I am coming in 1939.
JH: You came to Egypt in 1939?
MS: Yes I am coming to Egypt. Suez. Near to Cairo. So I am coming there. So some Divisions already coming 10 days before, some coming after that time. Then after that in a month our Division is there near the Mena Camp. All dust there. So we camped there. That time war not declared. Because Germans go to Poland, everywhere, this way, this way they coming, moving everywhere. So we keeping only defence before. Then they take France, then they got Italy. Then June 194 that time after that
JH: When the Italians came in?
MS: After that, Italian and German in combination and also Italians some you know some colonies in Egypt on the north side, along the top side, sea side, near Tripoli and so on. That stage they belong to Italy. Enemy is coming on there. In 1939 maybe in December they moved from there. They captured Sidi Barani first. After that nearly 20 miles of the country they not town, only Sidi Barani. Nothing there.
Because it is all dust. Is only little man, the poor man. He would take buffalo round the street every day there. After that the poor man and the little man and we give him money. After that it was divided up into half and half. I give you a hundred cattle. After the cattle ++ one two three, divide half and half. Hundred cattle + Money I given you. And when you see that ++ Every year all the buffalos coming He divide half and half. In a year maybe 50, 35, even 25. You see everything by money only.
After that then they attack us there, that country belong to Egypt. Sidi Barai belong to Egypt. Marshall +. Egypt is defended under British and all government belong to Egypt. And defence under the British.
So when he [presumably Germans] had come Sidi Barani then also he coming in France, keeping close everywhere. I don’t know why it happened, why it started. I don’t worry about that. I am only soldier. They send you there, you go there.
JH: You just did what you were told? Can I ask you where you were born and brought up, in India?
MS: I was brought up in Punjab.
JH: In a town or a village?
MS: A village. They divided all provinces: Punjab, UP, CP, Haryana. I belonged to Punjab province. Punjab is also province. Punjab is also better province.
JH: What was the name of the village?
MS: My village is Ramorama walla [? Writes it] village. It belong to Ferozpur District [?]. At that time.
JH: And were most of the villagers farmers?
JH: Was your father a farmer?
MS: My father a farmer, my brother a farmer, everybody in my family farmers.
JH: What did you farm?
MS: All things. Sometimes cotton fields, some people everything.
JH: Did you have cattle?
MS: Yes. But not too much. Only for my home use. I only taking milk. What we need every time in the house, cow or buffalo. Sometimes goat. For making the tea and everything the milk was.
JH: How many in your immediate family?
MS: My father had three boys. So I got two brothers and one sister. Four children.
JH: Was everyone a Sikh in the village?
MS: After that I am going into military. After a little education from the local school.
JH: So you had some education in the village?
MS: Yes. Up to 8th class. Middle class. That time I was nearly 14.
JH: That was a school within the village?
MS: Yes, in the village. And after near the village in another village.
JH: The school wasn’t big enough?
MS: Yes. Then I go into middle class. Then I go maybe three miles walk to the next village.
JH: You have to walk there every day?
MS: To the next village every day.
JH: What sort of things were you taught?
MS: All things. Write: A, B, C, D.
JH: Did you learn English?
MS: Not English. Punjabi and also Hindi. Everything. First my own language. At that time Urdu. After that Hindi. Local language. And also Punjabi.
JH: So your first language is?
MS: First language is Punjabi. Now in India it is Hindi. At that time first language – in English rule there – first language is Urdu. Roman Urdu. Written in Roman: ABCD.
JH: So you can speak and write a lot of different languages?
MS: If you learn the English that will be difficult [talks about learning language].
JH: But as you get older, it’s not just learning ABC and different languages, presumably you’re learning mathematics?
[Keeps on issue of language learning].
MS: When I was born, that time I was in Ferozpur district. After that, maybe when I am in the military, maybe that time it changed district [name]. Because every time everybody Making one district more, they make partition and this you see. First it was Ferozpur, After that [+] kot. Now it’s Moga. Now Moga.
JH: So it’s changed its name many times?
MS: Now district Moga.
JH: Were you a happy child?
MS: Oh yes. I was happy. Because after that then I retired from the army in 1956. My rank is Havildar, same as Sergeant. So I retired after 21 years in the army. Now I have a pension. [talks about Commonwealth I think offering immigration. Mentions Singapore. Implies Britain welcomed under Harold Wilson government.]
JH: So you came here under the Harold Wilson government?
MS: Before. After that. I come 1963. Election come in 1964. That election I see here. So same like who had given me permission from here to make a passport to come here. After that I can report here to Punjab centre. They given me new You want good job you go there. So I go there.
JH: In the village where you were brought up, what sort of house did your family live in?
MS: We were poor. Not too much money. That time making of mud. After that making of brick. When you get money and you add bricks
JH: And did it have several rooms?
MS: If you had money you made separate rooms. If you have no money you made a big room. But that time it was a big room and after that same like somebody that country is same like you know also cattle so I put a separate that time. Two, three men sleeping there. All the same as children, ladies and everything, same like. So one body married so put on one side. Because we poor. Now I have done well. I have four sons. They have four separate houses.
JH: So it was simple?
JH: No electricity or running water?
MS: That time no. Now it’s alright. At that time only little kerosene lamps, mustard oil.
JH: Where would you sleep?
MS: Slept on a bed. Not sleeping on the ground. Sleeping on the bed. You can have two chaps sleeping on the bed, after that you grow Separate. Because you can’t make so many rooms there. Now it’s alright. Back then too old time! No water. If you go to Moga, you had to go walk eight miles, six miles, after that you get bus to go
JH: Was your religion an important part of your life?
MS: There were Gurdwaras in every village. So in the morning I am going there. I go to worship. It’s like going to church. After that go to job.
JH: So you’d pray every morning?
MS: Yes. Everybody did.
JH: What made you want to join the military?
MS: Because everybody was poor. Some time you [?] married [?] after that you go [?] now [can’t decipher]
JH: It was something to do? You were the oldest son?
MS: No, one is younger, one is older.
JH: So your older brother took over from your father?
MS: No. In Indian system, father’s property is divided with all children. Not the same as here.
JH: Where did you have to go to to join up?
MS: I was 17 or 17 and a half or maybe 16. I’m not sure. I haven’t got a birth certificate. When I went to the office of the military. At that time I say maybe 17 years. They said you can’t go there. I said alright. After that they say you write 18 years and you will be alright. So I said alright I will write 18 years. So he wrote 18 years and enrolled me.
JH: Where did you go to enrol?
MS: I am living in village. Some of my friends said tomorrow recruiting officer coming in Moga. Nobody was home. After that my father go and my brother go and [I think he is saying there was a festival which everybody went to] I was only left at home in charge.
JH: So you saw the recruiting officer?
MS: After that. My friend said that â€œTomorrow recruiting officer coming to Moga. Maybe I can’t, I get in trouble. I said I don’t know but I will see. After that sun is down and I went home tired. After sleeping my mind changed. The next day I woke up and went six miles to Moga.
JH: So you had to walk six miles to see the recruiting officer?
MS: They said the recruiting officer is not here, he coming tomorrow!
He tell me wrong!
JH: So you were there a day early?
MS: So I said I’m not going home. If I go home my father will beat me and I won’t be able to come tomorrow. I will stay here. That day I stayed in Moga and didn’t go back home.
JH: Did your father object to your joining?
MS: He not object. Maybe he would be happy but no-one was home! Who will look after everything in the home. He must give me permission. I stayed in Moga. I went with someone from my class. That time the recruitment officer coming. So I am going. I stayed in the line. And then they come and say go back, come. Maybe a hundred men in the line. Everybody joke at me: how he get into military! Recruiting officer, he was getting us to move back and forward. Sitting everybody there. Recruiting officer there. He said â€œAlright who’s educated man? Hands up. I say â€œI am. Alright, only three men. Me, my friend Three men. He said, alright these three men go into the Signals.
JH: So that was decided there and then.
MS: That time he said go into Signals only. He said Mangal Singh read this. It was only two or three words. He said you alright. After that other man
JH: So when you went to see the recruitment officer, there were about 100 people there?
MS: They had so many with them. [can’t decipher. Something about doctor, maybe taking off clothes for medical?]. After that then they pass altogether, up to two, maybe 12 O’clock, he says who has passed. I didn’t go home. He give them some money. Five rupees. After that gave me money, gave me a grant, gave me enrolment. Gave me declarations.
JH: So you had to sign a declaration?
MS: Yes. And he detailed one man to go to railway station. Not to go home.
JH: So they gave you the money to get the train fare?
MS: After that I went. I am going to Jabalpur. Jabalpur is too far from my village. Jabalpur is in the central province. Nearly 1500 miles from Punjab.
JH: So you never went back to your village and family?
MS: No, I not go back there. After that I written letter. I have enrolled in army
JH: That was the furthest you had been from home?
MS: After that I get military training. That was six months military training in Jabalpur in CP (Central Province). It’s in the centre. In the Signals. Not regiment at that time. Signal Training Centre in Jabalpur. Then you get operator or radio mechanic or anything. Then you go to signalman. Not before.
JH: What were you learning?
MS: I learnt to be a line man. Laying cables and lines and
JH: So you’d go with a cable and set up telephones?
MS: Yes. We used to lay them and everything. You’d get training and everything there. How to call everyone
JH: Who was training you? British or Indian officers?
MS: At that time officer was British and also NCO Sergeant. And there was instructor. Officers only were British. Indian instructor there. After that I was instructor there. When I had trained and passed out I was an instructor there.
JH: Did you enjoy it?
MS: Yes. I very much enjoyed it.
JH: Did you miss home?
MS: I felt it, but what can you do? Because there were big families, joint families, sometimes thirty men in the home. Everybody needs to earn money. We were poor.
JH: Were you sending money home?
MS: Yes. After that. A recruit can’t save because spending all the time.
JH: Were you expecting war to come?
MS: When I was recruited, after that I [?]. Many regiments in the country. Brigade Signals, so I was posted me to go B Corps Signals. Then I go to posting to Karachi: B Corps Signals.
JH: So what was the name of the Regiment you joined?
MS: B Corps Signals [spells]. At that time India was not divided. At that time it was in Karachi. When I first got training there, for six months it was just left right, left right and after that army training was finished. After that [?] training. After that I went from Jabalpur to Chakalala [?], North Punjab, maybe 1000 miles. Six months training there. After that I am making Signal driver. Motor drivers. And after that I belong to Signals. But all regiments, getting from there. So six months. After six months I go back again to [?]. I get transfer from my Signal training centre at Jabalpur. After my record is given the order from Army Service Corps. This man is posted to another unit. So that time I posted to Karachi. Then I go to Karachi for some training After that I get two months leave to see my home. After nearly two years. First I am married when I go there. 17 years old I married.
JH: So you went home and got married?
MS: No, before I was married.
JH: So your family hadn’t met your wife?
MS: No she is working there in the home with the big family [I think he means in his family’s home].
JH: How did you meet your wife?
MS: How can you go home when you in are in the military. You would be punished. It is 15000 miles! India is big country you know. I getting training in centre of the country, in the Central Province. Jabalpur is in the Central Province. Nearly 1000 miles or maybe more. After that when I get military training, after that I get [?].
Signalman. Before you are just a recruit. Because you haven’t done the training. You can’t get a respectable job [sorry, can’t decipher].
JH: To go back to your wedding, you married before you went home or when you got home?
MS: When I was at home. I was married at 17. After that I went to recruitment.
JH: So you were already married?
JH: Was it your choice to get married?
MS: There is system there which is this: family, father and others is making arrangement there. I had never seen her before! I married. After that I went into the army, the next year.
JH: So when you came back after your leave, you hadn’t seen your wife?
MS: One year she living with my family. 18 years old after that. After that baby, she pregnant. Never seen before marriage! You can’t go there. But not now. Now is alright. Now if I say to my son, I have seen girl, sit down and talk to each other. Now it’s not the same as before.
JH: And then you didn’t see here again for a very long time?
MS: I was busy in the army.
JH: So when did you first know? So you were with the B Corps Signal Regiment when you were posted to Egypt?
MS: When I went to Karachi. After that I went to frontier operation, come back again. After that every year go to holiday at home.
JH: For how long?
MS: Some time two months, some time three months. First year two months, other years three months.
JH: So you go home to see your wife, your family? Did you have children?
MS: Yes, I have four boys and one daughter. Now I have grandchildren. Now I have a big family.
JH: So when were you sent overseas? 1939?
MS: Not 1939. 1939 I am enrolled in the army. After that I went for military training in Jabalpur: six months or nine months there. After that, I went for training in Chakalala [?]. Six months there. One month or more coming to posting there. Because posting can control [?]. Training camp there in Jabalpur. Then they say this man is a passout. After that they give you a posting, and railway and everything to go to maybe to Peshawar, maybe anywhere in the country. After that I go again, but to Karachi. First I go Jabalpur for military training. After that technical training at [?], after that posting to Karachi. Record is there. They record every movement in Jabalpur. Then they come again Karachi and after that again [?]. After that when I coming from holiday, then in 193[?] September that time I mobilised to go overseas.
JH: September 1939?
MS: September 1939. I enrolled in 1935.
JH: So you had been in the army four years when you were posted overseas?
MS: Not posted. I changed unit [I think that’s what he said]. Division [?]
JH: Tell me, you went overseas with the B Corps Signal Regiment?
MS: That time I went from there. Then other unit: 4th Indian Division.
JH: So you were posted to the 4th Indian Division? Within the 4th Indian Division, you were still serving with the Signal Regiment?
MS: 4th Indian Division Signals Regiment.
JH: OK. And were you pleased to be going overseas or were you sorry to be leaving India?
MS: No because going as a section. That time C section: Cable.
JH: Were you happy to be going overseas?
MS: If you you weren’t happy, why have you enrolled? If you have any difficulty, you tell them I can’t leave because [?]. You can’t refuse because you have made your oath!
JH: Were you excited at seeing something new?
MS: Everybody has got some problem. I am married, maybe I die, what will happen there? But you get it automatically. A few nerves every time they attack but you can’t refuse.
JH: But you personally?
MS: I am telling you. I went home and I made an application and my wife came to Karachi with me. Two or three wives were allowed.
JH: So your wife had been with you in Karachi?
MS: Yes. And after that they sent one man to go home with the wives so they were not alone.
JH: So someone to escort back to the village?
MS: Yes. So after that I write letter I am going to [?] side. You must be collected from this time from this station. So my father came. He bring some cart to meet her at the station.
JH: And did you have any children at this time?
MS: That time I had one son.
JH: When you were abroad in Egypt did you miss your wife and son?
MS: You must be feeling it but what can you do? Two or three hundred thousand miles! You’re a military man.
JH: You never questioned that the Indian army should be in the war?
MS: That time Indian army under the British! You can’t question it! It was duty.
JH: That was how you viewed it?
MS: Just duty. When you go as a section, you must go with the section. You can’t stop it. So rather you get punishment. They could lose their post.
JH: Were most of the other people in your regiment Sikhs?
MS: That time mixed: Sikh, Muslim, Dogras and Madrasis.
JH: What were the rations like?
MS: There were two cookhouses. They cooked separately for Muslims (Musalmen) who ate separately. Two kitchens.
JH: What would you eat?
MS: Not halal meat. I eat Chatkar.
JH: What would that mean?
MS: Chapati, daal, everything. No problem. You get everything. Plenty of tea. Plenty of everything. I not hungry. [can’t decipher].
JH: How did you find living conditions in the desert?
MS: Desert is alright. Not too bad. Because there is only trouble to take a bath. No water. 1 gallon for you for 24 hours. I was a driver. Sometimes I went to lay cable. I went there and got some water.
JH: So you would drive round and get extra water would you?
MS: [can’t decipher]. Very happy.
JH: Were you driving a big truck?
MS: Different tonnes. Up to five tonnes, six tonnes. I only get a 1500 truck. And after that nearly one and a half tonne trucks.
JH: What did your driving job entail? What were you doing?
MS: Only using technical equipment.
JH: So you would take wiring somewhere?
MS: You bring for the ASC. Also I get a Regiment, he get mobile [?] centre. If you want more, then you come to ASC. You call in and say â€œI want [?].
JH: So you were just carting equipment and technical stuff from one place to another?
MS: Only working there. At that time it was mechanised. You can’t take a horse.
JH: And Italy enters the war and fighting starts. Can you remember when you first came up against the German army?
MS: I am signalman. I am not a fighting man.
JH: But you must have heard the guns?
MS: I am only laying the communication and going back out of the line.
JH: But can you remember the fall of Tabrook in June 1942?
MS: 1940 maybe in December? Because before they had taken Sidi Barami. After that next four or five months, two or three months, [?] attacked Sidi Barami to take Sidi Barami, and after that Salome, and after that Tabrook. And after Tabrook fell after Bengazi, after that Germans got again reinforcements. He cut out of there. He cut out up to Tabrook. At that time our army [?]. Because [?] cut out transport [?] parachute. Barnala. Tangiers. After that up to El Alameine. After that he attack again. [not sure what he’s on about].
For nearly a year, day and night you can’t go out. Everybody was fed up. Everybody living near the ground. You can’t go outside. [can’t decipher]. Every time you fell down. After that they [don’t know who] attack on every front. [whole section I can’t decipher at all].
JH: When the 8th Army was retreating to the Alameine line? Can you remember moving back along the coast to the El Alameine position?
MS: First Sidi Barami, then they take right side in the sea. Then the First Armoured Corps. Indian Division role was to stock the army anywhere. All night I am driving from [?] troops, slowly, to [?] to
JH: You can’t have lights on when driving at night?
MS: No, no light. Slowly, slowly. Five miles! All night! You can’t see little. Deep nalla. It is too too black. I am also driving. I said I don’t know what has happened on the truck. My front tyre is in the nalla [? – Indian word for stream/ditch?] I stopped there. I got down and stopped. I said Oh my god, what is that?
JH: What was it?
MS: I stopped, maybe four, five miles. I was laying cable. Other side is the post of the enemy! On the top side maybe 50 yards. At that time noone was moving. They were sleeping. I slowly go back. After that go back. I don’t know where from I come.
JH: So you were driving on your own, one truck? Not in a column?
MS: One truck to lay the cable on the front line.
JH: When was this?
MS: Advance post.
JH: Before Alameine?
MS: Sidi Barami. Only 1940. November. After that go to other side. 1941 I go to Sudan side again. That time when I [?]. There was a man coming down he said â€œDon’t move! Go back! I can’t see where from I come! From there I go back. After that I go other side. My communication with my Regiment finished. I went slowly, slowly. After that other forces said â€œwhere you go[?]. I go to enemy side! In the front of me was enemy post there! Only 15 yards! After that our Division security man, he says â€œWho are you? â€œI am signal. â€œWhere you come there? This is enemy post. After that I taken to headquarters. After that he come. After go to my regiment. He said where are you? Lost? After two days I met with officers and [?].
JH: So this was in 1940 was it?
MS: 1940 start. I come back after that. Division is very strong. No anybody fight. Just move up. How many thousands all captured. [?] 1940, October or November. After that, Sidi Barami. After that I am come back to Alexandria. Now go to Cairo. After Cairo maybe four or five days stay there [?]. After that alright you load in the Suez canal on a ship and after that [?] after that go by Casalla[?], you know that time. Eritrea. After Eritrea [?]. After that [?] post. There stay one month, two month. After that I finish there. After that Somalia[?]. Only one round. Then back again. Then Tabrook. I am staying in front near [?]. After that again when they attack, all posts that time. After that Tabrook and everything captured and after that I go to mortar [?] lines
JH: Most of the Indian Division are posted to Tabrook?
MS: Not posted there. 1941 March I think. One Mortar Brigade is coming from India. Light tanks. But then Tabrook is captured. The brigade was captured. After that he gone. After that they captured the fort area and coming in the desert. Again he go in the front and he go to again attack from there. And he coming. He go, he came again to Tabrook. After that he come
JH: To and fro
MS: After that he come
JH: Can you remember where you were by June 1942? When Tabrook fell to Rommell and the British Army was about to retreat?
MS: That time I was also retreating.
JH: You were also retreating from Tabrook?
JH: So you were driving your truck with the rest of the army?
MS: After that I ran away.
JH: Can you remember when Rommell captured Tabrook? Can you remember Tabrook falling to the Africa Corps?
MS: [this paragraph is hopeless. Much of it is guessing] enemy place. When I was there, I come up to Bengazi. Posted up to there. After that he attacked from there. Then he fell to our army. Because one column they cut out from there, one column went to El Alameine. Three columns [?] there. Our army is captured and after that, column is coming here. [?] That time he stayed [?] Tabrook. After that he came up to Salome. After again attack. After that he push there. That time he clear run up to Tabrook. He surrendered to Salome. After that German Army surrendered in the [?] pass. Because our [?] too strong. No trouble there. Because he decided [?] away from 20 miles in the desert. After that you can’t clear Tabrook and again he attack on [?] heavy guns. Other tanks are there under attack [?] El Alameine clear after that. He attacked on backside. Because the army was in Russia or because he [?] to move anywhere. So he sat still there.
JH: But before the battle of Alameine, your personal experience of the battles of Alameine and Al Halfa, was there much work for you to do laying lines?
MS: When they captured Alameine, that time [?] tried to surrender the enemy. At that time monitored route. That time I am Corporal. I was in charge of the Corps. Supplying the mines That time I take a route which is coming to Alexandria, to Bengazi, in the desert. It was a main route. Big route. Maybe 45 lines. Big route.
JH: So you had to help mine the line from Alexandria up to Alameine.
JH: To the British front lines? So you were helping to lay the wires?
MS: I repair there. Humber car[?]. I take food to my section there. Car is coming. Stopped in front of me. Same like our officer: Lieutenant General, Major General. It stopped. He spoke English: â€œWhere are you going? I say â€œI am on this route. My section is working there. â€œWhere is this route coming from? I don’t know myself. After that he [?]. He said â€œWhat are you doing? Where is this route going? I said â€œthis route is coming from Alexandria. He said â€œI want to go with you. You follow this route. After that, I don’t know [?]. I go near the front near the mine party. I go there, my Captain is there. I said take food or tea. What happened every day I don’t know. Every day he get [?] from me. I don’t know. [No idea what he is talking about].
In a day I had come back to kitchen, every day. [?] All destroyed [?]. But he not attack, but everything is destroyed. After that they attack again. Long line of defence. That time after [?] coming he says who is this [?] long period. He must go back. So at that time I came back to India, after that.
JH: What time was that?
MS: That was January 1943.
JH: So you were with the 8th Army almost to Tripoli?
MS: I didn’t go to Tripoli. I got a letter. After that I go to there, and after that he say you go back to India. Holiday for two months. I am coming from holiday from there to India.
JH: Did you find yourself, when repairing or laying lines, coming under attack by shell fire?
MS: No, no. Shell alright, but not under any attack. My duty is communication to Division, to Brigade.
JH: So you were always behind the front line?
MS: After that Brigade gets signal. He gets [?]. Operation of our landline. He gives from platoon to platoon. There was a system. I lay out Division to Brigade. I lay a line and say alright? Right I’m going to get back. One or two men go back and stay there who can deliver on the line. They tell you [?]. Silence. Tracker. Because everybody [?] forget abut the other man. I will do my work. My job is up to Brigade communication.
JH: Can you remember the barrage of the battle of Alameine?
MS: Yes I see it. I am in the fire. I am not in the rifle fire. I am in the gunfire. Only heard. When the gun is firing then we said â€œone, two, three, four… After that it turned down again. And you know [?]. If you run away then [?].
JH: It must have been an incredible sound.
MS: If they coming over the top of you, you can’t do anything. Then they tell you go that side. Fire on the top you, go back! It is luck. You can’t do it. Everybody tried to [?].
JH: were you ever scared?
JH: Which company were you in?
MS: One Company and also C Section (Cable Section, Communication Section). And One Company had so many Sections: A Section, B Section.
JH: Even in the desert, as a Sikh in the army in the desert, were you still able to pray every day?
MS: Yes, [?]. Not time to sit down there.
JH: Did you find the flies a problem?
MS: When fighting stay in one place, they come in your rubbish and everything.
[Interpreter comes in]
JH: The one thing I didn’t understand was I was asking him where he was when Tabrook fell to Rommel in June 1942 and I couldn’t understand what his answer was.
MS (through interpreter): He says that first they tried to hit the area and then came to Tabrook again. I don’t think that he knows the dates and what dates. Nobody is keeping diary at that time.
JH: Yes but after Tabrook, the British Army did a very big retreat to the Alameine line and I wondered whether he remembered that retreat?
MS (through interpreter): Actually when they captured 25,000 allied forces, he says we had gone back and not captured at that time. He got away alright.
JH: But those who weren’t captured, there was a big retreat along the coastal road and I wondered whether he could remember that?
MS (through interpreter): They retired by transport in his truck. His vehicle he drove over there.
MS: then I come up to M[?]. â€œRP said go back, enemy is coming. 70 miles running. After that I went straight to Cairo. Stayed in Cairo.
After that Churchill is making this claim [I don’t know what exactly he is talking about. Something about Chamberlain suggesting peace and Churchill. Saying that there should be no war and there should be a treaty with Germans].
JH: So you were an admirer of Churchill?
MS (through interpreter): Yes, yes. Because army people wanted to fight. Chamberlain didn’t want to fight.
JH: How much were you aware of what was going on at the time? There must have been confusion. Did you know what was going on in the bigger war?
MS (through interpreter): They understood simple things actually, but only Generals or bigger officers knew the schemes of what was happening and what they were going to do. We knew when we had to retire here or do this there. These things came through the Company Commander and Section Commander and then they knew a little bit and through the newspaper and things.
JH: Much has been said that once the 8th Army had returned to the Alameine line, morale had been low. Were you aware of that?
MS (through interpreter): Actually morale was not so low but they were thinking that Germany was advancing. They were announcing â€œGo Back, go back, so they were thinking that Germany was advancing. But at that time they were young actually. They didn’t think too hard about it. Only it was in their mind that he was advancing.
JH: What did you think of General Alexander and Montgomery?
MS (through interpreter): He was at that time Corporal or Lance Corporal. We knew that [?]. We know about these big Generals but we actually didn’t have direct knowledge.
JH: Did you know enough about Montgomery to form an opinion?
MS (through interpreter): He says we were knowing that he is a General but we didn’t know he was such kind of General.
JH: There were British Officers but did you all speak in English or Punjabi?
MS: No, speaking in English.
MS (through interpreter): Generally, we were speaking in broken English and some of them (officers) they used to speak Roman Urdu, simple Hindi. Now when you meet all these officers over here, sometimes they speak with us in very simple Hindi.
JH: But with your immediate colleagues, the Indian troops under you, you would speak in Hindi would you?
MS: In the Regiment, we are speaking our language. Otherwise, that time two or three words.
MS (through interpreter): He was in signals so practically he knows what he is doing, he can make them understand what he is doing. Otherwise not too much English. They learnt English in the army. Those educated in schools, especially in Punjab, we couldn’t speak fluently. We could understand if someone was speaking slow and simple English. Those from Bengal or south of India were speaking better English than Punjabi.
JH: Can you remember being attacked by German aircraft?
MS: When you were living at that time in that place, after retreat, you heard the sound and knew if it was Italian or German. The sound of Italian aircraft.
JH: Would you react differently if German or Italian?
MS: The order is there. You say don’t move. When you move, then you catch it. No movement. Only lay down.
JH: So if you knew you were being attacked by aircraft you would keep still?
MS: Yes. Don’t move. Because you are a target.
JH: So if you were in your truck and attacked by an aircraft?
MS: [?]. In the wartime, one man stand on the truck on the whole day in the front. One man driving [?].
JH: Did you ever lose any friends or colleagues?
MS (through interpreter): Those who were with him, some of them died also, some wounded also. Actually he says that when somebody died we had inside that we had lost our friend, but we couldn’t do anything. Our main thing was that we were looking to the enemy actually.
JH: Your friends who were killed were killed by artillery fire and aircraft?
MS (through interpreter): Many soldiers died fighting in the front. Very few who died were killed by aircraft or artillery.
MS: You could see airplanes coming from around 5 miles. You could stop and go to one side.
JH: But if you were in a truck and an aircraft was coming towards you, you would get out and move to one side?
MS: Naturally. Yes, quickly. We would lay down and not move.
JH: Did you have close shaves?
MS: No chance. Only when you see planes coming, you lay down, don’t move. Not in the same line. If they do air bomb he only [?] to you but you not die. If they drop a bomb on top of you, you can’t do anything. The bomb touched the floor and [?]. The bomb goes up 30 degrees.
JH: So if you are lying on the ground that is best?
JH: I was asking about the British barrage at Alameine. Could you ask him about that? I wanted to confirm where you were when the British barrage started?
MS (through interpreter): Actually he doesn’t know. Because first they actually advanced. And they were in a defensive position. And after that they thought that the should attack the whole army together because the Germans and Italians had all their army. Churchill’s scheme was to push them back together. So after that they attacked like that.
JH: So he was busy laying telephone lines?
MS (through interpreter): Actually, when something happened then orders would come.
MS: Every day was the same. I was responsible for my Brigade, not others. You can’t go every place. Other Divisions go other side. There were other men.
MS (through interpreter): Their duty was very limited. They would be told only that you have to lay a line here.
JH: Were you always busy?
JH: Always repairs to be made?
MS: Yes. Only three men and sometimes four. If one man is on duty, two men getting rest. After two hours, the other man on duty and the other men rest. Anything happen there then the fourth man is acting. Duty is duty.
JH: There must be times in the day when you didn’t have anything to do? What did you do?
MS: Night time I saw to my vehicle with maintenance: grease, oil, everything. Otherwise, that my shoes and everything are alright.
JH: Did you ever have 24 hour leave in Cairo or Alexandria?
MS: If you go rest time. You can go from the camp. Also concert parties
JH: Did you see the pyramids?
MS: The Meena camp is there. When we went for physical training. They said â€œGo up there and who come first: Go! The fastest to get to the top. Half an hour, twenty minutes finished.
JH: You enjoyed concert parties?
MS: Oh yes. Government wanted to keep soldiers happy over there.
JH: Did you get letters from home?
MS: Yes. We had a system. Field post officer. You had to put a field post officer number. Regiment, APO number. You would write â€œOnly I am alright, do you want anything?
Interpreter: The letters they were writing could not be depressed letters. You had to write that you were happy.
JH: Did you ever read the Crusader magazine?
JH: Was it interesting work?
MS: It was my job to lay out the lines. If you are not happy, what are you doing? A job is a job.
JH: There’s nothing you can do about it, but that doesn’t stop you from missing home?
MS: Sometimes. When you got a letter, â€œyour father is ill. I got a letter from my mother and it says that â€œOh my son, you don’t fight It is not my choice to fight. It is a duty to fight.
Interpreter: he said he was not enemy of who they were fighting but it was their duty actually. When a soldier finishes training, he takes an oath that he will fight for the country. If he doesn’t do that he is dying not doing his duty and psychologically it is against his religion to not do his duty. [Interpreter talks about how there was a fear in India of the Germans or Japanese coming to India, despite calls for Independence from Congress. Wouldn’t even be able to communicate with Germans or Japanese as could with English. Parents fought in First World War. The stories were being told and the spirit of that was there. Punjab has a tradition of saint soldiers.]