The 35PRS history states the squadron entrained at Bombay on 2 June 1944 for a trip across India, and arrived at Camp Kanchrapara near Calcutta on June 7, 1944, where they awaited further movement in India.

An Oregon Air National Guard commemorative history described the 35PRS train trip:

“In Bombay the men boarded a train for a hot and dusty trip across India to Gushkara, near Calcutta. The train trip proved to be as unpleasant as the voyage. The grueling trip took several days in a train that appeared to be at least 100 years old. Nights on the train were filled with the sound of scuttling cockroaches.”

35PRS personnel take a brief rest at a stop on the wearying train ride across India, June, 1944.  (Courtesy Oregon ANG Commemorative History)

35PRS personnel take a brief rest at a stop on the wearying train ride across India, June, 1944. (Courtesy Oregon ANG Commemorative History)

S/Sgt Anthony Garra also made comments about the trip and remembered:

“The ride across India to Calcutta was another torture. It was so hot most of the time 120 degrees and dusty, that we were almost smothered. The breeze coming in the window was so hot I couldn’t sit in it. Our rations were scarce and we didn’t get nearly enough to eat. The water situation was bad also. I got so thirsty one night, I couldn’t sleep until 2 A.M. when we took on water. There were natives all along the way, starving and crippled. I have never seen such sights. We arrived in Calcutta much the worse for wear. The Red Cross met us and served cake and limeade at the station platform. That was a very welcome treat. We left immediately after for camp.”

Col Sterling Barrow remembered the squadron “enjoyed” the usual fare for rations on the miserable train ride east, bully beef and K rations. He further told the writer of this web log, paraphrased here, “…It was hotter than hell on that cross country train. When the engine stopped to get water, everyone grabbed a towel, in their shorts and we brought a helmet. One man stood under the water and let it spray all over the helmet and that shower method worked. Indian kids watching got a laugh out of that.”

But he also remembered some Indian children who were “little devils.” Little rascals who got on the train at night when it slowed down for a stop, and scurried through the train, crawling on the floor to swipe things from beneath the seats and throw them out the open windows to waiting cohorts outside. Squadron members soon improvised a night watch system assigning someone guard duty with a flash light to deter the young thieves.

One Army Air Forces CBI veteran whose journey across India shortly preceded the Redhawk’s trip recalled traveling the 1,100 miles from Bombay to Calcutta in 3rd Class India Coach. It appears the 35PRS rode 3rd Class as well.

The “CBI Roundup” theater military newspaper issue from 29 June 1944, has a fabulous writeup of this India train experience – just an impression but the CBI Roundup newspaper had an absolutely outstanding staff, and even if you weren’t assigned to the CBI the stories are incredible to read with much G.I. humor included:

Logo for the CBI Roundup, the CBI theater military newspaper in World War II (Courtesy CBI roundup webpage)

Logo for the CBI Roundup, the China-Burma-India (CBI) theater military newspaper in World War II (Courtesy CBI Roundup webpage)

THIRD CLASS CARRIAGE LIFE
SIMPLE IN OMAR’S STYLE

“The railway system of India is one of the major reasons why experts predict a vast expansion of air travel after the current unpleasantness is over. Travel orders come sooner or later to G.I.’s in India, however, as they must to all men. That product of some legal eagle, that pregnant phrase, ” via air or rail transportation,” leaps to haunt the prospective jaunter.

Indian railway track comes in three yardages, broad (Ha!), narrow, and narrower gauges, plus some uncatalogued widths which crop up unexpectedly to add rustic charm to the country. Trains are referred to as the Lahore-Up or the Allahabad-Down, creating a sense of vertical motion which often becomes violent in certain sections of roadbed.

Tickets are sold, or “booked,” for first, second, third and interclass, the last implying, quite literally, that you are treveling in no class at all. Shrewd Stateside characters of big-city upbringing sometimes try to skip a grade, however, and ride the plush with a down-priced ducat. If caught, however, they run smack into rule 52, which states in part:

“Provided that where the passenger has immediately after incurring the charge and before being detected by a railway servant notifies to the railway servant on duty with the train the fact of the charge having been incurred the excess charge shall be one-sixth of the excess charge otherwise payable calculated to the nearest anna, or two annas, whichever is greater.” You can readily see this is rugged, if not confusing.

A humorous depiction of the American military experience with the train system in India during WWII.  (Courtesy CBI Roundup webpage)

A humorous depiction of the American military experience with the train system in India during WWII. (Courtesy CBI Roundup webpage)

Toll-worn troops enroute to any of the various rest camps in India for an invigorating two weeks of bracing climate, rich food and pleasant recreation bounce merrily along on the third class boards. These “special” troop trains rocket along at speeds up to 15 and 17 miles an hour, but often must be shunted of on a siding to rest and give the right-of-way to some slow freight.

Life in third class carriages is tastefully simple and plain. A barren bench, a water tap, a hole in the floor, and thou.

The “convenience compartment” is situated fore rather than aft, so that on those rare occasions when the train is in motion, riders have its lovely aura blown back in their faces.

The well=padded aristocracy of the first class coaches wire ahead to the various Fred Harveys of India for meals at the stations, but troops gleefully gobble their iron rations and decant garam panee from the grinning engineer wallah’s locomotive to brew poisonous coffee with atexture like crude oil.

Indian railway stations have more compartments than a hineycomb, what with the first, second, third and inter-class waiting rooms, refreshment rooms and “retiring rooms” plus separate short order joints for Hindus and Mohammedans. By the time all the various categories have been satisfied, even a whistle stop offers a pretty sizable establishment, the floor space of which is invariably used in lieu of boudoir at night by the local populace.

When the Kanchenjunga Choo-Choo, one of India’s crack fliers, staggers into a station, passengers in the already sardine-packed compartments unsportingly throw the door bolts which were originally intended for the protection of “ladies, traveling alone.”

This no whit discourages the howling mob of ticket-holders outside who proceed to clamber through the windows, aided by husky shoves from outside. The “ins” just as unabashedly shove them back.

Ambitiously, however, the railways also endeavour to haul pet dogs, at an interesting per canine rate of 5 annas the first 300 miles and 4 annas for each additional 50 miles. Smuggling is severely dealt with: “If the dog is detected unbooked, ordinary charges, i.e., double the dog-box rates, will be recovered.” Between dishonest passengers and unbooked dogs, Indian trainmen spend considerable time “detecting.”

No one “rides the rods” on Indian railroads, which speaks pretty highly for the intelligence of the Hindustan hobos, who know a good thing to leave alone when they see it. These foreshortened goods wagons spend most of their time being booted around switching yards.

War-time theme of India’s railway system is, “Don’t ride the trains if you don’t absolutely have to.

We concur.”

It appears the 35PRS personnel would also concur with the Roundup’s recommendation, and that all Redhawks were happy to complete the long, unpleasant journey across India. They had glimpsed a bit of what the American military experience in India was like during World War II, but would soon become veterans of the “I” in CBI from what they were to see in the months ahead, all on the long road to China in 1944.

References
Trip Journal of S/Sgt Anthony A. Garra, 35PRS, 4PTU

Hellis, Lori, “Oregon Air National Guard, 1941 – 1991, A Commemorative History,” Taylor Publishing, 1990.

“The Forgotten War, Frank Vierling CBI Theater, 1943-1945,” accessed at:
http://cbi-theater-10.home.comcast.net/~cbi-theater-10/forgottenwar/forgottenwar.html

“CBI Roundup,” Volume 2, Number 42, June 29, 1944, accessed at: http://home.comcast.net/~cbi-theater-5/roundup/roundup062944.html

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