An Airman's Life in India

Written by Pam Preedy.

A Land of Jackals, Snakes and Mosquitoes

Some of the “Life” which our boys are seeing on active service is described in a letter which A/C1 Gilbert Attwood has written from a wireless unit in India to his mother in Lincoln Road, Sidcup. He says:-

“I am very well and have just returned from a five day trip to a location right out in the jungle, where I carried out practice out practice duties under surroundings which will in future be, I suppose all too familiar. Our camp was situated on a ‘bund’ or raised ground in the centre of a flooded ‘paddie’ or rice field.

“Life in this isolated position was, I found, quite bearable considering we were 12 miles from the nearest town, where even there no white people lived. Of course, numerous native jungle villages were in the vicinity. So there was plenty of noise, and a constant flow of naked ‘chukkos’ (children) fascinated by our mechanical gear, and no doubt attracted by our occasional offerings of some tit-bit or other which was found to be superfluous.
Indian Jackal [Photo: Shino jacob koottanad]
Indian Rock Python [Photo: Dr. Raju Kasambe]

As the day finished in the quick tropical change-over from day to night those sounds intensified. Regularly we heard the drum which is beaten at night-fall, commanding all the women to their huts. There were other sounds, too, which were more mysterious: truly they could be described as ‘calls of the jungle.’ Hordes of jackals used to come to the edge of our fields and wail and howl weirdly for hours at a time, and other noises, too, made by some untamed creatures, I suppose, used to make us sit up and wonder a bit. 

“We found the biggest trouble to be the snakes, with which were infested. On every night out of the five I spent out we killed one outside our tent. One – a python – was a particularly loathsome specimen. We used to tread very gingerly I can tell you, and dared to venture no-where after dark without a hurricane lamp. I was reading the other day that 30,000 people are killed every year in India by snake bite.

Millions of Mosquitoes

“Perhaps the biggest nuisance of all, though, were the mosquitoes, of which there were millions. We had to be careful of them as this is a malaria country, and as you will know it is the mosquito that carry this germ.

“Further on at another camp the chaps had acquired a tiger cub from a native, which I believe they intend rearing. This will probably be successful until the animal is half grown, when as so often happens its inbred savagery will triumph over training, and it will turn on its masters. Also while yet a cub, there is always the danger of the mother getting on the scent, and then woe betide the unwary.

Indian Crocodiles


There was a wide river nearby where I saw crocodiles in their natural state for the first time and what horrible things they looked, too, with their gigantic jaws distended. From this river, too, we procured some sort of large fish, which our bearer used to turn into a most appetising supper. These fish, too, would actually swim into the field which, of course, is irrigated from the river, so we were able to watch many an aquatic performance.

“On the ride back across country to the rail-head we unfortunately left strewn upon the track several unwary goats and fowl which seemed, at the cost of extinction, to be fascinated by our approaching wheels . . .

“The monsoon season is rapidly drawing to its close, and as a result of this heat has again increased to a rather uncomfortable degree, setting us all perspiring profusely. The heat will continue until November here, and, being well below the tropic line.  I doubt if we Britishers will find it could even then.

I was talking to an Anglo-Indian the other day about India’s climate, and he not very encouragingly told me that as far as we exiles are concerned the second year spent here will affect us far worse than the first, as by that time our blood will be like water.

I wonder if this is so?”

Images sourced via Wikimedia Commons
Bromley & Kentish Times, 29th January 1943 (page 3)

Further your research

For more information visit the Bromley Historic Collections on the 2nd floor of Bromley Central Library to learn more about Bromley Borough’s history during the War years and to browse the local newspapers

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