September - October 1943

The 16th CCU, aboard USAT Brazil, arrived at Bombay Harbor on the 10th of September at 1300. Most of that night everyone was busy looking over the rails and wondering about the strange land. This was INDIA. They had travelled half way around the world. Sometimes it didn’t seem possible.

The following morning leaves were granted and the Unit scrambled down the gang plank. The first sight which impresses you more than anything else is the sight of the Indians working on the docks [Victoria Docks]. As the ships are unloaded the Indians hoist the crates to their heads and carry them to waiting trucks. While they wait for the next load they squat on the ground and wind their large turbans around their head. They continue the work far into the night talking and singing.

Bombay is an interesting city. It can be called the “City of Shirt-tails.” Everyone, rich or poor, walks around with his shirt-tail out. While walking through the streets many beggars plead for alms and it is difficult to pass them by for they look as helpless and poor. Many women even attempt to sell their babies. The Unit went sight-seeing, visiting the churches, museums and the “cages” (prostitutes that live in cages). The men tasted the food and rode in gharrys [a horse-drawn cab used in India; a gharry driver is a gharry-wallah]. They saw and liked this strange land.

That evening the Unit went back to the ship and made plans for unloading their supplies. Several days later on the morning of 13 September, the Unit boarded a train. Lt. H. G. Johnson, Pfc. K. O. Stubsten and Cpl. C. K. Cannon were left behind to continue collecting and forwarding the equipment. The Unit was at last travelling on land. They found the ride much more comfortable after their long and monotonous boat trip. After several hours the Unit unloaded at a town called Deolali, which was 100 miles [east] from Bombay.

After a two hours march in the moonlight the men arrived at a British Army Camp. They settled down and began unpacking their bags. That evening at 2400 they ate their first English meal. It wasn’t as good as the old GI variety, but, still very welcome. On 19 September the equipment detail arrived and the Unit settled down to await further orders to proceed to China.

In the meantime the British provided judo instructions and a magician show for their entertainment. The judo instructions were given by the British “black belt” champion, Sgt Campbell. He proved to be a very amiable fellow beside an excellent instructor and the men became very attached to him.

1st Lt. Jones received orders to proceed to New Delhi in regard to supplies and he had to leave immediately.

[The down time continued on as the Unit awaited the filling of its suppy requisitions and its turn to board an east bound train, not already overflowing with soldiers, equipment and suppplies]

Corporals Gendler and Lowe were sent to the hospital with dysentery. The strange and varying quality of the food had probably caused this but their cases were light and in several days they were both back with the Unit as they started the long trek across India.

At 0330 on 6 October, a troop train pulled out of the train station at Deolali, India. The Indian troop train is nothing like American trains. The seats are wooden with straight backs. The cars are small, crowded and uncomfortable. But, the Unit made themselves as comfortable as possible as the train slowly picked up speed on this cool clear morning.

As the early hours slowly passed the sun rose and at mid-morning the Unit ate their K-ration breakfast in a dry heat. At every train stop bands of children would run to the cars holding out their thin bony hands and beg for “baksheesh” [charitable giving, beggars solicit ‘alms’ by shouting this ]. Peddlers would flock to the train selling small green bananas, mangoes and other fruits. The quality of the fruit is especially poor, but the men being tired of eating the condensed rations would buy the fruit, being careful to select the ripe and clean variety.

After several days, the train ride was becoming monotonous. All the Indians seem so poor and helpless. For conversation the men would debate the cause of the Indian’s plight. Often the train would stop for many hours at an isolated spot, the heat and dust becoming more intense as the train proceeded inland.

On the fourth day, the train pulled into Santahar, India [about 110 miles north of Calcutta/Kolkata]. The sight here climaxed all others. Hundreds of Indians were seen lying about. They were not sleeping, they were dying. Their lips were parched, their bones protruding beneath their dark skins. All had bloated stomachs. The scene was tragic. Men, women, little children – all were starving. Even the birds were dying. One large vulture swooped sown and picked two slices of bread off Lt. Jones mess kit. In the short time that the train was at the station many bodies were carried away. The men gladly gave up their rations to the people for most of them could scarcely raise a hand to beg. They merely looked with watery, pleading eyes. This was the India, the famine they had heard so much about. The sacred cow would walk wherever it pleases seeking weeds and grass, yet the people were starving. Something seemed wrong, terribly wrong. The whole scene was almost unbelievable. The train eventually moved out.

On October 12th the men unloaded at Dhubri, India. It was raining as the men hiked to the Indian Army Camp. The next morning they regrouped and loaded their supplies aboard a river steamer. They were on the Brahmaputra River [another 140 miles northnortheast of Calcutta, at the mouth of the Assam Valley]. After a day on the river boat they again unloaded the supplies and reloaded upon a train. [Probably at Pandu, across the river from Amingaon where the railway ended with freight cars ferried over to continue on to Chabua.]

S/Sgt Kaufman became ill with dysentery and malaria, and Pfc. Barrows developed brochial pneumonia, so both had to be left at the Baptist Mission Hospital at Roona, India. Several other men contracted dysentery but proceeded until they could get American medical attention.

On the 15th of October, after ten very trying days, the Unit crowded into an American camp at Dikum, Assam, India [Dikom Tea Plantation, about six miles from Dhibrugarh, less than two from Chabua Airfield; now Dhibrugarh Airport.]. They ate their first excellent meal since leaving Deolali, and very soon they all went to sleep. On the 16th Cpl. Wilson developed pleurisy and Pfc, Kain a touch of malaria and they were both sent to the hospital.

After several days at Dikum [Dikom], days of much needed rest, the men of the Unit boarded a large C-87 (transport plane) leaving Lt. Johnson behind to look after the equipment. This was the last lap of the journey. After two and one-half hours flight over treacherous mountains the plane landed at Kunming, China.

Captain Cline resumed command of the Unit. The men were at last reunited. They had many tales to exchange and now they could begin their mission.

New headquarters were setup in the ATC [Air Transport Command] compound and almost immediately photographic assignments began coming in.