Autobiography

UNCLE JACK AND THE NANCY BOYS - AN APT ANECDOTE

It was just after I had left Finchden and was back with my parents in Trosley. It was harvest time andI was preparing to start my first term at the RCM. John Stevenson, a friend from Finchden, was staying with me – partly to help out with the harvest but also to help me adjust to not being at Finchden anymore.

One day my father and Uncle Jack, one of his chums, were sitting in our living room gossiping over a nice single malt when I overheard Uncle Jack say something about “Nancy Boys”. My father was chuckling.

John Stevenson And Me In My Parent's House At TrosleyI had always suspected Uncle Jack of being a bit fruity. I was annoyed and I decided to have a bit of a wind up.

‘Dad?’, I said slyly. ‘Can I ask you something?’

‘Yes Rob’, he replied – facial setting on “relaxed indulgence”

‘Did you ever come across any Nancy Boys at Tonbridge?’

With the merest twitch of his moustache, Dad’s upper lip went into ultra mode. It was like an aircraft carrier and you could have landed a Wellington bomber on it.

With a facial setting on “steely caution” he said quietly, ‘Nope. Never came across it at all, Rob. Not once.’

‘Oh come on, Dad!’, I said, with all the sincerity I could muster. ‘You must have done? What about in the Army, then?  - During the war? What about all those nice Ghurkha boys? Surely someone must have fancied one of those?’

His moustache did a ferocious side-to-side swiggle and with a facial setting of “red + absolutely furious” he shouted, ‘Certainly NOT!! The Army doesn’t tolerate that sort of thing – never has and never will’.

I turned to Uncle Jack, and trying to sound as serious as possible I enquired. ‘What about you, Uncle Jack?’ Then going in for the kill, I added. ‘Have you ever had any dealings with Nancy Boys?’

At that moment, my mother walked in and sensing a frisson, she demanded, ‘What are all you boys talking about?? ’

‘Nancy Boys!’, said Uncle Jack, blandly. (Touché!)

My friend, John, who had been quietly observing all this from a quiet corner of the room, suppressed a giggle.

‘And what are you laughing at, John-John?’, inquired my mother, as she shot me one of her most forbidding looks.

Years later my mother told me a story which made me regret the way I had wound up my dad in this way. My father had gone straight from school to an officers training college in Lahore, one of the great old Mughal cities of India – (now in modern day Pakistan). In October 1941, he passed his exams and became a commissioned officer in The Indian Army.

On obtaining his commission, my father had joined a cavalry regiment. This meant tanks, other armoured vehicles and General Transport. Collectively this was known as the Indian Armoured Corps (IAC). Tanks and transport do not operate as independent formations but are “attached” to various regiments and battle formations as required.

V Force BadgeMy father was initially attached to a General Transport Company. Although he amusingly tried to play the part of a retired general after the war, he was in fact, a mildly insubordinate emergency commissioned lieutenant, a rank above which he was never promoted. I think he became bored, pissed off with all the pointless discipline and in trouble with his superiors - definitely not regular army material. Futhermore, whilst he was still training, he broke his ankle falling from a horse and was henceforth not considered fit enough for active service.

He wanted a more informal life - some adventure and excitement. Thus, he put himself forward for special operations and joined the then highly secret V Force as a platoon commander.

After the war, my father always maintained that he was with the 1/7th Ghurkhas. He spoke Ghurkhali and his old army uniform displayed Ghurkha buttons. However, the 7th Ghurkhas have no knowledge of him and herein lays a mystery. Why would my father lie about a thing like this? He had no obvious motive – he was a war hero with his picture plastered all over the local press.

I think the answer is this. He never did have an official connection with The Ghurkhas – but rather an actual and emotional one. By the time of the action in which he won his military cross on Dec 24th 1943, he had been in the Indian Armoured Corps on attachment to V Force for quite some time. The V Force platoon he commanded contained Ghurkhas probably on attachment from 1/7th serving with 17th Indian Division (The Black Cats) and I think it was in V Force that my father’s love affair with the Ghurkhas began.

Every officer is given a batman. A batman is a special soldier whose job is to be an officer’s personal orderly and look after him. His role would include acting as a "runner" to convey orders from the officer to subordinates; maintaining the officer's uniform and personal equipment as a valet; driving the officer's vehicle, sometimes under combat conditions; acting as the officer's bodyguard in combat and other miscellaneous tasks the officer does not have time or inclination to do.

My father’s batman was a young Ghurkha. According to my mother, he formed a very strong attachment to his batman. He was with my father throughout his war in Burma. He was by my father’s side when he was wounded at Manpa. In fact he had saved my father’s life. He helped carry him out of the jungle and stayed with him all the way to the hospital in Kohima where he nursed him back from the brink.

One of my father’s legs was torn to pieces by shrapnel and badly infected; it was also full of maggots. The surgeon wanted to amputate but his batman persuaded him to leave the maggots where they were and give the leg another day or two.

The leg started to improve, the maggots stayed on and my father was moved to Calcutta where he was put on an Australian hospital ship bound for Liverpool. All this time the devoted young Ghurkha stayed with him.

After many weeks at sea their ship eventually docked in Liverpool. In spite of my father’s wishes, his batman was told that he would have to return to his regular regiment, and go back on active service. He returned on the same ship and in due course rejoined the Seventh Gurkhas. In the meantime, my father was taken to a hospital first in Manchester and then after some months to another in London.

In the fullness of time he was well enough to take on a new responsibility. He was attached to the Queens Regiment and placed in charge of training recruits for active service in the Far East.

It was shortly before he took this new posting when he got the sad news that his devoted friend had been killed in action near Mandalay on the banks of the Irrawaddy. My mother told me that he was heartbroken.