RAF Convalescent Leave/Malaria – From Burmese Border to Bombay to RAF Lower Topa, Murree Hills

Discussion in 'Burma & India' started by Son of LAC, Nov 8, 2022.

  1. Son of LAC

    Son of LAC Active Member

    It’s 9pm, 12 April 1944, and Dad is taken from the Arakan-campaign airfield codenamed Hove to 62 Mobile Field Hospital at Cox’s Bazar. Two days later, he’s taken by ambulance to 61 MFH in Chittagong. The original cause is an ear infection, but in hospital he catches malaria.

    He gets out of hospital on 14 May, Medical Grade III, to be returned to the UK.

    On 22 May, he leaves Calcutta on the Bombay Mail train at 3.30pm arriving in Bombay North Transit Camp on 24 May at 2pm.

    Then his diary goes silent until on 6 June he leaves Bombay’s Worli Base Reception Depot and boards the SS Ormonde at the docks heading for the UK.

    I have the above from a combination of his diary and what he told me.

    Now the part that leaves me scratching my head. The photo below is of Dad and unnamed others taken in 1944.


    Here’s what I wrote down when Dad told me about the photo: Its in the Murree Hills, Northern India. North West Frontier Province. Convalescent leave in 1944. Servicemen who had suffered badly with malaria could be sent here for a week or two to recover. It was a beautiful area, high above Rawalpindi /Peshawar.

    In 1944, until he went into hospital, Dad was on the airstrips codenamed George and Hove with 20 Squadron, who were providing ground-attack support with Hurricane Mark IID’s to 14th Army in Burma.

    His diary is blank on all the days from 25 May to 5 June inclusive, meaning these 12 days are available to get him from Bombay to the Murree Hills and back again. (He was scheduled to board a troopship on 6 June, so I imagine he would have to get back to Bombay well before this.)

    On the map below I’ve marked his known journey westward from Hove to Bombay. The dotted green northbound line shows the Frontier Mail train’s route, which, depending on the source you read, took either two or three days to travel between Bombay and Peshawar. I’ll assume it took two days, because it was reputed to be the fastest, most efficient train in India, and it covered about the same distance as the Bombay Mail from Calcutta, which took Dad two days. There was a train station and large British military facilities in Rawalpindi, which would be the stop for Murree.

    Allowing for four days travelling back and forth between Bombay and the Murree Hills and assuming he had to be back in Worli in good time, say 4 June, that gives him six days in the Murree Hills.

    Do you think this sounds at all likely or even feasible? It seems remarkable that the powers that be would take a lowly Leading Aircraftman all that way for a week at a hill station in wartime.

    Would he be sent third class on the train, or were troops airlifted to convalescent hill-stations? (Yes, I know an airlift seems ridiculous when the situation in Burma was critical, but I’m just exploring possibilities.)

    I have to believe something of the above is true, because of the evidence I have from my Dad, albeit incomplete. Alternative explanations and any further information are most welcome. At the very least, I hope the information above helps someone else’s research.
  2. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Well I've been to the hill station at Murree, pre-9/11 on holiday and there was obvious sign of an airfield then. However Wiki suggests there is now an airfield at Patriata, aka New Murree. See: Murree - Wikipedia and Patriata - Wikipedia

    It helps to understand the temperature is far more comfortable in June in Murree, than say Rawalpindi, let alone New Delhi.

    In my research about post-war India the main mover of people was the railways (as it is now in India, not Pakistan). So yes it is inconceivable that a lowly RAF Other Rank would fly anywhere, unless he was amazingly lucky.

    Murree is now in (Pakistani) Azad Kashmir and during the 1947 crisis over Kashmir I have only found references to an airlift from Srinagar to New Delhi, which was quite chaotic.
    Son of LAC likes this.
  3. Shiny 9th

    Shiny 9th Member

    My father spent weeks on trains travelling around India. After contracting hepatitis in Shillong he was moved by trains and boat and then more trains to a convalescent station at Wellington Barracks not far from Ooty. Once we'll, it took him 6 weeks to return to the front line in Burma by train and finally aircraft. The journey made no sense in terms of direction and distance, but at each stop the Transport Officer gave him and a fellow NCO another travel warrant to move on. Overnight they went to local camps and at each base the group grew as more soldiers arrived from different directions. . Sometimes they had to stay at a camp for a few days before getting next train. So the journey you refer to seems correct.
    Son of LAC likes this.
  4. Son of LAC

    Son of LAC Active Member

    I’ve done more digging. There was a big RAF leave establishment in the Murree Hills in a place called Lower Topa, about 5 miles from Murree. Someone’s selling a photo of the place, taken from the air, on Ebay:
    WW2 Ariel Photo Of RAF Base Lower Topa Pakistan Showing Buildings 7 x 7 inches | eBay

    John Saunders has put wartime photos from Bill Saunders, an RAF Aircraftman, online.

    Canteen, Lower Topa (India WW2, Bill Saunders's Photos) by John Saunders, on Flickr


    Entrance No.1, Hill Depot, Lower Topa (India WW2, Bill Saunders's Photos) by John Saunders, on Flickr

    You can see the contents of the photo album here.

    The place is now used by Pakistan’s Air Force – here’s the view from above on Google Maps:
    Google Maps

    And the Officers’ Mess, with views:
    Google Maps
    davidbfpo likes this.

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