Last November , during an alcoholic farewell party for Bruce and Carol before they left to rejoin the 1st Battalion in Hong Kong, someone mentioned that it was possible to fly to Bangkok for £80, and so an idea of a visit to Hong Kong was born. The idea became reality at 2200hrs on Tuesday 7th March  when a British United Airways/Caledonian Boeing 707 took off from Gatwick heading eastwards.
Joan and I were fortunate enough to be sitting in gangway seats with an empty one between us and the passengers in the window seats. Shortly after take-off a little man sitting in my row clambered out only to reappear a few moments later with a bottle of whisky and three cans of Coke. Having settled himself down he poured himself a stiff whisky which he drank very quickly and was soon into his second. In answer to his question I acknowledged the lady opposite as being my wife. He asked whether she would like to change places with him because he reckoned that he was likely to give me a disturbed night by his frequent trips to the rear. By way of explanation he volunteered that he was scared stiff of flying (the poor chap was bound for Yokohama to join his tanker) and with a trembling hand demonstrated his apprehension as the undercarriage had retracted with a shudder and thud. He had imagined that it was coming right through the floor. He told me that the only remedy was to get absolutely stoned and that was what he intended to do. Naturally I agreed to his suggestion and eventually we all settled down for the night.
From time to time during the night I glanced across to see my friend fully maintaining his intention as evidenced by the level of of the whisky in the bottle. At some stage he must have achieved his objective for when we came in to land at Bahrain there he was out to the world, with one arm flung over the back of his seat, the other hanging limply in the gangway. He looked like some rather battered butterfly pinned to a setting board. Nothing woke him, not even the hostess slamming his seat forward into the upright position and fastening his seat belt for him. As we reached the end of the runway there was a click of a switch and everything stopped. As if I was an experienced air traveller I said to Joan, “How very considerate; they’re going to tow us in by tractor because of the dust.” How wrong I was. We were soon to learn that something had gone wrong with the hydraulics and we were to be stuck in Bahrain for 12 hours!
Now Bahrain isn’t exactly my choice of a place to be stuck, but I suppose everyone did their best to cope with 120 unexpected visitors. After a couple of hours we were given breakfast of eggs, bacon, sausages, toast and marmalade. Then came the announcement that we were to be taken to the Bahrain Hotel to rest. We were herded into four school buses obviously commandeered at short notice. The seats were far too narrow for comfort and on the windscreen in Arabic and English was a notice, “Do not place your arm or any other part of your body out of the windows.” The mind boggled at the thought of Arab children travelling to school with their feet sticking out of the windows! If any of us imagined that we were going to be treated to the delights of a modern hotel, our misgivings arose when our bus turned through the gateway into a typical Eastern bazaar, soon to be crawling along with much horn blowing behind a rubber-tyred two-wheeled cart hauled by a diminutive donkey, and surmounted by two Arabs equally oblivious to time and the exasperation they were causing behind them.
Eventually we stopped and it took some minutes for the truth to sink in. There before us was the Bahrain Hotel; a pinkish coloured building, its windows shuttered against the wind and sun, slap in the middle of the bazaar. Inside, in what might be described as a foyer, pandemonium reigned. There were not enough seats to go round and barely room to stand. The harassed airline officials and an Arab reception clerk were doing their best to allocate the available rooms to accommodate as many as possible. The bedrooms were cell-like affairs on either side of narrow corridors on four floors. The furniture was basic, the beds were hard, and the pillows stuffed with concrete! Mercifully, at about 1730hrs we were invited to make our way to the Dolman Hotel, a modern, well-appointed hotel on the seas-front.There we were given drinks and a first class dinner by the airline. Eventually after embussing and three re-counts we left for the airport for our onward flight to Bangkok and thence to Hong Kong.
I can thoroughly recommend Thai International Airways. The hostesses are charming in their mauve uniforms; the orchid sprays for lady passengers beautiful; the martinis just as they should be; the food excellent; and the wine unlimited. The pilots also fly the planes rather well! Just over three hours flight and your plane is making that low semicircular approach, almost brushing the sky-scrapers of Kowloon before putting down on the runway – and you just hope the thing is going to stop before rolling off the end into the sea! Carol was there to meet us with Toby, aged nearly two, and soon we were in the car driving through the Lion Rock tunnel to Sha Tin and up the winding road to their flat in Sha Tin Heights. Bruce joined us a couple of hours later. Our holiday had really begun.
The first week of our stay was a leisurely affair allowing us to unwind and prepare for the good times to come. We did, however, watch the semi-final of the Nepal Cup match between 1st and 2nd Battalions, which the 1st Battalion won by 3 goals to 1. It was a bit of ordeal being ‘home’ again after 26 years and meeting the GOs of both Battalions after the game, but a couple of whiskies eased the situation and loosened the tongue which had refused to acknowledge any other language but English.
Happily, and unknowingly, the second week coincided with Gurkha Brigade Week. Along with a great deal of work for those immediately concerned with the more serious side of soldiering, the week provided a full programme of entertainment for a much wider audience as the following will show:
Sunday 19th March.
Morning service in the Garrison church at Sek Kong. It was 2GR’s turn to do the ‘honours’. The lessons were read by Nigel Haynes and Christopher Wilson. The sermon was good, as was the singing – and Toby saw it through without any trouble. After the service we repaired to the 1st Battalion’s Officers’ Mess in Cassino Camp for drinks on the lawn and an enormous curry lunch.
Tuesday 21st March.
An early start to complete the 40 minutes journey from Sha Tin to Sek Kong in time for the Recruits Passing Out Parade at 0815hrs. In the evening we drove back again to Sek Kong for Beating Retreat and a Cocktail Party in the Training Depot Officers’ Mess. The Band & Bugles and Pipes & Drums put on a display of the highest standard one has now come to expect. The setting, with its backcloth of hills in the distance, was reminiscent of the North West Frontier. I will draw a veil over the Cocktail Party, except to mention that we met a lot of charming people and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
Wednesday 22nd March.
This was the day of the Nepal Cup Final between 1st Battalion versus 6GR. Although starting out as favourites, and probably the better side, we [1st Battalion] were beaten by a side which stuck to its guns and seized its opportunities. The standard of football has improved out of all recognition since my day and, after seeing what is so bad in the professional game in England, it was a joy to see the game played without any arguing with the referee or kissing between the players! Long may it be continued to be played in this way.
The evening saw me at the Training Depot Officers’ Mess for Dinner at the kind invitation of MGBG, Major General Bunny Burnett. This was indeed an honour since I was the only one not involved officially with Gurkha Brigade Week. It was a wonderfully satisfying evening. The lightly polished table; the silver; the Mess Orderlies silently appearing at one’s elbow; the port circulating amid the smell of cigar smoke; and good humoured conversation. Being a Sassenach I’ve never got unbuttoned over the sound of pipes at close quarters, but the evening wouldn’t have been the same without them.
Thursday 23rd March.
We were off to Sek Kong again to watch 2GR take on the rest of the Brigade at cricket. We lost. I’ve forgotten the scores, but no matter. John Burlison took an unbelievable catch; Bruce hit a couple of sixes; and my glass was refilled as soon as it was empty!
48 Brigade Ball that evening at the Peninsular Hotel was a glorious affair. 300 of us attended with a variety of Mess Kits to add colour to the evening and set off to perfection the lovely dresses worn by the ladies. Supper was a ‘get-it-yourself’ buffet affair from tables which, I swear, stretched the length of two cricket pitches and were laden with every kind of dish imaginable. The Dance Band of the Black Watch provided music for dancing during the evening, and we were treated to a display of Scottish Dancing by soldiers of the Brigade of Gurkhas. After some energetic dancing by a group of young Phillipinos, the local ‘Tiller Girls’ attempted some high kicking and a dance of the Seven Veils which took them down to their coconut shells! One of these energetic young women, a red-head, bore a remarkable resemblance to Rory Ormsby! At 0330hrs proceedings came to a close. Then it was back through the Lion Rock tunnel to Sha Tin and home to bed.
Friday 24th March.
This was the day of the Brigade Khud Race; something I had never witnessed before. The course was set over a distance of just under a mile and a half(1200 yards out and 1250 yards back) with an ascent of 1300ft (average 1 in 2.5) on a hill called ‘Nameless’ (I can imagine that the hill had several other names for it by the end of the race!). The winner, a Rai from 10GR, the unit that won the Senior Units’ Team Race, covered the course in 16 minutes 52 seconds, a full five minutes faster than the first British competitor.
There followed a glorious evening spent in the company of the GOs of both Battalions at the 2nd Battalion QGOs’ Mess by kind invitation of Major (QGO) Surrendraman Gurung. Birdie Smith, Gordon Richardson, Terry Bowring, and Bruce were also invited. It was a far cry from similar parties in the old days in Dehra. Here was a first rate buffet supper and drinks galore. And what superb company we were in, as Gordon remarked, “Where in the world could one find such a wealth of battle experience and examples of bravery?” The rakshi provided the necessary lubricant to the extent that Gordon was heard to remark towards the end of the evening that my Gurkhali was rather better than when I was with the Regiment! All too soon it was time to leave. I took the precaution of requesting a forward escort in the shape of Balbahadur, now happily back with the Regiment as Families Welfare Officer, but whom I had last met in England when he was being fitted with his prosthetic leg. I reckoned that he would know of any slight obstacles on the way to the car that were likely to put the unwary, completely sober mono-ped in a heap on the ground and happily I was not in that condition. At the car we each said our farewells, Surrendraman, Thandraj and I, sadly because we all knew that it could never happen again, but what a memory to take away from Hong Kong. [Captain (QGO) Balbahadur Thapa was severely injured by a tree-fall at night whilst on exercise in the jungle a couple of years earlier. This tragedy resulted in his right leg being amputated above the knee and a period of rehabilitation at Headley Court. I was an instructor at Mons OCS at the time and my father and I visited Balbahadur. He came to stay at our home in Surrey where he and my father shared experiences of managing with a prosthetic limb. My father taught Balbahadur to shoot pigeon – something he managed to achieve without falling over, much to his surprise and jubilation].
Sunday 25th March.
The morning saw a revival of Regimental Polo. 2GR played 10GR in an inter-regimental polo match for the Dehra Dun Cup. This was the old Dehra Dun Hot-weather Cup which the Regiment had donated for this competition. The players were mounted on Borneo ponies ranging from 12 to 13 hands. These small ponies have plenty of go and provide a lot of fun for their riders. 2 GR, represented by John Chapple, Charlie Cardwell [QM 1st Battalion], Johnny Kaye and Harvey Gates were given 2½ goals handicap. 10GR, who possessed two good players in Charlie Newton Dunn and Mike Boissard, ran out the winners by 8 to 2½. General Bunny presented the Cup to 10GR after John Chapple had made it known that the cup was on temporary loan and would be returned to its rightful place next year!
And so our stay in Hong Kong was over as far as contact with the Regiment was concerned. We spent a most entertaining week on the Island with a day at Happy Valley at the races in extreme comfort and luxury in the box of an old friend, Douggie Clague (Chairman of the Hong Kong Jockey Club), a day cruising in his motor yacht, and numerous parties. We journeyed back via Bangkok where we paused to visit friends and see the wonders of the Royal Palace, Temple of the Emerald Buddha, and the Reclining Buddha, finally arriving at Gatwick in the morning of Saturday 31st March to be greeted by rain and the threat of a rail go-slow!
We think, indeed we hope, we have written to all who put up with us and looked after us, but to the many others who may read this inadequate account and who were so kind and considerate, and lavish with their hospitality, may we say thank you for giving us the “full treatment”. [As far as I am aware this account was intended for the Sirmooree but was never printed – until now!]