First encounters, July 3rd 1953
It was a stupid hour to arrive anywhere. In spite of our resolution to be awake bright and early, we overslept. Struggling to the porthole some time after first light, we saw golden green shores, steeply sloping mountains and occasional clusters of junks and sampans passing close on the port side. So this was Honkers. There was the frightening thought of disembarkation, interviews with senior officers, heel clicking and salutes. Indeed the voyage was over.
After a hasty breakfast we were on deck. The ship rested in a huge harbour, tugboats manoeuvring us alongside a quay. Across the harbour lay the mountainous length of Hong Kong island and the city of Victoria crawling along the shore, with the great white shapes of the Bank of China and its chief competitor, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, standing out like cathedrals. The rooms of the tenements were set so far back behind arcades and balconies that, from a distance, the buildings had a derelict appearance, as if the facades had been blown out of them. The sun was brilliant, the waters sparkled, great liners and cargo boats moved about the harbour like kings and queens in a forest of rocking pawn-like junks and bobbing sampans.
Hosts of little sampans clustered alongside. They seemed to be crewed entirely by women and small children, dressed in shiny, black pyjamas made from a Macintosh-like material. They were lifting large nets on the ends of poles up to the open portholes, where many of the soldiers were dropping odd coins and other things into them. We went down to our cabin and fed a stream of unwanted articles down to a grinning, old crone below, several packets of Lux, various half-consumed bars of P & O soap, some party hats, a pair of ladies’ shoes that had been in our cabin throughout the voyage and other odds and ends. Two small children jumped up and down with excitement in the prow of their small craft, as they stowed the objects in a little cupboard or under the decking. Some young men and boys began diving from the sampans after coins thrown into the water, thick with sewage, welling up from the sluices under the ship.
The morning was hectic. A young RA subaltern, bursting with keenness and welcoming good spirits, rushed us through a series of important visits: clothes from the Officers’ Shop, uniforms of olive Hong Kong green, long khaki socks, monkey jackets and other items, thence to arrange an account with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, referred to by our guide as “Honkers and Shaggers”, and, finally, a visit to the CRA of Hong Kong. He was out, so a colonel interviewed us.
“Ah, Crook – had a good voyage, eh?”
“Yes, Sir, very good, thank you.”
“Ah, jolly good. Well, I see you’re posted to the island. Better than the territories, nearer the bright lights and all that, ha. And what are your interests? Games – play ruggah?”
“Yes, I have played quite a bit – on the wing, Sir.”
“That’s something then. Good climate for it here. Much too hot, of course, but it keeps you slim and fit like nothing else, ha.”
“I am interested in scrambling in the hills and watching birds.”
“What? Ha – bird-watcher, eh? Good, but mind the hills, most of ’em a bit crumbly around here.”
We discussed various features of the colony and he took me around it on a huge wall map.
“Well, I guess that’s all, Crook. Enjoy yourself and watch your money. The ruddy Chinks will fleece you if they can. Good bargainer, eh?”
“Not so bad, Sir.”
“Well, s’about all – ah – take a tip. S’long as you go split-arse over everything, you’ll be OK in the Army. Specially out here. Good luck to you!”
I walked out a little dazed and we all drove off in a Land Rover, over the main range of the island hills, to the headquarters of the 27th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Regiment, Royal Artillery, at the end of a long promontory projecting out into the China Sea, Stanley Fort.
Our arrival at the regimental mess was like entering a madhouse. Two enormous majors, with northern accents, conversed in loud, table-shaking voices over tea, slapping each other on the back and pounding the tablecloth. A story was going on about a comic strip officer who was in trouble with the ‘Old Man’ for losing a tyre and half the military transport stores. The humour was rollicking through the room, the ceiling split with their laughter and the subalterns joined in with lighter pitched cackles of mirth.
We were hustled down from the mess, a large building, magnificently situated on a hilltop, commanding a stupendous view of the sea in one direction and the large military cantonment on the other, for an interview with our Commanding Officer.
Outside his office, a strongly built lieutenant with a pugnacious jaw and a highly seasoned hat, curved like a crescent over his head, paced theatrically before us, evidently in the throes of anxiety and gasping in and out of a Benson and Hedges cigarette.
“Hallo, you two new here? For God’s sake keep out of this dump. They chase you from pillar to post. Got on the wrong side of the old man. Twenty pounds out on the MT accounts, lost a Matador tyre somewhere in the hills, must have fallen off or something! Spent all last week hunting for the bloody thing!”
Gasp in – smoke out via nostrils.
“National Service – what me? Good Lord – no. Not likely. I’m a regular but I have just resigned my commission and I’m off to Kenya tomorrow to farm, born and brought up there – God’s own country. I’ve told the CO that, when I went to Sandhurst, I had no intention of being in the army for more than a few years. Coo – he wasn’t impressed!”
The office door opened, “Mr Crawley, please.”
Three gasps on the B and H, he stamped it on the ground. “See ya latah, I hope!”
During the day we discovered the nature of our regiment. This Heavy Anti-Aircraft regiment is divided into three batteries, each of which is divided into two or more troops, each manning four large anti-aircraft guns, with their attendant radars, trackers, predictors and other electronic apparatus intended to place an explosive shell near enough to an intruding aircraft to bring it down. Each troop was placed on a hilltop or outstanding site with an all-round field of fire. The regiment ringed both the island and the city of Kowloon across the harbour and was supposed to prevent an aerial attack, presumably from China. The system had been a good one during the last war but was beginning to date, as we were to find out. Newly-arrived subalterns were sent to one or other of these hilltop gun sites.
“There’s not much to choose between them,” we were told. “Avoid Brickhill if you can, it’s in the bleakest position, no proper officer accommodation – converted ammunition bunkers, sanitation poor and it’s pretty well cut off on a mountain at the end of a cape. Look – you can see it over there, the last headland before the horizon.”
A tall mountain ended in a narrow ridge before plunging, as a blunt cape, into the sea. I could just make out a line of low buildings perched on the end of the ridge.
Next morning the Adjutant decided on our fate. “Morning, Crook,” he said. “I am sending you to Brickhill.” Chris was sent to another site on a mountain crest, overhanging the city of Kowloon.
A three-tonner came to take myself and my luggage to my new abode. We drove along the southern coast of the island, past two scintillating little bays of shining sand, set between long capes and backed by jungle-clad mountains. Some way short of the Chinese fishing village of Aberdeen, we turned left off the main road and began winding our way up a tortuous road, along the side of Brickhill, and so towards the ridge I had seen the night before. My driver, an intelligent man, was surprisingly enthusiastic.
“It’s not a bad place at all, you know, Sir. Bit rough and ready but nicely out of the way of the CO. We are not bothered very much by RHQ. In fact, we’re pretty much an independent unit. We’ve just started playing cricket on the Police School grounds in the valley below us. Are you a cricketer?”
I told him I could bowl a bit and he waxed enthusiastic, being evidently the only competent batsman on site. We were twisting up a series of hairpin bends on a road carved from the living rock. Sometimes we dived into little cuttings, emerged again and coiled along the flank of a hill with steep grassy slopes, beset with small fir trees falling away to the sea below. Above us, the grey cliffs of a mountain frowned down at us, tufts of tall, pampas-style grasses and gnarled pines gripping the ledges throwing sharp silhouettes against the sky. We swung around the inner face of a little valley, set deep into the hill, and I glimpsed a patchwork of paddy fields and a Chinese hut opening on to a tiny cove several hundred feet below us. We groaned up a final slope into a cutting, across the end of which stood a pair of stolid, black, iron gates with a guardroom behind it. A gunner emerged and let us in, giving me a smart salute. We drove on into the camp up a steep slope and stopped halfway up.
“Your quarters, Sir!” said the driver with a grin. “Shall I unload your trunks?”
At the side of the road, set back a little below the roadway, two doors and windows looked out from a concrete bunker set into the rock of the hill, with fir trees growing from the soil directly above the windows. There were two little concrete caves carved from the hill as cellars. One of these was mine. I took a look inside. Damp whitewash gave forth a musty odour and an enormous electric fan hummed and clattered like a traction engine. There were two ancient chests of drawers, a wardrobe with warped doors, a small writing desk and a bed, upon which lay a straw palliasse, which I surmised dated from the Crimean War. My batman-to-be introduced himself and showed me around. Some twenty yards away, on the opposite side of the road, on a ledge above an almost vertical hillside, perched the wash hut. The latrines, set into the side of the hill next to the bunkers, contained huge buckets with rough wooden seats and were known locally as thunderboxes. The batman was not the most cheerful of men.
“The worst things, Sir, are them big centipedes. Quite six inches long they are, with their legs sticking out all along ’em. Sometimes they crawls on you at night and if you brushes ’em off the wrong way, they just digs their little legs into you and that’s that. You ’ave to pick ’em off, Sir, and every leg has a sting. One of the chaps in our billet was sent to hospital the other day, his chest covered with stings. There’s snakes too but they dursn’t come inside much. Yet, in one thing, Sir, we’re lucky. No mosquitoes here, we’re too high up and the air is fresh from the sea.”
There was the sound of footsteps on the road and a strongly built subaltern appeared, a tough young man with a projecting jaw. He welcomed me warmly and I took to him at once. Roger Thompson was also doing his National Service, before going on to St John’s College at Oxford to read history. I saw at once a determined, perhaps stubborn, character who would make a reliable companion. He took me in hand and introduced me to the Troop Commander, a regular captain, of a friendly, if rather harassed, appearance, who showed me the camp.
At its widest, the camp was spread some seventy yards over the narrow ridge of the promontory and, in length, it ran for about one hundred and fifty yards from the base of the steep upper slopes of Brickhill to the four hundred foot cliffs at the end of the cape. A loop of road encircled our cliff top and, on the outer side of this, the hillside dropped sheer in narrow valleys that ran down to the sea on either side of the camp. A whirled line of barbed wire marked our perimeter, which, at night, was illuminated from powerful lamps set on stakes.
Within the loop of road, the humpback of the ridge was carved into four rock-protected gun emplacements, each reached by a cutting in the stone. The men’s quarters consisted of further bunkers set in the rock, while the office and control rooms were deeply dug in stone with strong iron shutters on doors and windows. There were three Nissen huts, one a billet for the radar operators, another for the sergeants’ mess and the third, the officers’ mess, set a little apart, in a higher position commanding a view over the whole camp and the sea and islands beyond. Below the main camp, there were a few more buildings where a number of Chinese employees lived. Two radar sets stood high on the site and in the control room were placed the machines of the gunnery prediction apparatus. The site was manned by approximately seventy men, the number varying with national service intake and release. Four or five sergeants supported the Troop Commander and his three subalterns. Our troop was one of two belonging to a battery, the headquarters of which were on Stonecutters Island in the harbour but our very isolated position gave us a virtually autonomous role. Orders from outside came by telephone and one soon learnt the military skills of misleading intrusive senior officers over a wire. For the most part, we evidently ran our own show with quite an independent spirit.
It seemed to me that, in spite of the rough accommodation, I had come to a very pleasing little place. Although smartness was not the most obvious feature of the men moving about the camp, there was a good cheer and easy friendliness that indicated high morale. Clearly this was not a camp for bullshitting parades; rather equipment drills and gunnery practice, live or imagined, were to occupy most of our time. For the rest of the time, the men amused themselves freely and without tension between ranks.
In the evening, with the rush of settling in completed, I sat outside the mess and gazed out over the superb view beyond our shacks, radar sets, the guns covered for the night and the squat tower of the tracker position decorated with the aerials of the signallers. The entire length of the western coast of Hong Kong lay before me. To the north, green mountains sloped steeply to red and grey rocks and beaches of clean, yellow sand. The sea, so calm as to leave hardly a cream of foam along the tide line, lay blue and shining in the evening light, sometimes corrugated and glistening, with intricate wind and current patterns, and always alive with a subtle shimmering movement. Chains of golden green islands, steep and unapproachable, humped themselves from the waters. Beyond Lama Island, only three miles away, there were others and again, beyond a further stretch of white sea below the falling sun, yet more and again more, vague shapes beyond the horizon, delicate in a haze of blue gold hue. Dense little fleets of fishing junks dotted the waters with their lateen sails rising in a host of shapes as if cities with towers, spires, turrets and masts were sprouting from the sea.
Opposite, across a small channel, the island of Apleichau, the Duck Bill Island, guarded the entrance to the harbour of Aberdeen, from which the fishing fleet was setting sail for the night, moving slowly down the channel under our guns and heading for the fishing grounds near the Chinese communist islands of Lema. To the south of us, near the end of the channel, lay Aberdeen itself, a miniature city, with an immense Chinese cemetery of shining hillside graves perched immediately above it; in the still air the murmur of distant people sometimes reached us. Above Aberdeen, the forested slopes of The Peak climbed to a high summit crowned with the beautiful, white buildings of the most select residential district of the colony. As light began to fail, whisps of cloud appeared to twine around them, until all were enveloped in mist.
After dinner Roger and I, together with Dennis, our senior regular lieutenant, drank a toast to my arrival, sipping whisky and swapping yarns for hours. I went to bed content, filled with a pleasurable anticipation for the morrow.
Settling in, July 8th 1953
My cave-like home fits snugly into the mountain. The two little rooms are no hotel, more like an air-raid shelter in fact, but they are becoming more habitable day by day. My collection of books decorates the small writing desk, like Vesuvius over Naples, and my first Chinese prints and maps begin to relieve the monotony of bare, slightly damp whitewash. The routine shaking out of beds and shoes to disclose lurking centipedes or arachnids is becoming a habit.
Our garrison is, indeed, a compact little unit, isolated from everyone else, no doctor, no padre, no flowing water sanitation, post only three times a week and only one way in and out, down the narrow cuttings in the hillside. The contact between the officers and men is very direct and ‘Man Management’, as it used to be called at Mons, has to be of a high order. Morale in a small unit fluctuates just as the temperature rises or falls more quickly in a teacup than it does in a water tank. Not only do we have to keep the unit fit and trained and the equipment operational, but also we must devise games and exercises to keep the men happy and occupied. With so little space on our hilltop and with a drill square with a precipice along one side, this is not so easy. But we have our blessings. The most important is an outstanding Army Catering Corps cook, whose productions do more than anything to keep the lads content.
“I like to make ’em jellies and trifles at the weekend, just as their mothers would, Sir, you know.”
It is a strange feeling to sit in our little mess of an evening and to reflect that we hold sole responsibility for the security of our equipment and the behaviour of our troop. The Troop Commander leaves the site every evening for he lives with his wife in a hotel in Kowloon. In the night air sounds travel far; nearby, we hear voices in the NAAFI, the cookhouse or from the men’s billets along the hill; down on the water below us junks and sampans trail the laburnum petals of their lamps on the rippling surface of the sea and, on a still evening, the croaking of frogs rises from the paddy fields. Sometimes, from within a silence, a great insect chorus begins, swelling slowly until chirrups, in a thousand different keys, on a thousand different frequencies, mingle with other strange squeaks, rustlings, scrapings and puffings everywhere in the night air. A moment’s pause in our conversation permits a subtle infiltration of sound, a reminder that, beyond our narrow circle of light, outside among the trees and grasses, is another world of moonlit desire in cold insect shells. From the mess ceiling a great fan turns and turns stupidly, in an effort to cool the air.
Last night Roger came precipitately into the mess, looking behind him into the darkness beyond the pool of light around the door. He swore something had rustled in the grasses by the entrance. Our minds run on snakes for one or two species here are lethal strikers and one very dangerous one had been found recently, hiding under a refrigerator. This time I could reassure him for I had seen a large toad outside, earlier in the evening, and it had probably jumped out of the way at his approach.
Once a slight tapping at the window revealed a creature scrabbling against the glass. It was a huge praying mantis, some five inches long, propped up on its hind legs and peering in. It seemed excited by the light, goggling its head about and tapping the glass with the hard spike on its predatory front legs, as if seeking an entrance. In the morning it had gone but, in its stead, was a long, thin twig. On looking closer, I saw insect legs propping it up and realised it was a stick insect, another entomological treat. All day, large, gaudy butterflies parade in powerful flight up and down the roads and around our buildings. Last night, I found an enormous brilliant green long horned grasshopper sitting on the ceiling. All these insect experiences have stimulated me to write. Here goes my latest attempt.
Blundering beetle burbles into my room
bloop – blurp – blop – careering curves and plunges
– whoosh and zoom against the bed back, wall,
tin box – ping and window – clunk
and round the lamp in delirious circles
weaving madness in concentric dance.
Beetle! You blithering blurp –
bumble more bravely that soon
with stunning plop you fall
and downside-up with legs awry and waving
like a helpless cotted child
you’ll plead my pardon.
You funny thing! I stroke your carapace
and fold your wings.
You were not made or this –
there into the darkness thrown
go find your beetle mate
and play with better things than grinning lamps.
My companions are both very pleasant, quiet types, unlike the raucous fellows at RHQ. They do not have much to say but we are good friends. There is a lot of routine gunnery to learn and much administrative detail to attend to. The Troop Commander is a radar expert and a Korean War veteran. At first sight he seems a delightful man, appreciative and very keen to make the place excellent, from an equipment and human point of view.
I am Messing Officer and in charge of hygiene and health, as well as the radars. I command some twenty men, the radar people, drivers, cooks and guard-dog handlers. Since we have no doctor on site, a gunner, who has taken a fancy to playing with medicines and plasters, has been given the task of Medical Orderly. He has a room full of drugs and instruments and treats cases of mild indisposition. Once or twice a week, we have a visit from the regimental medical officer, who is available more quickly in an emergency. Gunner Drabble and I work together and, while he congratulates himself on the absence of lice, we are instituting a bedding check, the incidence of bedbugs being rather high. At midnight, two Chinese come and clean out the thunderboxes and we have to check their work, Drabble liberally distributing Jeyes fluid and DDT in the urinals and wash places. The result is an absence of fleas and a sweet smell of disinfectant.
We are well looked after in our mess. The small Nissen hut is subdivided into our dining room, lounge, writing room and general dump on one side and the cook’s kitchen, living room and general dump on the other. The cook is a Chinaman, who speaks a bizarre cross between a pidgin English of his imagination and a coolie English full of unintended riddles. Concentration is needed on both sides of the compartment before a menu is settled.
“You eata da kippla dinnla, today?”
“No, Cook, kipper for breakfast, tomorrow.”
“I keepa da kippla tomlows blekfast – eh?”
“Tanu Sah – kippla tomlows blekfast.”
And brilliantly cooked too.
Him is the mess waiter. Of ghoulish expression, laboured English and shambolic appearance, Him is certainly a little vague (kerosene in the pineapple pie the other day), yet his perpetual grin is a tonic for everyone. When I showed him the praying mantis he began praying too, so I supposed the Chinese name for this insect must be similar to ours.
Our clothes are washed by the dhobie amah who comes up every day to the camp. She is the cook’s wife, a charming and retiring little lady. The previous one was quite notorious. At that time there were fifteen Chinese in their quarters and the dhobie slept in the same hut. Now she is pregnant in hospital and Him, the young scoundrel, is the suspected father. Him is often very sad for he wants to marry a girl in China and is contemplating a visit to Communist territory in the near future. We doubt the wisdom of this because he has lived many years in Hong Kong and works for the army.
Every evening, the duty officer of the day mounts the guard. The Guard Commander parades his men on our little square for inspection. The officer arrives and inspects, moving elegantly along the rows with the sergeant trotting behind. My first occasion was a near disaster. “Guard ready and correct, Sir,” said the sergeant, with a smart salute. “Thank you, Sergeant,” I warbled – and promptly strolled to the wrong end of the line of men. Halfway along, I realised my mistake. It was essential to carry on regardless, even though the men looked as if they were suffering from extreme suppression of mirth. Back at the mess, Roger, who had been looking on, was pissing himself with gurgles of joy and, of course, I was not allowed to forget it in the weeks ahead!
Once in Brickhill, it is difficult to get out. Although we are on Hong Kong Island itself, the city lies on the far side of a great mountain and it is not easy to get transport over it. There are buses but these entail long walks and several waits. On certain days, a recreation truck takes officers and men alike into town.
Work and Play, about July 15th 1953
One of my first jobs here has been to sort out an impossible muddle. We have three generators supplying power for the electrical installations of our equipment and also for lights, fans and fridges. A record has to be kept of the hours for which they are run and the oil consumption. There are a series of work tickets and forms to be maintained day by day and week by week. When I arrived, the system was in chaos, with all our records differing from those at Battery headquarters. The only way to get them to match has been the usual military solution to such problems. You begin with the correct figures of the last entry, falsify the intermediate running hours, and so obtain a correct present reading. This task is now completed and nobody is surprised by the methods used, methods which I was more or less authorised to use. I am actually a bit peeved that the first thing I do here is to put someone else’s cock-up straight and correct a whole set of bewildering figures. I am starting afresh with a system of my own, which I hope will work. One of the generators is overdue for servicing and the other two have either oil or water leaks. To complicate matters, one of the engine attendants tells me he has lent some oil to some engineers, cannot remember how much and doesn’t know how much he has had back!
So far, my two radar sets are out of action but the bombadier in charge tells me he hopes they will be okay soon. It amuses me that the predictor, the machine that calculates where a shell has to be placed to meet a moving target, is extremely ancient and the drills for its use are different from those I learnt in England. It has many primitive features that bewilder me. The system I was taught uses one radar to survey the sky and locate targets, while the other tracks a chosen target and sends data about height, speed and direction to the predictors. The system here uses the two sets simultaneously in target acquisition, in a manner known as box and cox. Most of the modern apparatus has not reached here yet and I understand that we cannot lock on to aircraft doing more than 400 miles per hour. Since the Chinese now have Migs we would have little chance of an effective shot at one!
The radar and predictor operators are bright lads and pleasant to get on with, efficient with their work. In fact, one or two are a bit too quick-witted and some tact is needed in handling them. By contrast, most of the gunners are as dumb as deaf frogs, lacking all visible signs of intelligence, even though they are good-hearted fellows.
I have been preparing a loose-leaf file, containing details of my chaps’ personal record sheets. Some of these make very depressing reading; unhappy marriages, one remand home boy and many adverse comments on character, in general. Personnel selection officers do not mince matters in their reports on the men and I shudder to think what some of the lads would say if they knew what was written about them. Some, of course, have more complimentary comments written about them and may well become NCOs, in due course.
My faith in the gunners is a trifle restored by my batman, a bright-eyed lad, very willing to help and quite intelligent. How he manages to clean shoes so well I don’t know but I strongly suspect he pays one of the Chinese to do it. Several of the men employ their own Chinese batmen who, for a small sum, clean kit extremely well. It seems a colossal cheek for the men to have private servants like this – but the latter do get some remuneration for it.
The sergeants here are not impressive, lacking the qualities of initiative and leadership shown by the young infantry sergeants and corporals on board the ship. They are mostly fairly old, a bit gruff and uncooperative and often get odd bees in their bonnets about something or other. One of them has been refusing to swim in the sports this year because, on some past occasion, he and others were paraded in full kit to watch swimming sports. Yet he is a fine swimmer and enjoys it. Roger and I, by dint of much cajoling and invocations of British fair play and ‘being a sport’ are beginning to win him round, I think.
Some of our officers seem to me to be the utter end! Our Battery Commander comes up to Brickhill from Stonecutters Island once a week and criticises everything he can in a petty ‘know-all’ manner, which infuriates everyone. He always tries to ‘put it over one’, in such a way as to make the person concerned feel a fool. So far he has said about ten words to me. His favourite comment is: “You will do so and so – if it spoils your plans, then its just hard bloody luck.” The main ‘bloody luck’ about him is his dour personality and total lack of wit. Even our Troop Commander is apt to get frantically excited if anything goes wrong, blames someone else and then discovers it is his own oversight. He seems unable to distinguish between what is essential in troop management and what is trivial detail.
One day, when the predictor went wrong, he took out the insides of the CC10 machine and fiddled about with micro-adjustments, until he realised he had forgotten to operate an important and very obvious switch. No one seems to take these little trials calmly, there is always shouting and swearing, the sending of orders whistling in all directions and, finally, the hunt for a scapegoat. I suppose that regular officers can never afford to slip up on anything, in order always to remain in the good books of their seniors. Thus, you have an excellent captain eating humble pie before a half-mad major. The whole system lacks spontaneity and flexibility. Certainly, by comparison with the Royal Scots, the standard of efficiency in this regiment is, at the moment, very low.
At Mons, we were told repeatedly that the quality of a unit depends on the quality of the officers. Here the CO of the regiment, Colonel Adams, is first class; a big-minded man, firm in decision, precise in judgement and justly tough on everyone. The battery commanders, however, are another story; all of them seem odd in one way or another and their talk is continuously military and very boring. My main interest concerns the welfare and education of the men, yet Roger and I now have an increasing set of involvements because our senior subaltern leaves the troop next week and, when the Troop Commander goes home of an evening, we will have sole control and responsibility here.
Deep Water Bay, below Brickhill, is beautiful. High hills surround calm, azure water, soft, limpid and warm. There is a little sandy beach, where we take the men for a bathe, and a neat golf course. Above the shore, the jungle-clad hills rise steeply, revealing, on level ledges, a gleaming white house or two, like fairy castles. The roads to these houses are masterpieces of engineering, creeping around dangerous bends and through vertical cuttings in the rock. The beach is socially select and only the upper class Chinese and Europeans bathe there. Sometimes, in the evenings, we have the place to ourselves. The diving rafts offshore give us a lot of fun although swimming out to them needs care because of the occasional jellyfish, the stings of which can bring up nasty weals on the body.
Talking of bodies – we have to do a weekly medical examination of the whole troop, to check on skin diseases, foot rots and tinea. Everyone strips off, and then Roger and I examine them, while our medical orderly takes down the gory details.
On the rocks, near the number one gun site, lives a large rock python, some ten feet long reputedly. One of the lads on guard duty told me that, one night, he was walking near the spot, when it slithered off the rocks above him and dropped on the path glaring at him. The poor boy was scared out of his wits, although I suspect it was the python that had the greater fright.