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 THE PLIGHT OF SERVICEMEN

 General

Separated from loved ones by many thousands of miles, lonely and living in harsh conditions, with little money and no refuge to turn to, the lot of servicemen in Calcutta during WWII was indeed an unhappy one.

 Our open house

'Though there were only four in the family, five when Claire was home from school, our dinner table was always laid for twelve and any serviceman, regardless of rank, was welcome to fill a place at table and enjoy a good meal in very happy and relaxed family surroundings.  After dinner we all adjourned to the lounge for a sing-song around the piano and some of the men and women were very talented indeed. One in particular caught the attention of the authorities and was enlisted to give piano performances on All India Radio and at concerts for troops.  The lads greatly enjoyed this bit of 'home from home'.

 Picnics

'On moonlit evenings we often arranged picnics at the Dhakuria Lakes, where the lads lounged on the grass at the water’s edge, listening to favourite melodies on our windup gramophone. We also often hired a launch and took them down the Hoogly River to the Botanical Gardens for a picnic, or arranged one in the grounds of the Victoria Memorial.'

 Cinema and concerts

'When there was a good film or a concert, we bought tickets and took the lads along..'

 The WVS

'There was no club where the troops could relax, so a large house was obtained to use as a canteen where the boys could go for free snacks and   recreation.  Justine helped there. She had never cut her hair and wore it in long plaits, down to her waist. One day a saucy soldier tugged one of them as she passed and said – 'Ding, ding! What about a cup of char Miss?' She was so upset that she rushed home and immediately cut them off.'

 Shopping expeditions for the troops.

'With the arrival of American G Is, enjoying much larger pay packets than our lads, prices in the New Market escalated until they were out of the reach of our lads, so Justine organized regular shopping expeditions for them. She headed a long convoy of rickshaws as they made their way down the main street, Chowringhee, to the Market, where they split into small groups and selected what they wanted to buy. Justine, being in command of the language, then bargained with the stall keepers to get the best price for them.'

 Other Help

'Her father was a good tennis player and golfer and there were strenuous tennis contests with the lads on the grass court, followed  by special teas on the lawn..  They were also taken to the Tollygunge Golf Club on the outskirts of the city and to the Swimming Club  and also the famous restaurant Firpos,  for sumptuous meals.'