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Remembering the Raj

Martin Pinnell

I was born in Darjeeling on 27 July 1928. My father L.G. Pinnell was in the I.C.S. in Bengal.


The only memory I have of my childhood in India was of the 1934 earthquake. My father, who was then Deputy Commissioner of the Darjeeling District, was in camp at Bagdogra - there was no airport then, just a large open space in which had been placed a dozen tents which provided living accommodation and offices for my father, mother, brother and me, and also for the English family - Mr. English of the Indian Police, his wife and children.

One fine day my brother and I were out in the open near the camp, playing with a toy gramophone, when suddenly the needle shot across my favourite record “ The March of the Toy Tin Soldiers”, scratching it and causing me deep distress. In a tented camp, there was little else to be damaged by the earthquake: but at our house in Darjeeling, called “Little Chevremont”, a chimney had fallen into the bedroom which my brother and I used, and much damage was done to Government House and other buildings.

As was the habit in those days, my brother and I were “sent home to school” in 1935. My brother, 3 years older than me, had had a governess who taught him for several years, and as I used to listen to many of the lessons, I could read and write well by the time I was 6, and I can remember reading aloud to a posse of children on the ship going home.

The Windamere: Ada Villa

Members of The Governor General’s Executive Council 1943
The Marquess of Linlithgow, Viceroy & Governor General of India (centre). Field Marshal Viscount Wavell, Commander-in-Chief, India
(centre- left). L.G. Pinnell (standing, extreme right)

In the summer of 1940, I was put on the “City of London” at Liverpool, and sailed to Calcutta to be with my parents. They had enrolled my brother and me in the “New School” which was set up in Alipore to cater for the many British children evacuated from UK. The school later settled in Darjeeling. One of my first recollections of retuning to Darjeeling as a boy of 11 was that the first time that I went to the Capitol cinema, I was not allowed to pay for a ticket, but shown to the best seat at the back. I told my mother when I got home, and she was cross, and told me to go back to the cinema at once and pay the full amount for the seat I had used. I learned that it was almost a sacred rule of the I.C.S. that its officers must not accept gifts or favours of any kind: the manager of the cinema had possibly heard that a son of a former Deputy Commissioner had arrived in Darjeeling - but anyhow I ran back to the cinema to pay for that seat. I live now in Western Australia, where one state premier and a couple of well-known business tycoons are in prison for corruption, a second state premier only just avoided a prison sentence, and a third state premier is awaiting trial. It is for me a fond memory that there was a time and place when there was integrity in government.

The New School in Darjeeling leaves me full of happy memories. Its staff had been recruited from whomever was not involved in the War - Harold Loukes, a Quaker and a conscientious objector, had brave “new” theories of education, including a reliance on self-discipline rather than iron rule, and co-education - both of them new ideas in the English tradition. Mary Loukes, his wife, taught biology. G.C. Woods, an elderly but brilliant mathematician (and Cambridge Wrangler) taught maths. Mlle Bossenec, who had been at Santiniketan translating Rabindranath Tagore’s works into French, taught French. Tony Lamaro, a former wrestling champion of Australia, taught P.T. The school had been lent a small playing field which I think belonged to St. Paul’s, and after I took a cricket ball in the mouth and broke a tooth, I was told I didn’t have to play any sport if I didn’t want to - so I spent my time doing other things. I was secretary of the school debating society and of the school photographic club. I remember that after the photographic darkroom at Eden Falls was closed and the room given over to some other use, (I was I think the only person who had made frequent use of the darkroom), I stood up at a school meeting and addressed the headmaster “Sir, the Photographic Club has been deprived of its premises:” It was my first political speech.

All in all, my teenage years in Darjeeling were a happy time. It is a time in one’s life when one has many different lessons to learn, and those three years in Calcutta and Darjeeling certainly broadened my life.

After doing my School Certificate at the New School, I was sent to South Africa for sixth form work, and after the War I went to Oxford. I worked for IBM for most of my working life, and I now live with my wife and 3 daughters plus grandchildren in Perth W.A.

One last message for you who read this. I think that all of us who knew India in the 1930’s and 1940’s have a duty to tell the history of that time to future generations. When my father was old and bed-ridden, I bought him a tape recorder and I have 17 cassettes of his memoirs of Bengal. So far, these have been printed off only for family and a few friends, and maybe I will be able to get it published.

A few years ago, maybe 1992, “The Australian” newspaper printed a letter in its correspondence page from someone seeking to denigrate Britain, and the letter contained words similar to “In 1992 the British deliberately killed half the population of Bengal by commandeering the rice stocks in the province and starving the people”. At home, I happen to have my father’s copy of the Commission of Enquiry report on the Bengal famine, as well as other papers of that time, so I wrote to “The Australian” reciting the facts as established by the Commission. At first, they did not print my letter, but after I spoke to their WA state manager, they agreed to print a fairly brief letter from me. But many people will have read and believed that first wickedly untrue statement!

Martin Pinnell
Dalkeith WA,
Australia

David Lytton Cobbold
14th April 2002


Earl and Countess of Lytton
1922

We fell in love with your hotel on arrival - the warm welcome, the decor of the rooms, the coal fire in the grate and the the atmosphere of an age gone by. It must surely be one of the best hotels in the world - at least in our experience it is. But that is not all.

The reason for this our first visit to Darjeeling is to follow in the footsteps of our forbears. I am travelling with my wife, Christine, my sister, Susan, and a first cousin, Rosanagh. Three of us are grandchildren of Victor, 2nd Earl of Lytton, and his wife, Pamela. Victor was born in Simla in 1877, when his father, Robert, 1st Earl of Lytton, was Viceroy. Before he left India in 1880, Robert inaugurated the as yet uncompleted Darjeeling Himalayan Mountain Railway.

In 1922 Victor, with his family, returned to India as Governor of Bengal. During his five years of service, Darjeeling was home for six months of the year. All the family loved the mountains and they made frequent expeditions from here into the surrounding country and to Sikkim and Tibet. Of their four children, Antony, Hermione, Davina and John, only Hermione, my mother, survives aged 96. Reading her memoirs and diaries and looking at the albums of photographs of those years, I noted that a regular companion on their holiday expeditions was Mr. Laden La.

Imagine therefore the amazement and joy when we discovered that this unique and magnificent hotel is owned by his daughter, aged 98, and managed by his grandson and great grandson. It was pure magic to meet with Mrs. Tenduf La and all the family. She remembers my mother , Hermione, and I am sure that my mother will remember her when we tell her of our adventures.
The ride on the Toy Train up to Darjeeling was an unforgettable experience but our stay at the Windamere has been as from a dream.

On behalf of my wife, Christine, and my sister, Susan Blount, and of my cousin, Rosanagh Raben, daughter of Davina, I thank you all most heartily.

David Lytton Cobbold
Knebwoth House
Hertfordshire
.

 

Sarah Aitchison
Darjeeling 1928 - 1931


I came to Darjeeling on the 3rd of March 1928 with my husband then Major J.E.E. Packard of the 2nd Btn., the King's Own Royal Regt., from Rawalpindi where the regiment was stationed. He had been seconded to the staff command based in Calcutta where he had a flat in Fort William for the winter months. The whole staff came up from March to October making their headquarters at Jalapahar.

We put the car on the train from Calcutta to New Jalpaiguri and motored up to Darjeeling to our first house The Limes. It was like entering Paradise after the heat of the North-West Frontier.

We had a very social life with dances at the Everest Hotel, Rockville Hotel, visits to St. Joseph's and St. Paul's schools, riding or motoring to Ghoom and Tiger Hill or down to the Rangeet river. We played tennis, watched clay pigeon shooting or went down to the races at Lebong. Somehow our two horses Tommy and Stinka Karez arrived from Rawalpindi but we often rode the tat ponies from Chowrastha down the steep hills or had coffee at Valdos or the Rendezvous. We used the Gymkhana Club a lot as there was skating, bridge, amateur dramatics, children's parties, dinners and dances. When the General came up, there was all the more formal functions held at the Maharaja's palace then called Government House. We often had friends to stay for holidays in the hills, and we enjoyed the company of resident friends like the Mazumdars and their daughter Tara.

The social life was only made possible by the help of our Nepalese and Tibetan servants. The cook came for his orders every day as he did the shopping. I had to give him at least three days' notice if we wanted coffee or a curry. There were certain customs to observe to make life run smoothly. For instance turning a blind eye to certain amounts of food disappearing. Some wives gave themselves a lot of trouble by counting the eggs or measuring the tea. My husband’s personal servant, Bhudrahdin, was always with us. He used to be on the station at Karachi in some miraculous manner to meet us after we returned from leave in England. Nima, a red-hat Tibetan, pushed the pram for Nanny; once he was delighted to collect up the locusts that had swarmed all over it.

Our elder daughter was born at The Limes on the 2nd of April, just a month after our arrival. My mother-in-law stayed with us and grew vegetables in the garden there. She came with us on a riding/walking trip to Sikkim being carried in a “dandy” chair, often demanding “Put me down” as she observed some rare plant.

An entry in my diary for 8.9.1930 blandly announces the arrival of our second daughter. “Put petrol on my hair” must have been a craze” then; had tea with James, did not feel very well, took rickshaw to Eden Sanatorium, baby born 11 pm. We were living at Catherine Villa No.1. Later we had No.2 Mounteagle.

We had several shooting expeditions from Darjeeling, leaving at 5 am, motoring to Chilipari via Siliguri and into the jungle to a dak bungalow near Madan Hat where nine elephants would be waiting for us. The elephants, each with its mahout would proceed further in to the machans, a platform in a tree, where we would sit in silence from 8 pm, till 1 am, with a dead goat below us waiting for the tigers.

We left India for England in October 1931and often thought of our wonderful life in Darjeeling.


Sarah Aitchison
Melton Constable
Norfolk

 

Yoma Crosfield Ullman
May '94


As a small child during World War II, I lived with several other children in the house known as Laydale. Among my sweetest memories of that time are the visits of the peppermint boxwallah. We were not allowed to eat from any source other than school or home, but an exception was made for the soft, creamy, delicious peppermint he sold. His appearance in our driveway, with his box on his head, made us rush from whatever we were doing to gather round him as he lowered the box to the ground, and opened the lid to show us what special treat he had brought that day.


Yoma Crosfield Ullman

 

Jean Gordon
4th May 1994


Children who were in India during World War II were particularly privileged - in normal times, we would have been sent “Home” to school. But India was our home, and school in Darjeeling was a million miles from the repressive regime of school in England, to which were were returned in 1945. Holidays at Ging Tea Estate were among the happiest times - we roller-skated in the Tea Garden Buildings, marvelled at dead snakes produced for our admiration, and rode the tea garden ponies.
A wonderful place to be Child!


Jean Blackadder, nee Gordon

 

David and Judy Hunt
20thApril 1995


Our first return to Darjeeling for thirty-one years.

My wife, Judy née Goddard, is the daughter of Leslie Goddard, rector of St. Paul’s School, Jalapahar (Darjeeling), for 31 years, from 1933 to 1964. She was born here, in the Eden Sanatorium, and lived her childhood years at St. Paul’s. (We have been staying at the rectory and find ourselves sleeping in her parents’ beds!). She returned to Darjeeling many times over the years and in 1964/65 she worked as a nurse at the Tibetan Refugee Centre.

It was while she was working at the Centre that I met her for the first time, as I was passing through India en route from Japan to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) where I then worked. We met on the steps of the Planters’ Club in Darjeeling, in October 1994. Two days later, we enjoyed our first date, at 4.30 am, on Tiger Hill, watching that tremendous spectacle at dawn. Later that week, I continued on my travels, going from here straight to Agra, to see the Taj by the first full moon after the Monsoon. All was pure romance!

Thus my wife was whisked away from India to Africa, where we lived many years and where our children were born. Now back in England, we have left our hearts in two other continents, and this return to India and to Darjeeling has reminded us all too poignantly of what we left behind, 30 years ago.

The overwhelming kind hospitality of Mrs. Tenduf-La has been an unforgettable highlight of our week in Darjeeling. As an old friend of my parents-in-law, Leslie and Maisie Goddard, she has warmed our hearts with tales of the old days. Leslie Goddard was one of India’s great headmasters - and his old friends, colleagues and servants have greeted us with joy wherever we have gone, the memories still vivid. Judy’s reception at the Tibetan Centre was likewise very moving and we have enjoyed enormous Thondup hospitality.

May all these great souls continue to thrive, in the magnificent shadow of Kanchenjunga! May the vision which she vouchsafed to every one of her children never perish! “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills”.

We shall soon return! Many, many thanks

David and Judy Hunt

 

Rita Ghey
6th November 1995


I was born in Nagpur in what was then Central India in 1933 and left India in 1947 after partition. We were the fourth generation on my father's side and third generation on my mother's to have lived here. My great grandfather was Henry Haversham Godwin-Austen who, ss part of the Great Survey of India, was the first person to survey in the Karokaram Range near Kashmir. The second highest mountain in the world was named after him - Mt. Godwin-Austen. Today it is also known as K2 (K for Karokaram and 2 for the order in which it was surveyed). He married my great grandmother, Kudiji, the daughter of a wealthy landowner, and she was with him on his surveying treks. She died in her second childbirth while in the mountains (When Kudiji died, the 2nd baby also died).

It was 1857 and the Indian Mutiny had just taken place, and a mixed blood offspring would not have been well received amongst the English gentry in England who had lost so many of their sons in the Mutiny. So he gave his first son, Edward, to be adopted by a family, the Milners, who decided to remain in India. However, he paid for Edward's schooling right through Engineering College in Roorkee.

Godwin-Austen was also a very notable water-colour artist and is listed among the ten best of this genre in England. His grandfather, Henry Godwin, was commander-in-chief of the Burma Expeditionary Force and fought in the battle of Pegu which resulted in Burma being annexed to India and becoming a part of the British Empire.

Leaving India in 1947 was a terrible wrench for our family. We went to England and then to Canada but always our dearest friends have been those who have shared our Indian background and memories. With them we can still use our Hindi (as best we remember it! ) and there is so much to talk about and even more that is just simply understood. Coming back after nearly 50 years, I feel the pain of our departure is finally being healed.


Rita Ghey

 

Radegund Gilbert-Carter

My early memories of Darjeeling were my mother saying "Oh to get to Darjeeling was so wonderful". It was not only how she said it but her completer relaxation as if 'now, everything will be alright'. 

My father, Humphrey Gilbert-Carter, came to Calcutta Botanic Garden to work on the Botanical Survey of India before the First World War. I can’t remember his impression of the work, but I do know that when things got unbearable in Calcutta, they made the tortuous journey to Darjeeling. His greatest love was wild flowers and trees and he and my mother would have been blissfully happy wandering the hills. After the war he was given the Directorship of the Cambridge Botanic Garden and they never returned to India. His name in the botanical world became very well known.

Their love of India and Indian people never left them. For a long time now I have been intrigued to find out just what this lovely place was like. Now, at last, at the age of 71, I am here, and there really is a magic about it, and now there is The Windamere.


Radegund Mason née Gilbert-Carter