Monday, 30 November -0001

MARAUDING MONKEYS, BALLY MAYHEM and the sweetest vigil

Continuing her father’s story, Elspeth A Grindlay shares his accounts of life in Simla during the war, and being reunited with his beloved wife

Written by Elspeth A Grindlay
As I explained last week, my father, Alan Philip Young, was posted to British India’s summer capital, Simla, during the Second World War to serve with the Military Secretary’s Branch at the General Headquarters of the Army in India. In 1944, he was promoted to the rank of major and appointed Deputy Assistant Military Secretary – his outstanding administrative skills were recognised with an MBE in the 1946 New Year’s Honours list.

After he died, I came across a rather grubby buff folder containing speeches, letters and documents pertaining to his time in India. Last week, we printed his account of the extraordinary journey to Simla, at the foot of the Himalayas. What follows is his description of his experiences there…

Simla’s skyline was unmistakable and was, according to Murray’s Handbook (the essential travel guide of the day), “incongruously dominated by a Gothic church, a baronial castle and a Victorian country mansion”. The church was Christ Church, the second-oldest in north India; the castle Gorton Castle, a rather dour building with a forbidding stone facade; and the country mansion the Viceregal Lodge, by far the most imposing building in the town.

The Mall, Simla’s main street, where people promenaded daily – though strictly between the hours of nine and 12 in the morning and four and eight in the evening – ran right along the Ridge, a large open space which was the hub of all cultural activity, from Jacko, a wooded, monkeyinfested hill made famous by Kipling, to the Viceroy’s Lodge, which I could see from my window. An extremely popular beauty spot was Wildfl ower Hall, once the home of Lord Kitchener, so called because of the amazing variety of wildfl owers that grew there.

Simla-Mar13-03-590Clockwise from top left: The Mall, Simla’s main street. Alan wrote that he was ‘very fortunate’ with his servants. St Andrew’s kirk, which proudly flew the blue-and-white saltire of Scotland on Sundays

Situated at one of the highest points of the Ridge was the Scots kirk, inevitably called St Andrew’s. On Sundays, the blue-and-white saltire of Scotland fl uttered proudly on the tower of the red sandstone building, sending out an irresistible call to every Scot, and the words “Biggit Be Godlie Men” engraved on its portals never failed to tug at the heartstrings.

However, on the whole, there was little else to admire in the town, although the surrounding scenery was magnifi cent in its wild grandeur, with the snow-clad Himalayas visible in the distance. The woods surrounding Simla were infested with jackals and monkeys. The former, frequently rabid, were a constant menace to dogs and were responsible for periodic outbreaks of rabies. The monkeys, which wandered freely over the rooftops and on the streets, were on the whole harmless, unless there were any young ones about. On one occasion they carried out a fifthcolumn attack on GHQ, destroying files galore and rendering several of the rooms a shambles. The consternation of the civil servants can well be imagined, although actually it was a blessing in disguise, as from then on, every time an important fi le was mislaid, the blame was laid on the monkeys!

Only two motor vehicles were allowed in Simla – the Viceroy’s car and the post office van. The only method of transport available to us lesser mortals was the rickshaw, specifi cally designed to deal with the town’s steep gradients. These were not the familiar Chinese type, but were actually glorified bath chairs which held one person and were pulled by four men, two in front and two behind. In their bare feet, they could work up quite a rate of speed, carrying on for miles up and down the steepest slopes. Amazingly, these were the only vehicles in which I ever felt safe in India.

I was very fortunate with my servants. My bearer, Beri Ram, was surprisingly honest. The only things I ever caught him stealing were whisky and aspirin, which, of course, went together! Beri Ram had access to a wonderful black market and managed to get me coal, whisky, film for my camera, thermos fl asks and petrol for my lighter, when such things were unprocurable from regular sources. He was a gem, and it was heartbreaking for both of us when the time came for me to leave India. Beri Ram genuinely wanted to come home with me, and I often wonder what he would have made of the British shopkeepers, though I’m pretty sure he would soon have found some way of avoiding the rigours of rationing.


Apart from the rigid division into seasons, Simla’s climate was quite like home. The winters were very severe, and on one occasion we were cut off for almost a week by a particularly heavy fall of snow. The summers were damp and muggy because of the rains, and although comparatively cool this was by far the most trying season, as the humidity penetrated everywhere. In between, the autumn and spring months were really delightful, with everlasting sunshine.

In 1944, we were ordered down to New Delhi, where most of my Branch was situated, back to the heat and discomfort of the plains.’


Later that year, my parents decided to take advantage of a government scheme which would allow my mother to join my father. And so, in March 1945, she set sail from Liverpool. Finally, after several anxious weeks, my father received the telegram which would ‘send him hastening to the station on the sweetest vigil of all time’. My parents were reunited in Delhi a few days before VE Day, and in this extract from a letter sent to my aunt, my father describes both events – one aff ecting the whole world, the other so very personal to them:

So it has come at last, the day for which we have been waiting so long and for which so many have had to give their lives. The pity is that only part of the war is over. Inevitable as the end may be, much pain and suffering still lies ahead for those in the East and for their folk before Japan, too, is taught that aggression does not pay.

Simla-Mar13-05-590The Viceregal Lodge was the most imposing building in Simla

Peggie and I heard Churchill’s broadcast at ‘oor ain fireside’. After four years of exile, what a difference it makes to have someone with whom to share moments like this!

I need hardly say how deliriously happy I am that Peggie is with me again. I had a few anxious moments before she arrived, but it was worth it, and neither of us has any doubts about the wisdom of our action. This does not mean, of course, that we are any the less anxious to get back home. It should not be long now till we are with you all again.’

It was, in fact, another 10 months. My parents left for Simla a few weeks later and were there during the political talks to discuss the Wavell Plan, which, it was hoped, would resolve the deadlock between the warring sects. One Sunday, they were on their way to visit some friends who lived close to Summer Hill, where Mahatma Gandhi was staying. The rain was pouring down, but in spite of this pilgrims were making their way along the road in their hundreds in the hope of catching a glimpse of him. They could hardly get through the throng of men, women and children, none of whom had any protection from the merciless rain, except perhaps a tattered umbrella.

For my father, it was a revelation of how highly regarded Gandhi was by the ordinary people of India, and he could well understand the hopeless, inarticulate grief which followed his assassination by Hindu fundamentalists three years later.


Throughout his life, my father retained a deep aff ection and respect for the Indian people, and it seems these feelings were reciprocated. An incident which took place some years after he returned to civilian life proved he hadn’t been forgotten. While in transit at Prestwick Airport, a clerk he had known during his sojourn in Simla called to thank my father for the encouragement and help he had given him at the start of his career. What made this gesture especially meaningful was the fact that the man was Indian, rather dispelling the myth that the British and, in particular, the British soldiers were universally hated by the Indian people.

My father was a remarkable man who, although he did not experience the horrors of armed combat, injury or imprisonment, did know all about the pain of separation. When, only eight years after my parents returned to Scotland, my mother died at the tragically young age of 40, making those extra 10 months they’d had together especially precious, he was faced with the first of his own personal battles – battles against heartache and poor health which he fought with such great stoicism and courage.

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