Bill Beattie

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Ivan & Cynthia Rufus

A memorable Night Out

Broken hearts and other Diversions

Too Much Rum

Book Review

Three Wives

OSS Training At Nazira

Manas Forest Sanctuary

An Interesting Weekend

February 25 2007

Ivan and Cynthia Rufus

Bill Beattie tells the Editor that he was much surprised the other night to get a phone-call from
Cynthia Rufus.   "To tell us that Ivan and herself had moved from Innisfail to Redlynch (800 yds
away) in Cairns.

Went round to see them last eve and had a good chat. Ivan is 84 and not in the best of health
Cynthia as ever is alert and very interested in what  is going on in Koi Hai and Camellia.  They
do not have a computer. Asked  them if it was ok to give their phone number and address to
the  website and they said yes.

Very few living planters would not remember Ivan...who was the  'Tea Engineer Burra Wallah'
throughout India. If anyone wishes to get in touch with them their address is:
 Unit 26,  58 Intake Road...Redlynch..
Cairns Queensland Australia, 4870        
 Telephone  0740-391323

July 2006

A Memorable Night Out.

In 1964, Ray and Lavendar Corps (Assam Co.) joined us in the south of Scotland for a week's fishing.
We had rented a small gate-house in Hawick and from there Ray and I made excursions through the
 rolling hills to the west and in particular, up and down selected reaches of the Border Esk to catch
sea and brown trout. Our wives did all the things that ladies do when men are away. All was well and
peace and laughter reigned. But that summer was unusually dry and with no good rain to send the
rivers running... hard work for fishermen with little return.

     One evening we were returning with empty creels along the Langholm road to Hawick and stopped
at a wayside Inn called the Mosspaul Hotel. An old, white-washed building set just off the road, at one
 end of a lonely, steep and often sunless valley. In those days a Mecca for district farmers, bus
passengers and travellers in need of a ‘stiffener' or two. Rumour had it that this local historic site was
also the venue for secret laisons and all that these entail.

                  Once inside we headed for the cosy bar and ordered a beer. We had agreed to be back by
8pm and take Agnes and Lavendar out to dinner in town. No problem.

              The barman had been listening to us with some interest especially when we referred to
Assam and India. He formally introduced himself and said that he had spent six years working for a
tobacco company in Calcutta. Did you know or meet so and so? By jove ...yes! And so on. Hindi
words and phrases became more frequent. This added spice to our chatter and an hour passed quite
swiftly. A car arrived and its single, grey-haired occupant emerged, booked a room for the night
and joined us in the bar. Eventually, after listening to the only subject of conversation, he mentioned
that he had spent a twenty five years in the Indian Civil Service and retired in 1952. Did you ever visit
Assam? Many times...and knew so and so...did you? He died last year...went to the funeral...and so
on.  Another hour passed in what can only be described as tremendous conviviality and we realised
that the point of no return had was 9.30pm! Doomed by the remarkable coincidence of
four men in a lonely bar yet all with a common link. And we were the only customers. Doomed also
by the noisy reception we would be lashed with in justifiable outrage if we ventured back to home
base too early yet long after hotel restaurants had closed. In the measured and considerate way
that gentlemen everywhere behave, someone ordered whisky, time passed and then the wee one
for the road appeared as if by magic followed by more wee ones. All were big wee ones. These
were trumped by wee big ones. And fine malts too! Using up the extra drinking time available to
all country pub guests we lurched away from our new ‘friends for life' soon after midnight. 

               Driving on to Hawick was a tentative, fuddled and unnerving experience...little traffic
apart from several hazardous centre lines and some mobile trees. Somehow we got there and
staggered inside to darkness and deathly silence. That unnatural chill in the atmosphere that only
erring males and dogs recognize. There was nothing edible in the refrigerator apart from milk. This
is a dangerous and instantly purgative drinker's drink so we crept mouthing unintelligible whispers
to our respective rooms, weak and trembling with hunger and fear. From the next room I heard what
sounded like a snarling female dog and some scuffling. Later, the same sounds battered my ears
too early in the morning.  Miserable repentance consisted of two ‘fascinating' days touring and
shopping but it wasn't long before Ray and I were allowed out again! Several times we passed the
Mosspaul Hotel. Ray and I exchanged glances... laughed and drove on.

 January 2005

Broken Hearts and Other Diversions

Looking back on Assam tea days is very much akin to searching through a cobwebbed  wooden chest and finding forgotten objects. The more fragile wrapped in layers of musty paper ...the heavier stained brass and pewter ware jumbled below. There are also photographs hidden, stuck together inside yellowing envelopes. Remembering the history of each item can be difficult. When I left the country in 1966, there followed years in Australia interspersed with time in Africa , Indonesia and Madagascar . Many adventures and ‘objects' collected. Some of them still tangled in memory.

                            However, stimulated by the Koi-hai website, recollections as a young man in India flow back. We all know that memory plays tricks and one man's ‘real' truth of events is never the same as that of another. Therefore this is the perfect opportunity to write about part of another side to life in Assam in the ‘60's! A side that is rarely mentioned but clearly remembered.

Most of the European and Indian young men who came to Assam were bachelors. Perhaps three or four months into their training work, and a few sessions at the local club, their confidence grew and many sly glances were made and exchanged with the young ladies working on the Estate. I was no different and no less susceptible. As a teen-ager I had read the short stories of Somerset Maugham, believed every word and still do!

                     This Mackeypore greenhorn ‘outgarden' chota sahib spent many happy hours loitering around the young girls' plucking section. Everyone including the manager knew where to find me. In fact every male on the plantation seemed to head to this area.  One hot, wet summer morning I had just ridden up on my bicycle, clad in the customary baggy shorts and cotton shirt when three slender, heart trembling maidens moved out onto the pathway beside me and began rubbing anti-leech grease on their legs. Starting around their pretty ankles and gradually working upwards past their knees all the while darting luminous glances at me. Sure enough, just when the upper thighs were about to be exposed there was ‘a frontal disturbance' in my shorts. I was transfixed by embarrassment...unable to move off the bike or climb back on again. Nothing would make ‘it' go down...the girls started laughing and pointing. A genuine three legged tent! Some of the others began clapping and much badinage ensued. It was a game to them and humiliation for me. A few weeks later there was a straggling beauty at the end of the file heading for the factory leaf weighing. She cupped her mouth as she passed and said...'I will come to your bungalow tonight'! Needless to say I was home early, throbbing in anticipation and waited in vain till mid-night. The game continued.

At Lakmijan T.E. there was a legendary young lady called ‘Miss Clips". Most attractive and decorated in necklaces and beads, she was a predecessor of the modern female Indian film star, and undoubtedly a ‘lady of the night'. I had chatted with her a few times and found humour, intelligence and surprising frankness.  Quite different to the mercenary lady that other planters had described. They had said not ever allow her into your bungalow because she will never leave. Refraining from asking them how they knew this absolute fact, our relationship continued. However, it was not long before the night chowkidar announced that a lady was at the door. It was Miss Clips and she wanted to talk. Come in, I said. Two hours later she left of her own accord and we retained our communication for the duration of my posting. That evening I learned of much rumour and scandal involving fellow planters and what was really going on at some nearby estates. Since this episode I remembered her advice and wherever I went from then on... an insider was employed somewhere to keep me informed. Yes, I remember her with affection.

I witnessed or people told me of  affaires de coeur, some more spectacular than others.  The manager's wife that left her husband and children early one morning, boarded a helicopter that landed on the Burra Bangalow lawn and disappeared forever into the wild blue yonder. Ripping yarns of assistants scuttling down the backstairs of other residences while managers raced up the front. And vice-versa! Somerset Maugham had it pretty right!

                   One young man was misbehaving in the wrong bungalow and heard the thunder of husband's boots out the front. Grabbing his underpants and little else he fled through a rear door only to be met by a snarling, yellow-fanged Alsation dog! Faced with death in retreat or a severe mauling, he chose the latter! Next day his howls of pain as the large anti-tetanus and rabies needles went in, were described with relish by hospital staff!

There was an outrage in the film projection box at one club. A noisy outrage! Everyone not involved thought it very amusing! A GM's daughter on her annual Xmas holiday fell in love with another young assistant and they were lucky to flee in their underwear just before a furious Burra Memsahib descended on the scene. The fact that the scene was in the GM's barouche added some spice. Another young assistant really did fall for his manager's wife and it became obvious that not only was this reciprocated but made demonstrably clear on club nights. As the manager was twice the size and age of the assistant, the tolerance of the former and courage of the latter remain unforgotten.

      We all remember the intense passion of youth and on reading the above some may believe that a sanctimonius Scot is writing with missionary innocence. But I too was swept out to sea in meeting an air-hostess in Nazira Club. The fact that she was engaged to be married and her fiancee was present made no difference whatsoever. We shook hands, looked at each other and that was it. There followed many weeks of secret assignation and subterfuge. Details unnecessary...this is personal. Keeping privacy in India is impossible and it was not long before management and anxiety intervened. I was so smitten that little work was accomplished in the minor role I played out on the estate. Time passed and years later I received a postcard from a small town in southern Scotland . It was from the airhostess. She and her husband had passed through my birthplace. She had not forgotten either.

         There was another side as well. In '64 or '65 my wife Agnes and I retreated to Shillong on five days leave. In the Pinewood bar (excellent recuperative venue) we met some Indian army officers who had been involved in the Indo-Chinese war of '62. An  interesting night culminated in an invitation to return to the local Army base where very good whisky could be obtained at ½ price. Our host was a most charming Sikh of high rank. All went well until our friend produced photo albums containing hundreds of revealing pictures of young boys and men. A chill went through us and it ended badly with yours truly fending off predatory advances and no whisky!  After much scuffling and shouting we managed to get a driver to take us back to the Lodge. On the way we declaimed on the disastrous night we had had , oblivious of the Army driver's presence. As he deposited his passengers, he turned and with a huge smile said, in precise Oxford English...'I am so glad you have had such a wonderful evening!' Maybe he had experienced it all before!

 Perhaps episodes like these are not so unusual in any community anywhere...only the locations are more exotic. At that time in tea however, there was the prevailing ‘official' feeling of sanctimony and not a little prudishness in the white community. Do not speak of it! Do the right British thing Billy Boy and you will be ok! Silly, wasn't it?

              Seedier episodes occurred in places like Aunties near Jorhat. These were not in any way romantic although I did hear of one planter, way back in the 1930's, who took away and happily married one of the girls employed there. Annual leave led desperate bachelors further afield to Shillong and they returned, somewhat gaunt in appearance, recounting stories of fine romance and steaming passion in the friendly, matriarchal Khasi society.

        Consequences of more local affairs were evident around certain estates. One of the most surprising for me was at morning office when a young mother at the end of the queue, answered the manager's preliminary and grinning question...'what a lovely baby tell who the father may be?' ‘It is you Sir' ...she replied...'have you forgotten already?' Along with the rest of the staff, I fled the scene choking with laughter.

    There was a paler young boy amidst the mostly happy throng of Indian children on one of the tea-gardens I was posted to.  On enquiring how old he was the answer gave me all the dates and research work needed to calculate who was where and when. I was stunned...the alleged father was the least likely suspect! Now very senior and a somewhat sanctimonious character!     

                                      Ray Corps informed me at Mackeypore that a new assistant had not been seen for three days. I was told to check out his bungalow. It took twenty minutes on my bike and I was not surprised to find empty bottles of Carew's Gin on the front verandah. What did amaze this green horn, however, was the amount of giggling coming from inside. The young man had been freighted from the concrete city of London and two years in the Guards to the green hell (for him) of Assam .  He had done well. So far he had all the gin he wanted, a cook, several young girls and a tame monkey. He was sent back to the UK ....invalided out in fact. A product of the Board's careless recruitment policy perhaps but could he have been more cunning? Now an elderly, distinguished figure in Britain , constantly recalling his all-expenses-paid holiday in India . 

                  Frustration and the need for excitement prevailed among the bachelor brotherhood. Freed from the restrictions and duties of estate life there were many big nights at the club. One of the craziest was our decision to ‘attack' Nazira Headquarters with fireworks. Inside the compound lived numerous Company personnel, as well as the illustrious GM. There were tennis courts where players played and non-players scandalised. The attack took place at 8pm.with powerful  bangers near the sentries' gate and in the confusion, we raced around letting off others around the bungalows. Then, laughing hysterically, we all retreated back to the bar. However we had forgotten that the car park was outside the compound gate and my Triumph Herald was the only vehicle unlocked. Hey! We never considered that our attack could have been misinterpreted as a militant Naga episode, that babies had woken screaming and mayhem had ensued! It was fun until we left and I found that someone had removed the rotary arm from my car and I was doomed. Guilty, your honour, was muttered during the official enquiry and apologies made.  

Up in Moran one Xmas time, Santa arrived at the club perched on a decorated elephant. This was the dastur of the times and maybe still is. What marked this occasion however was that the elephant, no doubt as excited as the screaming children on the club verandah, dropped its massive expanded penis just as Santa dismounted shouting Ho! Ho! Ho!  Children ignored the sack of presents and darted about pointing at the lower regions of the beast. Mothers chased everywhere flushed with annoyance and embarrassment. A joy to behold! 

         In my final year, two incidents were memorable in Nazira. The first was a quiz night in which I helped to organise two teams of 5 ‘brains' to vie for some minor trophy. The questions were based on general knowledge with maybe a slight bias towards natural history. All went well until I asked ...what is the longest recorded King cobra ever officially measured? I already knew the answer of course...just over 18', held in London Zoo and killed during a WW2 bombing raid. The answers ranged from 30-80'! I had forgotten that tales of giant serpents in Assam were legion. A 9' cobra became 15' just by simple repetition. Grown men swore to the truth of it! Remember the one about driving over a log on the side of the road and 20 yards away the furious head of a King cobra emerging from the tea bushes? Well, some of the male contestants refused to accept the unfortunate truth and, encouraged by barracking from the bar area...the whole event descended into chaos. Even the hard evidence from Encyclopedias were dismissed as ‘what would they know?'.  I recall friends quarrelling and the ladies retreating to another corner of the clubhouse!

         The second incident was during a Club function in the same district. As many of the attendees were dancing, I thought it would be a good idea to try something different. A prize would be given to the couple that could make the longest line of their own clothes placed end to end on the dance floor. Huge fun began immediately as more and more removals were made! The scantily clad Europeans were soon out of it but the writer had forgotten one important thing. It is offensive, when males are present, for a female in Indian society to unroll her sari in public. Two ladies ran from the floor in tears and suddenly everything went quiet! Prizes were hastily given to the final three couples but the night's fun never recovered from my faux pas. I still cringe just thinking of it!     

               There are 30-year veterans of tea still living so there are many tales yet to be told. Life in Assam was not all the fun and games reflected here. People worked hard, died in accidents, corruption existed and serious illness was a constant threat. What you have read is only skimming the surface.

Feb 2004

Too Much Rum?

In early '63 I occasionally escaped the Khoomtai factory confines and wandered about the estate for an hour or so in search of nature's noises and smells and a glimpse of wildlife. Talking to the sirdhars was also an interesting experience and with the ladies making the first ‘pick' even more so!

                    One morning I was well outside the factory gates for the reasons just described when some of the ladies cried out from their tea section and pointed skywards.  The time was about 10am , the sky was clear from all but a few wooly clouds and it took only a split second to see a very strange sight indeed.

Imagine a silver cigar holder about the length of a fore-finger, project this against a blue sky and move it silently and swiftly south in a smooth zigzag fashion. The object shone in the sun's rays and was visible for about 10 seconds. It was impossible to judge altitude other than being higher than the few high clouds. I was dumfounded! Having a sceptical bent this sight took some time to settle in the brain and logical thinking to proceed.

Have you seen this before I asked Mohan the sirdhar.  Yes, he said, for me this is the third one I have seen. When did you see the last one? About three weeks ago he said. Do you know what it is? No, he shook his head and smiled.  The ladies resumed work chattering animatedly.

I returned to the factory in a state of some confusion but decided not to say too much for fear of ridicule. I had seen something that I could not explain. What could it be?

 Migrating birds? No, I was familiar with the groups and flight patterns of many high flying species heading away from or towards the Himalayas .

 An unusual meteorological phenomenon? What? Shiny and fast moving?  No.

 A military jet aircraft performing aerobatics at exceptional speed? No. No sound.

 What else then?

That evening I discussed the sighting with my wife Agnes. Apart from moving her chair slightly further away from me and staring at me with unusual concern she could add little by way of explanation. I went outside to stare at the starry sky and soon felt the hairs on the back of my neck prickling. There were fast moving lights up there! Calling Agnes out to share the experience we spent the next minute or so gaping skywards!

There were three lights far up; one greenish, one red and the other yellow! Size and light intensity were about that of the brightest star. But! The lights were far apart and moving swiftly in all directions then circling, then streaking away and performing bizarre manoeuvres! There was no sound whatsoever other than from an early cicada buzzing in the shrubbery. Suddenly the lights went out.

Fire flies? You must be joking!

I have carried these experiences as vivid memories ever since. To this day similar phenomenon have not my sight anyway. Discussions with sympathetic listeners have invariably resulted in scepticism and laughter. However, I remain resolute in my belief that whatever the object and the lights were....they are still unexplained. The last words go to a fellow planter who, on listening with great interest to my astonishing tales, replied...

Too much rum Bill, too much rum!            

#Book Review

This is the Bill Beattie's review of the book Green Gold The Empire of Tea by Iris and Alan Macfarlane

This history's dedication is `to the people who will never read this book, the tea labourers of Assam' and readers should bear this is mind when coming to terms with the graphic and sometimes confronting account of the blood, sweat and tears spent in the development of the natural stimulant, tea. It is a well researched and fascinating book. For the many still involved in the business of tea and for those whose life on a plantation remains but a distant memory, `Green Gold' is essential reading.

Not everyone with Assam experience will feel comfortable with Iris Macfarlane's humourless Memoirs of a Memsahib which forms the first section of this history. Her memories are all too personal and painfully self revelatory. That she saw herself as very different from her version of a stereotypical planter's wife is made perfectly clear. I inadvertently laughed out loud at her patronising description of `the predominance of red-faced, thick-legged, sweaty Scottish variety' of Tea-planter and that scarcer commodity.....their wives, who gossiped endlessly and boringly about their servants while taking tea around the tennis courts. Shrill Empire Builders indeed! But they were not predominant.

My memories are based on only five years with the Assam Co. and I acknowledge that I did meet Iris on several occasions and her late husband on many more. My recollections of the 1960's in Assam are of a strange mixture of mostly self- , reliant, young and middle-aged planters who came from many different backgrounds in Great Britain , Ireland and India . Most were good at their job and others totally unsuited and even hopeless. That some were more intelligent than others is a fact of life but for the first author to suggest that somehow this can be linked to the alleged poor treatment of tea garden labourers is drawing a long bow indeed. Such was life in those post-war days, in any field ... in any country. Many of the British and Indians were WW 11 veterans and I enjoyed their camaraderie or thoughtful silence around the bar. And their friendship outside it. They and the Indian staff were my teachers. The assistants in my time either left after one contract or stayed for one more. The majority exited Assam and had successful careers elsewhere. Some cared about the tea labourers' housing conditions and some did not. That their living conditions were poor when compared with Senior managers or a General Managers' facilities is hardly surprising. A tour off the main road down the side streets of Sibsager and Dibrugah revealed positive slum conditions populated by desperate people ... shades of Calcutta . Did any of the 1950-60's tea labourers or any of their families die of starvation or neglect? Certainly not ... and the daily Morning Office routine of handling complaints from all employees were generally sympathetically and efficiently handled. Yes, more could have been done. Yet somehow there was general feeling of good management and this was reflected by chatting and often joking with the women who plucked the green leaf or sorted the made tea. If anything was seriously wrong anywhere on the estate then these hard working ladies would be the first to tell you and often did!

I have little empathy with much of Iris Macfarlane's memoirs. Perhaps the various Boards of Directors encapsulated in Calcutta or London who were directly responsible for the hiring and rare firing of their employees were ignorant of and ambivalent about all conditions in Assam. My own experience of the Assam Co's interviewing

technique .... five be-suited Directors asked me three questions the last of which was "Can you drive a tractor?' Now if that was an important and searching enquiry into my character and had any relevance to a planter's life, I stand defeated. Visiting Directors rarely visited the `labour lines'. Efforts by Iris to improve the education and health of the employees on Cherideo Tea Estate all failed. By naively taking on more than a hundred years of conservative colonial tea tradition backed by the ITA and apparently immovable Estate budgets what did she really expect? But she had great courage and that cannot be denied. She finally finds inner peace by being blessed by a monk and yet strangely, never went back to her guru. Besides a sense of humour something else is lacking in these memoirs. There is no evidence of her actually having any talks with tea labourers. It would have been interesting to have heard their complaints at first hand. Management did ... at every Morning Office.

The major part of the book is quite different in style and pace and really is an excellent read. Clearly set out with chapters on the very beginnings of Western interest in this plant, the development through the years in many countries present day life on the gardens. I was particularly interested in the history of tea in China and Japan and Alan Macfarlane provides much new material from old documents, correspondence and little known publications. For me, this is the most comprehensive study I have read on tea and Alan Macfarlane should be congratulated and thanked for the massive amount of work that he has undertaken in assembling a vast amount of material and presenting it in such an interesting form. At last, we are given the small pictures together with the big.

Recent news from the tea estates in Assam is not encouraging. Falling prices, reduced yields, and labour strife. The latter concerning the annual bonus paid to all employees based on profits. No profit ... no bonus. That has not changed!

A final comment. References are made in this book to rich planters. I have never met one or heard of one. The employees of the Assam Co. were poorly paid by any relevant standards. I was lucky enough to receive 1100 rupees as bonus one year and left Assam with 400 pounds sterling after 5 years of saving! It was a way of life.
October 2003

Three Wives

‘Chivalrous behaviour and elegant manners maketh man'. Many times as a cheeky youth in Scotland a parental wielded wet towel lashed my body or a punch from my older brother emphasised this maxim. The demise of customs and mannerisms of bygone eras may be wistfully remembered by those who foresee the progressive extinction of altruism and the rise of ‘rudeness' as signs of a dying world. Just occasionally, at the least expected time, an unusual event occurs which jolts the memory back to those who remembered and passed the words on long before.

              In July 1964 and a few months leave, I returned alone to Assam and Khoomtai T.E.  Agnes, in late pregnancy, remained behind ready for rapid transfer to the Eastern General Hospital in Edinburgh .

                                  Back in India , extracting the maximum from the minimum was the managerial philosophy in the Assam Co. and Mon Mowat was the resident manager at the time and I was back in the factory and nothing was new! At the height of the season we ran two 8 hour shifts of 125 workers from 3-4am and work was long and hard but never tedious. Always a drama around the C.T.C's, 5 minutes behind in the Firing, a melodrama or scuffle in the Sorting Room or the absence/intoxication of someone important.  Anything could happen and often did. Patience and tolerance required at all times.

                Some weeks passed and my elderly bearer Soriatulla who had begun work for the sahibs way back in the 1920's.... delivered a blue Airmail from Scotland . It was from my mother and it was not good news. She had travelled all the way from a remote area in the South of Scotland to the Eastern General and had been shown a dark skinned baby as her granddaughter and the alleged progeny of her son Bill and Agnes Beattie. That she was very disappointed and distressed was made quite plain although she was careful not to allocate blame. Agnes was too ill at the time to see anybody so my mother's message was another ‘please explain'! For the many who have never experienced a surprise like this then there is not much to add. Staggering dumbfoundedness is enough description. I spent my waking hours pondering times and dates.

                    Then the next night came another blue Airmail and this time it was from Agnes. She explained that all was well and we had a fine daughter called Alison and my mother had been shown the wrong baby by an over-worked nurse! I laughed and laughed and told Soriotulla who shouted the news into the dark skies and I phoned Mon and I phoned all I could and got nicely drunk. The howling jackal choral outside  seemed especially personal. Next day I was greeted by many of the young ladies in the Sorting Room with new respect and sly glances. Salaams from the men. I walked tall. And then something strange happened.

                         Hungover and tired the following night, I slumped on a hard chair in ‘our lounge'...that sparse and private place of all Khamjari Sahibs. Food and drink on the way. I could hear Soriatulla labouring up the steps and he appeared in immaculate uniform carrying a tin tray that held a gin and tonic and three pieces of bamboo. He was unusually obsequious and walked with head permanently bowed muttering .."Sahib...Sahib."

                 I gratefully took the gin ...and Soriatulla placed the bamboo pieces on the mantelpiece and said in Hindi "these are to remind you of your wife"  and then shuffled away to bring some food. I was baffled and examined the bamboo.

                            Three cross-sections each 12" long but with different diameters. The broadest was a full 3'' wide and the narrowest 1".  A mystery but I decided to think about it and slept fitfully.

 The next morning at 7am I asked Mon at morning Office what the bamboo sections were all about and he nearly fell off his chair with shock then laughter. All the Indian senior staff left the room shaking and shrieking with mirth. Mon told me that it was an old custom....from way  back in Victorian times. ‘In case you stray, Bill. These are your three extra wives' he said. ‘You choose the one that fits'! Then he fell about laughing again. I was embarrassed then astonished and delighted. That night I removed the 3'' calibre bamboo from the mantelpiece and placed it on our bedside table and went to sleep smiling.


OSS Training at Nazira
June 2003

This interesting story of Oliver Milton's  war-time training in Nazira was sent in by Bill Beattie, and we thank him and Oliver for adding a little bit of history for Koi Hai

Oliver Milton is an 87yr old character living here in Cairns and a very good friend.  He is one of the survivors of SOE 1 that were trained in Nazira in 1942, separately billeted on two of the Assam co's estates, and had a few adventures in the local Naga Hills before parachuting into Burma to spend the next 2 years working behind the lines. 

After operating behind the lines in Burma for the duration of the war, Oliver served as a Civil Affairs Officer in the Northern Shan States then, till 1948 ran a small trading post on the China/Burma border. For the next 8 years he worked as a Game Ranger in Tanzania then moved to the USA. He studied Conservation practices at Yale University and worked as a taxidermist at the Peabody Museum. In 1958 he returned to Burma  to work on the establishment of National Parks and from there to Malaya , Sumatra and Cambodia on rare animal surveys including the Kouprey (forest ox), Sumatra rhino and the Orangutan. Just a few years ago he returned to Burma with some of his surviving OSS colleagues to set up village schools which will teach basic farming and agricultural practices.  

Oliver's story

I left England in February 1942 for Burma where I was employed by Steel Brothers as a forest assistant and my particular job was to supervise the extraction of teak. With the prospect of a Japanese invasion all Europeans were called up and after a short period of ‘military' training were posted to different units. At the start of the actual Japanese attack I was in charge of the Animal Transport Company but after all my men had been posted to other units I was left with their families who eventually found their own way back to their homes. I was now on my own and with other evacuees we trekked north and while many walked out to India ...I decided to go to Fort Hertz, the northernmost administered outpost in the country. From there I walked to Kunming in Yunnan and thence to Calcutta on a very uncomfortable flight. Here I was introduced to an American officer, Colonel Eifler, who had just arrived in India and was looking for people who had just come from Burma to train and send them back there to carry out sabotage and get information on Japanese positions and strengths of their invading forces. I had walked out to China with two young Burma residents and the three of us were recruited. We were told that this operation was the first of its kind in US military history and therefore be a very experimental guinea-pig group and so we were called "Group A'. The Colonel said that if we were captured no one would come to our help...very sorry(!)..and that we had a 50% chance of being caught.

The three of us boarded the train in Calcutta and were headed for a place, Nazira, which lay in the midst of the great tea estates of Assam. This was our training centre and called ‘US Army Experimental Station' but actually consisted of officers from the OSS ( Office of  Strategic Services - later to become the CIA ) - and the unit known as OSS Detachment 101. We stayed in one of the Estate bungalows and for security sake, we knew nothing of what was happening elsewhere in the area. Training consisted of codes, map reading, elementary Japanese, weapons training, unarmed combat and, for one or two people, radio training. We also had night and day ‘practice projects' and our one and only two day exercise still remains in my mind.

On the far bank of the Dikhu river which ran through the Estate, there were steep hills that eventually led to the Burma border and were populated by a Naga tribe who were noted for headhunting. On the top of one hill was a radio cum radar outpost and our instructions were to gain access to the area and calculate the actions necessary to sabotage the site. Three of us wore rather dirty clothes and took a pocketful of eatables to keep us going. We waded across the Dikhu and started the climb following a rough track through the jungle. If we got caught we agreed to say that we were employed by a timber company based in Calcutta and had been asked to see what kind of timber grew in the area and whether it had any commercial value. We could see the tall pylon before reaching the few buildings and so decided to keep walking and, if we met someone, we could our cover story. We did meet one American, introduced ourselves and explained our mission. This gentleman seemed very friendly and appeared to have no objections to our presence but told us to be careful not to take photos of any installation. Of course we agreed. We then walked slowly through the small station and stopped further on and took photos of any Naga house, some trees and the pylon. We guessed measurements by pacing and jotted down a few notes in code. We ate our food, headed back and were greeted once again by the same man. He invited us to his mess where we enjoyed good hot coffee. He asked if we had any luck and we said we would have to return as the area was so large and this was only a preliminary ‘recce.' As we were leaving he asked if we had taken any photos and I said that we had and he asked if he could have the camera to develop the film and check whether we had taken any banned photos. As soon as he left the room with the camera we decided to leave quickly. We went at full speed back down the track and never anticipated a welcoming reception when we reached the bottom! When the American who had taken our camera found that we had departed he called his Naga guards and ordered them to catch us when we reached the bottom of the hill. Theyhad taken a short cut and there they were! We were taken to a civil magistrate in Mackeypore and after hearing our rather suspicious story, he thought we might be Japanese spies and told the guards to lock us up in a local jail to await further investigations. We were searched and my binoculars and maps were removed before the cell door slammed shut. After an 
uncomfortable night we realised that we might be in serious trouble and so decided to tell the magistrate what we were really doing and one of the officers from the training camp came and explained the situation to the magistrate. We were finally released from the jail and told by our 101 officer to be more careful in future. The magistrate was not amused!

Oliver Milton,  93 Mayers St,  Cairns,  Queensland,  Australia 4870

For further reading of the exploits of OSS Detachment 101 and some of Oliver's 
(codename ‘Oscar') own adventures behind the lines in Burma :

Antrobus, H. A. 1957. ‘A History of the Assam Company'. 
T & A Constable Ltd. Edinburgh. 230-231.

Peers, William R. and Brelis D. 1963. ‘Behind the Burma Road.' 
Atlantic-Little, Brown Books. The Atlantic Monthly Press. LCCC 63-13980.

A Visit to the Manas Forest Sanctuary - North Kamrup

                              by Bill Beattie

Assam    15-25 November 1965

The Manas river rises in the Himalayan mountains of eastern Bhutan and flows south-west into India, dividing into two supplementary rivers the Hukua and Bekhi, before entering the Brahmaputra opposite Goalpara town.  Manas Forest Sanctuary is now part of a much larger Tiger Reserve and is a World Heritage Site - protecting more mammal, reptile and bird species than any other National Park in India. Tribal Bhutias and Bodos make up the larger part of the Indian population. High on a hill overlooking the Manas river and the Bhutan border was a two storey timber Forest Lodge which could accommodate up to 14 visitors. Each group brought  their own provisions.  


Bill's story begins
Departed Suntok Tea Estate at 7.30 pm. for the long drive west and the borrowed Ambassador was so heavily laden with fuel, luggage, tinned food, cooked meat, beer, fishing rods and passengers that I remained in third gear till 40 miles down the road! In our vehicle were my wife Agnes, our 1yr. old daughter Alison and her Naga ayah... Siipongla Ao.  In an equally laden vehicle behind were Ray and Lavender Corps. Ray was the manager of Mackeypore T.E. and had obtained the requisite permits. Drove through the night and reached Guwahati (Gauhati) at 6 am . where we had a roadside breakfast and repaired tyres before crossing the Brahmaputra onto the North Bank and headed up the road to Barpeta.

 Toilet stops were always interesting in Assam . No problems for men who could squat or stand with impunity even on the side of the road but alas this was not the case for most foreign ladies with ingrained inhibitions. Lavender Corps was not prudish in the least and was notorious for her biting wit. On one occasion during our journey she strode out into a vegetation-free zone near a road teeming with traffic and pedestrians shouting : "I don't care a hoot! They will only see it once!"   

  Six miles of rough road led to our final destination. 364 miles in 20 hours and we were all exhausted. After a shower and a quick meal ... sleep descended before 8pm .

     The next morning four of us set out with a single boatman to cast the first of many lines into the fast-flowing freezing water. But first we had to pole upstream for 400 yds then turn round and paddle rapidly to the other side of the main river which was about 150 yds across. Failure to execute this manoeuvre could result in being swept downstream into the wrong river and many hours poling back. We were told that every hour travelling downstream took four hours poling back! And even five minutes slipping and sliding in icy water tends to bring out the worst in anybody. As we were to find out.

 Safely across and Ray and I heaved out 2" kidney spoons into the water. We were fishing for Golden Mahseer which is a type of giant freshwater Carp. Renowned as a fighting fish, the mahseer has powerful gill plates that can crush and flatten virtually any metal. The technique used to hook this fish was to strike and strike hard as soon as a hit was felt ... hopefully before the flattened spoon and hooks are spat out.

                     Practically my first cast was taken by a mahseer but all I retrieved were two sets of crushed treble hooks.  Drifting downstream, Ray and I cast both sides of the boat to no avail except a Bokar which is a smaller game fish species.  By 3pm we had all had enough and the long struggle back began. Sunburned and tired, the two ladies stimulated our poling and dragging upstream with much outraged comment! Back at the lodge and plentiful husband-served gin and tonic greatly relieved the surprise and stress of our first day. Later that night a minor upset with the eight shining eyes of a large Huntsman spider reflecting down upon Alison's bed. A long-handled broom removed this alleged threat! 

                            Birds identified included the Lesser Fishing Eagle (uncommon), Pallas Fishing Eagle, Brahminy Kite, Blue Rock-Thrush, Pied Wagtails, White-capped Redstart, Little Green Heron, Brahminy Duck and some unidentified Sandpipers

My diary of events then continues :
17th Nov.   Walked down the Bekhi with Ray and Lavendar and fished the legendary "Phulguri Pool." Absolutely nothing doing so we returned to the main river (Manas) and fished the first large pool we saw. Ray lost two small mahseer and myself one. Plenty about but not seriously feeding.
On the walk back I saw a European Goshawk knock a House Crow out of a tree and mantle it on the ground. We got within ten yards before it took fright and flew off. The unfortunate crow rose with a squawk and astonishingly, pursued its attacker into the distance! Other birds seen were the Shikra Goshawk, Kestrel, Long-tailed Broadbill, Himalayan Fork-Tail, Plumbeous Redstart and Pin-tailed Green Pigeon.

!8th Nov.   Early start down the main Manas rapids and reached a ‘good spot' at 11am . Luck was on my side and I landed a 2lb mahseer and not much later one of 3lb. We lost many spoons and snagged repeatedly...a very difficult place to fish. So far I had landed 4 fish  and Ray was not amused. A five hour haul back to the lodge. Now we knew that the best provisions to take were tins of baked beans and corned beef washed down by river-chilled beer. We had seen a herd of buffalo and many green Bee-Eaters.

19th Nov.   Crossed the river with Ray to fish the first pool on the Bhutan border. The modernising Third King of Bhutan, Jigme Dorji Wanchuck, had begun building his Winter Palace on the eastern bank and we could see guards looking anxiously at us over their gunsights on riverside embankments. Hundreds of men were milling around collecting large river stones and carrying them to others who chipped and hammered them into recognisable building blocks. The noise was deafening. Lines of elephants appeared on the top bank carrying supplies for the soldiers and the King's staff. This hive of activity contrasted starkly with the natural calm elsewhere.  We had heard rumours of indiscriminate shooting of game by machinegun in this area but these were perhaps local tribal in origin. Nevertheless we avoided confrontation and camped on a river bank further downstream where the rest of our families joined us for a picnic lunch. Later that afternoon Ray, Agnes and I revisited Phulguri Pool which turned out to be a waste of time fishwise. On returning to the lodge we heard that a Mr. Anderson and family had taken the lower bungalow some distance from our quarters and had fished all day down the Hakua without success. Competition increases incentive! Birds seen were a pair of Black Eagles, some Greenshank and many unidentified duck species.

20th Nov.        Ray and I prepared our camping kit very early and put together sufficient provisions for two days. We were heading downstream for a serious attempt at uninhibited fishing. We organised three boatmen and two hours later began erecting a temporary campsite close to a ‘likely looking spot.' The truth is that Ray and I fished and the boatmen constructed the camp. First job done was beer bottles into the icy water! Ego still inflated I landed the first 3lb mahseer and thoroughly enjoyed the few minutes of allegedly more skillful fishing technique. Then Ray shouted... ‘get out of the b****y way this is a big one!'  I did and it was. Ray, his rod bent like a bow, followed the charging fish down the narrow river and vanished round the bend. He came swaggering back carrying what appeared to be a small child! It was a 10lb mahseer! Then it was on for young and old! A plains-warmed stream disgorged into the river just above our fishing area and the occasional frog or small fish washed into the main current. Hence the reason for what happened next. A frantic hour of hit, hit and hit! It is one thing to hook a mahseer...entirely another to land it. Many were lost and cries of hook-up! and expletives filled the air as we alternatively charged downstream. At the end of the day and at the going down of the sun the tally was laid out on the stony beach. Bill: 17lb (32'' long, 19" girth), 7lb, 6lb, 4lb, 3lb. and 2 at 2lb.  16 fish lost and 11 kidney spoons.  Ray: 14lb, 10lb and 8lb and 14 fish lost and 8 spoons. We all agreed that Ray hooked the biggest of the day but it raced off downstream so fast and so strongly... leaving a bow wave on both banks ....and 50 yards of line disappeared and broke in what appeared to be an instant.
Although most of the night was spent shivering around our campfire we finished the beer and a bottle of gin. The latter was also much appreciated by the boatmen.  

21st Nov.   A few early morning casts produced a further 9 fish averaging 5lb. Ray deliberately lost a tiddler as he claimed it would spoil his average! Then we reluctantly broke camp, photographed our catch and set off for the five hours pushing and hauling back to the lodge. Word had travelled fast as about fifty villagers had gathered at the landing stage to inspect the catch. However, the boatmen carried off the mahseer to sell privately and much bartering could be heard as they strode away into the forest. Mahseer have numerous small bones and unless a pressure cooker is available to soften these it is not worth the trouble. The thought of getting a bone stuck in the throat and being so far from medical assistance .......!

The cold night and early morning winds did not affect our campsite down river and as a result our sheltered area was shared by hundreds of Pied Wagtails. Also saw a Tawny Eagle, Pied Hornbill (Malabar), Osprey and a solitary European Crane.

22nd Nov.  A quiet day with family out on the river banks. Agnes shouted ‘Are you working for the King?' to a suited Bhutanese standing watching us across a narrow stretch of river. He shouted back ‘I am the Advisor to the King of Bhutan!' This made the day for the ladies! And improved the moral of the men! After lunch we were shocked to hear that Mr. Anderson had landed a 45lb mahseer ‘somewhere' down the Hakua and he had returned with a total of 230lbs of fish! Somewhat deflated by this news we walked down to his bungalow and were graciously allowed to photograph his prize fish! Two hours to land and a mere 2" kidney spoon! In the evening Ray had a practice cast or two below the lodge and, much to my chagrin, landed a 3lb mahseer!  I saw my first Red Headed Trogon. An astonishingly tame and spectacularly colourful bird of the deep forest that is easily identified even at dusk, by its short, undulating ‘dancing' flight.  Also Black Eagle, Shahin Falcon, White Backed Vulture, Slaty Backed Forktail, Tufted Duck, Red Eyed Pochard, Lesser Sand Plover and Spur Winged Lapwing

23rd Nov.        Bad news from the kitchen. We had only two tins of beans and part of a 4lb leg of ham left. A consultation was held and Agnes and Lavender appointed as rationers.

Down the Hakua again to no avail. Apparently the District Forest Officer had left the area on other business and some local people had taken the opportunity to net all the good areas. So we were told and that became the excuse!

At dusk and back at the lodge the evening meal was displayed on the table. One small section of ham. While we sat staring somewhat bleakly at it there was a sudden crash behind us and before we could move, a mangy ‘pie' dog jumped on the table, grabbed the ham and was off out the door and up into the forest. Yells from the ladies and oaths from the men as Ray and I rushed out after the thief. Fear of imminent starvation can drive superhuman effort and we became hunters and we were going to ‘gather' no matter what! Shouting and charging uphill we cornered the now frightened dog that reluctantly dropped its booty and slunk away into the gloom. The ham was recovered encased in dirt, leaves and saliva and carried back to the lodge where we were welcomed by beaming wives. The men were heroes again! The ham was carefully washed and canine tooth marks excised. We had food! Ray then produced a bottle of gin which he claimed he had kept for dire emergencies and this event was accepted as one of these by general acclamation!

24th-25th Nov.   Every meal a small slice of ham. Our last day spent loading up the cars and cleaning the lodge. Late one afternoon I saw a Pallas Fishing Eagle chase and rob an Osprey of a small fish. The Osprey then chased the Eagle and through binoculars, I saw the fish drop into the thick riverside scrub! I know how the birds must have felt!  Tomorrow we head for the Pinewood Hotel in Shillong.  Our entire stay had been a wonderful experience. Surprisingly, we saw very few animals other than Sambar deer and Buffalo . A few tiger tracks near the water's edge were the closest we got to the real thing. 

26th Nov.  183 miles to Shillong took 9 hours. Who has ever forgotten the delicious cold meats section that the chefs produced at the Pinewood? For dinner that night we stared balefully at a wonderful display of mouthwatering dishes like pork, ham, wood smoked ham and honeyed ham. The ‘hot food' section were mainly curry based. At last! There was no need for a thirtieth taste of ham.  

Two Questions for readers

1/ Does anyone remember Mr Anderson mentioned in the text?
2/ Is 45lb the confirmed record Mahseer caught on rod and line in the park?

If you have any comments please e-mail either the editor at
or Bill Beattie at


[ Postscript: 

                         In 1978 we lived in Townsville , Queensland where I worked for a Govt. Research Organisation and Agnes as a Primary School teacher. I heard that a group of Indian and Burmese livestock officers were visiting the experimental areas so I went along to meet them. Yes, one was a Naga and yes, he came from the same village as Siipongla Ao! She had married and often came back to her village so I was able to pass on greetings in return!

                 I lost touch with Ray Corps after we came to Australia in 1966. He had been a W.W 2 RAF pilot and had an unflappable interest in all things mechanical/electrical and gifted with many languages. Lavender was exceptionally well read and had a very droll view of life.   In the 70's I learned that Lavender had died from cancer and Ray had remarried and moved to Kenya . In 1984 I was part of a small group of Australians working on a three year Agricultural Research project in that country and I took the opportunity to search for Ray. By coincidence our organisation's managing agent in Nairobi had employed him in the past and I was given his phone number. This proved to be three months too late as he had already retired from his engineering business and returned to England . 

       The latest Manas news available (2001) is that serious disturbances have occurred in the region and some rangers and forest staff killed or injured. The lodge(?) and many other residences have been destroyed. In recent times guided day trips are still permitted with overnight stays prohibited.  If any reader has up to date information this would be greatly appreciated.] 


April 2003

An Interesting Weekend. 
By Bill Beattie

Forty years ago I was temporarily posted to Doomur Dullung T.E. (Assam Tea Co.) as an outgarden assistant. This garden was under the control of Bill Charlier who had a reputation among the assistants of that time of being a very strict but fair Manager. Just keep your head down, do your work and you'll be fine...I was told! I did just that.

A week of obeisance passed and my private car being temporarily immobilised and a half day Saturday and all day Sunday looming with no prospect of getting off the premises, I timidly asked Bill if I could borrow a pre-war Oldsmobile? that was sometimes used around the garden. "Certainly, he replied, but under no circumstances must this decrepit vehicle leave the Estate! Not even to go to Moran Club!" He handed over the keys. OK, I far so good. Part one of the grand plan completed.

I had arranged to meet another Assam Tea Co. assistant called Tony Connell at the Nazira Club on that fateful Saturday night. Tony and I were passionately interested in wildlife and spent almost all our spare time making forbidden journeys into the Nagaland forests bordering the eastern part of Lakmijan T.E. We carried a copy of Smythies "The Birds of Burma", cameras with early telephoto lenses, notebooks and bottles of water. Those were the days! Tony was the factory assistant at Mackeypore then and had an amazing collection of animals and birds inside and outside his bungalow. The stench had to be experienced to be believed! Each of us had raised a juvenile of Pallas's Fishing Eagle in a vain attempt to train them to catch fish for us...but that is another story.

Once darkness fell, my wife Agnes and I crept into the old bomb and rattled our away down the road to Nazira Club. There we entertained ourselves with quite a few beers and became increasingly concerned about Tony's non-arrival. Leaving Agnes at the club I climbed back into the ‘borrowed' car and trundled off to Mackeypore Estate to look for him. Some readers will recall that there is a long straight stretch of road followed by a severe bend not far along the Nazira/Mackeypore road. It was at this bend that the rear wheel with tyre attached sheared clean away from the axle! I had no jack and no tools and even if I had...there was no hope of salvation! While collecting all the bits and pieces by torchlight I noticed something very odd. Much of the roadside vegetation had been flattened and churned up by what appeared to be a tractor. This destruction continued over to a well flattened area about 100 yards into the paddyfield. Must have been an accident here today I thought, as I walked the rest of the road to Mackeypore.

I met an incredibly muddy Tony at his bungalow gate. He looked like the mythical Marsh Monster and was visibly distressed. This was his tale of woe.

Bill Dowsing was the Manager of Mackeypore and was away on long leave. K? Bardoloi was acting manager and had just taken delivery of Bill's long-ordered brand new Ambassador and this had been polished and safely locked away in Bill's garage and was out of bounds to anyone even in emergency! He was due back in five days time. This did not deter Tony who decided that he would borrow it for the short trip to Nazira! How he got the keys only Tony knows! Now Tony had a cavalier approach to driving and he made a big mistake. He forgot the sharp bend and plunged at high speed into the paddy fields rolling the brand new car several times. With the windows open the car soon filled with muddy water and Tony slithered out uninjured. Foreseeing a sudden return to England in disgrace, he shambled back to Mackeypore and collected a tractor, a highly amused driver and many casuals and returned to the scene of the crime. They dragged the new car out and towed it back to the estate for urgent repair and cleaning. Much of the roof had been flattened.

It was then that I told Tony my tale! An appalling coincidence! Same bend and two major disasters to hand! We were both in a state of shock and disbelief! Back for the tractor driver and crew and back down the road to drag Bill Charlier's car to Mackeypore. All was doom and gloom. How were we to get back to Nazira and Agnes and I to Doomur Dullung? What was I going to say to Bill Charlier at Monday morning's office? Would I have to pay for our flight back if ‘sent home'?

I think Chris McMurray (Assam Tea Co.) answered our plaintive phone call for help and once back in Nazira Club, word spread rapidly that two assistants were in really deep poo. Someone phoned Bill Charlier to inform him of ‘an incident'! There was also much laughter at the bar and many free drinks came our way. We got a lift back to Doomur Dullung on Sunday afternoon where Bill phoned me expressing surprise and disappointment that I had let him down so badly. That is the gist of the one-sided conversation and I was much chastened. From that time on Bill regarded me with justifiably grave suspicion. The old car was transported back to Doomur Dullung on the back of a Mackeypore truck and as far as I know never made it back onto any road. Down in Mackeypore, Tony Connell had brought in the estate's full compliment of mechanics to restore the damaged Manager's car. This was completed on the same day that Bill Dowsing returned from leave! Not all the dents in the roof had been perfectly hammered back and certain areas had paint flaws but a pretty good job was done. Tony waited a day or two before coming clean and Bill, relaxed from his leave, was greatly amused and Tony much relieved!

There is no lesson to be learned from this interesting weekend. Just bad luck , carelessness and a remarkable coincidence! Of course!

Bill Beattie
Assam Tea Co. 1961-66

{Of the people mentioned in the text Tony Connell still lives in Cornwall, Bill Charlier in Spain, Bill Dowsing near Sydney, K. Bardoloi in Assam, Chris McMurray I never heard of again and Agnes and I live in Cairns.}