The Henderson Family

February 17, 2011

 Once again we have to thank Ann Walsh (nee Henderson) for allowing us to show this bit of history from her family archives. The article is all about Hillary and Tenzing conquering Everest and the news was broken on the Coronation date of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth as Queen in 1953 

The Photo below shows both climbers who were the first to climb Everest

The story is is two parts to make it easier to load and read--but please give it time to load

Please click the two "CLICK HERES" below the photograph of Tenzing and Hillary


Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 2

October 12 2009
Thanks to Ann Walsh (nee Henderson) we can enjoy the Henderson family memories
which Ann and her family have very kindly shared with us.

and in addition Ann has very kindly supplied us with a PDF copy of the book "Navvies of the 14th Army".  
There are 5 Preambles to this book below and then the book. 
Forward by General Sir William Slim
Message from Sir Stafford Cripps to Mr. J. Jones
Letter from A. McLaren, Esqr., Chairman, Indian Tea Association
Letter from Louis Mountbatten

Click here to read the book

This is the  start of the Henderson family memories with Father Jack, Mother Jill, and
Daughter Ann's stories. Please click on their names to go to their stories

John (Jack)Crabtree Henderson

Jill Henderson

Ann Patricia Walsh

The following stories are in Adobe Acrobat format.

Jane Valerie Pons

The War Years

Winter '41

The Story of the Leopard Gloves


John Crabtree Henderson 1898 - 1969

My father was a river pilot on the toughest river in the world, the Yangstze. Like the Mississippi, the river changed its course every year. He and my mother went back to Shanghai after their marriage. They had two children both born in England, Barbara, and me two years later, in 1898.. When I was only three my father died of blackwater fever, one of the many plagues that ravaged the East.

In 1914 at the age of sixteen, I was sent for 3 years as an Engineering apprentice to Uncle Joe Crabtree's printing press factory. All the newspapers in England, at that time, were printed on Crabtree printing presses.

In 1918, I went to India with my Uncle Walter & Addie Mason to start my first job as a tea planter, as an assistant to Peter Wood. I kept in touch with Uncle Joe and visited whenever I came home on leave. The training I had with him as an engineer was invaluable to my job as a planter, as we had to keep the tea machines running.

On my Home leave in 1924, I went to visit Hilda, who had married Peter who three weeks later was killed in a plane crash. There I first met her sister, Enid. When I returned to India it was to a new plantation as Assistant to Fettes Falconer. By coincidence, Fettes had married Hilda, Peter's widow.

My mother, Helen, died in 1928. By then I had married Enid, who from then on was known as Jill to my Jack. She had always hated her name, Enid, anyhow.

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Jill Henderson 1908 - 1989

My father invented the mechanical plough and built an Engineering works in Stansted, Essex. He married my mother, the daughter of a Judge in Somerset. My sister, Hilda, was born in 1897 and I was born in 1908. My father died when I was eleven.

After Peter Wood died Hilda went out to India to stay with friends. While she was in India she met and married a Scottish tea planter, Fettes Falconer.

When my sister, Hilda came back on Home leave with Fettes and her two young sons, Peter and Paul, she asked our mother and me to come out to India. So after I had finished my finals and mother had sorted out her business, we all caught the boat to Calcutta. I looked after the children on the boat. From there we went by train along the Bramaputra, to Sukwah in Assam. It was very exciting and my first impression of the plantation was how big was.

By now Jack was Assistant Manager to Fettes. Once a week we'd all go to the Planter's Club. I would play tennis while the men played polo..

Jack and I had been going out for two months when one evening we took a boat out on the river and he asked me to marry him. I said Yes and told mum. Jack applied to the Company for a job as Manager. He was posted to a tea garden called Roopacherra (‘silver stream') in Silchar, Sylhet district. We couldn't get married up there, so before taking the job we went to Calcutta with my mother, who was going on to visit family in Australia. We got married and the next day we saw her off by boat, feeling very sad to see her go.

Then we continued on to Burma for our honeymoon. We stayed in Rangoon with a friend of Jack's and took the train to Mandalay. There we visited the magnificent temple.

Next we took a boat trip right up to China and slept on the boat. The boat stopped every night to deliver supplies to villages on the river and we only sailed during the daytime. The river got narrower as we approached China.

We spent two days on the boat in China and saw them making jade. Then we returned to Mandalay and back the way we'd come. From Calcutta we went to our new home in Roopacherra. It was very remote; two days by train from the next Company manager. 3

The following year, in 1927 we went to England - or Home, as we'd call it, on 6 months leave. It took a around 3 weeks to get there by ship so we had about 4 months in England.

It was in Roopacherra that I learnt how to run a house. Luckily I had been trained in domestic science so I knew how to cook and keep accounts. Most women try to have their babies in the Dry Season. Ann was born on December 15, 1929. I went to the hospital in Silchar, 53 miles away to have her and there were no doctors nearby. Ann was a breech delivery, which was a very painful and difficult birth, as they could not perform caesarians there.

When I took her home I had an Ayah, a nurse, to look after her who stayed with us for many years. She had been trained at the mission in Shillong and spoke good English.

Jane was born October 16, 1933 at Roopacherra, on the tea garden. I had a trained midwife from Calcutta for the delivery. Our Doctor lived 15 miles away and had to be sent for. It was an easy birth and all went well.

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Ann Patricia Walsh  1929 -

The India I was born into in 1929, and my younger sister Jane in 1933, was still part of the British Raj which made up of the Indian Civil Service, nicknamed the Heaven born, the Army know as the Twice-born, and the Tea Planters, of which our father was one. Looking back, the way of life probably was more in tune with the Victorian era than that of post WW1 Europe. Customs and manners were passed down without any outside modernizing influence.

My father was Manager of Roopacherra tea estate in Assam, when I was born. I was christened in the bar of the Planter's Club. The Tea Planter's social life revolved around the Club, the only place for the families to get together. A Priest or Minister - denomination was unimportant - would come once a month to hold a service in the Club.

Like all British children I had an Ayah - a nanny - called Ayah Didi, a warm and loving person who was always there for me and later for Jane. I saw more of her than I did of my parents so I was as fluent in Hindustani as I was in English. Now I only remember a few of the nursery rhymes in Hindi from those early days.

Most were translations such as: Humpty Dumpty upa me bita. Humpty dumpy girghia phut! Sub Rajah ka monas, sub Rajah ka ghorra, Humpty dumpty kubbi nay jora. My spelling is phonetic - just note ‘men' and ‘horse' are transposed to rhyme.

This is one that Ayah Didi said to me at night: Neeni, baba neeni, roti, mucken, cheeni Roti mucken hogiar, chota baba sogiar Sleep, baby sleep, bread butter and sugar Bread and butter is finished, little baby has gone to sleep

When she wanted to scare me into being good, she would tell me the Yeti would come for me - but I would never know he was coming as his feet were on backwards. I didn't figure that one out for a long time! Many years later we would come upon the legend of the Yeti as the ‘Bigfoot' of the Himalayas.

I seem to have fleeting memories of this first tea garden called Roopacherra, which I'm sure come more from my parent's recollections. I know the Managers and Assistants were chosen for their ability to play Bridge because, when the Rains came, the bridge to the Club was washed away and the planters needed to be able to entertain themselves. I remember being taken down to see the wooden bridge being torn from the banks. It didn't take long because the bridges were built to last a season and collapse without damage to the banks.

Sounds recall India to me. The cry of the brain fever bird as it reiterated "brain fever, brain fever"; the chattering of the monkeys; the weird wail of the jackals when they went 5 ‘fieowl'. The thunk, thunk, of the punkas; big mats on a pole swishing through the air pulled by a cord attached to the punka wallah's big toe as he lay on the ground with one knee supporting the waving leg. When he fell asleep you'd wake up sweating and yell "punka-wallah!" The mat would start swishing frantically again.

Just after Jane was born we moved from Roopacherra to another tea garden called Baghmari, also in Assam. Baghmari, meaning Tiger woman, was plagued with tigers - though actually it would have been a pair, at times with cubs, as tigers are very territorial. I remember them coughing around the house at night though in reality they were trying to get at the horses and the cattle in our barn nearby. Tigers seldom roar except out of frustration, anger or fear.

The tigers had a clever ruse to stampede the cattle into breaking out. They would pace up and down one end of the barn, coughing and roaring. And as the cattle rushed to the other side of the barn they would switch ends and scare them there. Finally the cattle got so worked up that they would rush the doors. Only once did they break out. After that we strengthened the doors. But one kill was enough to encourage the tigers to try again and again.

The horses had separate stalls and one time a tiger killed my father's horse because the syce had left the top half of the stall door open. The tiger jumped in and even though they can carry enormous weights, the door was just too high for it to get out with the horse. Horses were an essential part of travel and inspection around the tea garden, as well as doubling as polo ponies, so the loss was particularly galling to my father.

Not content with trying to get the animals, the tigers dug up the rose bushes my mother had planted in front of the house. This went on for three weeks with my mother having them replanted every day and the tigers digging them up again at night. Finally she got tired of it. I have never heard of tigers digging up plants before or since nor do I know why they did it. But that was the end of our rose garden.

Once a tiger did have the temerity to come up on the verandah and snatch one of our dogs. Naturally, after that, we kept them inside at night. My father made several attempts to shoot them, without success. The jungle pressed in on us and was not the place to go out actively hunting them. Apart from the noise they made and the occasional kill, tigers were the least of our worries.

The place was infested with snakes, mainly cobras. Outside, they were not a problem but they frequently got into the house. We had to be very careful when taking a bath because the bath was a galvanized tub, which sat in a cemented area with a 6-inch wall surround. The pani-wallah (water boy) would bring up one 5-gallon can of hot water, and one of cold. When you had finished bathing you tipped the water out of the tub and it ran through a hole in the wall down the tin roof outside. 6

The snakes loved to come up through this drain, probably because it was cool. I still remember sitting in the tub once and seeing snake eyes peering at me over the rim. I jumped out, tipped over the bath and fled, hopefully washing the snake out.

Another time, when my parents looked in on me at night they saw a cobra on the end of my bed. Daddy chased it off and Mummy shot it as it came out of the house.

We really had no fear of the animals or of the jungle, which surrounded us. It seemed a perfectly natural lifestyle. Most Gardens had their quota of leopards, snakes, wild pig and jackals. Where a Garden bordered the jungle there would be tiger, elephant, monkeys and the most-feared wild-dog, which every creature avoided when a pack was on the hunt.

But Planters dreaded the raids of the wild pigs, which would plough up everything in their path, slashing their tusks on the bushes. Pig-sticking was a sport in much of India, but planters had no time to spare for that. They were lucky if they could get out the guns in time to stop the damage.

However, one incident left me with a life-long fear of big, black dogs. I must have been nearly 5 years old at the time as my sister, Jane, was a baby. Every afternoon we would have tea on a rug in the garden. At each end of the garden there were gates leading to the road that ran straight past the house. These gates were always left open and became highway for the pi-dogs (the universal strays) of the surrounding villages. My favourite game was to get up and shoo them away. They were cowardly and quickly slunk off.

One day a big black pi-dog, slobbering at the mouth, turned on me. Daddy realized at once that it was rabid. Mummy ran into the house with Jane while my father tried to get me to come to him. But I panicked and ran round the garden with the dog at my side, for some reason trying to bite my pumping elbow. I could feel its fur rubbing up and down against my left leg as I ran.

Mummy ran in to get the gun, but crack shot though she was, she didn't dare take a shot at the dog so close to me. Finally Daddy was able to distract it and I ran inside. I never got up to chase the pi-dogs again. And I still see that foaming, snapping jaw in my dreams.

Rabies was a constant worry, particularly if you had pets. We had an Airedale called Ikey Mo who contracted rabies. Rabies comes on slowly and at first, my parents did not want to believe Ikey Mo had it. When they finally did accept it, my father took Ikey Mo out to shoot him. But he was so upset he couldn't do it. The Assistant shot him. The consequence was, we had to have rabies shots. Shots were given in the abdomen and hurt more as each day's injection was given - 7 for a lick, 14 for a bite. Luckily Ikey hadn't bitten anyone. 7

We had a pet monkey that had the run of the house. One day it climbed along the beam in the dining room and peed directly into Daddy' soup. The monkey was banished forever!

As soon as possible young children were put up on a horse. There is a picture on me at the age of two sitting on my pony in a kind of cage-like contraption. But my only memory is of riding with regular saddle, probably at Baghmari, where I had a pony called Moti Lal (Red Pearl). My syce always accompanied me on foot and I loved to tease him by cantering ahead. One day I came to a bridge over a stream in which Indians were washing themselves under black umbrellas. Moti Lal hated umbrellas so he reared, threw me and bolted for home. The syce had a fit when he saw the riderless horse careening by and was relieved to find I wasn't hurt.

Mostly, I can only recall the dramatic events of the first five years of my life, a forest fire, a massive earthquake. The Quetta quake in May 1935 had its epicenter on the Afghanistan boarder, where it caused huge devastation. It was felt thousands of miles across Northern India. It started at 3am. I can remember Daddy carrying me, and Mummy carrying Jane outside till the shaking stopped. The house, built of wood round a central pole support, miraculously survived.

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