Friday, 30 September 2011

Somewhere, something incredible is waiting to be known

My job for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission involves a lot of research. I start off in one direction, trying to find out as much as I can about a subject and very often end up finding out a great deal about something completely different and generally much more interesting.

That's why my job is one of the best in the universe, mostly. The only other job I'd give my right arm for (only then typing would be tricky) would be as a Q.I. elf.

" The QI Elves research and write questions for the BBC television programme Q.I. and attend recordings to clear up any stray panel questions, loose factual ends and green room drinks."

That would be Quite Interesting.

SO...I was researching the Indian Army's involvement in the early part of the Second World War. This is pre-partition India, so involves what is now Pakistan and many other countries too.

I came across a fascinating story - the story of the Mule Companies of the Royal Indian Army Service Corps - yes, mules were still used, transported all the way from India. They were 'de-voiced' so as not to alert the enemy to their presence. I can hardly bear to think about it really.

Indian Muleteers and mule wearing gasmasks, February 1940

Some of the Mule Companies were evacuated at Dunkirk when the allied armies had to retreat. The men, not the mules. They had to leave the animals behind and were heart-broken.

My research trail continued to Cornwall, to Wales, where a few died in a flu epidemic, and finally to the north-east coast of Scotland. Some of the men who survived Dunkirk, with new mules brought over from the US, were engaged in training exercises with the idea that they may be sent to Norway. NORWAY?

There's a little cemetery called Proncynain near Dornoch on the N.E. Coast of Scotland...about as far removed from the sunny climes of South East Asia as you could get.  I wonder how many people pass by and are surprised to see the grave of Ghulam Nabi from Dhir Kot, Hazara, Pakistan...


and that of of Abdhul Rakhman from Butigaram, Hazara, Pakistan

That's the something incredible that was waiting for me to know yesterday.