Ralph Stobart Robson, signalman, life in the British Royal Navy World War Two, sinking of Prince of Wales and the Repulse, Singapore
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  1. Chatham to Gourock
  2. The Messman Discovered
  3. Life on Board
  4. Crossing the Line
  5. The Sinkings
  6. H.M.S. Sultan
  7. The Signal Office
  8. Left to Our Own Resources
  9. Colombo
  10. Drafted to Mombassa
  11. Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
  12. Sharks, Lobsters and Going Dutch
  13. Askari Skirmishes and Tea Making
  14. Tramp Steamer
  15. Molo
  16. Deer Hunting
  17. Ralph the Italian and off to Bombay
  18. Arrival in Bombay
  19. Vultures and Buffalos
  20. Poona
  21. Swimming Motorcycles and Monsoon Storms
  22. The Royal Corps of Signals
  23. 'Trixie' Vaughan Lewis and Drowning Men
  24. On Leave in the Himalayas

    Ralph as a telegram boy before the war

13 - Askari Skirmishes and Tea Making

One day a most amusing thing happened. It all started when I was appointed the Naval H.Q. teaboy.

A squad of Askaris natives was camped in the garden at the rear of the erstwhile school and acted as guards to the H.Q., being required to examine the passes of everyone entering the compounds. As they could neither read nor write this was a sorry business - the passes were usually accepted on sight.

One morning a group of officers, including the local commodore, came to the entrance. They approached and entered. When they got inside the Commodore said, "Have that man charged. I didn't show my pass".
The sergeant in charge was sent for and given a bollocking. I saw him later and he was furious. He in turn had given the Askari a ticking off and strict instructions not to let it happen again.

This episode had more serious consequences. A few days later the very man who had got the Askari into trouble arrived before the soldier to find that he had forgotten his pass. The Askari shifted his bayonet to the front. He obviously was not going to let him in. By now no one was waiting to be admitted.

The soldier moved down to the cement path that ran along the front of the school. What he saw there infuriated him beyond measure. Two officers were helping the Commodore to enter the building through a French window. The entrance through the window was about four feet above ground. It was obviously used to get bulky objects into the building.

The Askari rushed along the front of the building and stuck his bayonet into one of the Commodore's arse cheeks. The sentry casually stood by whilst the wounded officer was attended to. The building was in uproar. 'Jolly Jack' was convulsed with laughter. Everyone had rushed to the windows to see the fun. The Commodore wasn't very popular.

The English Sergeant was sent for, but he was on leave in Nairobi, non of the native troops could speak English - an impasse. The officer had been taken to hospital, a new sergeant appeared and the Askaris were replaced by British troops.

Some time before these events I had been promoted to office tea boy - the Indian tea boy was being replaced as they had decided it wasn't fit for the natives to make tea for the British, so I was elected. I think this was some form of punishment as my attitude towards the officers was somewhat cavalier. However, one job was as good as another and I made no objections.

I felt rather sorry for the native bloke whose job I was taking, but he appeared to be quite pleased as he said he had managed to milk the bwanas of much loot. He had bought the cheapest tea dust and didn't always use cow's milk, believing that buffalo milk was just as good. His one real expense was having to purchase white sugar.

The tea was made in what had been the girl's outside toilets. These were beautifully appointed with plenty of washbasins upon which planks were laid and tea was brewed. I went down to meet the Indian who ran the operation - he bought the supplies and kept the charges as his wages and as the tea was very cheap everyone was satisfied. He was a jolly looking man and showed me what to do. The stuff he used was tea dust, the cheapest, with buffalo milk. He boiled the water on a smallish oil cooker, owned by the Royal Navy.

I used to brew the tea, pour it through a strainer then take into the office and leave it on a table. This was done at regular intervals during the day. Two ratings were detailed to dish it out and I got the receipts.

All went as merry as a wedding bell until the arrival of the wrens. They arrived out of the blue from the U. K., accompanied by an officer. She made it plain that they were out of bounds to all but officers and she also took over the tea. She didn't much like the whole operation and I quickly found myself out of a job - however, I was quite pleased with the money I had made.

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