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

18. Arrival in Bombay

The ship lay off for some time before moving up alongside the wharf just opposite the Gateway of India - a huge ornamental gate facing on to a broad stretch of water which lay to the south of what was a very impressive city. The water was filled with smallish steamers and many small craft including dhows.

The west of the city lay behind a magnificent frontage of five and six story houses which lined a sandy beach, and a promontory ran out to sea about three quarters of the way up - this was Thana, the home of the really rich people, and here was wealth gone wild. Behind the seashore buildings lay the city itself and I was immediately fascinated by the multiplicity of races and creeds. At the end of my stay in India I could distinguish between Pathan and Punjabi and many others.

The bulk of Bombay was built under the aegis of the British. There were many fine buildings, none greater than the Bombay and Baroda Railway Station where outside was a building of great Indian charm but inside was hell. The travellers debarked from the ship with a sigh of relief and the ratings trudged a little way up the beach where there turned out to be a small barracks.

There it appeared that everyone was to await a ship - everyone, that is, except me! No one seemed to know what to do with me. The old chief, who seemed to be in charge, said "Never mind, lad. Someone will ask for you". There was no falling-in in this barracks - you just reported to the Regulating Office after breakfast and then were free to do as you liked.

The first day was spent just wandering, seeing the sights etc. but the next day brought a big surprise. I was told to get myself ready for a draught to R.N.B.S.S. A fifteen-cwt truck took me out through the northern outskirts of the city to a pleasant little village called Bandra - a long narrow peninsula which stretched nearly one mile into the sea.

The southern side facing Bombay was a steep slope crowded with palm trees (not the coconut variety), the northern side a gentler slope with some beautiful neat villas. Then we were up against a guarded barrier, the entrance to a Portuguese fort and what had once been a convent.

With my gear I had to dismount and was then conducted up to a series of Indian Army tents where I was shown a bed. This was my first encounter with an army charpoy - a wooden frame with a woven rattan (used to make rope) bed. The other beds had little cupboards alongside them and in addition some had green Navy cases.

I wandered around to familiarise myself and saw men marching along the road to the shout of commands. The whole camp had apparently been out on route march in three groups - one of which wore sailor caps, one soldier caps and one Air Force caps. They stopped on the parade ground and were wearily dismissed and I followed some of them into the tent I had been allotted.

I made myself acquainted and found out, at last, exactly where I was. This was Royal Navy Beach Signal Section No.3 and consisted of Bunts and Tels with, apart from a P.O. Meaby and a Yeoman of Signals plus two leading hands, about fifteen ratings. The tents were about thirty foot long and twenty foot wide, made of a thick sort of canvas with the sides just over a man's height. They didn't appear to be too securely erected as the pole supports were somewhat shaky and the guys were loose.

I wasn't to know it at the time but some of the Royal navy contingent I had studied so closely marching through the gates and now met for the first time in that tent were to be my close companions till the end of the war.

There was Tubby Boynton - a midlander who knew as much about signalling as a ship's cook, Jock Kelly - a Glaswegian who had played football for Glasgow Rangers, reputed to have a great future but I think the length of the war put paid to that, Billy Bumstead - a Londoner whose size, six foot two, put paid to snide remarks about his name, and most of all Jeff Barret who was to become a particularly close friend.

From this good set of lads I was to learn that our job would be to land in the forefront of any invasion and provide communications between the F.O.O.'s (Forward Observation Officers) and the ships which were to shell positions ashore. We were to be at the head of any advance. This was not particularly good news to me - even worse was the fact that we were to be given no "Tots" (issues of rum) and we only got three meals a day (Army style)! There were other restrictions but those two were the worst.

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