The Open Door

A Story of Bhola Singh, The Regimental Bearer of 55 Coy RASC (AD): Ken Law

Bhola SinghLEFT: Bhola Singh (right, being introduced to Lady d'isle by Major W.C. Grierson , MM) was employed by 55 Company RASC (AD) in 1948. He was born in a village near Lyallpur in the Punjab, Northern India in 1910. His father, an agricultural worker died when Bhola was very young.

After World War 1 his family became very poor, so Bhola decided to go and find work with the British Army. At the age of 15 he went to Rawalpindi and worked for The Somerset Light Infantry with whom he stayed for approx. 6 months. He then moved to Nowshera near Peshawar, N.W. Frontier Province and worked for the Seaforth Highlanders. It was here at the age of 16 that Bhola got married. He was with the Seaforths for approx. 8 months, when he moved on to the Devons’ Camp near Simla and from here he went with the Devons to Quetta in Baluchistan. He remained with the Devons for about one year, when his family moved to Jubbulpore in the Central Provinces. Here he worked for the Manchester Regt for a few months.

At this time, Bhola, now a young man, felt he could do better for himself. He heard that there was work to be obtained at Bahawalpur in the Punjab. So once again he moved, only this time to work with a civilian firm building a railway bridge between Bahawalpur and Multan, over the River Indus. Here he was employed as a riveter at first, and then eventually put in charge of the ‘Gang’. He remained in this work for just over a year until a Mr. Sproule the civilian engineer, impressed by Bhola’s smart appearance, made him Head Boy in his house. He stayed here for five years until Mr. Sproule returned to UK. It was during this period that Bhola cut his hair (because the memsahib didn’t like it). Although he was a Hindu and not a Sikh, he had been brought up in a Sikh area, and had grown his hair as the Sikh do. He has never grown it since. After his long service with Mr. Sproule, Bhola went to work for a tailor in East Punjab for four years.

During 1938 or 1939 Bhola was still a poor man, so he saved 60 Rupees and went to Singapore. There he started to work again with the Army. Firstly, with the Loyal Regt in Gillman Barracks, but after a few months the Provost Sgt of the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders noticed him, and in Bhola's own words, “pinched him” from the Loyals. So he went to the Argyle’s camp in Holland Road. There he cleaned the CO’s office and kept the Provost Sgt sustained. As Bhola says, “Sgt MacD....d a great drinking man, me bring him drunk from Mess also me lose job”. Bhola remained with the Argyles until Singapore fell to the Japanese. Up to this time Bhola and a Chinese friend had also been providing bearers and a dhobi service for HQ Malaya Command in Sime Road Singapore and 22 Battery RA at Seletar. When the Japanese entered Malaya, Bhola remembers the Argyles being sent up to the front four times and each time coming back having lost a lot of men. The Argyle camp in Highland Road was bombed many times but still Bhola stayed — “I only once in this world — no good running away”. Just before Singapore fell, Bhola remembers being told by a regular soldier, “when Japanese come Bhola you do what they tell you — don’t disobey their orders, else they will cut off your head. The British will be back — maybe not me, but my son and then you’ll be all right”. When the Japanese came Bhola remembered these words and did what he was told. He was put in a factory cutting leather for shoes, belts and sword scabbards and eventually the Japanese put him in charge of 50 men and 30 women. They were, apparently fairly lenient to the Indians but hated the Chinese. So Bhola remembered the words of the British ‘very regular soldier’ until one day the Japanese beat up his Chinese friend and told him to get out of his house. This was too much for Bhola who promptly set about the Japanese. For this he lost his job in the factory and was taken before “four Japanese Generals”. To them he said, “all right you take all furniture out of my friends house, then tie his family up and burn them on the fire — but what me think of you, what all Indians think of you?”.

This appears to have been too much for the Generals, so although Bhola lost his job his friend kept his house. After this Bhola and his friend set up a small shoe making shop where they didn’t make much money, but enough to buy their food, and here they remained until the British Army came back. As soon as the British came back Bhola started looking for the Argyles. He spent five days doing this, but only managed to find one. So he went to Fort Canning and got the dhobi contract for the 7 Bn Parachute Regt. After a short while the Bn went to Java so Bhola went to Mageedee Barracks in Johore Bahru where the Royal Scots were. He remained with the Royal Scots for two and a half years going with them from Mageedee Barracks to Seremban then to Kuala Pilah, back to Mageedee Barracks and up country again to Ulu Tiram. Bhola used to go into the Jungle with them and take food and tea for them. He says, “me always sleep with CSM”. At the end of 1947 the Royal Scots went to India, so Bhola went to Nee Soon Camp.

At Nee Soon he started with a fruit shop until he was given the dhobi contract for Nee Soon. At this time 992 Coy RASC was at Nee Soon Camp, but in May 1948, 799 Coy RASC (AD) moved from Selarang to Nee Soon and amalgamated with 992 Coy RASC, and the Unit was called 799 Coy RASC (AD). In November 1948 the RASC School (FE) moved into Nee Soon Camp with them they brought a big contractor who pushed Bhola Singh out of business. Bhola Singh then began providing bearers for 799 Coy, and doing a small amount of ‘Special Dhobi’. In July 1950, 799 Coy was renamed 55 Coy RASC (AD), and Bhola has remained with the Company ever since. In April 1954 the Company HQ moved from Nee Soon to Kuala Lumpur and brought Bhola with them. So he continues his long service with the Army. In Bhola’s own words, “All my life only one Flag — the British Flag”.

(Editor's note: Bhola Singh retired and went home to India when 55 moved from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore at the end of 1960. He was replaced by Moti Michael who many later Despatchers will remember.)

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