Foley and Phil’s arrival in India
After some time crossing Africa in the box cars, Phil arrives in Mumbai, India (then called “Bombay”) with a bunch of guys, including one he still remembers 70 years later: Foley.
There was a guy in my boxcar named Foley, he was a little older than us. If I was 20 by then he was probably close to 30. We knew that after Africa we were going to India. Foley was sort of a scary guy – he was afraid of various things and as young people would do — and especially soldiers — we told him that when you get to India you better make sure to get a mongoose because they have cobras in India and the only thing a cobra is afraid of is a mongoose, because a mongoose can kill a cobra. So when we land in India you better make sure that you get mongoose. Well, for the rest of our time in the box cars in North Africa he was ruminating about who should he stop, and who should he ask, and who should he see about getting mongoose.
Well we ended up at a royal air force base in Bombay. India at that time was a commonwealth of Britain, not an independent country so we were at a Royal Air Force base in Bombay and as soon as we hit the land he was already looking for a mongoose.
Now the Indian women were happy to see American soldiers come with barrack bags because they had a little way of kneeing your barrack bags up onto their heads. Now those barrack bags were heavy and if you tried to lift the barrack bag and carry it, it was a burden to you. But these women would stick a knee into it and heave it into the air and onto the top of their heads and walk along comfortably. Most of them didn’t understand American – and the women who got his barrack back, we gave them some honors – I think there were so many honors to a rupie. They were happy to get the money, that’s what they were there for, and he was asking them, “Where do I get a mongoose?” and they didn’t know what the hell he was talking about!
He kept saying “How do you get a mongoose? Where do I get a mongoose?”
They put us into some sort of a dormitory arrangement there and the beds were slats shaped in the form of a rectangle with sort of hemp ropes back and forth across it to make a basis for you to set something down to sleep on.
We each got our own bed, or cot so to speak, and we were about to set stuff down on it to lie down on when one of the Royal Air Force fellows said, “Whoa, not so fast” and he said just get some paper and set it on fire and hold it under the criss crossed rope and watch. So we did it. I think every species of vermin in the world fell out of the ropes onto the floor.
We were stunned by how many creatures live in that rope, the criss-crossed rope, and we thanked him of course and and then we were able to sleep on it.
Photo: Phil seated with guys and some local children in India, photo courtesy of Phil Schneider