Often I have thought about the stories my father told to me as a young man.  Quite often truth is far more powerful than fiction and those men who pioneered the Indian frontiers, suffering malaria and numerous other jungle sicknesses, hoards of Indians that hated but feared the white man and the threat of death from a number of different wild animals and snakes, they must have been from good pioneering stock.  Imagine being in a country where the natives outnumbered you by thousands to one and often resented you being there.  Where a wild beast could spring from the jungle and kill you at any moment.  When a boat ride from one country to another could take months of hazardous sailing.  How soft are we as people now, when the mere fact that when someone turns the power off, we are in a dilemma.  All these things have gone through my mind and the time has finally come when I should put my memories of my father’s tales down on paper, before they are lost to the world completely.
The tales I am going to relate to you have been told to me by my father who spent around 20 years in India back in the early 1900s.  Dad’s father, my grandfather, was the chief of police near Madras where dad was born in 1901.  Dad used to run two miles through jungle that was infested with wild animals to go to school, more than likely this stood him in good stead as he became a very good long distance runner.  He told us that he used to imagine something was chasing him and run flat out the whole way.  I shouldn’t imagine that would have been too hard to imagine.  One other time on that same track a tiger had come out and stood growling at my auntie and her girlfriend for some minutes, before just turning around and disappearing into the jungle.  Dad said that they got a jolly good fright that day.  Around 1915 dad ran away from St Josephs College where he was enrolled and joined the British Army at the ripe old age of 14years.  (Back then the army and the police were run or administrated by the East Indian Trading Company I believe or the British Raj)  In a few years he found himself stationed at the Khyber Pass during the Third Afghan War.  He often spoke of the Khyber Pass with reverence.  Khyber means "Across the river" or "divide".  The Khyber Pass is a 53-kilometer passage through the Hindu Kush mountain range. It connects the northern frontier of Pakistan with Afghanistan. At its narrowest point, the pass is only 3 meters wide. The Khyber Pass would be one of the most famous mountain passes in the World.  It is one of the most important passes between Afghanistan and Pakistan.


Grandad

 Many battles have been fought there over many centuries and many thousands of souls have lost their lives either defending or attacking it.  Dad often spoke of returning there one day just for old time’s sake, but unfortunately he never did get to make that journey.
    
     Many times as youngsters, we would sit in the dark listening to his stories of old India and conjure up wild scenes as he told them.  As a child, the large rug that served as a carpet square in our lounge was in fact a large Bengal tiger skin, with head and claws attached.  Oh how I wish my dad had never sold that skin.  Many times we were told the story of how he had shot that tiger so many years before, and each time, the little cold shivers ran down my spine at the thought of those long hot nights waiting silently, but for the myriad noises of the insect life in the Indian jungle.  Somewhere out there in the darkness, striped death stalked silently. It started with the death of a village washer woman who was taken by the tiger as she washed her family’s clothes at the riverbank. The signs were there, where the tiger had stalked the woman from behind as she bashed the clothing on the large rock she used as her washing stone.


Dad in India

Her heel marks and splashes of blood where she had been dragged lay between the tiger’s prints.  Behind a bush some 100metres away her partially eaten remains were found, lightly covered with brush that the tiger had scraped over her.  The great pug marks showed that it was a rather large tiger with a club foot.  This was most likely caused by being damaged in a hunters trap and as the foot had healed, the tiger had apparently found that he couldn’t stalk and kill his natural prey as he had been able to before.   He had then turned to something easier to stalk and village goats or cattle were sometimes killed, now, humans had become his prey.  A village boy had disappeared a week before, but no one had really thought that much of it, as often the young men and older boys would take off for other villages.  Now it became more sinister and my father was called in to try to shoot the tiger.  For the first afternoon and night, my father waited near the woman’s body.  They had convinced the natives, after a lot of arguing with family members, that they should leave the woman’s remains as bait, as the tiger might come back to his kill.  Tucked in between a couple of large rocks and a big tree, dad said that he felt very vulnerable and yes, scared.  It was not so bad at first, not until the moon went down.  Then the black velvet of darkness closed around him and he was flat out seeing more than a few feet. He was a very glad man when morning finally gave enough light to see by.  Never again would he wait at ground level as he stated that it was far too dangerous.  Like he said, the tiger could have come back and got him quite easily when the black velvet of darkness had cloaked him.
      A Booma as I think Dad called it was built near the village. This consisted of a platform high in a large tree with camouflaging boughs wrapped around it.  A large stake was driven into the ground a few yards from the tree where dad would have a good line of fire.  To this a young goat was tied and the first night of vigil began. Mosquitoes by the millions tore at dad’s exposed skin and the risk of his moving and giving himself away, made him just sit tight and try to ignore them. An Indian bearer held on to his old .303 rifle, (I think a Lee Metfield) while dad cradled the old Purdy shotgun loaded with a solid slug on one side and a load of heavy buckshot (or tiger shot as he sometimes called it) in the other.  Together they spent what dad says was one of the most uncomfortable nights of his life and the only noise they heard was one small bleat from the goat.  Morning came and looking down to where the goat had been, all that was left was the end of the leather tether that it had been tied up with.  In retrospect, dad said it had been a bad night to try it, with very little moon and the tiger had come in the darkest hour and taken the goat without them even knowing.  He said that when he looked down to where the goat had been and saw nothing, a big shiver went through him from head to toe.  Two days later another Indian man was attacked by the tiger as he carried wood back to his village.  The wood had saved his life as the tiger had pounced from the jungle and grabbed the wood bundle rather than his neck, at his screams and his partners yelling, the tiger had bounded off into the jungle. Dad did say that the injuries the man sustained to his upper arm rendered his arm just about useless and he often wondered how he had fared.  Two weeks went by and another goat was tied to the same stake.  It was a full moon and dad thought that seeing as the tiger had gotten a free feed of goat here before, he might just try again.


Dad in uniform again

     It was only around twenty five to thirty feet from where they waited in the Booma to where the goat was tied, like ten to fifteen feet out and fifteen up and a tiger would be able to jump that high with considerable ease.  Dad sat with his eyes glued to the goat that night, frightened to take his eyes from it less the wily tiger slunk in and took the goat again as before.  At around two in the morning according to the moon, there was a slight noise from the goat and it became agitated.  The tiger was coming.  One second there was just the goat and the next there was a tiger where the goat should have been.  The shotgun nestled firmly into his shoulder, dad slowly caressed the trigger and the Indian lad with him screamed as the shot rang out and nearly fell from the tree as he had been dozing and not realized the drama unfolding.  The crashing boom of the shotgun was drowned out by a tremendous roar of pain as the big slug tore down through the tigers vitals.  Unfortunately the big slug missed the spine where he had been aiming and the tiger turned and jumped up toward where dad now had the gun pointing straight at him.  As he told the story, dad’s eyes told of the fright he had got as two glowing eyes and a mouth full of teeth came straight at him and from two feet he aimed at the tigers head, fired and missed.  Luckily he hadn’t missed altogether though, fortunately for dad the shot had gone slightly lower and through just below the jaw and on into the tiger’s throat taking out the spine and killing it.  As he had fired, the tiger was still surging upward from his jump causing dad to hit low and only for a couple of solid branches a large claw might have still done him some real harm as there were some great slash marks on the tree branch that had been in front of him.  Like dad said. “If I had been using the .303 and not the shotgun, the blighter would have got me as I would not have had time to reload.”  The first shot had gone through the tigers vitals, but he still had more than enough gas in his tank to most likely kill dad and the bearer that was with him had the next shot not driven him back, killing him.  The tiger was large but very thin from not being able to kill and eat properly.  Never the less, the skin was taken and preserved and I can still remember playing with that tiger as a child.  (Yes, I and my brother, have both actually pulled a tigers tail, as we were always in trouble for doing so.)


Dad is in there somewhere

  On other occasions, dad hunted with a Maharaja from the backs of elephants, with beaters driving the tigers from their daytime hiding spots.  Some were shot with his old .303 and on another occasion he used one of the Maharaja’s double rifles that had been especially made for him. (Can’t remember the calibre, but dad did say it was some sort of express rifle and hurt his shoulder).  He used to file the tips of his .303 bullets for tiger and deer shooting, but when he shot a couple of marauding elephants with a local warden he used FMJs and went for head shots which as he said. ‘Killed the blighter’s dead.’  Apparently the elephants were raiding large maize crops and knocking native huts down.  Nothing would deter them so they decided to shoot a few, which apparently had the right effect as the rest of the herd left the area.  It never failed to amaze him how something the size of an elephant could be set upon by the natives and in no time at all there would be nothing but blood on the ground to show where it had been.  Absolutely nothing was wasted and he used to laugh at the black fuzzy heads covered in blood and gore that would pop up from the inside of an elephant as they cut it up.
     At around that same time, his father, my grand father, had what he called a bit of bother one day in the town where he was stationed.  It seems that there was a bit of a disturbance outside.  My grand dad who was chief of police at the time went out to investigate.  Granddad Norman was around 6ft 4inches tall and weighed in at around 18 stone of muscle.  He looked out and there were around 200 angry Indians with a grievance about something or other had marched upon his home, so he slipped on his side arm, grabbed his swagger stick and went out and faced them down on his own.  In those days in India the higher the house the higher the standing in society and Granddad’s house was one of the highest.  The tale is told that he walked up to the leader who was making all the noise and inciting the others to riot.  Yelling at him in whatever tongue they were talking, probably Hindustani, don't know whether he stuck his pistol up the leader's nose or not, but he marched them all down the road to the police station and locked the ringleaders up, then went on home like nothing had happened, as by this time the mob had dispersed. As my cousin who had spent time serving in the Royal Navy over there in India in the riot squads said. “Take the leader out and they would fold up quite easily as most of them were scared of the white men.”  Can you imagine walking in on a mob of a couple of hundred crazy Indians all on your Pat Malone?  Like cousin X said “Your granddad had balls the size of an elephant."  By the way, my granddad was of Irish ancestry, but born in India in 1871.

     My cousin X served with the British Royal Navy in a riot squad.  I cannot name him, as even now, he is still bound by the Official secrecy act.   He told me a tale about when they were in Ceylon in the 1950s.  There was a mob of thousands of Ceylonese led by a couple of ringleaders at the front.  The riot squad that consisted of 37 men, yes a whole 37 of them formed what they called a block, so there were nine men facing any way at a given time.  In the centre of the block was an officer, two runners, a medic and a local dignitary.  The ringleader was a Ceylonese dressed in red and was the most vocal of them, the officer yelled “Front line facing the disturbance make ready.”  The runner then came and fed a round into the open breach of each of the nine in that line, yes that’s right, one round. Of those nine rounds, most were blanks.  Then the officer yelled in English and Ceylonese.” Take aim at the man in front, in the red shirt.”  The man in the red shirt laughed at this and carried on trying to incite the mob.  So then the officer yelled out fire for effect and they shot the guy in the red shirt, just calmly blew him away, you would also tend to think that a few behind probably copped it from those FMJ .303 rounds too. At that, the whole mob dispersed.  The men then ejected the spent cases and the runners picked them up so that no one knew who had actually killed the man.  Can you imagine being one of 37guys facing a mob of thousands with only probably two guys with a live round?  That takes balls too.  The mob they were facing was most likely the birth of the Tamil Tigers. 

     Getting back to dad’s tales, another one he told many times was from the time he hunted the big crocodiles.  The crocodiles used to account for not a small proportion of deaths and every one he killed made the villagers feel that much safer. The skins were sold for a few rupees or whatever at the time and the large crocodile skins were in demand.  They used a native dugout canoe and on one occasion they capsized it and all ended up in the river. There was a mad scramble that night or so dad said, and they buggered up the spotlight and the native boy had to dive several times into the dark murky depths to retrieve dad’s rifle.  How it happened would have looked quite funny had it not been so serious.  Slowly poling the dugout, the native at the back swiftly but surely brought the nose of the dugout to one side of a large crocodile, so allowing dad a clear shot at it.  The native at the front held the light and a short spear with line attached.  As the crocodiles were shot, the native up front would hand back the light and dive into the water, driving his spear into the hapless crocodile as it started to sink.  Silently he brought the old .303 up to his shoulder and aimed at the red glowing orbs that were the large crocodile’s eyes.  Just as he squeezed the trigger, the front of the dugout hit a submerged log putting his aim off slightly. The shot hit the crocodile and the native up the front was already falling into the water as dad fired.  He still had the presence of mind to drive the spear home as he and the light went into the water plunging the whole area into total darkness. Dad being off balance, tried to right himself and actually made it worse and the canoe capsized throwing them both into the water where the crocodile still thrashed around.  Luckily his shot had been close enough and the spear had also probably helped quieten the reptilian beast.  Like he said, there was a fair bit of yelling and kicking going on and it took quite some time to right the dugout and find his rifle that lay in about ten feet of water.  There were many tales, some funny and some quite serious that dad used to tell us as we grew up.  He often spoke of the chital or axis deer that he used to pot shoot.  They never worried about the antlers and some, by his measurements would have been absolute records now.  Like he was talking 40inch long chital stags.  The deer would be hung in the shade covered in muslin for up to a week and still be edible.  No wonder they mostly curried everything as it would probably have killed many of the bacteria.  Dad ate curries that would burn a hole through the average person’s tongue.  I can still remember him sitting at the table with sweat running off him as he ate the specially made curries mum used to cook.  Ours was always prepared first as none of us could handle the stuff dad ate.  They shot a sambar hind one day and caught a young sambar stag fawn, that they kept as a pet until it grew up and stomped my uncle John one day, nearly killing him.  They also had a pet bear that they had to turn loose as it became too big and monkeys were often kept as pets.  One time they had a King Cobra come into a house they were living in through a drainage hole.  They killed that snake, but its mate kept coming back for weeks until they managed to kill it too.  He said that he thought the cobras must mate for life and if one was killed the other would keep coming back.  When I think back to the many tales my father relayed to me, I know that he had gone through a period of life that was savage and yet sublime.  A true life of adventure in the wilds of early India and all before he had turned the ripe old age of 21.

Ted Mitchell Snr

Footnote;
     The authenticity of these tales could only be really certified by my father, now deceased.  But these tales are told by me in as honest and factual way I can and to the best of my knowledge and memories of what my father told me himself.  Also some pieces were told to me by other family members. Possibly dad may have glossed things up a little, but knowing him to be an honest person and a stickler for the truth, I would not hesitate to say, that what he portrayed to us as his sons was fact, pure and simple. TM

 

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