Alan Lane

MY RETURN TO INDIA

 

AS A CROSSLEY ENGINEER IN ASSAM

 

On completion of my education at the Technical High School in Great Yarmouth, United Kingdom, I was offered a three year ‘special’ training course at Crossley Brothers, Diesel Engine manufacturers, in Manchester, subject to an interview by Inchcape & Co., 40 St Mary Axe, London, on the understanding that on completion of the period of training, and subject to completing a Higher National Certificate course at the Manchester Institute of Science & Technology,(now UMIST)  I would be expected to proceed to the Crossley Engine agency department at Kilburn & Co., located in Calcutta. Then to move to Assam to be a service engineer overhauling the many Crossley engines installed on the tea estates, and plywood factories.

On completing my three year term at Crossley’s, I was issued instructions by Inchcape in London to proceed to Liverpool, and thence to Bombay via the Anchor Line passenger ship MV Cilicia.

The journey of three weeks was very enjoyable, but I was full of anticipation and excitement in being able to return to India, the country of my birth, which was something that I had been longing to do throughout my childhood. This was quite a common feeling amongst those children of tea planters who had been born in India (mostly in the North Eastern states).

On arrival at Ballard Pier, Bombay, I was met by a very nice Parsi gentleman by the name of Jimmy Engineer, who was the Crossley agent for Western India. Jimmy eased me through Customs within a matter of minutes, and then took me for a tour along Marine Drive of Bombay. First of all we called at the Parsi Gymkhana Club for tiffin, and then later we went to Jimmy’s apartment located on Malabar Hill. Jimmy drove me past the St Elizabeth Nursing Home, the place where I was born, before having tea and sandwiches at Jimmy’s home.

In the early evening, Jimmy took me to the Victoria Terminus in Bombay to board the train to Calcutta.

The train journey took a couple of days, which I thoroughly enjoyed, as I could watch all the life of India as it went past on my way to Howrah Station. I still remember the marvellous fish curry that I had on the train when we stopped at Jubbulpore.

On arrival at Howrah Station, I was met by a member of staff, of the Crossley agency office and taken to stay at the Great Eastern Hotel, in Old Court House Street. The next morning I was collected by a driver, and introduced to the many people that were in the office located at 2, Fairlie Place. What an imposing building! Within that building, were various companies, such as Mackinnon Mackenzie, Macneill & Barry, Kilburn & Company, and various other subsidiaries of the Inchcape Group.

After three days of getting ‘acclimatised’ I was taken to Dum Dum airport and put on the Indian Airlines DC3 Dakota flight to Mohanbari, via Gauhati, and Jorhat. The flight was rather ‘bumpy’ over the Khasi Hills (it was just before the break of the monsoon), and the plane seemed to be skimming the forest below on the way.

On arrival at Mohanbari, I was met by the resident Crossley Engineer, based at Nagaghoolie. The bungalow there had been the Manager’s bungalow before Nagaghoolie was absorbed into the Maijan garden. The nearest bungalow to this one was the factory bungalow at Greenwood TE. The Greenwood factory bungalow was my father’s first residence when he joined tea in 1938!

The next day, we drove to Powai TE (James Finlay), near to Digboi, to carry out servicing to the Crossley QVD 6 engine there. We travelled each day to Powai from Nagaghoolie, and boy was it hot and humid! The route we took was from Nagahoolie, through Greenwood, then Manohari and past Mohanbari airfield to the AT Road near the James Warren engineering workshops. Then took the road from Lahoal to Duliajan, through the rain forest to Digboi, and on to Powai TE. Quite a heave there and back each day.

Our next call out was to Kharjan TE (Shaw Wallace) where there was a problem with the QVD 5 in that it had somehow bent the main vee belt pulley shaft. Norman removed the shaft and we handed it to Work & Works in Lahoal who did a splendid job of straightening out the shaft again.

I was with this engineer for only a short while before I was handed over to another Crossley engineer located at Mahakali TE in Tingri district.  I travelled about to various gardens, in the Upper Assam area (Dhoedaam, Deamoolie, Beesakopie, Samdang, Digulturrung, Baghjan, Anandabag, Tengapani, Bazaloni and many others).

By the time I had completed my six month probationary period, it had reached ‘cold weather’ time, and I was detailed to cover the tea estates in North Western Cachar district. These gardens were Kalline (Macneill & Barry), Craigpark (Kanoi Group), Kallinecherra (Octavius Steele) and Jellalpore (Macneill & Barry). This fitted in nicely as I could spend Christmas with my father who was Manager at Kalline TE. We managed to get a few days off at Christmas as ‘local leave’ and went camping and fishing in the Mikir & Jaintia Hills.

On completion of my work programme in Cachar, I returned to Upper Assam and carried on servicing Crossley engines on the many estates located up and down the valley. The gardens were located from Doom Dooma, Digboi, Tingri, Panitola, Dibrugarh, Moran, Nahorkutia, Sonari,  Nazira, Mariani, Jorhat, Golaghat to Nowgong.

The majority of Crossley engines installed on the tea estates were either the HD/HH horizontal or the QVD/QS vertical. Some were twin cylinder horizontal engines, and the vertical engines ranged from three to eight cylinders.

Sadly, it all had to come to an end in 1968 when Crossley’s in the UK were bought out by the APE Group (Allen Diesels and Belliss & Morcom) . The Crossley engine agency was terminated with Kilburn & Co, as Belliss & Morcom had their own offices in Little Russell Street, Calcutta. They were not interested in employing expatriate engineers, so it meant that all of us expatriates were now redundant and were to depart from India as soon as possible.

It was on the one hand a sad time for me, but on the other I was very happy as I met and married my wife, Jackie, in Margherita. We have been together for 50 years.

My wife and I still have lots of connections with India and we are, as you may well say, very much ‘Indophiles’.