In December 1944, 3 Commando Brigade was based in Teknaf and everyone’s thoughts had begun to focus on a long-awaited Christmas. 300 ducks had been delivered to the Brigade at the end of November and they were being nurtured and fattened in a wire-fenced enclosure, upon which hung a sign reading, “No sniping: this is your Christmas dinner!” There was an anxious moment two weeks before Christmas when Air Dispatchers in Dakota aircraft, which dropped the South East Asia Command (SEAC) newspapers into the camp, tried to ‘bomb’ the ducks but thankfully, they missed!
Christmas dinner was greatly anticipated as the commandos’ everyday meals weren’t so much a cordon bleu as a déjà vu style of cuisine: soya link sausages and ‘train smash’ (tinned tomatoes) for breakfast and dehydrated potato and bully beef for dinner. They were so bored with their repetitive diet that one member of the Brigade felt compelled to compose a poem on the subject:
…And as for the food,
I could be really rude
And mention that bloke ‘Soya Link’.
Sometimes it’s in batter
But it really don’t matter
It’s subject to no camouflage.
It’s really disgusting –
My ‘tum’s’ nearly busting
Through eating the old bread and marg!
(Farewell, Soya Link’ by R.F. Russell)
The Brigade played host to several VIPs during December: Major General Robert Laycock, the Chief of Combined Operations, spent a couple of days with them and by the middle of the month, whispers that Admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten would be visiting them had begun to circulate. The rumours were true and Lord Louis swept into camp for an overnight stay on the 19th of December, surrounded by a scramble of reporters, photographers and film crews.
Christmas Day finally arrived and when the dinner gong – fashioned from a shell casing – was struck, the officers entered their Mess to find it had been decorated with strips of coloured fabric and cotton wool snowflakes. After a tomato soup starter, the plump ducks were served up with sausages; roast potatoes; stuffing; green peas; Brussels sprouts; bread sauce; and jelly. After that there was Christmas pudding soaked in brandy containing three sixpences, followed by fresh fruit; nuts; raisins; and crystallised fruits. Beer ran like water.
They paused in the middle of their meal to listen to the King’s eight-minute speech on the wireless which he addressed to the millions, “scattered far and near across the world.” He said that his proud and grateful thoughts were with the nation’s fighting men and asked that, “God bless and protect them and bring them victory.” He stressed that the defeat of Germany and Japan was only the first half of their task and the second was to create a world of free men, untouched by tyranny.
After dinner the officers toasted their loved ones and raised a glass to their wives, sweethearts, parents and siblings. They continued raising glasses until the early hours, resulting in half an inch of gin on the floor of the Officers’ Mess the following morning!