My maternal grandfather, Roy Bliven, served in India during WWII. He never told stories about his time there – ever. I know almost nothing about it except what I’ve gleaned from a few sparse finds on the internet. From what I have uncovered I can’t begin to imagine the horrible conditions in which they served.
My grandfather did his training at Camp Claiborne, Louisiana. The first – and almost only clue – I found online was finding his name on a Christmas program given for the 20th General Hospital. The program can be seen here: http://www.archives.upenn.edu/primdocs/upc/upc15roster.pdf
The University of Pennsylvania holds the collection of papers associated with this hospital’s work in India. From their website I learned that the 20th General Hospital was originally formed during WWI in conjunction with the American Red Cross and the War Department. In 1940 the U.S. Surgeon General requested that it be organized again. After two years of preparation in Philadelphia the unit entered active serve on May 15, 1942. The unit trained for eight months at Camp Claiborne and then traveled to Ledo via California and Australia. Ledo was a former railroad bazaar in the Assam region of northeast India. China borders Ledo to the north and Burma is on its eastern border.
According the University of Pennsylvania website, “To reopen communications with the Chinese, General Stilwell chose Ledo as the western terminus of his road into North Burma, to be built with the engineering and organizational skills of General Lewis A. Pick. As a huge military installation sprung up at Ledo, the 20th General Hospital took on the mission of providing medical care for the American-Chinese forces fighting the Japanese in Burma as well as for men constructing the Ledo road.” http://www.archives.upenn.edu/histy/features/alum/99_2.html.
That Christmas program is the only connection I have linking my grandfather to the 20th General Hospital – that and my personal knowledge that he served as some sort of medic in India during WWII. The story of the hospital setting up in the jungle during the monsoon season is a story of courage and determination – a story I would love to know more about. I hope someday these records stored at the university will be made available online as it is highly unlikely that I will be able to view them in person.
But I did find one other exciting discovery online that gave me a glimpse into the conditions and environment at the hospital. A site has posted about 16 short films taken during WWII at Assam. Although I could not find my grandfather’s face anywhere in these films, it was exciting just to see where he probably served. These and other WWII archival film footage can be found at http://www.criticalpast.com/products/location_history/Assam_India/1940/1944.
I hope someday somebody will see this who has a relative that served with the 20th General and can maybe give me more insight into life in Assam with the hospital unit – maybe even someone who knew my grandfather. I know this generation is aging fast now and it will be harder and harder to find someone who may have known him, but you never know.