William McDowell's life makes the kind of colourful story that simply doesn't happen in the modern world. Packed with adventure, excitement, thrills, spills, and incongruous humour, it tells of his life in India, the country of his birth, from the motor industry to the Diplomatic Service by way of police and army service. McDowell's brushes with death began early in life. The son of a soldier, while still in his teens he was kidnapped by a group of tribesmen and kept prisoner for several days in a case of mistaken identity. Twice he was nearly killed when his vehicle plunged over an embankment, once because he had passed out with the heat, the second time when his lorry's brakes failed. On a cae voyage down a swollen river he was flung from his cae and dragged out of the water more dead than alive. He also narrowly survived a plane crash. The sectarian turmoil during the partition of India McDowell witnessed involved many harrowing experiences. He saw a close friend decapitated by an angry mob of Muslim fanatics and had to deal with the aftermath of slaughters by extremist Muslims which left scores of incent people dead or horribly mutilated.He also witnessed the death of a beater on a shoot from a cobra bite and found the body of a man who had been hanged from his own ceiling in retribution for a debt. On a less tragic te, there was the time McDowell unwittingly threw the president of the Punjabi National Congress out of a train after a dispute about the occupancy of a compartment, an event which nearly cost him his career. He was also once offered the freedom of the harem by his friend the Maharaja of Patiala. Life did start to calm down a little after McDowell managed to shoot his own foot off on a pigeon-shooting trip, but the adventures were t over. When he was sent to the high passes of the Himalayas to find out where Russian refugees from the revolution were getting through, he was swed in for three months. He survived only by killing and eating a hibernating black bear which was sharing his cave. Somehow, McDowell found time in between all this to serve more peacefully in Ceylon and Cyprus and raise a family.
William McDowell was born on 21 September 1911 in Rawalpindi, then in British India, now part of Pakistan. His father, William Alexander McDowell, had served with the Black Watch regiment in the Boer War before being posted to India. McDowell senior had been demobilized in India and had joined the North Western Railway as a fireman/driver in the Punjab, but when war broke out in 1914 he was recalled to the Black Watch. He was travelling by train from Rawalpindi to Karachi to board the troop ship to take him to the war front when he contracted a fatal dose of ptomaine poisoning. The young William went on to spend most of his life in India, returning there to work in the motor industry before serving with the police and then rising through the ranks to join the Diplomatic Service. While serving during the time of partition he witnessed first hand the atrocities of both the Muslim and Hindu populations. He spent the next 27 years in the Diplomatic Service, with spells in Nigeria at the height of the civil war, Ceylon, Cyprus, Argentina, Turkey and finally Holland. Along the way he had to deal with murders, suicides and bureaucratic incompetence and spite. He managed to shoot his own foot off in a hunting accident. Other adventures included being kidnapped by tribesmen and surviving a dramatic plane crash, two car crashes and a near drowning in a canoe. When he was sent to the high passes of the Himalayas to find out where Russian refugees from the revolution were coming through, he was snowed in by bad weather for three months. He survived only by killing and eating a hibernating black bear which was sharing his cave.