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Home » Ed/Op, Essays » Reminiscence Of An Old Soldier— 4

Reminiscence Of An Old Soldier— 4

H Bhuban Singh

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61. At the end of the inspection, the General and his entourage settled down at Officers’ Mess with pre-lunch mugs of beer and gin with lime cordial. Young 2/Lt. Gopal Singh could not resist the temptation to tell his Commanding Officer that his name was really Gopal, not Gulab. The old man called Gopal to a quiet corner at the end of the bar and with eyes popping out in anger, he admonished the young subaltern. “You bloody young man, when did you acquire the guts to contradict me? Remember, so long as the General is here you are damn well Gulab NOT Gopal. Is that clear?” Gopal quickly got himself lost.

62. If you don’t trust the above Ripley-like “Believe it or not” story, I will tell you the real story of 3rd Battalion of Kumaon Regiment. In that Battalion, officers carry their drill sticks in their armpits in the reverse fashion. The normal method is to put the handle end with the metal-knob or ball in the front and tapered metallic-tube end in the rear.

63. Decades back around 1932, this Battalion of Kumaonese was visited by the then Governor General and Viceroy of India. The absent minded Commanding Officer, in a hurry put his officers’ cane in the reverse manner with the knob-end in the rear while receiving the VIP. This was spotted by the loyal Second-in-Command, the Major Saheb, who put his own drill stick like that of the CO and signaled this officers and JCOs to do the same. The CO noticed the wrong method of carriage of canes at the Parade Ground by his officers and JCOs. Then, he looked at this own cane and saw his own mistake. The inspection went on, as if nothing had happened. Henceforth, 3rd Battalion of Kumaon had adopted their wrong doing as their unique tradition.

64. Incidentally, Kumaon Regiment was earlier known as Hyderabad Regiment. The Regiment got split into Muslim and non-Muslim regiments after the Partition of 1947. The non-Muslim regiments came to be known as Kumaon Regiment and the Muslim regiments went to Pakistan.

65 General KS Thimayya, General T N Raina, both distinguished Army Chiefs of India and Major Bob Khathing MC, MBE, recipient of Padma Shri award, belonging to Manipur was Kumaonese. Now it seems, the Indian Army has reached the tipping point of such traditions and similar buffoonery does not take place now.

66 In August 1960, I got selected to undergo Technical Staff Officers’ Course at Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham, the United Kingdom. I took my wife and daughter and sailed from Bombay Harbor in one late afternoon. We reached Karachi early morning and Indians were not allowed to set our feet on Pakistani soil. After about six hours of halt at Karachi, we sailed for Aden by early afternoon.

67 Food served on the deck of the ocean liner was plenty, from the points of view of types and kinds and quantity like Continental (English), Indian/Pakistani (rice, chapatti, dal etc.) and even with Chinese green tea or coffee, cheese and biscuits, pudding etc. Wines were served at the bar on payment at the Main Deck

68. Post Office, kiosk (shop where toothpaste, tooth brush, bath soap etc were sold, were available on board the ship. Say for example, my letter to home dropped after leaving Karachi, would be dropped at Aden, the next port of call and it would then be sent to Manipur.

69. At Aden, while the ship was unloading and loading cargoes and passengers were allowed to see the city. The Arab peoples were using perhaps old Mercedes Benz cars as taxis. Food served in hotels and restaurants were like Indian tandoori big size roti and dal and potato curry. Men folk dress up like Arabs. Women wore ‘burkha’.

70. Then our ship entered Red Sea, which was very calm. We could see the shorelines. The water of Red Sea was not blue like the open sea; it was brownish blue. While passing through Red Sea, we could see landmass on either side or on one side at least.

71. On the sixth day we reached Suez, which was about one hundred miles from Cairo. Since the levels of sea water on the Red Sea and on the Black Sea were the same, our ship passed through the Suez Canal as per arrangements made by the harbor authorities and we joined our ship at Cairo in the evening or late afternoon. Through conducted tours by bus, we saw the Pyramid, the Sphinx, a well-known mosque, Egyptian Museum, the Mummies, Cairo bazaar, the Nile River and took Egyptian food in a riverside restaurant and joined our ship in the evening.

72. On the other hand, in the Panama Canal since the level of the Pacific Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean are different, Canal Officers are to make use of sluice gates to impound water and make ships to pass in phases.

73. Our ship then touched the British Naval base of Malta and Gibraltar in the Mediterranean Sea but no one except British officials was allowed to disembark. So, no one did sightseeing. Gibraltar is a treeless, shrub less and rocky small port. The sea was absolutely calm and climate nice as the Mediterranean Sea was clam and also since we were in Europe. We then sailed through Bay of Biscay of the Atlantic Ocean and the sea was very rough. Many passengers were left cabin-bound and most passengers were seasick. But my daughter did not seem to feel anything. Perhaps, children are less affected by se-sickness.

74 When we entered Irish Sea, our ship got blocked by the landmass of Ireland and we all heaved a sigh of relief. We landed at the seaport of Liverpool. We were received by one Captain Baruah of the Military Attaché to Indian High Commissioner in London. He took us to a hotel where we were to spend one night. On the next day we were taken to London and listened to the pep-talks delivered by the Military Attaché (Brigadier at that time) at London till we were escorted by Captain Baruah and deposited at the Royal Military College of Science, Shrivenham.

75. Residential quarters were already allotted and we just moved in. Our quarters had twenty four hours a day cooking gas pipe connection with a gas cooker with automatic flint burner, twenty four hours a day electric connection and free water connection which never failed, with all the requirements of a house like beds, mattresses, towels, window screens, utensils, crockery, knives and fork and everything required in a house were provided.

76. During our two-year stay at RMCS, electricity never failed, except for a few seconds, not even minutes. During our stay, I paid my electric and gas bills through cheques of Grindlay’s Bank and never knew the exact location of the electric or Gas Company. Receipts for my electric and gas bill always came by post.

77. At that time, the UK had just introduced black and white TV. There was no satellite transmission. When Colonel Yuri Gagarin of USSR went into orbit and landed safely on Earth, the TV interview of Col. Gagarin was done through cables laid from Moscow to Warsaw then to Berlin, Paris and onto London.

78 The Commandant of RMCS was Major General Eubank of the Royal Engineers. It was a big military college like CME, Kirkee and conducted TSO course and engineering degree courses for officers of the Royal Engineers, of Signals and of Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. The college did basic research work and many professors were members or consultants to R&D projects of the British Government.

79. In the afternoon of our arrival, we were welcomed by one Scottish Professor and he told us that we all must be brilliant officers from different Commonwealth countries but howsoever brilliant each one of us might be, one student officer would stand first and another last. That was unavoidable. Therefore, the crux of the matter should be that the knowledge gap between the first ranker and tail ender must be VERY NARROW, indeed. He extolled us to work hard and advised us to acquire knowledge to the maximum of what the college could offer. This reminds of para 4, last sentence wherein, I related that Presidency College Hockey team was beaten by nearly half a dozen goals. Indeed, we are to play any game in true sportsman-spirit regardless of margin of defeat or win.

80 Faringdon Road in Shrivenham was where we used to stay. The village had a small market, a post office and above all a barber’s shop. I needed some overseas mail letters, postage stamps and above all, a haircut. My last haircut was in the ship while passing through Red Sea.

81 The Post Office was a shop-cum-post-office type. It was a one-man show. The Post Master did all post-office works in addition to looking after his shop. Perhaps the workload on the post office did not entitle it to employ one person as Post Master permanently. It was like a one-man band-party, where a single individual blew the clarinet with his mouth, the elbows beat side-drums, the toes of the legs, through metallic linkages stomp on Tom-Tom percussion instruments, the knees do something else. After completing my work at the post office, I went to the barbershop.

82. The barber asked my name. I told him. Then, he pulled out his diary of appointments and announced that my name was not found in his engagements. I told him that I did not make any appointment with him, but requested to cut my hair after he finished all his pre-engaged clients. He flatly refused saying that he had some other work to do and could not spare even a single minute. I realized that any more pleadings and arguments would be simply a waste of time. So I put down my name for haircut on one particular date and time convenient to both of us. This was how the British behaved in matters concerning time.

83. Later on, the barber and I became friends. While cutting my hair, we used to chat and he would tell me his wartime stories in the Royal Navy. Whenever he finished his work on one client, he would collect all the hair clippings by a rubber dust pusher and put these inside a dustbin. The shop was immaculately clean. The barbershop had one single rotating and height-adjustable chair, also the barber worked according to timings put-up in the notice board of his shop.

84. During our stay at the UK, my second child, a son named Pritam Singh was born. I went to register the birth of my son, to the Birth and Death registration office. The County official asked for the name of my son. I told the lady official that we had not named our son. But, the lady insisted on a name. I was accompanied by one 2/Lt. Pritam Singh of Malaysia and I just told the lady official that let my son’s name be called Pritam Singh. That was done.

85. While we were studying at RMCS, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth of the United Kingdom invited all officers of all Commonwealth Countries for a garden party at Buckingham Palace in one afternoon. The invitation is worded exactly as under:

British Royal Emblem (Roaring Lion)

The Lord Chamberlain has been commanded by

HER MAJESTY THE QUEEN AND HRH THE DUKE OF EDINBURGH

to invite Captain & Mrs. H Bhuban Singh of the Indian Army to tea a 4 pm on ………September 1961 on the lawns of Buckingham Palace

RSVP: The Lord Chamberlain

86. Now, I do not know how invitation cards for the wedding of Miss Kate Middleton to Prince William, second in line to the British throne will be worded. Anyway, Prince William has categorically denied the rumor of bypassing his father, the Duke of Wales, who is first in line to the British throne.

87. We were advised by the officials of the Indian High Commission on do’s and don’ts. We were advised not to grin or laugh, but smile with respect while meeting Her Majesty or His Royal Highness, we were told to bow down a bit, in Japanese style and say ‘Good afternoon or good evening, Your Majesty or Your Royal Highness’ as appropriate. We were warned not to stick out our hands in anticipation of a handshake. We were permitted to shake hands only if the Royals desired to do so.

88. We were also informed that if the Royals initiated a conversation with us like asking questions, such as ‘Where are you from?’ or ‘How do you like England?’ we might reply in short sentences. We were warned not to attempt a long conversation and bore the Royals. The Queen came out in silver colored frock and matching coat, hands gloved and legs stockinged. She was graceful. The Duke of Edinburgh was in a wheel chair pushed by a servant, since he was injured in a recent fall from his horse while playing polo.

89. That was about half a century ago (2011-1961). With the recent incident (Dec 2010) when Prince Charles, the Duke of Wales with his royal consort being attacked by hooligans, I do think the British Royalty has lost its shine to some extent. Or, it may be that the British public wanted to take revenge on Prince Charles for the manner in which he treated Princess Diana the Duchess of Wales, his first wife, who got killed in a car accident. But King Faruq of Egypt, when ousted from his throne in Cairo by Lt Col Gamal Abdul Nasser predicted that there would be five kings only in this world and the Kings were, the King of the United Kingdom, King of spades, King of hearts, King of diamonds and King of clubs of a pack of playing cards. All said and forecasted, the Mikado of Japan, the King of Thailand, the King of Spain restored after the dictatorial rule of Gen. Franco ended due to the General’s death etc. exist even now.

90. During our summer holidays in June 1961-Aug 1961, my wife and I toured the Continent. We went to Belgium, Holland, France (Paris) and saw the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, the Seine river, Germany (West Germany only because unification of East & West Germanies had not taken place) and we had seen the infamous ‘Berlin Wall’ built by USSR, and above all, the beautiful Switzerland with its train service in hill areas like our own midget train service to Kalimpong and Darjeeling.

91. We never saw a beggar in the UK. Unemployed British youths used to come to our house for chimney cleaning or windowpane cleaning on payment. When I was attending classes or playing hockey, representing RMCS, an old lady came to our house and rang our house bell. When my wife opened the door, an old English lady told my wife to buy her home-made small bouquet of paper flowers for five farthings. At that time, England had pound, shilling, farthing and pence. My wife told the old English lady that she could have the five farthing coin she had paid and told her to take away the bouquet to sell to someone else. The old English lady refused to take the money and wanted her paper flowers back. In other words, the old English lady conveyed that she was not a beggar and simply wanted the price of her wares.

92. On the other hand, when we crossed the Seine River on foot we saw French beggars sitting on pavements of the big bridge with inverted hats begging for money. French bread is long and hard like our Indian Railways’ Rajdhani stick breads of four inches, which are to be taken with soup. French stick-breads are at least one foot long.

93. As our two-year course was coming to an end, we were lectured upon by eminent military personalities. Field Marshal Lord Montgomery (see para 24 please) came to speak to us at the RMCS auditorium in one afternoon. We all officer students assembled in the indoor auditorium. He arrived on the dot of time with our Commandant, Major Gen. Eubank in uniform, but Monty was in civvies.

94. We all stood up. Both climbed the stage. General Eubank requested the Field Marshal to sit down on a special cushioned chair laid out for him. Notwithstanding the request, the FM grumpily refused saying “A soldier never sits down”. He remained standing as erect as his age would permit. But our Commandant sat down on a less significant chair.

95 Our Commandant gave a brief introductory speech of less than two minutes and then appealed to the great ‘Monty’ to speak. FM Montgomery gave an egocentric speech of what he did at the crucial Battle of El Alamein and a pen-picture of the Second World War. Monty was a Major General commanding a Division at the commencement of the war.

96 He also told us how the other day; he taught manners and politics in the House of Lords. He considered that most of the British Lords were very rich, dull and brainless. Of course, he must have excluded himself from the dull and brainless Lords.

97. To the credit of Monty, it must be admitted that he made a lively and thought provoking speech. He was applauded well. Question time came. After several interactions with British officers, a Canadian Captain got up and asked Monty a question on NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) strategy in his heavily accented American English. Instead of replying to the question asked, Monty remarked jokingly “It is nice to know that you speak English”. The Canadian officer replied immediately “No Sir, I speak American”. The whole lot of us burst into laughter. That was the famous Field Marshal Montgomery, flamboyant and advertising.

98 During the North African campaign, while inspecting British troops, he remarked that the cap-badge of that Regiment was nice and he desired to have that particular cap-badge worn by one particular BOR. When that was promptly complied, he put that cap-badge on his beret cap. So, Monty was famous for wearing twin-cap badges, which was accepted by the British Army and the British Government.

99. After the successful campaign in North Africa and surrender of Germany on 7th May 1945, FM Montgomery, the war hero in Sam Brown and sword was to be presented to His Majesty King George VI. Monty wore a sweater as undergarment, which was visible below his tunic coat. The topsy-turvy Monty refused to hide the protruding sweater, perhaps grumbling that it was the General who won the war, rather than the undergarment of a damned sweater. Perhaps, His Majesty the King ignored the wrongdoing by FM Montgomery and chose to ignore an insignificant sweater.

100. The English language is profound in many ways. When a British monarch dies, the public will sing “The King is dead, God save the King”. The meaning is that King Edward is dead, but God be prayed to save the institution of Kingship. While tailoring a three-piece suit at Mark and Spencer, I was asked by the tailor ‘If I dress right or left’. I was dumb-founded. Then, the tailor told me if I keep my male organ on the right or the left of the trouser legs. The Brits were so particular.

101. In addition to FM Montgomery, Admiral of the Fleet, Lord Louis Mountbatten of Burma addressed us, now at the College Cinema hall. He also showed traits of British peculiarity. He firstly announced that he would speak sitting and secondly, he would not use microphone as the damn thing sometimes make unwanted humming noise. He added that his voice was loud enough to be heard without a mike. When the tall Admiral in uniform sat down in a reclining chair, his knees protruded upwards almost level with his shoulders. It was a ghastly sight. Unlike Monty whose voice was shrill, Dick Mountbatten spoke with deep voice and everyone could hear him. He treated us like school children and answered our questions still sitting.

102. While we were in RMCS, Shrivenham, I heard a televised official discussion between Harold MacMillan, the British Prime Minister and President DeGaulle of France. Both of them spoke in their mother tongues through interpreters. Harold MacMillan did his schooling in Paris and knew French very well. General DeGaulle spent around six years in London as Head of Republic of Free France while he was sheltered in the UK. Obviously, DeGaulle could speak English well, very well indeed.

103. My guess is that both MacMillan and DeGaulle were honor bound to speak in their mother tongues as matters of national prestige and more importantly, if there were any wrong interpretations, they could lay the blame to their interpreters and possibly deny any of the commitments made by them. Anyway it was my wild guess.

104. I received my posting to Research and Development Establishment, Dighee, Kirkee on promotion to Major in Aug 1962. While I was at Dighee, my last son, H Khogen Singh was born in April 1963 at Military Hospital, Poona. That completed my family. After about three years in Dighee, I was sent as Officer Commanding of 19 Field Company at Zakhama. We were doing construction work for KLP (Key Location Plan) of HQ of a Mountain Division.

Major General KP Candeth, a KCIO (King’s Commissioned India Officer) of 1937 seniority was the first GOC (General Officer Commanding) of that Mountain Division. General Candeth came to Zakhama to see his pet project. Since Lt Col O Laloo, Comdr. Engrs was on short leave to his home town of Shilling, I officiated as Comdr. Engrs General Candeth became my life-long friend.

105. In the next TSO Course, one Captain TS Anand belonging to Corps of Signals came with his family, then consisting of his wife and a daughter. When that baby daughter played in the snow, Capt Tejinder Singh Anand used to shout “Maneka come inside. Don’t play with snow, you will get chill blain”. Ultimately, when Maneka Anand grew up, she got married to Sanjay Gandhi, the second son of Indira Gandhi.

106. Lt Col Tej Anand died young. Somehow, Indira Gandhi’s strict discipline and requirement of having lunch together did not suit the likes of Maneka Gandhi. She used to skip lunch. That annoyed Indira Gandhi.

107. The strict dictate of Indira was that all her family members must have lunch together at the appointed time. As for dinner was concerned, all were free to dine at home or go to Casinos. In fact, dinner could not be a family affair because Prime Minister Indira Gandhi dined alone whether she was in Delhi or elsewhere. Her maidservant would bring her a hot case dinner to her bedroom and it would be locked from inside with strict instructions not to disturb her, unless absolutely essential.

108. What Prime Minister Indira Gandhi did inside her bedroom, no one knows. Next day morning, as the sun rose, the same maidservant would knock at the door of Indira Gandhi’s bedroom and Smt. Gandhi asks “Who is there?” When the maidservant answered, “I am Sushila, Madam Gandhi”, then only the door would be opened.

109. Maneka Gandhi, the quarrelsome widow, being the daughter of an Army officer became supporters-less in the PM residence when Sanjay Gandhi died in an air crash piloted by him. She just walked out taking her infant son, Varun Gandhi. Perhaps out of spite for Indira Gandhi, Maneka Gandhi joined Bharatiya Janata Party and became a Member of Parliament from Pilibhit in Himachal Pradesh. Now her son Varun Gandhi is also an MP.

110. When Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee became Prime Minister of India, I was President of BJP unit of Manipur Pradesh and I went to congratulate Smt. Maneka Gandhi, a Minister of Government of India. Unwittingly while introducing myself, I blurted out that I saw her in England as a small baby of about three years in England in 1961. She blushed and I realized my mistake of the manner of my self-introduction.

111. Years later, in Dec 1971, when the war for liberation of Bangladesh (at that time East Pakistan) was won by India, Indira Gandhi came to Udhampur in Jammu & Kashmir. My regiment’s troops were ordered to provide helipad security. After Prime Minister’s helicopter landed safely, we provided a Guard of Honor. She was (if I remember correctly), put-up in the Udhampur Golf Course Guest House and she behaved in the same manner as she was doing at PM residence, New Delhi.

112. After two years or so in Kashmir House, I was sent for Regimental duties to command my old unit, 106 Engr Regt at Chandigarh in March 1970. The Regiment consisted of 18 Field Company, my own 19 Field Company, 29 Field Company and 304 Field Park Company. We were under XI Corps with Headquarters at Jullundur. The regiment did lots of exercises with troops. Lt. Gen. P S Bhagat VC was the Corps Commander. The normal drill (for kind information of the civilian public) is to cross the water obstacle (a river or big canals in the Punjab) by boats or dingies operated by Sappers and deposit Infantry on the enemy bank of the water obstacle and thus establish a bridgehead. Engineers will come back to home bank and carry on with ferrying work. They will also clear minefields, if required. That is the reason why Engineers are designated as a fighting/mounted Corps (please refer to para 17).

113. Around 1966, Indian Army was undergoing organizational changes. 624 Army Troop Engineers became 106 Engr Regt. While organizational changes on regimental lines were taking place, my commander Lt. Col. O Laloo sent my Field Company for about a year to build a KLP for a Brigade at the outskirts of Imphal Valley. Now, this cantonment is a big Army Cantonment for HQ of a Mountain Division. I believe the Zakhama Cantonment is now HQs of IGAR (North) because when one Merchant (Parsi) was IGAR (North). I met Mr. Merchant, the IGAR (North) at some Army camp in Imphal Valley, though his HQs were at Zakhama.

114. 19 Field Company moved from place to place like Phek, Zuneboto, Zakhama, Leimakhong, Dimapur etc. After all these merry-go-round, I became a Lt. Colonel in June 1968 and was posted to Directorate of Research and Development (Engineers), Kashmir House, New Delhi.

115. While I was at Kashmir House, I stayed with my family at Dhola Kuan Part II. My residence became kind of a guesthouse for all Manipuris coming to Delhi. Sheel Bhadra Yajee, Salam Tombi Singh, Maharaja Okendra Singh, Shri Dwija Shekhar Sharma and his wife Brajweshwari Devi, RK Birendra Singh etc. and many boys and girls students of Manipur came to stay or have Manipuri-type lunch with us. We have entertained everyone to best of our ability, except the non-adult Maharaja.

116. Young Maharaja Okendra Singh who became Maharaja later, was sent by His Excellency the Lieutenant Governor of Manipur Shri Baleswar Prasad IAS (23rd Nov 1963 to Jan 1970) to undergo education in an English medium school of Delhi so that when he assumes the office of Maharaja of Manipur, he should be an educated Maharaja able to speak English and Hindi. He was accompanied by a Manipuri Private Secretary and lodged in a flat with his PS, who responded to the requirements of the non-adult Maharaja. Smt. Brajweshwari Devi, who was my wife’s friend, suggests inviting the young Maharaja for lunch and we agreed.

117. The Maharaja came to our Dhola Kuan residence at about 11:00 hrs in a taxi. He told the taxi driver to keep waiting and came up, to the first floor of our Dhola Kuan flat. We all, that is my family and Brajeshwari’s family welcomed him. Then, we offered pre-lunch soft drinks—orange/lemon squash. The young Maharaja wanted a bottle or two of beer. Upon this, I rebuked him pointing out he was still a minor and I could not offer him beer. I told the young Maharaja that I would offer him beer, gin, whiskey or any other drink he liked when he reached adulthood and coroneted as Maharaja. Then, young Maharaja Okendra Singh remained silent. He left our residence in the late afternoon.

118. Another interesting incident was the visit of Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan, popularly known as the Frontier (North West Frontier) Gandhi for his spartan living like Mahatma Gandhiji. He was invited by Smt. Indira Gandhi, the then Prime Minister of India. Indira Gandhi sent a special plane to bring the Frontier Gandhi. At New Delhi airport, all the prominent Congress leaders including Prime Minister Indira Gandhi awaited for the arrival of the special plane.

From the exit door of the staircase, out came the Frontier Gandhi with a very long Bihari type of lathi on his shoulders in a slanting position at the end of which was a cloth bundle, hung in simple Gandhi fashion. Introduction over, he was whisked away in a Government car

119. On the desire of Frontier Gandhi, all were set for the Khan to go to Taj Mahal by train to Agra in a Gandhi class berth (third class then). Prime Minister got a third class compartment freshly painted, light fittings and ceiling fans properly checked, lavatories properly cleaned and above all told the railway officials to treat the VVIP with respect and awe.

120. Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan came to Delhi Railway Station being escorted by senior railway officials. Ignoring their instructions, the Great Khan climbed into a normal third class compartment sat down among the Very Ordinary Peoples (VOP). On being requested to move to his reserved seat, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan politely refused saying that he was happy with his VOP companions. He reached Agra, laughing and chatting, in true Gandhian way.

121. War clouds were gathering. My regiment moved to Udhampur in J&K under XV Corps. We were Corps troops engineers, though operationally, we were at the battle location of Chhamb under 191 Infantry Brigade of 10 Infantry Division. We were deployed as infantry on a hillock overlooking a vital bridge over Manawar Tawi River at Chhamb and were guarding bridge over River Manawar Tawi. We visited the front line which was about two kilometers away and saw Pakistan Rangers through binoculars. We presume that the distance separating the two Armies must be about 400 yards.

122. Somehow, the Div Comdr decided to pull us out and thus leave the vital bridge over Manawar Tawi River unguarded. The war started on 3 Dec 1971. Major General Tikka Khan, commanding the Pakistani Division almost wiped out 191 Infantry Brigade and attacked our Regiment of Medium Artillery by crossing the waist or chest high waters Manawar Tawi river. If 106 Engr. Regt. was not pulled out, we could have detected the presence of the Pakistan Infantry Battalion marching and thus alerted and saved the Medium Regiment, as well as the bridge for any counter-attack by Indian Army.

123. In this battle of Chhamb Bridge, our detachment of Sappers led by Captain S P Dhingra and Subedar Bakhshish Singh got embroiled. Dhingra who was leading the column in a jeep was killed in the wee hours of the morning of 5 Dec near the bridge. We recaptured the bridge in the afternoon and got Dhingra’s dead body at night only. He was given a funeral with full military honors on 6 Dec on the bank of River Chenab at Akhnoor.

124. The Manawar Bridge was demolished after 191 Infantry Brigade was pulled out from the west bank of river Manawar. But the Pakistanis continued their attack relentlessly. 18 Field Company of 106 Engr Regt provided Engineer support to Infantry Battalions.

125. Our mine laying party at night got bumped into the FDL and killed one enemy soldier. The captured weapon is now kept as war trophy in Bombay Engineer Group and Centre, Kirkee.

126. As the war continued, our Regiment constructed an Advance Landing Ground (ALG) at Jaurian and we were examining the trial landings, when we heard the booms of Pakistani Artillery. From the sounds, we would assess where those shells would land. So, we continued standing and did not bother much. But some jawans who were not battle-hardened used to run for cover.

127. In the rear at Akhnoor, 19 Field Company was busy ferrying across at night 9 Horse, 72 Armored Regiment and one squadron of 38 Cavalry. The entire operation was done during one night. It may be mentioned that the Akhnoor Bridge was not wide enough and strong enough for tanks. Enemy tanks which came upto Palanwala on 10 Dec were destroyed and pushed back and Manawar Tawi became the Line of Control when Cease Fire came after fourteen days of fighting.

128. Lt. Gen. Niazi of Pakistan Army surrendered to Lt. Gen. Arora of India, leading to the creation of Bangladesh. India had about 93,000 prisoners of war. In Simla, there was a meeting between Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the President and also holding the post of Prime Minister of Pakistan in dual charge and Smt. Indira Gandhi. As a gesture of goodwill, Indira Gandhi agreed to handover all those Pakistani prisoners of war. On the other hand, we could have used the release of these prisoners to Indian nation’s advantage. We missed a golden opportunity.

129. Gradually, I lost interest in Army service and wanted to lead a civilian life. I belonged to the proud family of Bombay Sappers, whose 2/Lt. (later Lt. Gen. and Army Comdr.) P.S. Bhagat won the coveted Victoria Cross during the Second World War. Another Bombay Sapper, Rama Raghava Rane, PVC (Param Veer Chakra) was together with me as Capt. at Range Hills, Kirkee, under Lt. Col. K.K. Marcus. So, when I was posted out as Staff Officer Grade 1 in Border Roads, Project Vartak, Tezpur, I decided to quit.

130. Since I am a graduate of Mechanical Engineering, I thought that a civilian job might or could be managed. I really went for a selection interview by a Board of Directors of a private firm located at Chandigarh and got selected, as Chief Executive Officer. I was planning to go to Chandigarh.

131. My release/pension order came, granting me about a fortnight’s time to pack up and go. But my luck took me in a different direction. A chance encounter during an Army dinner party with Governor Lalan Prasad Singh ICS, who was a kind of super-duper Governor of Assam, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland, Mizoram, Arunachal and Manipur made me stay in Manipur. Somehow, he wanted me to serve Manipur. In civil life, I was General Manager of the erstwhile Manipur State Road Transport Corporation, Chief Engineer, Electricity Department, holding dual charge. I think I did my duties to the best of my ability.

132. Later, I became Member and Chairman of Manipur Public Service Commission. Whenever Governor L P Singh came to Manipur, he used to call me and advised me to be fair, honest and incorruptible. When the Governor was NOT in station in Manipur, Raj Bhawan was looked by one retired Army Officer, named Major K B (Kul Bhushan) Gurung, as Military Secretary to HE, the Governor of Manipur. Major K B Gurung belonged to 4th regular course of IMA, Dehradun.

133. Governor LP Singh ICS used to tour all the seven states by aero plane even in foul weather conditions. He always landed safely. His retirement came and he was given a farewell dinner party. Suddenly, his extension of service came and he resumed work. His tenure lasted from 21 Sep 1973 to 11 Aug 1981, almost about 8 years.

134. During his long tenure, he used to call me, as Chairman of Manipur Public Service Commission and stressed that I should be fair and just to all candidates. In fact, whenever he came to Imphal, he used to meet Chief Ministers of Manipur, senior ministers and senior bureaucrats and imbibe a sense of service to the peoples of Manipur.

135. In conclusion, I would like to say that I was lucky to have been a Lieutenant Colonel of the prestigious Indian Army. True to the spirit of Indian Army, I am always treated well by all officers of Indian Army, who out-rank me by several steps probably because of my age. Lastly, I pray that the patriotic Indian Army should continue to defend India, our Motherland.

*The essay is written by H Bhuban Singh.

(Courtesy: The Sangai Express)

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