Saturday, December 31, 2005

Stamped Impressions

Spare a thought for soldiers
by Reeta Sharma

Naib-Sub Nand Singh
Naib-Sub Nand Singh

The Indian spirit of patriotism which fuelled the struggle for freedom during the British rule has got eroded post-Independence. Not only has corruption invaded the entire nation like an attack of bees, Indians are becoming increasingly materialistic. Does the new generation know that Naib Subedar Nand Singh was the highest decorated Indian soldier? Does it know that his statue stands at Fauji Chowk in Bathinda?

Nand Singh had displayed extraordinary courage by single-handedly capturing three trenches occupied by the Japanese in 1944 during World War II. He had led a troupe up a steep ridge under heavy machine gun and rifle fire. Even when he got wounded in his thigh, he continued to scale the ridge capturing one after another three trenches. Though all the soldiers in his troupe were killed yet he managed to kill seven Japanese. "It was due to his determination, outstanding dash and magnificent courage that the position was won back," are the lines written on the citation of Victoria Cross, the highest award of gallantry in the British Army.

In December 1947, this outstanding soldier again displayed unprecedented courage by leading a fighting patrol in the Uri sector in Jammu and Kashmir. He fought valiantly, killing five Pakistani soldiers and recapturing an occupied bunker. But as he stood on top of the bunker, a burst of fire from an LMG hit him in the chest and killed him. Unfortunately, his body could not be recovered and was carried away by the enemy. It was displayed by the Pakistanis in Muzaffarabad. They probably recognised him by the gold wristwatch gifted to him by Maharaja of Faridkot and his Victoria Cross.

Brig K.S. Kang (retd), who headed the Department of Sainik Welfare in 1990, had tried to search the lost Victoria Cross of Nand Singh. He met the Pakistani authorities concerned and requested them to return the Victoria Cross of Nand Singh so that it could be restored to his family. "But one of the army officers sent us a very officious reply saying that no Victoria Cross or watch was in the possession of the Pakistani army. I also met Nand Singh’s wife Joginder Kaur but she had no knowledge about both these things. Then I wrote to War Office of London for issuing of a duplicate Victoria Cross for Nand Singh’s family. They wrote back that they couldn’t issue a duplicate VC as the gun metal of the Crimean War and Battle of Sevastopol from which the VCs are created is strictly kept in special vaults in Donnington. They advised us to get a duplicate VC made from Spink & Co in London. I followed their instructions and got one made and then presented the same to Joginder Kaur in 1992," discloses Brigadier Kang.

In Punjab we have 25 war memorials. However, the Punjab War Memorial in Jalandhar is acknowledged as the best as it has a ‘Hall of Fame’ along with it. In addition, there are samadhis and 16 statues of great soldiers installed in various parts of the state. But all these places are rarely visited by people.

A question that we all need to ask ourselves is: "Have I ever visited any war memorial to pay my respect to the killed soldiers? They got killed so that we could live in a free country. All these soldiers must have left behind a family, but have we cared to visit their mothers, wives or children?

Yet another thing that we ought to pause and think about is that how many schools take their students to visit these war memorials. A majority of the schools make trips to recreation spots but never think of a trip to the deserted war memorials. We must also ask ourselves how many parents have taken their children to these memorials. Isn’t it true that a majority of the parents would take out their children to cinema halls, shopping malls or fancy fast-food joints.

To quote British writer J.W. Berry:

"So the next time you pass,

a memorial of war,

just to stop and think

of what it is there for?"