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Saluting their supreme sacrifice

Since days of yore, death on the battlefield was considered glorious and the merit of dying martyr in the cause of dharma was considered a sure way to heaven.

Saluting their supreme sacrifice

Amar Jawan Jyoti, or the flame of the immortal soldier, was erected under the India Gate after the liberation of Bangladesh in December 1971 to commemorate the Indian soldiers killed during the war



Shakti Singh Chandel

 

The Safety, Honour and Welfare of your Country
Come first always and every time
The honour, welfare and comfort of the men
You command come next
Your own ease, comfort and safety
Come last, always and every time.
— Field Marshal Sir Philip Chetwode

Since days of yore, death on the battlefield was considered glorious and the merit of dying martyr in the cause of dharma was considered a sure way to heaven.

Teen Murti memorial was built in 1922 in the memory of the Indian soldiers from three Indian princely states of Jodhpur, Hyderabad and Mysore who served during World War I under the British-India Army Tribune photo: Mukesh Aggarwal

During the East India Company’s rule in India, the practice of giving rewards began in 1668 for the services rendered to the Company; first Europeans and later Indian officers were awarded with unique gold medals. In May 1766, a group of European officers had mutinied in Monghyr (in Bihar). Indian soldiers were sent to arrest the mutineers. In recognition of their services, the Indian officers were given gold medals and other ranks were awarded silver medals. In 1799, the Company struck medals in gold, silver-gilt, bronzed copper and tin on the defeat of Tipu Sultan. In 1834, Governor-General Lord William Bentick instituted an award for gallantry, which was the ‘Order of Merit’ for outstanding act of bravery. This was renamed the ‘Indian Order of Merit’ (IOM) in 1902. The most prestigious gallantry award, the Victoria Cross (VC), which was created in 1856, was not extended to be won by an Indian before 1911. The Indian Order of Merit therefore was the equivalent of the Victoria Cross followed by Indian Distinguished Service Medal, which was instituted in 1907. When King George v held a durbar in Delhi in December 1911, he, among other declarations, announced that the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valour that had formerly been thrown open only to the British officers and men, would be awarded to Indian soldiers also. The first Indian to earn Victoria Cross was Sepoy (later Subedar) Khuda Dad Khan of the 129 Baluchis. He earned it on the October 31, 1914, when the Indian troops were taking part in the bitter fighting in Flanders in Belgium.

Victoria Cross

Param Vir Chakra

After Independence, Param Vir Chakra (PVC), equivalent of Victoria Cross, was introduced among other gallantry medals. Twentyone PVC awards till Kargil (July 1999) operation have been conferred so far. The Government of India eulogizes these gallant soldiers in great measure more through the speeches and thoughts than by extending any substantial material incentives. In Himachal Pradesh, two Param Vir Chakra winners during Kargil war of 1999, were given Rs 1.5 lakh each in lieu of allotment of land and a meagre annuity of Rs 4,500 per annum which has now been raised to Rs 1,25,000. With such amount not even a plot of land can be bought. The apathy was such that the Army gave only a medal, a citation and gallantry allowance of Rs 3,000 per month, which has now been raised recently to Rs 10,000, and no other cash award or even out of turn promotion. In contrast, to the winner of medal in sports (in rifle shooting), the army chief gave cash award of Rs 30 lakh and two out of turn promotions to Vijay Kumar of Dogra Regiment (now subedar-major with twelve years of service). The Himachal Government gave him Rs 1 crore in addition to an allotment of an expensive plot in a prime urban area. Such is the apathy on the part of successive governments towards these gallant defenders of motherland.

In 1914, the World War I broke out. England was quite unprepared for war. Interestingly, the Indian Army, due to the reforms introduced earlier by Lord Herbert Kitchener, then Commander-In-Chief of India, was in an excellent condition. As many as 1.3 million soldiers (equivalent to the present strength of the Indian Army) went to Europe, the Middle East, and Africa to fight for the British during the World War I between 1914 and 1918. With them went eight ruling princes, including the young Maharaja of Jodhpur, in command of the Jodhpur Lancers and his uncle, the veteran Sir Pratap Singh, at the time seventy-years-old. As many as 74,000 men were killed in action and 67,000 wounded. Twenty-eight Indians soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross (VC). “In fact, the British would have collapsed in the great war without the bravery and blood of the Indian soldiers”, says Capt Amarinder Singh in his latest book, Honour and Fidelity – India’s military contribution to the Great War.

The military triumphs during the 20th century reveal that Indian soldiers have kept up to the great martial traditions. When they come back home after serving in the army, their virtuous character has been seen coloured with a culture of uprightness and enduring habits of hard-work. Laurence Binyan remembered them thus:

 

 

 

 

They shallnot grow old,
As we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them
Nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun
And in the morning
We will remember them.

 

 

 

On eleventh hour, on the eleventh day of the eleventh month, every year a two-minute silence is observed in the USA, Canada and the UK. The Sunday nearest to the 11th of November is Remembrance Sundayalso called asPoppy Day. On this day, respect is paid to the gallant soldiers who made supreme sacrifice in the World Wars I and II. In both the Wars, Indian soldiers gave their lives for the then British empire. The first Poppy Day was observed on November 11, 1921. Millions of emblems of poppy-flower are sold in Western Europe, the USA and especially in the UK to raise money towards benevolence fund for disabled and needy soldiers and their families. The poppies are sold for trivial voluntary sums, but as the whole nation gives willingly, millions of pounds are raised. The emblem, poppy, came to be associated with World War I due to a Canadian, Lieutenant Colonel John MacCrae, a poet, artist, author, artillery soldier and a distinguished professor of medicine. In contrast, to the horror of a mutilated landscape of dead men, horses and crates from intensive shelling, the poppy flower that is hardy and prefers such turned up soil would grow in abundance. John MacCrae pondered over nature’s way of soothing the carnage of battle with sprinkling growth of poppies. It is said that in a moment of intense sorrow, he sat at the back of an ambulance and instantly composed the poem In Flanders Fields on May 3, 1915, which was later published that year in Punch magazine.

 

The poem has achieved near-mythical status in contemporary Canada, and is easily one of the nation’s proudest symbols. Most Rememberance Day ceremonies feature a reading of this poem in some form. It has captured the public imagination and linked poppy (the flower also induces sleep) forever with the aftermath of war.

 

Menin Gate Memorial in Belgium is the remembrance arch in the city that has been erected as a memorial to the Indian war heroes. Menin was the centre of much of the bloodletting during the fighting. The Indian troops also took part in the 14 months of bitter fighting against the German army at Flanders (in Belgium) in the winter of 1914 and the spring of 1915. While defending Channel Harbour and the province of Flanders in Belgium, out of half a million British soldiers, over 50,000 Indian soldiers laid down their lives. Five Indians soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross.

 

In our country, we celebrate Vijay Divas every year on December 16. This was the day when in 1971 surrender of Pakistani army was secured at Dhaka. When I look back upon my years of service in the army, I am filled with a sense of nostalgia and pride. Vijay Divas celebrations today inspire us to salute those brave soldiers who fought many battles and brought honour to the nation. There are indeed few armies in the world that have been blessed with such wonderful fighting men. Field Marshal Slim, a great commander of World War II in Southeast Asia, had said: India was our base, and three-quarters of everything we got from there. The best thing of all we got from India was the Indian Army. A large number of soldiers from India who fought in Burma, Malaya and Singapore laid down their lives while defending the cause never to come back. Plaques inscribed with epitaphs have been placed at many war memorials in the memories of those departed soldiers. One such mausoleum to the 14th Army is at Kohima:

 

 

 

 

O! Ye in the far distant place,
O’ver the infinite seas;
When ye think of the sons of our race,
Think deep upon these!
When you go home, tell them of us and say
For your tomorrow we gave our today.

 

 

 

 

The last two lines is an English version of Leonidas’ message fromThermopylae in 480 BC — Go, tell the Spartans, thou who passest by, That here obedient to their laws we lie.

 

 

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