Brig IJ Singh (retd)
HAVING taken over the division in the Valley in 1969, the General, who was fond of horses and mules, decided that he would first visit our regiment (Mountain Artillery Pack). It was an opportunity for us to showcase our ‘mule power and gun power’.
My well-deserved annual leave on the termination of the Advanced Equitation Course was cancelled with a dictate to report back to the unit with all possible material on animal stock which had been issued to us during the course. In passing, it mentioned that I would be the officer in charge to accompany the General for all matters related to mules and horses.
On D-Day, the briefing by the commanding officer went like a poem. We then moved to the machan, an elevated platform built for the General to watch the six-gun mule battery coming into crash action.
Next on the itinerary was a visit to the mangers. The biters and kickers had red ribbons on the neck and the tail, respectively. As the General entered the aisle, I told him, ‘Sir, it is customary to pat the mules on the forehead.’ In the same breath, I warned him not to go near a mule with red ribbons.
It was our bad luck that in the very first shed, a kicker had eaten a biter’s ribbon. As the General patted this monster, his hand was bitten and the watch was gone. Before we could react, the veterinary first aid assistant was applying medicine on the GOC’s hand. About the watch which had gone into the mule’s system, the General remarked that if it was recovered by the next day and that too in a working condition, it should be sent to him to be kept as a souvenir in the HQ with the caption: ‘Wear two watches when you visit a mountain mule artillery unit.’
Bitten but not retired hurt, the General insisted that before moving for lunch, he must go through the mangers of all batteries. Lunch proceedings went past the schedule as the GOC said he would like to share a special glass of beer with the battery commander whose animals were visited last.
Later, as the GOC was getting into his staff car, he called for the battery commander, shook hands and then told the commanding officer to ensure that the animals hidden by this gentleman were also fed at the earliest. The General knew that weak animals were not presented for an inspection.
The General had a critical eye for numbers, but the mules had the last laugh with a memorable bite.
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