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Weekly Pullouts » Haryana Tribune

Posted at: Jun 9, 2018, 11:46 AM; last updated: Jun 9, 2018, 6:03 PM (IST)

Chhelu Ram—a folktale hero of WW-II

This Company Havildar Major of Rajputana Rifles was awarded Victoria Cross for sacrificing his life in Tunisia in 1943

Col Dilbag Dabas (Retd.)

“Jat aur Musalmano aage badho dhava bolo” was the rallying cry of Company Havildar Major Chhelu Ram while attacking Djebel Garci feature, Tunisia in North Africa during World War-II. 

Among 181 Victoria Cross awardees during World War-II, 27 were Indians (including Nepalese Gurkhas) in the then British Indian Army. And among these, five were Haryanvis. What a pride for the martial lineage of the tiny state. Late Company Havildar Major (CHM) Chhelu Ram, a son of present day Haryana, was one among the bravest of the braves.

Chhelu Ram, son of Ch Jiram Garhwal, was born on May 10, 1905, in Dinod village near Bhiwani in Hisar district of the then undivided Punjab. The village now is in Bhiwani district. As there was no school in the area those days, he could not have a formal education; whatever he learnt was during his service in the Army’s 4 Rajputana Rifles (Outrams) in which he enlisted on May 10, 1926. Owing to his raw courage and determination coupled with a commendable spirit of 'Naam, Namak aur Nishan' (Unit, Loyalty and Flag), within about 16 years in the ranks, Chhelu Ram was Company Havildar major (CHM), a pivotal appointment around which all ranks in a company manoeuvre. Incidentally, it was the same infantry company (‘C’ Company) whose Second-in-Command Sub Richhpal Ram, another Haryanvi, had sacrificed his life a year back fighting the enemy and had been awarded the Victoria Cross. Chhhelu Ram shared a strong bond with Richhpal Ram when the latter was alive. CHM Chhelu Ram was destined to lead his company as well as a platoon of the leading Mohammedan company in the last battle of his career — a battle in which he would display the stuff he was made of, a battle which would be witness to his determination, devotion to duty and his supreme sacrifice, and wherein he would be awarded the Victoria Cross for most conspicuous act of bravery. 

CHM Chhelu Ram left a mark of valour, and the whole generation in the region since then has been continuing to opt for defence services. Even 75 years after his martyrdom, Chhelu Ram remains a legend in Bhiwani and Hisar districts. Women, especially the elderly, still sing with pride “Chhelu ne dhava bolya hey dushman ka heeya dolya” (enemy’s heart sank when Chhelu charged).

Mahadevi, widow of late CHM Chhelu Ram, did not remarry. Richhpal Ram, Chhelu Ram's son, being the only male member in the family, could not carry forward his father’s legacy — both since deceased. 

Many a time, buyers, especially British medal collectors, approached Chhelu Ram's descendants offering them a princely sum for the Victoria Cross but they refused to trade it for any amount. “Victoria Cross Medal ke liye mere dadaji ne apni jaan neochhavar ki hai. Ise bechne ki soch bhi unki shahadat ki toheen hai. Is amulya ratan ko hum kabhi nahin bechenge” ( My dadaji sacrificed his life for this Victoria Cross Medal. Even a thought of selling it is an insult to his martyrdom. We will never sell this gem), proudly claims Ram Kishan, grandson of Chhelu Ram. 

(The writer is veteran Gunner, 6 Field Regiment)

The account of the battle available in the War Diary of his Battalion and also Rajputana Rifles archives reads:

  • In World War 2, on night 19/20 April 1943, during the assault on Djebel Garci feature in Tunisia, CHM Chhelu Ram was with one of the two leading companies, and during the advance to the Battalion’s second objective, the forward troops were held up by the enemy machine-gun deployed on a high ground. CHM Chhelu Ram armed with only a Tommy Gun, immediately rushed forward through the intense machine-gun and mortar fire and single-handedly silenced the post, killing the entire crew and thus enabling the advance to continue.
  • When the leading companies were approaching their third objective, the enemy brought down intense machine-gun and mortar fire on them which mortally wounded the Company Commander. CHM Chhelu Ram went to the officer’s assistance in a completely exposed position and attended to him, during which he himself was seriously wounded.
  • He then took command of his own company and two platoons of the other leading Mohammedan company and quickly re-organized them. Almost immediately the enemy launched a heavy counter-attack. Our troops had already run short of ammunition, as a result, fierce hand-to-hand fighting began. Rushing from point-to-point, wherever the fighting was the heaviest, he rallied his men with the cry ‘Jat aur Musalman aage badho dhava bolo’ and drove back the enemy. He then advanced ahead of the two companies. Inspired by his fine example, the counter-attack on the Vital Ground Djebel Garci was driven back with bayonets and fierce hand-to-hand fight. 
  • During this fighting, CHM Chhelu Ram was again wounded, this time, mortally. He refused, however, to be evacuated back and continued to command and inspire his men until finally losing consciousness. A few minutes later, he died due to  wounds all over his body. 


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