Col Harwant Singh (retd) is an unsung hero of independent India's first battle. Belonging to Toor Banjara village in Sangrur district, he was commissioned in 1941 and served with 2nd (Royal) Sikhs in North Africa and Italy, winning the Military Cross at the Battle of Poggio San Giovanni in the latter campaign.
Transferred to the 1st Battalion, he commanded a rifle company in the famous airlift to Srinagar that saved the Kashmir Valley from the depredations of the Pakistani-sponsored tribal invasion.
After Lt Col Ranjit Rai was killed in action at Baramulla while leading the tactical withdrawal of the unit on October 28, 1947, in the absence of the second-in-command, as the senior company commander he took over the battalion. Instead of bringing 1 Sikh back to the fallback position envisaged by Colonel Rai at the Shalateng Spill Way, he instead took them to a more suitable forward position near Pattan and occupied defences there on both sides of the road. The advancing raiders' convoy was ambushed and their forward movement repulsed, thus saving the Srinagar airfield and enabling the build-up of the Indian forces. A remarkable feat for a young officer with only six years of service! The Pakistani forces were never able to threaten Srinagar and the Valley thereafter.
However, Col Harwant Singh never got any recognition for his gallant leadership which saved the day for the country. Now nearing 92, he lives quietly in Patiala, indulging in his passion for military history and providing a visible symbol of heroism to inspire young soldiers. It would be in the fitness of things for the country to recognise his services even at this late juncture with a suitable award.
25th army chief
Gen Bikram Singh took over as the 25th Chief of Army Staff on May 31. Hailing from Kaler Ghumman village near Rayya in Amritsar district, he was born and brought up at Jammu and educated at Punjab Public School, Nabha, the region's premier nursery for the armed forces, and subsequently at the National Defence Academy, Khadakwasla (Maharashtra).
Commissioned in March 1972 from the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, he was specially selected to join the Sikh Light Infantry by that regiment's Colonel, the legendary Gen Prem Bhagat. He brings to his August office a wealth of experience in command and staff jobs both at home and abroad. At all levels from the unit to the Corps, he has commanded in operational areas of Jammu and Kashmir either in the no-war, no-peace active environment of the Line of Control (LoC) or while deployed on counter-insurgency operations.
He has served with three UN peacekeeping missions, including as a Major General, deputy force commander of the mission in Congo. As director in the military operations directorate general, he was drafted as the army's spokesman during the Kargil war and contributed to the country's success in information operations during that conflict, being awarded the second highest decoration for war service, the Uttam Yudh Seva Medal (UYSM). People admire the poise and dignity with which he handles the responsibilities of office. His elevation augurs well for the army.
Armour Day is celebrated every year on May 1 to commemorate the start of mechanisation of the old horsed cavalry regiments. Scinde Horse were the first to shed their horses, holding their last mounted parade at Rawalpindi on this date in 1938. Carden-Lloyd tankettes, Vickers light tanks and Chevrolet armoured cars were the initial equipment given to the Indian armour.
The Indian Sowar proved the pessimism of British officers wrong by adapting easily and quickly to mechanisation, learning to drive 'A' vehicles with ease and wielding tank and armoured car weapons with dexterity. While the clanging of sabres and the jangling of spurs has been replaced with different weapons and equipment, regiments of the Armoured Corps still retain the good old cavalry dash and spirit. The corps must now address the issue of indigenisation versus imported equipment with its usual vigour and vision.
The incident involving troops of 226 Field Regiment at Nyoma (Ladakh) has once again brought the old and burning issue of sahayaks or batmen to the fore. The officer-sahayak relationship is a sacred one and many officers and men have forged very strong personal bonds while serving together. Such bonding must be preserved and indeed strengthened if the fabric of the army is to be conserved. Many officers and men have very interesting stories of the bonding between an officer and his sahayak which they may like to share with us.
The Sikh Regiment Baisakhi lunch, organised at the officers' mess of the regiment's 6th Battalion at Chandimandir on April 21, was attended, among others, by the colonel of the regiment, Lt Gen Sumer Singh, director general, perspective planning at the army headquarters. This has become an annual event organised by the battalion currently stationed at Chandimandir, an "asterisk station" for the regiment along with Jalandhar and Ferozepur. Well organised and attended by a large number of serving and retired officers, some of whom had travelled long distances to attend the event. The highest decorated regiment does indeed do things in style!
The writer is a Chandigarh-based chronicler of military matters. Please share your feedback, suggestions and news at 093161-35343 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org