Indian troops in France, Belgium 1914-16

  • Mandeep Singh Bajwa, Hindustan Times, Chandigarh
  • Updated: Aug 10, 2014 10:04 IST

Indian troops inducted into France and Belgium to fight the Germans were shocked at the introduction to industrial warfare because of a lack of training and preparations to fight on the continent. What other factors impacted their performance? The older generation of individual weapons (replaced by Lee-Enfield rifles) was still in service with some regiments. Lack of integral artillery was a great handicap. Indian troops suffered a great deal from the cold and damp climate exacerbated by a delay in the provision of warm clothing to them. These factors added to acute homesickness which set in as the war seemed more and more interminable and the rigours of trench warfare led to a worrying low morale. This was aggravated by heavy casualties.

British officers on home leave at the outbreak of war were posted to British Army regiments leaving a wide gap. Replacements for officer casualties lacked knowledge of Indian languages and indeed of India or the troops they commanded. For the Indians themselves, the breakdown of the system of enlisting and training recruits meant that reinforcements and replacements came from other regiments and ethnic classes. What particularly worried the British was Indian soldiers’ fraternisation with European civilians, especially women (there were a number of romances and some marriages). It speaks volumes about the competence of Indian Jawans that they overcame all these handicaps like the professionals that they were.
Duties of a senior subaltern

Army life has a number of traditions and practices that act as palliatives for its restrictive nature. General KJ Singh was reminded of such traditions when received at the airport by Colonel Manbir Hundal on arriving at Chandigarh to take over as Western Army Commander. On commissioning, he had joined his regiment, 63 Cavalry on July 2, 1977, at Ambala. Manbir Hundal was there to receive him at the railway station on that occasion too in his capacity as the regiment’s senior subaltern. The senior subaltern is an unofficial post in every unit. He acts as a mentor to all young lieutenants and oversees their discipline. It is his responsibility to take the new officers in hand, introducing them to the regiment’s traditions and customs. He makes sure that they know everything there is to know about the unit, including such essentials of military knowledge as the history of the officers’ mess silver! In addition he acts, making good use of his experience, as an adviser on duties and social responsibilities. Supervising the proper turnout and correct bearing of young officers is his special responsibility.

KJ Singh obviously imbibed well the lessons instilled in him by Manbir Hundal and others over the years to reach his present rank. This is one of the unchanging things over the decades - the army’s special way of life and grooming of new officers.

INS Kamorta delivered

The anti-submarine corvette, INS Kamorta was delivered to the navy on July 12. The ship’s armament comprises an Italian Oto Melara 76mm main gun and two Russian AK-630 30 mm close-in weapon systems and 16-cell VLS launched Israeli Barak 1 missiles for point defence. Fitted with eight 3M54 Klub multi-role missiles, two RBU-6000 anti-submarine rocket launchers (both Russian) and torpedo tubes, it is also the first warship to deploy the indigenous Kavach decoy system for missile protection.

(Would like to meet descendants of 1st World War veterans. Call on 093161-3534 or write to )

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