Former army chief General JJ Singh stood out at an army event to commemorate the centenary of World War 1 on Tuesday, proudly wearing 32 medals. Twenty of those his own, nine his father’s and three belonging to his grandfather.
“My grandfather, a sepoy, was awarded the Mesopotamia Star during the siege of Kut El Amara in 1914. He returned without an arm. I wear his medals with pride,” Singh said pointing to one of the medals pinned on his chest.
Singh was among the several descendants of WW1 heroes who have congregated at the Manekshaw Centre for the five-day army function – inaugurated by President Pranab Mukherjee - to showcase the gallantry and sacrifices of Indian soldiers in the Great War.
Colonel Rajendra Singh’s grandfather lance daffadar Gobind Singh (2nd Lancers) was one of the 11 soldiers from the Indian subcontinent awarded the Victoria Cross (VC), the highest British award for gallantry.
Colonel Singh said, “I have been carrying the burden of the VC for 31 years. It’s been tough for me as everyone expects me to excel, but the pride I am experiencing now is indescribable.” Colonel Singh and his late father Brigadier Ganga Singh joined 2nd Lancers, following in the footsteps of Gobind Singh.
Army chief General Dalbir Singh said intrepid Indian soldiers introduced their values of selfless service, dedication and sacrifice in various campaigns of the war, earning more than 9,800 gallantry awards.
Nearly 75,000 Indian soldiers perished in that war and another 67,000 were injured. Mukherjee said the Allied Forces were in a position to sign an armistice because of the support of the Indian soldiers who played a significant role in influencing the outcome of the war.
The inauguration coincided with the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in which Indian soldiers were involved in an attack on German positions in northern France.
General Singh took Mukherjee for a walk around the ‘gallantry and sacrifice halls’ and ‘outdoor props,’ explaining the significance of various events and actions during crucial campaigns. Mukherjee went inside a replica bunker to get insights into how the soldiers fought the war.
Open to the public till Saturday, the army has put up a photo exhibition of 13 campaigns of the war, replicated 12 international war memorials, displayed props to depict the lives of soldiers and showcased memorabilia such as medals, photographs and uniforms.
Those in attendance on Tuesday included defence minister Manohar Parrikar, navy chief Admiral Robin Dhowan, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal Arup Raha, defence secretary RK Mathur and top diplomats.