The date was September 3, 1939. A dozen of my batchmates from the Indian Military Academy, Dehradun, cycled to town to watch an English movie. During the interval, someone brought us the news that Britain had declared war on Germany. The information was received with a great deal of excitement. We hedged bets on whether our training at the academy would be cut short and whether we would be fighting at some war front for fame and glory.
We were commissioned six months later and posted at war fronts in different parts of the world. Some never came back, others returned with serious injuries. Sadly, very few of my batchmates are around now to remember that memorable day.
World War II ended in 1945 with two victories: Victory Europe (VE Day, May 8, 1945) and Victory Japan (VJ, August 15, 1945). I was on my way to the United Kingdom to attend an Army Staff College course.
The ship was crammed with British servicemen and women who were being repatriated on ‘compassionate’ grounds. News was flashed that General Dwight Eisenhower had accepted the surrender of Axis forces. All aboard the ship were at the deck and when the order came on the intercom, they tossed their solar topees into the sea. On VJ Day, I was in Venice with another Indian officer. In the middle of the night, loud explosions were heard. And the celebrations began.
Bottles of Chianti wine were distributed generously. “The war is over and it’s time to celebrate,” the crowd roared. We were rather amused that the Italians, who had not taken part in any operations against the Japanese, were celebrating the victory. We concluded that any excuse is probably a good one to have a party.