"In prison you are not a human being. You wish to die. We were without food and water in a Nazi camp," expressed Narinder Singh, 96, who lived in captivity of Germans from 1941 to 1945 during the World War II.
Narinder Singh, currently staying in SAS Nagar, was recruited on May 16, 1939, as a sepoy in the Royal Indian Army Service Corps (RIASC). After being trained near Rawalpindi in present day Pakistan, he was deployed in Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Egypt and Libya with the British forces.
In Libya, he was caught along with other Indian soldiers. "German and British troops were fighting each other. British troops were little down. Our officers told us to pack up as we were encircled."
He added that time was wasted in having rum. "We could not live without rum. They (officers) could not tell us when we have to retreat (as they were drinking)."
After they were caught in Libya, they were kept at Bangazhi camp in Libya by the sea. "There was no food and water. We used to drink sea water after filtering it with sand. It used to taste very bitter. As there was no nutrition, I fell ill."
From there they were shifted to Greece by ship. "When we were taken in ship it was torpedoed …But I stole a life bag of an Italian sailor and was about to jump in sea when a shell attacked. Our ship was to be towed by another ship. "
From Greece we were shifted to Italy and finally, were taken to Germany. "In jail, we used to get 1 ft long bread for seven days. But a benefit was there, we used to get a food packet from Red Cross. After a week, we sometimes used to get Indian food products."
In 1945, the USA entered into the Germany, he said. As allies forces were following Germans, they kept shifting Singh and other prisoners of war. Finally, after Germany got defeated they were released and taken to France and then to Belgium. "By air we were taken to the United Kingdom where the Queen also addressed us. From there by sea we reached Mumbai in 1945."
"As the army was reducing manpower, I was also discharged. After coming home, I saw my daughter first time after so many years. She was not born when I left for the war," said Singh with moist eyes.
After that he joined the National Home Front in Lahore and after independence, he joined the Punjab government's publicity department from where he retired in 1979.
On his petition for pension for Army service during World War II, on September 17, the Chandigarh bench of the Armed Forces Tribunal issued notice to the central government.
Narinder, 96, walks with a stick not because of his age but due to a road accident in 1995 involving stray cattle.
Honoured with Rs. 25,000 cheque
Narinder Singh was honoured with a cheque of Rs. 25,000 by the director, defence services welfare department of Punjab, Brig Manjeet Singh, during a function organised by Sanjha Morcha (a group of organisations of ex-servicemen) at Mohali Club in SAS Nagar on Friday.
Also, Flags of Honour Foundation, Bangalore, have decided to give him a monthly pension of Rs. 3,000.