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HindustanTimes Sun,21 Sep 2014

Indian cavalry on Western Front 1914-18

Mandeep Singh Bajwa, Hindustan Times  Chandigarh, August 24, 2014
First Published: 09:29 IST(24/8/2014) | Last Updated: 09:33 IST(24/8/2014)

Prior to World War-I, horsed cavalry was a vital component of offensive warfare. In France and Belgium artillery, machine-guns, barbed wire, gas, mud and static trench warfare robbed it of its mobility and brought in a dangerous new vulnerability. The 1st and 2nd Indian Cavalry Divisions (re-designated the 4th and 5th, respectively, in November 1916 to distinguish them from British formations) served with distinction in the theatre however, winning a number of battle honours. They were mainly held in reserve to exploit the expected break-through, which never came. However, they displayed their versatility when deployed to man trenches in a dismounted role to help stabilise the front.

The predecessors of some of the most distinguished cavalry regiments like 18th Cavalry, 19th  Lancers (now in Pakistan), Hodson’s Horse, 8th Cavalry, Scinde Horse, 2nd Lancers, Central India Horse, Skinner’s Horse, Deccan Horse and Poona Horse fought here. Indian cavalry took part in the repulse of the German counter-attack at Cambrai on December 1, 1917, in a mounted role. Here, Lance-Daffadar Gobind Singh, 2nd Lancers, won the Victoria Cross for carrying messages under enemy fire,  three horses being killed under him. The 20th Deccan Horse took part in one of the last cavalry charges of the war at High Wood on July 14, 1916, at the extremely costly Battle of the Somme. The regiment bravely carried their objective at the points of their lances at the cost of 102 men and 130 horses, and held on for a day but, due to lack of support were forced to withdraw.

All the Indian cavalry regiments were withdrawn from France in March 1918 and sent to fight in Egypt and Palestine where they distinguished themselves as part of the Desert Mounted Corps.

The relevance of a national war memorial
A recent, somewhat heated and sometimes insensitive, national debate on the relevance of a national war memorial set me thinking. Do we really value the efforts or indeed, the sacrifices made by our soldiers in the line of duty? Remember, this is a time when politicians and bureaucrats make thoughtless remarks like “People join the army to die”.

Those opposed to the memorial or even its proposed site along the Central Vista in New Delhi seem to lack a sense of history or even compassion. What such memorials the world over signifies is that the freedom that we enjoy always comes at a price: that of soldiers’ blood, sweat and the tears of the families. To commemorate those sacrifices is to rejuvenate our sense of purposeful nationalism. A national commemoration of our war dead is long overdue and the project must be undertaken with due dispatch.

SM for Major Subhrapratim Bose
Some time ago, I had written about a small action by 3 Rashtriya Rifles (affiliated to the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles) in Pulwama district of Kashmir wherein an intelligence-based operation eliminated a Pakistani terrorist of the Jaish-e-Mohammed. The company commander and his buddy closed in on the ultra themselves and shot him dead. I was pleased to see in the Independence Day honours list that Major Subhrapratim Bose who led the team that successfully conducted the operation has been awarded the Sena Medal for gallantry. Congratulations to Major Bose (he’s also from the J&K Rifles), all the other gallantry awardees and their families.

(Please write in with your narratives of war and soldiering to msbajwa@gmail.com or call on 093161-35343)

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