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Which family has 300 years of service in India’s armed forces? Know the Klers

The saga of the family from Kakrala Kalan near Ludhiana starts with the patriarch, Chhajja Singh, who fought in France and Iraq in World War 1, winning the Meritorious Service Medal.

punjab Updated: Jul 31, 2017 22:29 IST
Mandeep Singh Bajwa
Mandeep Singh Bajwa
Hindustan Times
Kler military family,Indian army,Madeep Singh Bajwa
The Kler general officers: Air Marshal Jasjit Singh (then a Pilot Officer), Lieutenant General Gurdev Singh (then a Major General) and Lieutenant General Alok Singh (then Academy Cadet Adjutant at the NDA) in 1981.(Photo: The Kler Family)

The saga of the Kler military family from Kakrala Kalan near Ludhiana starts with the patriarch, Chhajja Singh, enlisting in 3rd Skinner’s Horse in 1908. He fought in France and Iraq in World War 1, winning the Meritorious Service Medal. Joining the Signals, he rose to the rank of Honorary Captain with a formidable reputation and the award of the Order of British India, 1st Class. His eldest son, Shamsher, served with the Signals retiring prematurely on health grounds.

Hardev, the second son, followed him into the Signals and blossomed into a bold, hard-hitting commander. Leading 95 Brigade with the least resources and along the least likely route, he was arguably first into Dhaka in December 1971, winning a well-deserved Mahavir Chakra for his audacious leadership. He retired as a Major General. His son, Devender Jeet, flew Gnats in action in 1971, retiring as a Wing Commander.

Gurdev, the next son, was mentioned in despatches (MiD) in Sialkot in 1965 fighting with 18th Cavalry. Commanding 56 Brigade he was awarded the Ati Vishisht Seva Medal (AVSM) for capturing the largest group of armed insurgents in Nagaland in the 1970s. Commanding an armoured brigade and division, he was director general of military training and commanded the Armoured Corps Centre and School in Ahmednagar (Maharashtra) before retiring as a Lieutenant General. The youngest brother, MS Kler, served with the Gorkhas.

Gurdev’s eldest son, Air Marshal Jasjit, has flown over 8,000 hours on helicopters, including significant tenures in Siachen. He is currently Commandant of the National Defence Academy. Lieutenant General Alok Singh, the middle son recently became Chief of Staff of the Army Training Command (ARTRAC, Shimla) after commanding armoured formations and graduating from the National Defence College in Bangladesh. His father-in-law is Brigadier Narinder Sandhu, MVC, hero of both the 1965 and 1971 wars. Harvind, the youngest served with 18th Cavalry, leaving as a Captain.


Attending the regiment’s bicentenary dinner, the famed Poona Horse spirit was palpably visible. The question is: how was it forged? Over hundreds of engagements, in the course of which the regiment won the highest number of battle honours in the Commonwealth is the answer. How did it make the transition from a splendid horsed cavalry regiment to one of the finest tank units? For that we have to go back to the post-Independence era. Although the regiment was mechanised in 1941, the period from 1947 to 1965 to my mind was when it really developed into an elite spearhead regiment.

A succession of dynamic commandants, among them Generals Jang Shamsher Singh, SS Padda, Hanut Singh, MVC, Brigadier RD Law and Colonels Qadam Singh, AB Tarapore, PVC and DS Grewal, concentrated on arduous training – gunnery (including the famous three-round firing technique), squadron and troop drills, development of initiative and equipment maintenance. In addition, sports (virtually a religion) and socialising played their part in uplifting morale and developing regimental spirit and competitiveness.

Family ties contributed immensely. Over a 150 of the 550 personnel, posted in the regiment, have had ancestors serving with it earlier. Thus, it came to be that on the eve of both wars, the regiment was ready, alert, fully trained and raring to go. As it gallops into the future on its trusty T-72 tanks, the hand of Allah and the famed PH spirit are its guiding lights. The valiant always win!

(I would like to hear from families with three or more generations of unbroken military service. Write to or call on 093161-35343)

First Published: Jul 30, 2017 15:47 IST