By Col DPK Pillay (Retd)
In the military there is a certain thrill in disobeying orders especially when the price to be paid is high. People are excused if they think all that soldiers are taught and expected to do is obey the orders of those placed in positions of command over them. Throughout regular military history, men and women have followed orders in combat, but sometimes, an order is given and disregarded when a Commander on the spot decides that their career is less important than the potential victory that will be cherished beyond their lifetime.
Here is the story of an Indian Battalion trapped—at Razmak in the Northwest Frontier Province of Pakistan — a moment in Indian history that has largely been forgotten today. It happened as India and Pakistan awoke to a new dawn of freedom on the night of 14/ 15th August 1947.
And it is a moment that belongs to the 1/7 Rajput – battalion that is today 4 GUARDS. A legendary Paltan whose rank and file have proved their mettle time and again challenging orders and human limits. Their exploits are legendary. It also has on its rolls the honour of providing India’s finest Generals- our first commander in Chief as well as many of India’s legendary Generals.
Back to 1947 to the remote Badlands of Razmak. Just as the assets were being divided between the Indian and Pakistani forces, orders were issued that there shall be no flag hoisting of the Indian flag in Pakistan. And that no regimental silver shall leave with the Battalions going over to India. They were to be quietly handed over to the Pakistanis. It will be good to know such an order was never passed on the Indian side. Now given the context of the Partition of India, the 1/7 Rajput—once evenly split between Hindu and Muslim—suddenly found itself a largely a Hindu regiment, led by Lt Col Bakshi Kuldip Singh, son -in-law of a stalwart Lt Gen Thakur Nathu Singh. Lt Gen Thakur Nathu Singh is reported to have questioned Nehru’s desire to continue with British Generals, stating neither did Indians have any experience in running a country, so if British were required for heading the armed forces, we should request the British to head the Indian Govt, paving the way for Gen KM Cariappa to be C-in-C on 15 Jan 1949. It was however only after the Ceasefire was declared in Kashmir on 01 Jan 1949.
After the Muslim soldiers of 1/7 Rajputs were transferred to 5/8 Punjab, replaced by Hindus of that regiment the battalion picked up that local Pathans, were hellbent on ensuring that the Regimental Colours and silver will not be allowed to reach India. Unfortunately for the tribals, they hadn’t reckoned with the 1/7th, and their Col Kuldip Singh who made plans to head back to India with every single man and material and if possible additional resources and people wanting to head to India. Col Kuldip said “the hollow threats of whether we make it back or not will not be replied with words but answered by deeds hammered by iron and blood that later all of them will ask how did they do it”.
There are two parts in a battlefield – One is the actual combat where soldiers are expected to carry out that brutal bloody and ruthless actions to capture destroy kill or wound enemies and the other is the Strategy – that cold calculated mind that plans and executes the operation like a conductor runs a symphony in harmonising all elements in a battlefield. On one end is the primordial violence of physical war the other end is the lonely and intellectual strategy that runs in the mind of the commander. 1/7 Rajput now 4 GUARDS never lacked in any of them in all the bloody campaigns and situations it has been through. It never has lost a battle it has entered and whichever cause 1/7 Rajput fought for it has always been victorious.
Col Bakshi knew this was war and he had to plan every single step to evacuate himself and his men and material. He requested and ensured that he received permission from the Division Commander to make 1/7 Rajput the reserve battalion for the road opening force in the region that October; that road led to Bannu, 122 kms away. He then started sending their baggage and equipment—unnoticed in small batches—through to Bannu during the following weeks, the battalion quietly prepared to move out of Razmak. They operated as normal during the first two weeks of October before Brig. Singh decided to make the final move. Distrusting Pakistani officers in the area who were likely to betray his movements to the tribals, he ordered all communication links — wireless and landline—be severed. Col Bakshi later talking of his plan said “none of my officers or men knew of my plans to evacuate from Razmak piecemeal, the only exception being my Subedar Major Devi Singh, an exceptional man and a pillar of strength” Sub Maj Devi Singh was the uncle of Gen V. K. Singh, the former Army Chief and now a second time MP from Ghaziabad and a Minister of State.
“How the hell did you reach Bannu?” was the reaction from their brigade commander Brig Khan when they arrived at that city. In fact enroute Bannu Col Bakshi even called on Brig. (later President and Field Marshal) Ayub Khan who wished him well saying “ We will meet at soon at Panipat,” he said, to which Col Singh replied “I will be there to receive you with open arms”
Everyone had wrongly assumed that local tribesmen would not have allowed the 1/7 Rajput to move. But move they did, and now, were ready to head to India. Maj Gen. Lee Fleming, the GOC of the Razmak Division observed of the 1/7th that “nobody on earth can stop them from doing what they want to do and they will be able to do what they want to and get out of Pakistan when and where they choose to.” He was referring to the indomitable spirit of the battalion that among other actions, decided to mark the night of Indian Independence on August 14 through the dawn of August 15—at their base on Pakistani soil against orders to that effect. Determined to mark the occasion, the 1/7 Rajputs sent an officer on casual leave from Razmak to Delhi to procure the Indian flags; he returned with the flags during the first week of August. The 17 officers on rolls of the Battalion in Razmak the Indian companies of the unit proudly swore allegiance to defend and protect India – two Indian tricolours were raised that day on day despite the orders on Pakistani soil, one in the unit lines and the other in the Officers Mess.
It was the highest flag that flew that day and fluttered freely under the icy cold and glare of the Pathans in Razmak.
But that would prove a little harder to accomplish is the evacuation from Pakistan to India . “No Muslim train engine driver is willing to take your train given the risk ”Col Kuldip Singh was informed. As fortune favours the brave the same did for the 1/7th, in the ranks of the unit was one who had earlier been in the railways and he trained another officer and few others to assist him. This unlikely team of train drivers took the entire battalion from Bannu to Mari- Indus on two narrow gauge trains—stopping there for two days whole a broad gauge train was organized for the trip to Attari. Their journey was set against a backdrop of post-partition anger and bloodshed—a time that would displace over 11 million people on either side of the border, with one million losing their lives.
In the other trains from Pakistan many refugees would die on trains that crossed the border between both newly formed countries—and that made the 1/7th’s manifest on the all the more precious. On board were three hundred young girls and old women whose menfolk had pleaded for safe passage to Amritsar; bending all rules, the battalion had agreed. It was to be a long journey. Aware of the potential for a general massacre enroute, the train from Mari-Indus wouldn’t stop at any main station or town—reaching India, and Amritsar on November 3rd.
Their final destination was Ranchi but was abruptly changed at Amritsar station. Acting on top secret orders, Brig. M. S. Chopra and his Brigade Major would meet the 1/7th to assess their fitness for war. They would then report to Army Headquarters that not only was 1/7 Rajput fit for any task that may be allotted to them, they were also carrying thirty days of contact rate ammunition and their battalion’s heavy weapons. This was contrary to orders, which stipulated that only twenty rounds per man was to be brought out from Pakistan—and reminiscent of Maj Gen. Fleming’s words just two months earlier: “Nobody on earth can stop the 1/7 from doing what they want to do.”
It was a resourcefulness acknowledged by Lt Gen. K. M. Cariappa, the GOC in C Western Army Command. When he inspected the unit on their return to India, he was surprised to see the battalion not only fighting fit but also overflowing with supplies—over and above what they were authorized to bring back. Wryly observing that he did not even have a pair of woollen socks, he would ask 1/7 Rajput to share their excess stocks—including machine guns and 3 and 2 inch mortars—with other units that were short on supplies.
1/7 Rajput was ordered to relieve 77 Para Brigade at Gurdaspur, commanded by legendary Brig Usman who refused the lure by Jinnah to switch loyalty and move to Pakistan . He refused and he said he identifies with what India stands for and his religion doesn’t permit him to switch loyalty to his country. The Paltan took over responsibility for the border from Madhopur to Dera Baba Nanak. Soon they would move Naushera in Kashmir and face the Pakistani Army in a brutal war inflicted to wrest Kashmir . The war would see a section of ten men commanded by Nk Jadunath Singh face an onslaught of over thousand raiders led by Pakistani officers. He was ordered to withdraw as chances to stall them were none. Nk Jadunath said he heard the orders now hear my section commanders orders sir – I shall not withdraw and neither will my section .He earned the second PVC of independent India and the Paltan would go on to earn two MVCs and ten VrCs for their actions during the Kashmir War. The story of valour and courage in this and later wars needs another edition.
I had the honour of being commissioned in this battalion and being groomed in its traditions. This is indeed a fighting unit where lessons for valour and leadership never end . We owe much to the officers and men who make up such fighting units and leave a standard of duty gallantry and courage for others to follow.
Col DPK Pillay (Retd) is a decorated war veteran with MP- IDSA . He was commissioned in 4 GUARDS and earned his Shaurya Chakra and is honoured more for his act of self-sacrifice in saving the lives of two young children while he himself was nearly fatally wounded.