Born on 15 September 1920, Col Harwant Singh, MC, was commissioned in the Sikh Regiment on 30 September 1941. He soon found himself in the thick of battle in World War II, serving for three years with 2 Sikh in Iraq, Palestine, North Africa, Cyprus and Italy. During the latter half of the war, in the campaign in Italy, he was wounded three times in the battle of Poggio San Giovanni on the famous Gothic Line, while commanding his company, but he carried on with grit and determination till the objective was captured. For his heroism and courage displayed in this battle against German forces, he was given an immediate award of Military Cross and 2 Sikh was awarded the Battle Honour ‘Poggio San Giovanni’. Later, he was posted to 1 Sikh in Malaya and thereafter, participated in the Allies Victory Parade in Kuala Lumpur on 12 Jun 1946.
On return to India, his unit was stationed in Delhi. Here, he had the unique privilege to be the Deputy Parade Commander for the first ceremonial hoisting of the National Flag by India’s newly elected Prime Minister, Shri Jawahar Lal Nehru, near India Gate on 15 August 1947 and again the next day, when the Prime Minister unfurled the National Flag at the Red Fort.
In October 1947, when thousands of well armed raiders attacked J & K and captured Baramula only 34 miles from Srinagar, 1 Sikh was airlifted to Srinagar to stop the onslaught. Two companies and the battalion tactical headquarter of 1 Sikh were flown in Dakotas on 27 October and Harwant, then a company commander was part of this initial force. Battle was joined with the raiders at Baramula on 28 October and during a fighting withdrawal, CO 1 Sikh, Lt Col Dewan Ranjit Rai was killed in action and was posthumously awarded the Maha Vir Chakra. With the COs death, Harwant, being the senior most officer present in the unit, took over as the officiating CO.
Prior to his death, Colonel Rai had given orders to the battalion to withdraw to the Shalateng Spill Channel 4½ miles from Srinagar and stop the raiders there. The operational situation on the night of 28/29 October was very fluid and critical, but Harwant remained calm and imperturbable. Appreciating that the battalion with its limited strength could easily be bypassed at the Spill Channel, he took the wise, tactically sound but very risky decision to move the battalion back the same night itself from Shalateng Spill Channel, to area Mile 17 near Pattan, almost half way between Srinagar and Baramula. There, in the hills surrounding Mile 17 and Mile 18, East of Pattan, heavy losses were inflicted on the raiders on the critical night of 28/29 October, stopping them in their tracks and imposing the much needed delay to build up own forces by air in Srinagar, thus saving the city from falling into enemy hands. On the evening of 29 October, the 2IC arrived in the battalion and assumed command, but by then the situation had been restored. Harwant went on to serve with the battalion for the entire duration of the 1947-48 war, and fought many gallant actions including the capture of Tithwal by 1 Sikh.
Posted in December 1948 as CO 4 Sikh, Harwant was thereafter transferred to the Rajputana Rifles. He commanded 18 Raj Rif, 6 Raj Rif, 109 Infantry Battalion TA, Kolhapur, Raj Rif Regimental Centre at Delhi and CMP Regimental Centre at Faizabad during his service years. He also did a tenure as the President of the Service Selection Board at Allahabad. Post retirement, he commanded 57 BSF Battalion and BSF Centre Jammu and took part in the 1971 war in the Akhnur sector.
With the passing away of Colonel Harwant Singh on 4 August 2015, the nation lost one of her illustrious sons, who truly imbibed the spirit of the Chetwode motto. It is incomprehensible, that for the gallant role played by this brave soldier in the 1947-48 war, the quirks of fate denied him the honour of being decorated for gallantry. Perhaps the time has come for the nation to recognise the sterling role played by him in ensuring the unity and integrity of India, in the trying times, so soon after independence.