One of the high points of Indian Army’s Cavalry Week, was the Cavalry Memorial Lecture, in memory of Brig MMS Bakshi, MVC, of Hodson’s Horse (who passed away a few months ago) by the Army Chief Gen Bikram Singh at the United Service Institution (USI). The subject was ‘Indian Army as the Final Instrument of National Power. Brig Bakshi is remembered for two brilliant actions on India’s borders- with Pakistan in the1965 as the commanding officer of Hodson’s Horse in Phillaura / Sialkot, Pakistan, during the India- Pakistan war and with China on the Line of Actual Control in Sikkim as the Nathu La brigade commander in 1967. In September 1965 during the war, while leading Hodson’s Horse, then Lt Col Bakshi’s tank got detached from the main body of tanks of the regiment owing to moving through the tall sugarcane crops. Reaching a stretch of open ground, he spotted four Pak army Patton tanks. Immediately he gave out fire orders for engaging them. Three of the Pattons were hit by his gunner one after another and it was only then that the fourth Patton had homed on to his tank. Both tanks fired simultaneously at each other and both were hit. With his tank catching fire, he ordered the crew to bail out. With him apart from the gunner and driver of the tank was his regimental signal cum intelligence officer, then Lt Ravi Malhotra (now Brig, retired and Secretary, Cavalry Officers’ Association), who was performing the duties of the radio operator-cum – loader.
Having bailed out they came under small arms fire from the Pakistani crew of the four destroyed Pattons, who had all bailed out too. Bakshi then fired back at them with his .38 revolver and ordered his crew to get into the sugarcane crop, through which they moved on foot till they were fortunate to be picked up by a squadron of The Poona Horse and eventually joined up with their own regiment. While Bakshi was awarded the MVC, Malhotra, who was recommended for VrC, got “Mentioned in Dispatches”. Based on this writer’s personal interaction with Brig Bakshi some years ago, one learnt what transpired while commanding the brigade in Nathu La, Sikkim, in October 1967. Chinese troops
had heavily upped the ante there with repeated instances of small arms and heavy mortars, killing some officers and soldiers. Brig Bakshi’s considereddecision was to request for an appropriate response with artillery, which could only be sanctioned by the defence minister. His request duly recommended by his higher commanders reached then prime minister Mrs Indira Gandhi, as she was holding charge of defence ministry also.
Despite being involved in a Cabinet meeting at the time of receiving the request, Mrs. Gandhi sanctioned it. The retaliation which ensued resulted in about 400 Chinese troops being killed and many bunkers and vehicles being destroyed. Ever since then till date Chinese troops have not resorted to any bullets or bombings on the Line of Actual Control, although they have been quite belligerent since the past few years and more so in 2013.
The Army Chief had some pleasant surprises for the large gathering of serving and retired officers and ladies of the Armoured Corps as well as Army HQs. Received by retired Lt Gens Gurinder Singh of Hodson’s Horse, Aditya Singh, President Cavalry Officers’ Association and serving Lt Gens Anil Bhalla and SH Kulkarni, DG Mecanised Forces, Gen Singh met Mrs. Sohinder Kaur, wife of late Maj Bhupinder Singh, MVC (posthumous) and a number of veterans of Hodson’s Horse who had excelled in the 1965 war. Mrs. Surjit Kaur, the Chief’s wife, sat next to Mrs. Sohinder Kaur. The first surprise from Gen Bikram was that he had had telephonic interactions with Brig Bakshi’s two sons Rajan and Ravi settled in France and USA. The second surprise was his appreciating the way the Cavalry Memorial Lecture had been conducted and the efforts of Hodson’s Horse in inviting Mrs Bhupinder Singh and many veterans who participated in that war, including three honorary officers, who were non-commissioned officers in that war and the manager in which the regiment projected its presence with its soldiers in ceremonial dress all over the USI. He recommended replication of such a procedure for other regiments.
Highlighting the significant role Indian Army had played in national security and its unparalleled contribution to nation building, Gen Singh assured that it would continue to be guided by its core values of integrity, loyalty, duty, discipline, respect, selfless service, courage and honour to fulfill the aspirations of the nation. He also recalled the Army’s swift response to recent natural disasters. The Indian Cavalry of the British Indian Army was a major war-winning factor for the Allies in World War I, which ended in 1918 “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month.” The process of Indian Cavalry shedding its horses and converting to tanks/armoured cars and thus becoming armoured corps began in May 1939, the year in which World War II began. So, Indian Army’s armoured corps observes Cavalry week around 11 November and 01 May as Armoured Corps Day. On both these occasions an important ceremony is paying tribute to all Indian Cavalry/Armoured Corps personnel who were killed in WWs I and II as well as all wars/conflicts post Independence by laying wreathes at the Teen Murti, which is a memorial to the Indian Cavalry in WW I. Indian Army’s Cavalry week coincides with Remembrance Day/ Armistice Day/ Poppy Day (the poem “In Flanders Fields” which refers to poppies in bloom across some of the worst battlefields of Flanders in World War I, their brilliant red colour a symbol for the blood spilled in the war), observed by all Commonwealth nations. In Delhi too Remembrance Day is observed by defence/military attaches of all Commonwealth nations assembling at the Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery at Brar Square, Delhi Cantt for a memorial service organized under the aegis of the UK High Commission. Out of 1.5 Indian soldiers, who fought in all theatres in WW I, 74,187 died and 67000 were wounded. Sepoy Khudadad Khan became the first Indian to be awarded a Victoria Cross for outstanding valour in the First Battle of Ypres. The Imperial War Graves Commission’s procedure was that each of the dead should be commemorated by name on a headstone or memorial; headstones and memorials should be permanent; headstones should be uniform and there should be no distinction made on account of military or civil rank, race or creed. India Gate is the memorial constructed by the British to commemorate all Indian personnel who died in WW I. This year’s Remembrance Day in the 100th year since 1914, was of special significance. That is also why Prince Charles and Lady Camilla’s visit to India straddled 11th November. While they observed Remembrance Day at the Afghan Church in Mumbai in the morning and later in the day at Khadki, near Pune, there was a well attended ceremony at Delhi’s Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery. Also visiting at the same time as Prince Charles were Maj Gen David Rutherford-Jones, CBE, Chairman of the Hodson’s Horse British Officers Association along with Lt Col RH Illingworth, both of the Royal Dragoon Guards, who were hosted by Lt Gen Anil Bhalla, Colonel Commandant of Hodson’s Horse, also known as 4th Horse.
Accompanied by their wives, Rutherford-Jones and Illingworth attended the Cavalry Dinner at Imperial Hotel and the Hodsonians Dinner at the President’s Bodyguards Officers’ Mess in the capital. Thereafter, they traveled to Hodson’s Horse somewhere in the Western sector and Amritsar, where they visited the Golden Temple and witnessed the Retreat Ceremony of India’s Border Security Force and Pakistan’s border rangers at the border check-posts astride the India – Pakistan international boundary. Hodson’s Horse destroyed disproportionately large numbers of Patton tanks of Pakistan army with WW II vintage Centurian tanks during both the 1965 and 1971 India-Pakistan wars.
Another British officer who visited India during those days is Brigadier (retd) Johnny Torrens-Spence, CBE, Colonel Commandant, of the Royal Dragoon Guards, which is affiliated to Indian Army’s Deccan Horse. He and his wife were hosted by Maj Gen TPS Waraich, Colonel Commandant of Deccan Horse. All these three officers and their spouses attended the Remembrance Day ceremony at the well-maintained cemetery mentioned at Brar Square, Delhi Cantt, for which UK High Commission had flown in a military padre to conduct the service, as Ian Weatherall, who had been doing the same for the past 50 years in Delhi, is no more. Brig Brian McCall, Defence Attache, UK High Commission was the master of ceremonies for this solemn event.