The Chetwode building is the single most prominent landmark of the Indian Military Academy (IMA) in Dehradun. It is depicted on the Academy’s mementos and most importantly forms the backdrop of the passing out parade (POP), which is perhaps amongst the most meticulously conducted military parades anywhere in the world.
This building also houses the offices of the Commandant, Deputy Commandant and the Adjutant, all of whom are the key elements of this prestigious Academy. It also has a library and a large reading room with periodicals, both of which aren’t frequented by too many GCs (Cadets), pushed as they are with the rigour of life in the Academy.
Setting the tone
Above all else, is the beautifully laid out Chetwode Hall, named, like the building that houses it, after the gentleman who played the key role in the setting up of this Academy and the one who gave the IMA its credo, with the three principles that he enunciated when the Academy was founded in 1932.
“First, the safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. Second, the honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Third, your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time”. These words are displayed prominently in the Chetwode Hall.
An Army can have no politics. It is the paid servant of the people and is at the disposal of the Government of the day, whatever may be the political complexion of that Government
Having been instrumental in the setting up of an Indian Sandhurst as chairman of the ‘Indian military college committee’, in this speech, given on 10th December 1932, when the first batch of IMA that joined in October 1932 was ready to receive him, the Field Marshal spelt out the role of the army and its officers: “ that politics do not, and cannot, find any place in Army life. An Army can have no politics. It is the paid servant of the people, and is at the disposal of the Government of the day, whatever may be the political complexion of that Government.” These words like the credo he gave, continue to be taken seriously and thus India’s army remains the finest example of an apolitical army.
Decorated with portraits of all post-independence Indian army chief’s – most of whom were products of this fine academy – it also has portraits of the winners of our highest gallantry awards, and the names of all other awardees inscribed in letters of gold on the walls around this magnificent Hall, with flags that were once carried into battle, hanging from the high walls around this Hall.
A less visible part of this Hall is the museum, which has an interesting collection of military artefacts. In one corner- the Colours corner – lie the King’s colours ( with the Union Jack) that were ‘laid to rest’ at a formal post-independence parade. They rarely get much attention, since, in the words of Sir Edward Hamley, they look to be: “A moth-eaten rag on a worm-eaten rag on a worm-eaten pole, it doesn’t look likely to stir a man’s soul”, but we would do well to remember “ the deeds that were done beneath the moth-eaten rag, when the pole was a staff, and the rag was a flag’.
For me personally, the Chetwode hall remains the most inspiring hall that I have visited anywhere in the world, and this includes RMA, Sandhurst and USMA, West Point, among others. On a recent visit to IMA, en route to the LBSNAA, Mussoorie, to call on the current Commandant, (a coursemate with impressive credentials), I had the privilege to visit the Chetwode building and the venerated Hall again, that remains similar to what I had witnessed first as a schoolboy, then as a GC and frequently during my two years as the Academy’s assistant adjutant, when I worked out of an office a few steps away from the Hall.
It was then, that I learnt so much more about this Hall, and became an unofficial guide about what adorned the Chetwode hall.
Field Marshal Sir Chetwode’s daughter, Penelope was a very dear friend of mine. We did a number of treks in the Western Himalayas together and on one of them she breathed her last. This too in an area she loved so much, and even wrote a book – Kulu – The End of the habitable World