Free Press Journal

The Bravest of The Brave


The Bravest of The Brave
The extraordinary story of Indian VCs of World War I
Author: Maj Gen Ian Cardozo
Pages: 117
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing India Pvt. Ltd.
Indian VCs of World War I

The first chapter of the book—The Victoria Cross, ends with the excerpt from of Lieutenant General M. M. Lakhera’s book, ‘Towards Resurgent India’ :

“I had gone to the UK as Deputy Leader of the Indian Delegation to take part in 50th Anniversary Celebrations of ‘Victory in Europe’ during the Second World War. I, along with other army officers, had just stepped out after attending the inaugural session and was waiting roadside for the traffic to ease so as to walk across the road to the vehicle park. Along with me was Hony Captain Umrao Singh, a Victoria Cross-winner. All of a sudden, a car moving on the road came to a halt in front of us and a well-dressed gentleman stepped out. He approached Umrao Singh and said, “Sir, may I have the privilege to shake hands with a Victoria Cross-winner?”
He shook hands with him. Evidently he had spotted Umrao Singh’s medal from the car and had stopped his car to pay his respects to a winner of the highest gallantry award of his country.”

That gentleman was Michael Haseltine, Deputy Prime Minister of UK.

All the traffic behind his car had come to a standstill. M. M. Lakhera politely requested him to move along to relieve the traffic hold up.

“Sir, how dare I drive off when the Victoria Cross has to cross the road?” replied Deputy Prime Minister of UK.

Major General Ian Cardozo was commissioned into the 5thGorkha Rifles and has taken part in the Sino-Indian war of 1962 and Indo-Pak wars of 1965 and 1971. He is the first officer of the Indian Army to be awarded the Sena medal for gallantry on a patrol on the Sion-India border in 1960. Wounded in the 1971 war, he overcame the handicap of an amputated limb and became the first disabled officer of the Indian Army to command an infantry battalion. After the retirement, he was appointed Chairman of the Rehabilitation Council of India. His books- ParamVir: Our Heros in Battle, The Sinking of INS Khukri, In Quest of Freedom and other, focused on chronicling the exploits of war heroes. In this book, he has documented stories of 11 Indians who won the Victoria Cross during World War I.

 The Victoria Cross was established in 1855 but Indians became eligible for this prestigious award in 1911. The Indian army, then did not have artillery, was not trained in modern warfare and had the weapons that were generation old. Soon after the declaration of war, Indian army- British Expeditionary Force that consisted of six infantry divisions and one cavalry division arrived in Francce in mid-August 1914. The Indian forces were ill-equipped. They were in their summer uniforms in the onset of European winter and were armed with obsolete weapons to fight a war they were not trained for; yet they fought with discipline, dedication and courage. Indian units fought in Europe, Mesopotamia, Egypt, Palestine, East Africa and China. Over one million Indians served overseas. How fierce was the theatre of war? In March 1915 in the battle of NeuveChapelle the Indian Corps’ total casualties were:  British Officers—41 killed, 91 wounded, 1 missing, other ranks- British and Indian- 772 killed, 2,956 wounded, 312 missing. Overall, 835 killed, 3,083 wounded, missing 315. Territorial gain was about 1,000 yards over a two-mile front. In this battle Gabbar Singh Negi received posthumous Victoria Cross.

In this book, we get the stories of all the eleven Indians, who won the VC during the Great War.  The bravest of the braves are Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians from undivided India. Why do the soldiers fight with courage? According to the author—it is the honour of Profession of Arms, it is also the honour of the regiment. The values of commitment, comradeship, duty, discipline, and the loyalty fostered in the regiments are also the factors that motivate the soldier in the execution of his task. It appears that two modern values—liberty and equality, does not have a place in the profession of arms but the stability of modern nation-state is very much anchored in the feudal values, the ideological basis of the armed forces.  Lt Gen S K Sinha has rightly recommended this book for the students of Indian military history.

The last chapter of the book—Conclusion,Maj Gen Ian Cardozo notes that in India, we don’t have a War Memorial of the Unknown Soldiers. “All that we have in India, is the ‘Amar Jawan’, a temporary structure ordered by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, in the shadow of India Gate as there was not enough time to make a permanent war memorial between 16 December 1971 and 26 January 1972. Since the day that the Amar Jawan temporary structure was made, forty-four years have passed and all that we have so far is promises and plans. Politicians and the bureaucrat fail to understand a well known truism that ‘A country that fails to honour its war dead dishonours itself’. “