Tuesday, May 30, 2017

16th Light Cavalry: a historic picture, and an anecdote from Kashmir

Corrected Officer List: Sitting on ground Left to Right: Lieutenant Harbhajan Singh (1) and Lieutenant Muhammad Afzal (2).
First Row Seated: Left to Right: Captain Khalid Jan, Captain Hira Lal Atal, Second-in-Command (2IC) Major Basil Holmes, DSO, Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel A. H. Williams, MC (with dog in his lap), Major Faiz Muhammad Khan, Captain K. M. Idris (11), Risaldar Major Ugam Singh (12).
First Row Standing: Left to Right: Unidentified VCO, Lieutenant Inder Sen Chopra (3), Lieutenant Enait Habibullah (4), Lieutenant K. K. Verma (5), Captain S. D. Verma (6), Captain M. S. Wadalia (7), Lieutenant Ghanshyam Singh (8), Lieutenant J. K. Majumdar (9), Lieutenant P. S. Nair (10) and unidentified VCO.

16th Light Cavalry was one of the first cavalry regiment of the Indian army that was Indianized.  7th Light Cavalry was the second cavalry regiment that was Indianized and later 3rd Cavalry was also earmarked for Indianization.  Disproportionately, large number of future senior cavalry officers of Indian and Pakistani armies belonged to these three Indianized cavalry regiments. They were the founding fathers of armored corps of Indian and Pakistan armies.

King Commissioned Indian Officers (KCIOs) were graduates of Sandhurst and Indian Commissioned Officers (ICOs) were trained at Indian Military Academy (IMA) at Dehra Dun. During the war, Indian officers were commissioned as Emergency Commissioned Officers (ECOs) after only six months of training. The picture is circa 1936, therefore most Indian officers are KCIOs and only two ICOs as first IMA batch known as ‘pioneers’ was commissioned in December 1934. Both are from the first IMA course.

Major Basil Holmes: In this 1936 picture, he was Second-in-Command (2IC) of the regiment. He was an Australian and served with Australian army during First World War.  He was ADC to his father Major General William Holmes who was killed by a shell in France during a tour. He won Distinguished Service Order (DSO) in First World War. After the war, he transferred to Indian army and after a career of twenty one years in India, retired as Colonel and went back to Australia.

Lieutenant Colonel Austin Henry Williams (1890-1973): He was commissioned in 38th Central India Horse in 1909. In Great War, he fought with his regiment in France and won Military Cross (MC).  In 1922, 38th and 39th Central India Horse regiments were amalgamated to form 21st Central India Horse. He served as Adjutant and later squadron commander of the regiment. In 1933, he was transferred to 16th Cavalry as Second-in-Command of the regiment. In 1934, he was appointed Commanding Officer (CO) of the regiment and he held this position until 1938. He then served as commandant of Equitation School at Saugor and when this school was closed in August 1939, he became commandant of Small Arms School. He retired at Brigadier rank and after partition of India in 1947 moved to South Africa.  He was an accomplished international polo player and was member of Indian army polo team that visited United States in 1927. 

Lieutenant Harbhajan Singh: He came to IMA via Patiala State Forces.  As evidenced from his picture, he was very tall and was member of the color party of IMA.  He retired as Brigadier of Indian army.

Lieutenant Muhammad Afzal: He was member of a military family and son of Risaldar Major Fazal Dad Khan (12th Cavalry). His five brothers; Major General Muhammad Akbar Khan (Probyn’s Horse & RIASC), Major General Muhammad Iftikhar Khan (7th Light Cavalry), Major General Muhammad Anwar Khan (Engineers), Brigadier Muhammad Zafar Khan (RIASC) and Brigadier Muhammad Yousef Khan (RIASC) served with Indian and Pakistan armies. 

He later transferred to Royal Indian Army Service Corps (RIASC).  He retired as Brigadier of Pakistan army.

Captain Khalid Jan: He was the scion of Afghan royal family section settled in Peshawar.  He was the grandson of legendry Colonel Sardar Muhammad Aslam Khan of Khyber Rifles and son of Brigadier Sir Hissam-uddin Khan.  He attended Royal Indian Military College (RIMC) at Dehra Dun.  He was commissioned in August 1928 from Sandhurst.  In 1940, he went to Indian Cavalry Training Centre (ICTC).  During Second World War, he served with Persia-Iraq command in Middle East.  In 1946, when he returned to India, he served with Guides Cavalry for a short period of time before assuming command of 25/8 Punjab Regiment (Garrison battalion).  In 1947, he commanded 3rd Mahar Regiment during internal security duties in East Punjab.  In 1947, he opted for Pakistan army and his Pakistan Army number was 13 (PA-13). He was the first native commanding officer of 1/12 Frontier Force Regiment (now 3 Frontier Force Regiment) from October 1947 – October 1948.  He later transferred to Remount, Veterinary and Farm Corps (RV&FC). He retired at Lieutenant Colonel rank of Pakistan army.

His elder brother Ahmad Jan was commissioned in 1927 in 7th Light Cavalry.  He retired at Brigadier rank of Pakistan army.

Captain Hira Lal Atal (1905-1985):  He was a Kashmiri pandit and son of Major Dr. Pyare Lal Atal of Indian Medical Service (IMS).  He was medical officer of 59th Scindh Rifles (later 6/13 Frontier Force Rifles and now 1 Frontier Force Regiment of Pakistan army).  He died in First World War in November 1914 in France when the house serving as hospital collapsed from artillery shelling. 

Hira Lal was commissioned in January 1925 from Sandhurst and joined 16th Light Cavalry. He served with 47th Cavalry on frontier duty during the war.  He later commanded 18th Cavalry in 1945.  After partition, he commanded 1 Armored Division of Indian army and also served as commander of UP Area. He was the first native Adjutant General (AG) of Indian army.  He retired as Major General of Indian army. 

His younger brother was Kanhiya Lal ‘Bagga’ Atal (1913 – 1949).  He was from the first IMA course and commissioned in 6/13th Frontier Force Rifles. His father had died with his boots on while tending to the wounded comrades of the same battalion in France.  He fought Second World War on Eritrean front.  In 1948 Kashmir war, he commanded 77 Para Brigade.  In 1949, he was Brigadier when he died at the age of 35 from heart attack during a hunting trip.

Major Faiz Mohammad Khan: He was commissioned in July 1921 from Sandhurst.  He was the first Indian commissioned officer posted to 16th Cavalry. He was from the ruling family of the state of Maler Kotla. In 1927, he was seconded to Indian Political Service (IPS) for six years.  He spent three years as Military Secretary to Maler Kotla State Forces and returned back to 16th Cavalry in September 1936.  Two years later, he was posted to 15th Lancers (then converted into a training regiment). At the time of partition, he was the second senior most Pakistan army officer and assigned Pakistan Army Number 2 (PA-2).  He transferred to Army Services Corps (ASC) and served as director RV & FC.  He retired at Brigadier rank of Pakistan army. His grandson Colonel Sohail served with 26th Cavalry of Pakistan army.

Captain Khairuddin Mohammad Idris: Known as K.M. ‘Shrimp’ Idris.  He was commissioned in September 1925 from Sandhurst.  He later raised and commanded war time raised 44th Cavalry.  At the time of partition, he was commanding 3rd Cavalry.  Muslim component of 3rd Cavalry was detached and regiment left for India.  His Pakistan Army number was 4 (PA-4). He commanded 3rd Armored Brigade of Pakistan army.  He retired at Brigadier rank of Pakistan army. He was a great polo player.  His two sons Major Owais Idris (13th Lancers) and Lieutenant Colonel Shuaib Idris (12th Cavalry) also proudly served Pakistan army.

Lieutenant Inder Sen Chopra: He was commissioned in January 1931 from Sandhurst.  He transferred to Indian Political Service (IPS) early in his service in 1937 and served as political officer of Loralai in Baluchistan.  Later, he joined Indian Foreign Service.  In early 1950s, he was chief of protocol.  As a former cavalry officer steeped in traditions of appropriate and formal dress, he had many nightmares when politicians showed up at president house in native dress despite reminders about formal attire.  He served as ambassador to Sweden, Iraq and Argentina.

Lieutenant Enait Habibullah: Shaikh Enaith Bahadur Habibullah was from a taluqdar family of Oudh and son of Shaikh Muhammad Habibullah who served as Vice Chancellor of University of Lucknow.  Muhammad was an enlightened feudal and wanted a different course for his children.  He sent all three sons to England for education.  Enaith was educated at Clifton College and commissioned in August 1930 from Sandhurst.  During Second World War, he served with 16th Cavalry.  In 1947, he opted for Indian army.  He was the first commandant of National Defence Academy (NDA). He retired at Major General rank of Indian army. His two brothers Issat Bahadur Habibullah and Ali Bahadur Habibullah opted for Pakistan.

Lieutenant Krishna Kumar Verma:  K. K. ‘String’ Verma was commissioned in February 1933 from Sandhurst.  He later transferred to 3rd Cavalry when this regiment was Indianized.  At the time of partition, he was serving at Quarter Master General (QMG) branch.  He retired at Brigadier rank.

Sardar Mohinder Singh Wadalia: He was nick named ‘Wad’.  He was commissioned in January 1929 from Sandhurst.  He was originally commissioned in 4/19 Hyderabad Regiment but later transferred to 16th Cavalry. He served as Chief of General Staff (CGS) and Vice Chief of Army Staff (VCOAS) and retired at Lieutenant General rank of Indian army.

Captain Shiv Dev Verma: He was from Lyallpur (Pakistan). He was commissioned in January 1929 from Sandhurst.  In 1947, he was instructor at Staff College at Quetta and was responsible for taking the Indian share of Staff College to India.  He managed to get the Camberly Owl silver trophy for India by arguing that the inscription stated that it was presented by Camberly staff college to ‘Indian staff college’ and as staff college at Quetta will not be called Indian staff college therefore it should go to Indian staff college whenever it is established. He was the founding father and first commandant of Indian staff college and responsible for selecting Wellington as the home for staff college.  He served as Corps Commander and retired at Lieutenant General rank of Indian army. 

Verma adopted the Quetta staff college emblem Owl and motto ‘Tam Marte Quam Minerva’ for new Indian Staff College. The survival battle that ‘owl’ fought in India and Pakistan is interesting. In Pakistan, the motto was changed to a Persian saying ‘peer shu be amooz’ (grow old by learning) in 1950 but owl survived.  In 1979, owl lost the battle when Pakistan replaced the owl with an Arabic word ‘Iqra’ (read). Owl also had a hard time in India. Initially Army Headquarters (AHQ) rejected the owl symbol and motto insisting for an Indian symbol and motto.  The debate went on for a while when in 1957, Major General P. S. Gyani argued for retaining the owl as it was used by commonwealth staff colleges. In 1964, the decision was finalized when a Hindi motto ‘Yuddham Pragnaya” (to battle with wisdom) was adopted but owl survived proudly perching on crossed swords. The owl lost in Pakistan but won the battle in India thus keeping a link with the past.

Lieutenant Ghanshyam Singh: He was nick named ‘Popeye’ and commissioned in February 1934 from Sandhurst.  Later transferred to 3rd Cavalry when this regiment was Indianized. 

Lieutenant Jai Krishna Majumdar: He was nick named Joy ‘sunshine’ Majumdar. He was son of Captain P. K. Majumdar of Darjeeling.  He was commissioned in August 1933 from Sandhurst.  He died in a plane crash.

Lieutenant Palat Sankaran Nair: He was from Kerala and grandson of Sir Chettur Sankaran Nair; an eminent jurist who served as member of Viceroy’s Council and President of Indian National Congress.  P.S. Nair nick named ‘Bosco’ was commissioned in September 1932 from Sandhurst.  He was originally commissioned in 3rd Cavalry and later transferred to 16th Cavalry. He retired at Brigadier rank of Indian army.

There are several other Indian officers of 16th Cavalry who are not in the picture.  Some were not with the regiment in 1936 while others joined after 1936.  Mirza Rashid Ali Beg was from a respectable Hyderabad family.  His grandfather served as a Rissaldar in Royal Deccan Horse.  His father was an educated government servant and rose to become the first Indian to become Vice President of Council of India in London.  He moved his family to London and Baig lived in England from 1910 to 1923 attending the prestigious Clifton school.  He was selected for Sandhurst and after commission joined elite 16th Light Cavalry in 1925.  For the first time in his life he experienced racial prejudice when he came close to British in military setting.  He along with two other Indian officers (Faiz Muhammad Khan and Sheodat Singh) lived in a separate bungalow called ‘native quarters’.  He resigned his commission in 1930.  He was more of an intellectual bent and felt constrained by highly disciplined military life; however his personal unhappy experience in the army due to racial bias probably was the main reason for his resignation.  Later, he served a long career in Indian diplomatic corps. 

Raol Dilawarsinhji Dhansinhji was from the princely state of Bhavnagar. He was educated at Dulwich College in London and commissioned from Sandhurst in 1927.  He resigned his commission in 1933 and then served with Bhavnagar State Forces. Thakur Sheodatt Singh is not in the picture as he was attending Staff College. He retired at Major General rank. Y. S. Paranjpe transferred to infantry battalion 1/7th Rajput regiment.  He commanded a para brigade and retired at Major General rank.

Those who joined after 1936 include Sangram Keshary Rey, Leslie Sawhney, Nawabzada Agha Khan Raza and Zorawar Singh.  S. K. Rey was son of Captain Dr. K. Rey of Indian Medical Service (IMS).  He retired at Brigadier rank and died in 1971 in a tractor accident at his farm. Leslie Sawhney left army early at the rank of Colonel.  He married Rodebeh; younger sister of business tycoon Jahangir Ratanji Dadabhoy Tata know by his initials JRD. Leslie had great leadership qualities and JRD was planning to make him chairman of Tata Sons. Tragically, in 1966, Leslie dropped dead on the golf course from a massive heart attack.

N.A.K. ‘Windy’ Raza later transferred to 3rd Cavalry.  After partition, he opted for Pakistan and commanded 10th Guides Cavalry (November 1947 – November 1948).  He was the first native to command Guides Cavalry.  He served as Military Attaché in Washington and retired as Brigadier of Pakistan army.  Zorawar Singh ‘Zoru’ (14 February 1920 – 24 December 1994) won the coveted sword of honor on graduating from Indian Military Academy Dehra Dun in 1941. He was commissioned in 16th Light Cavalry but later transferred to Central India Horse (CIH).  He was the first Indian to command CIH in 1947. In 1947-48 Indo-Pakistan war over Kashmir, CIH tanks managed to get to and capture Rajouri under his command in April 1948. He retired at Major General rank of Indian army.

By the end of Second World War in 1945, Temporary Lieutenant Colonel (later General) J. N. ‘Mucchu’ Chaudhuri (ex-7th Cavalry) was commanding 16th Cavalry.  His Second-in-Command was Major S. D. Verma and Captain Shamsher Singh Puri was Adjutant.  Puri later commanded 16th Cavalry.  He served as Military Attache in Germany and retired at Brigadier rank.  Several officers were not with the regiment and attached to other postings.  Major Faiz Muhammad Khan was at recruiting staff, Thakur Sheodat Singh was at Military Intelligence directorate, K. M. Idris was commanding  44th Cavalry and Captain Khalid Jan had gone to 8 Punjab Regiment. M.S. Wadalia and Enait Habibullah were GSOs and N.A.K. Raza was at training centre.

Class composition of the regiment was Rajputs, Jats and Kaim Khanis.  In 1946, it was decided to change the class composition of the regiment and convert it into a South Indian class regiment.  This was finally completed in March 1947.  In 1947 division of armed forces, 16th Cavalry went to India.  It was South Indian single class regiment; therefore there was no headache of interchange of class squadrons.

Post Script: In September 2013, militants attacked the officer’s mess of 16th Cavalry in Kashmir.  Luckily, all officers were at gun cleaning after morning physical training (PT).  CO Colonel Avin Uthaiya and Second-in-Command Lieutenant Colonel Bikramjeet Singh had come back after morning PT.  Bikramjeet and one jawan ran towards the guard room to grab weapons.  Both were shot dead by militants.  CO and Quick Reaction Team (QRT) surrounded the militants and engaged them.  CO was hit and his elbow was shattered.  Regiment had brought out few tanks and CO climbed on one of the tanks with his shattered arm and tried to run down a militant outside the building.  CO was shot second time in the chest and evacuated.  Probably first time in an armor unit history, Captain Arpam Bose leveled his gun on the regiment’s own mess and shot off two high explosive shells into the building.  An officer of 2 Sikh was attached to the unit doing a computer course.  He rang up his unit and pretty soon QRT of 2 Sikh was at the scene.  They were joined by soldiers from 9th Special Force (SF) battalion.  They carried out the mopping up and cleaning operation of the buildings killing all three militants (These events were narrated by an officer of 16th Cavalry and published in The Times of India, 02 October 2013).

Acknowledgements: Author thanks many Indian and Pakistan army officers for many details.  All errors and omissions are author’s sole responsibility.

Hamid Hussain

May 2017 

No comments:

Post a Comment