The big guns who blazed a trails of glory

The Times of India | Apr 27, 2001

Regimental reunions are a lot like joyous summer holidays — anticipated with relish, experienced with happiness and remembered with nostalgia. The recent artillery Reunion at Deolali was as memorable as the nine others that had preceded it.

In fact, it was the first major gathering of Gunners since the Kargil conflict, in which the overwhelming superiority of artillery firepower had destroyed the Pakistani soldeirs’ sangarsh and broken their will to fight, forcing them to beat a retreat back across the LoC. Hence, celebrations were in order for another feat of professional excellence that is the hallmark of the Gunners.

All the old topchis were there. Among them the World War- II veteran Maj-Gen `Zoru’ Ranbir Bakshi, in whose honour Bakshi Hill has been named in the Deolali field firing ranges; Lt-Gen. K P Candeth, the Western Army commander during the 1971 war; and Punjab Governor Lt-Gen J F R jacob, the chief of staff of Eastern Command who in 1971 masterminded ‘Operation Cactus Lily’ in eastern Pakistan and flew into Dhaka with the Instrument of Surrender while fighting was stil raging on the ground.

Other illustrious Gunners who have retired from Service included Lt-Gen Krish Seth, Governor of Tripura, and Lt-Gen Surendra Nath, chairman of the Union Public Service Commission. Gen S Padmanabhan, the present Chief of Army Staff (COAS) and a Gunner himself, was there along with of his Gunner predecessors — Gen O P Malhotra and Gen S F Rodrigues.

Sorely missed were some old Gunners who have passed on since the last Reunion and taken their abode where celestial command reigns supreme. In their ranks were Lt-Gen P S Gyani, a former Army Commander and the first Indian officer to be commissioned into the Regiment of Artillery; Gen P P Kumaramangalam, fomer COAS and a polo player of repute; and Lt-Gen Sartaj Singh, former Army Commander and a Corps commander in the 1971 war who stood rock-like in the open and stemmed a near rout in the battle of Basantar.

Also missed were many other officers of lesser rank but equal fame. All of them had contributed to the Izzat O lqbal (honour and glory) of the Regiments of Artillery and laid the foundations of a glorious heritage.

Also present at the pensioners’ sammelan and the traditional tiara. kahana during the Reunion were the retired JCOs and other ranks — the men behind the guns whose daring exploits on various battlefields are now legendary. Honorary Captain Umrao Singh is among the last few surviving Victoria Cross winners of World War-II. His heroic act of beating back a Japanese at-tack on his gun position with a hand-spike when he had run out of ammunition is the stuff that regimental legends are made of.

Young Umrao Singh, then an NCO, single handedly upheld the Gunners’ tradition of “fighting to the muzzle” and never letting the guns be captured by the enemy.

A poignant function during the Reunion was the paying of homage at the Artillery War Memorial to the Gunner martyrs who have made the supreme sacrifice on the nation’s battlefields.

The steadfast resolve and heroic courage displayed by the present generation of Gunners at Kargil confirms that the sacrifice of the old topchis has not been in vain.

Every Reunion is a solemn reminder that the big guns of the Regiment of Artillery will continue to maintain a silent vigil on the nation’s frontiers — ready for any eventuality.