By Brig. (Retd.) Vijay Atray

Pune. 01 January 2019. Until 1947, when India got independence, Indian Army fought various battles and wars under the flag of British empire . Many books have been written on the heroic deeds and bravery of
Indian soldiers and many countries still pay tribute & show gratitude to them even today. It is well ni possible to narrate their heroic deeds in this article ,so only the total tally has been given out .

Lt Gen Prem Bhagat, PVSM, VC (1)

The British conferred 845 awards , to name a few ,VC, DSO ,MC ,IOM ,OBI ,OBE and many more ,while Russians awarded 6 , French 5 , Belgian 1, Roumanian 2 , Serbian 6 ; all for their act of courage .The Bhutan Govt. awarded ‘ Order of Bhutan ( Druksheng Thukshel) ’ to Brig ( later Maj Gen ) TV Jagannathan who was the first Chief Engineer of Project Dantak &
second Commandant of IMTRAT .

Most noteworthy amongst the gallant sappers is Second Lt (later Lt Gen) PS Bhagat ,on whose memory we celebrate the VC day. The General who was courageous, true leader , visionary and compassionate. He was adored not only by the Bombay Sappers but everyone who came in his contact. The Sikh LI – whose Colonel Commadant he was – worship him like a semi- God even today. What flashes is that in 1987 when Lt Gen Chatterjee was asked to raise Hq 12 Corps , he hand picked nine Bombay Sappers for this task. As a Col Comdt of Bombay Sappers General Bhagat always held a Durbar whenever he was in Pune. A long queue of serving & retired sappers & civilians alike would come to him with their grievances & problems & he would find a soulution pronto. To quote a few ,a store keeper of CME Officers’ Mess who was asked to pay approx. Rs 10,000 for the shortages in his stock approached him & the redress was a call to the Commandant CME ‘ please bill me this amount ‘; the Commadant had no option but to write
off the losses. In another case an EC officer , after being relieved from the army didn’t have a job & approached him. He called up some industrialist & got him a job straightaway. It is a known fact that while on a tour , if 21 Field Company was around then he would forego official dinners & instead dine with the coy. He was awarded Victoria Cross on 10 June 1941 and happen to be the first Indian recipient of the highest gallantry award. ADU has carried many articles on him ,so do visit the site for more on General Bhagat. However,here it is nice to recapitulate his citation for VC, which reads; War Office, 10th June, 1941. His Majesty The KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Victoria Cross to the under mentioned officer: — Second-Lieutenant Premindra Singh Bhagat, Corps of Indian Engineers (serving with Royal Bombay Sappers and Miners). For most conspicuous gallantry on active service in the Middle East. During the pursuit of the enemy following the capture of Metemma on the night 31 January – 1 February 1941, Second- Lieutenant Bhagat was in command of a section of a Field Company, Sappers and Miners, detailed to accompany the leading mobile troops (Bren Carriers) to clear the road and adjacent areas of mines. For a period of four days and over a distance of 55 miles this officer in the leading carrier led the Column. During this period, he himself detected and personally supervised the clearing of no less than 15 minefields of varying dimensions. Speed being essential, he worked at high pressure from dawn to dusk each day. On two occasions when his carrier was blown up with casualties to others, and on a third occasion when ambushed and under close enemy fire he himself carried straight on with his task. He refused relief when worn out with strain and fatigue and with one eardrum punctured by an explosion, on the grounds that he was now better qualified to continue his task to the end. His coolness, persistence over a period of 96 hours, and gallantry, not only in battle, but throughout the long period when the safety of the Column and the speed at which it could advance were dependent on his personal efforts, were of the highest order.

2 / Lt MM Pillai

Yet another story is that of 2 / Lt MM Pillai, who later became the Centre Commandant. He escaped from a prisoner of war camp by hiding and rolling in a drum , suitably disguising himself and mingling with local population .Posing as a merchant , obtained a passport from Japan ,and made his way to Burma. Working on a boat as a cook on a boat and found his way up the Irrawaddy and on reaching Northern Burma he took to the jungle.There he was alone for three weeks ,sick and starving,until finally hegained access into British lines at Fort White. For these remarkable exploits he was awarded the Military Cross.The Military Cross is awarded to the commissioned officers of substantive rank of Captain or below or Warrant Officers for meritorious and distinguished service in battle.

Hony Capt Maruti Yadhav, French Ligion of Honour

The Battle of Neuve Chapelle took place from 10–13 March 1915 in the First World War in the Artois region of France. On 28 th.October 1914, barely a month after arriving from Kirkee, the 20 th. and 21st. Companies supported by the 47th Sikhs and 9 th. Bhopals swept headlong into battle in an assault on the enemy in an infantry role. A vicious encounter ensued with fire from both sides and even hand to hand fighting. Regrettably it resulted in slaughter – almost every officer and over one third of the other ranks were lost. In the Battle Havildar Maruti Jadhav was awarded the Medaille Militaire (French Legion of Honour) for displaying courage and initiative of the highest order. He had taken charge of a Section of Sappers (the term “Section” was changed to “Platoon “ only in 1943). He was Group Subedar Major during 1932-36. Lt Col G H Boileau who led the Field Engineers at Neuve Chapelle later served as the Centre Commandant
in 1921.

General Bhagat is an Icon not only for the Bombay sappers but for the entire Indian Defence Forces. Many of us have kept him as a role model and shaped our career. In a befitting tribute ‘ VC day ‘ is celebrated by the Bombay Sappers every year. The story of 2 / Lt M M Pillai is an inspiration for all of us which gives many lessons to be emulated by the future generations. Havildar Maruti Jadhav raised our head with pride in WW I by winning Medaille Militaire (French Legion of Honour) in the battle of Neuve Chapelle.