Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Remembering the fallen

< 1 minute read

The Indian contingent continues its participation at the annual Anzac Day Parade

“I will not say lest we forget because after 100 years we can say on this day, April 25, 2015, we remember.”

These words by New Zealand Prime Minister John Key aptly described the commemoration of Anzac Day across Australia and New Zealand as the two nations marked 100 years since the Gallipoli landings on the 25th April, 1915.

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In Melbourne, the commemoration began with a moving dawn ceremony held at the Shrine of Remembrance, attended by over 80,000 people. The official wreath laying ceremony was next, followed by the Anzac Day Commemoration March led by World War II veteran Doug Symes.

An official ceremony was conducted with the Governor Alex Chernov, Acting Chief Commissioner Tim Cartwright and Premier Daniel Andrews also in attendance. This official ceremony began as the band played a touching rendition of The Hymn of the Valiant Heart.

In his rather lengthy address, the Governor noted, “There are many virtues and values that we learn from the Anzac stories including courage, endurance and looking after one’s neighbours, particularly those that cannot fend for themselves. Anzac Day reminds us of virtues that spring from the many Anzac stories. Our society, today, is culturally different to the one that gave birth to that vision, nevertheless, the Anzac story continue to unite us in our own memories and reflections on the sacrifices of the men and women who served the nation.”

Among the thousands that braved the wet Melbourne weather to participate in the Anzac March and Ceremony were a group of Indian ex-servicemen. Decorated with medals from their time in the defence forces, the veterans marched along with representatives from various allied nations.

The proud servicemen and women then went on to attend a lunch event that was organised at the Indian Consulate in St. Kilda. Major General Ranjit Nadkarni (Retd) who has the distinction of commanding two infantry battalions, an armored brigade, an infantry division and a special counter insurgency force in the Kashmir valley, was among the distinguished guests.

Speaking about his involvement with the Anzac Day March, Colonel Samir Roychowdhury, who was instrumental in getting everyone together, said, “Each of us has special memories of our time in the defence forces and we feel wonderful to be part of this event every year. Unfortunately, as the years pass and the generations get older, the number of participants has reduced. I am concerned that participation may disappear soon and I am trying my level best to encourage younger people to take over.”

Colonel Nilesh Bansal agreed that the Anzac event enabled people to get together and remember the fallen soldiers. “These events help us to revive our memories of time served,” he said.

Among the distinguished guests, young Kunal Priyadarshi proudly displayed his medals gained during his six-year tenure in the Indian army. He has served in Siachen, the highest combat zone on earth. He moved to Melbourne recently to be with his wife. This was his third year of participation in the Anzac parade.

Anne Kaushal, who travelled from Canberra for the Melbourne parade, proudly wore her late husband’s medals. Commander Rajeev Kaushal from Kerela served in the Indian navy before his untimely demise due to cancer. “I accepted the invitation to come to Melbourne as I wanted to experience the ceremony here. It was heartening to see so many thousands of people turn up despite the bad weather,” she remarked.

Indian Consul General Manika Jain attended the event at the Consulate and spent time talking and sharing stories with the veterans. Shiva Indian Cuisine catered a sumptuous lunch.

According to Col Roychowdhury, the Anzac event is a very well organised event thanks to the Anzac Day committee that meets on regular intervals prior to ensure sound preparation and active participation.

This year the Victorian Police was also out in additional numbers to ensure that Melbournians could pay their respects in a safe and peaceful environment.

The landing at the Gallipoli peninsula by Australian and New Zealand troops in World War I, commemorated as Anzac Day, has become part of the Australia’s national psyche. One hundred years on, however, the extent of the Indian participation in Gallipoli is only now becoming apparent. Some 16,000 Indian troops fought shoulder to shoulder alongside Australian soldiers as part of the Allied forces. They served there from late April 1915 (even landing with the ANZAC troops), stayed through the August offensive, and until the final evacuation in December. Many thousands lost their lives at Gallipoli, and some were even decorated with the Victoria Cross.

It is to remember their sacrifices that Indian contingents in Anzac parades have now become a common sight in every major centre in Australia.

INDIAN LINKS AT GALLIPOLI

7th Indian Mountain Artillery Brigade

Made up of the 21st Kohat and 26th Jacob’s Mountain Battery, this brigade was part of the earliest landings at Gallipoli. It had Punjabi soldiers of Sikh and Muslim faiths (the latter believed to be the only allied Muslim fighters). The Anzac landing at Ari Burnu on the Aegean Sea (Anzac Cove) took place on 25 April 1915 simultaneously with the rest of the allies, including Indian troops, landing further south on the Gallipoli peninsula at Cape Helles.

29th Indian Infantry Brigade

Given the hilly terrain of the region, Ian Hamilton, the general in command of the Gallipoli operation, knew the Gurkhas would be ideally suited in this part of the war. (Gen Hamilton had served in India and risen through the ranks in the Gurkha Regiments, and was a fluent Hindi speaker.) The Brigade had under its command four Infantry Battalions: 14th (King Georges Own) Ferozepur Sikhs, 69th Punjabis, 89th Punjabis, 1/5th Gurkha Rifles (Frontier Force), and the 1/6th and 2/10th Gurkha Rifles. The men of the 29th saw early success at Gallipoli when they captured on 12 May, what is today called the Gurkha Bluff, mostly by scaling the cliffs on their hands and knees. This helped extend the line of allied defences.

The Brigade also saw significant action on 4 June, when the men of the 14th Sikhs fought the Third Battle of Krithia. The highest casualties for India ensued on this day. General Hamilton wrote in tribute:

“In the highest sense of the word extreme gallantry has been shown by this fine Battalion…In spite of these tremendous losses there was not a sign of wavering all day. Not an inch of ground gained was given up and not a single straggler came back. The ends of the enemy’s trenches leading into the ravine were found to be blocked with the bodies of Sikhs and of the enemy who died fighting at close: quarters, and the glacis slope is thickly dotted with the bodies of these fine soldiers all lying on their faces as they fell in their steady advance on the enemy.”

But the Brigade was able to retaliate successfully in counter attacks on 3 and 5 July.

The ‘August offensive’ also saw the Indian troops take to the frontline, with heavy battles on 5 and 6 August, with the climax of the battle of Sari Bair taking place on 9 and 10 August.

On 21-28 August, the Brigade saw subsidiary action during the capture of Hill 60, a position they held until final evacuation in December.

Indian Supply and Transport Corps

The lack of roads necessitated the call for animal transport, which the Indian army fulfilled in terms of over 4000 mules and some 2000 carts, plus drivers. (Animal feed came from India.) The mule trains transported ammunition and supplies to the men in the trenches, often under enemy fire and in cover of darkness.

The 108th Indian Field Ambulance

A medical force travelling aboard the hospital ship Ajax took care of the wounded soldiers. Some historical mention can be found of the “fine courage of the men of the Indian Army Bearer Corps of this field ambulance during the time they were on the Peninsula”, especially during the November blizzards when they themselves suffered from frostbite and exposure.

Source: Gallipoli – A ridge too far by TS Chhina. Paper presented at Australian War Memorial international conference in 2010

Preeti Jabbal
Preeti is the Melbourne Coordinator of Indian Link.

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