Tuesday, June 19, 2012

1947 Gallantry awaits Recognition

Col Harwant Singh (retd) is an unsung hero of Independent India’s first battle. Belonging to Toor Banjara village of Sangrur district, he was commissioned in 1941 and served with 2nd (Royal) Sikhs in North Africa and Italy, winning Military Cross at the Battle of Poggio San Giovsnni in the later campaign. Transferred to the 1st Battalion, he commanded a rifle company in the famous airlift to Srinagar that saved the Kashmir Valley from the depredations of the Pakistani- sponsored tribal invasion.

After Lt Col Ranjit Rai was killed in action at Baramulla while leading a tactical withdrawal at the Shalateng Spill Way, he (Maj Harwant Singh) instead took them to more suitable forward position near Pattan and occupied defences there on both sides of the road. The advancing raider’s convoy was ambushed and their forward movement repulsed, thus saving the Srinagar airfield and enabling the build-up of the Indian forces. A remarkable feat for the young officer with only six years of service.

The Pakistani forces were never able to threaten Srinagar and the Valley there after. However, Col Harwant Singh never got any recognition for his gallantry and leadership which saved the day for the country. Now nearing 92, he lives quietly in Patiala, indulging in his passion for military history and providing a visible symbol of heroism to inspire young soldiers.

It would be in the fitness of things for the country to recoganise his services even at this late juncture with a suitable award.

By MS Bajwa, From HT Live Chandigarh, 19 May 2012

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