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Respect the Veteran: A Tale of Indian Soldiers Who Won the Victoria Cross

MG is a senior air warrior who is an alumnus of the Staff College and a notable writer on military history.

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Indian Army and the Raj

The Raj was a period in world history that will remain forever. It was the period when the British power was omnipresent in India and generally is considered to have commenced after the Battle of Plessey in 1757 to 1947. During this period the British laid the foundation of the present Indian army which during the days of the Raj was known as the British Indian army. Credit must go to the British who created one of the finest fighting machines in the world and used it to further their imperialistic designs on a global scale. For a period of over 150 years, the British Indian army was used in conflicts like the Opium wars in China, the Boxer rebellion. The capture of Zanzibar, the Afghan wars, and two world wars.

World War II was a high watermark of the use of the Indian army and 2.5 million soldiers fought for the Empire and helped defeat the Axis. The Indian army's contribution was significant to win the war in favor of the Allies. Many Indian soldiers were honored by the British with the Victoria Cross, the highest award for valor on the battlefield. The Victoria Cross was introduced by a Royal Warrant by Queen Victoria on January 29, 1856. This tale concerns a few of these brave men whose experience is recounted in subsequent paragraphs.



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Respect for the Victoria Cross


I will relate an interesting tale that is sure to stir the heart of any person who knows the value of a soldier and a veteran. The tale was related to me first hand by a man who was present at that time. In 1995, the British celebrated the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II and the victory of the British over Hitler and Nazi Germany. For this celebration, the British did not overlook the stellar role of the Indian army and a delegation of Indian veterans who had fought in the great war were invited to England to take part in the celebrations.

The delegation consisted of four Army officers along with a General. Also included was Honorary Captain Umrao Singh(1920-2005) who had won the Victoria Cross. Umrao Singh was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George VI at Buckingham Palace on the 16th October 1945.

These gallant soldiers had taken part in the Second World War. Umrao Singh Yadav was an Indian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. He was the only non-commissioned officer in the Royal Artillery or the Royal Indian Artillery to be awarded the Victoria Cross during the Second World War, and the last survivor of only 40 Indian soldiers to be awarded the VC.

After the inaugural session was over these 4 soldiers stepped outside and were waiting to cross the road. They were waiting for the traffic to ease so they could cross the road. Honorary Captain Umrao Singh, was along with these soldiers and he was displaying the VC on his breast.

As the traffic was heavy they could not cross the road and waited patiently. They hoped they would get a chance to cross the road when all of a sudden a car which was moving on the road suddenly halted. This surprised the Indian soldiers as they had not expected a car to stop in the moving traffic.

The soldiers were extremely surprised when an immaculately dressed man stepped out of the car. The man walked briskly towards the 4 men and reportedly said, “Sir, may I have the privilege of shaking hand with the Victoria Cross?”

He held out his hand and shook the hand of Captain Umrao Singh. It was apparent that the man sitting in the car had espied the Victoria Cross pinned on the breast of Umrao Singh. After shaking hands with Umrao Singh he addressed the general and enquired if he was from the Indian army. The general replied, " yes sir." He enquired the name of the gentleman and was surprised when the man said he was Micheal Hazeltine.

The Indian soldiers were aware they were talking to the Deputy Prime Minister of the British government. They were astounded that such a high functionary of the British government had stopped his car and got out just to shake hands with the VC winner.

The Indian veterans were overawed by this display of chivalry by the second-highest man of the British government. The general was at a loss as to what to say and only thanked the Deputy prime minister for inviting them to the VE day celebration.

The further words of Micheal Hazeltine astounded the Indian soldiers. He reportedly said, "General, it is we the British, who should be grateful to your country and your Armed Forces, who had helped us win both the first and the second World wars. How can we be ever so ungrateful to forget your country’s great contribution."


As this conversation was going there no commotion or sound but the Indian soldiers observed that traffic was piling up behind the Deputy PM's car. The reply of Hazeltine further astounded them as the Deputy PM said, “Sir, how dare I drive off when Victoria Cross has to cross the road.”

The soldiers realized that the Deputy PM would not move till they crossed the road. So they quickly crossed the road. The Deputy PM waited till they had crossed the road and then waved to the men and drove off and the traffic that had piled up behind his car also cleared.



Epilogue

This is a small incident but has a poignant meaning and shows the men who matter and know the world realize the contribution of the Veteran. There are many who sometimes make disparaging remarks against veterans but thankfully they are in minority. Just for the record UmraoSingh retired from the Indian army in 1968 and passed away in 2005.

Comments

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 26, 2021:

Thank you, Linda, your comment is greatly appreciated

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on March 25, 2021:

This is an interesting story. Thank you for sharing it. The Indian Army deserves a great deal of respect.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 25, 2021:

Thanks for the correction

Vanita Thakkar on March 25, 2021:

Thanks, MG Singhji. A little correction in my name - it is Vanita :) :)

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 24, 2021:

Vinita, loved your comment. Thank you.

Vanita Thakkar on March 24, 2021:

Interesting and important facts in this article, that make us feel proud of our Indian soldiers. They truly deserve respect and remembrance. Thanks for sharing.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 22, 2021:

Thanks, Tom, lt gen Lakhera was a distinguished soldier. At least he was appointed governor.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 22, 2021:

Thanks, Tom, General Bhagat was given a raw deal by the Indian government

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 22, 2021:

Thanks, Tom, Khudad Khan is respected in Pakistan and his statue adorns the entrance to GHQ of Pak Army in Rawalpindi. Indians were not awarded VC by the British till I think 1913. The Indian government has been very tardy in recognizing the feats of the Indian soldiers during the days of the British era. Much of this nonsense is at the door of the Congress party and pundit Nehru.It is always a pleasure to read your comments.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 22, 2021:

Tom, thanks for commenting. Thank god, the Indian government at least awarded him the Padma Bhusan.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 22, 2021:

Tom, Umrao Singh is a common name in the north. thanks for commenting.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 22, 2021:

Thanks, Tom, thanks for the info on Hazelstine.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 22, 2021:

Devika, great to read your comment and the sentiments behind it.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 22, 2021:

Pamela, so glad you enjoyed the article.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 22, 2021:

emge thank you for a well-written hubs. Indian soldiers deserve respect for what they give in a country.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 22, 2021:

That is a good story of respect for the soldiers, that give so much. I really enjoyed reading this article. Thank you, MG.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on March 21, 2021:

Thank you Lt Col. It is a pleasure to read your comment.

Lt Col Parduman Singh on March 21, 2021:

Liked your article. Just about shows how much respect the British have for the Indian army. Unfortunately, the trend among the younger generation is pretty disparaging of the soldiers, not realizing that their freedom is the result of the rifle he handles.

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