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True Tale: The Tiger and the Bayonet

MG is an air warrior and a global traveler who loves to visit and explore new places

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The beginning

Everybody has seen a tiger in the zoo but I daresay hardly anybody would have seen a tiger in the wild. The tiger is the most ferocious of the mammals, with the Bengal tiger taking the cake of being the wildest of them. The Tiger has no competitor, though the lion may be the king of beasts, the Tiger is the king of the jungle. The character of the Tiger in folklore has been immortalized by Rudyard Kipling, a great Englishman who created the character Sher Khan in his monumental work "Mowgli-The Jungle Book."

India is the home of the tiger and thousands of tigers stand out like stars on the Indian wildlife scenario, spread across almost 30 sanctuaries.

Now coming to the Sikh regiment, They hold the pride of place in the pantheon of soldiers in the Indian Army and are the recipients of the greatest number of gallantry awards over the last 150 years. The Sikh Regiment is the most decorated regiment of the Indian Army.

The tale which I am going to relate is not a first-hand experience as I was nowhere close to the scene of action. The tale was told to me by a friend, when we were both admitted to hospital and I was under observation after having ejected from a jet fighter.

Everybody knows what a bayonet is. It is a close-quarter weapon and consists of a sharp knife that is mounted on a rifle. It is the standard accouterment of the infantryman.

The exact date Is not known but I suppose it took place sometime after the British left in 1947. It could have been in the early 50s. At that time 17 Sikh, were asked to proceed close to Agra to carry out some manoeuvers. The commander was Lieutenant Colonel Shamsher Singh. I do not know who Shamsher Singh is but I have read somewhere that he had a big role to play in expelling the Pakistani invaders when they were close to Srinagar. He was now the commander of the Sikh Regiment which had been detailed for exercises in the famous jungles of Shivpuri.

It could have been a routine exercise and ended as all exercises do with cocktails and good food. This was not to be because one of the soldiers of the regiment named sepoy Fauja Singh was involved with a tiger. Fauja Singh had been detailed to work in the officer's mess of the regiment. One fine morning, he found that he had a shortage of firewood. He thought it a good idea to go into the jungle and collect some firewood for the kitchen.

Fauja Singh went into a jungle, this was indeed a foolish thing to do because this particular jungle is the home of many tigers. While he was collecting firewood he heard the roar of a tiger. He looked back and was accosted by a massive tiger. He could make out that she was a tigress and she immediately leaped at the head of the sepoy. He was lucky he was wearing a turban which is the hallmark of Sikhs. Thinking that the turban was the head of the prey the tigress gripped it in its teeth and ran away with the turban into the jungle. In the process, he did not escape being mauled and suffered head injuries. Help was at hand and the soldier was evacuated to the military hospital but he was extremely upset at the loss of his turban.

The brigade commander now came on the scene and he passed the information to all concerned that there was a tigress in the jungle with four cubs. For reasons unknown she had turned into a Maneater and as per the brigade commander, two villagers in the local village had been killed and eaten by her just two days back. The name of the brigade commander was Brigadier Danny Mishra.

The regiment continued its training schedule and after it was over a meeting was held in the field officers' mess. In the meeting over a glass of beer Danny Mishra dropped a bombshell. He told Shamsher Singh to make a plan to kill the tigress as she was a Maneater and could kill many more villagers.

"Sure sir," Shamsher Singh replied

Brigadier Danny Mishra smiled and said, " Shamsher it's very easy to kill a tiger with guns and bullets. I suggest that soldiers under your command kill the tiger with a bayonet. No bullet will be fired; are you game for it?".



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Killing the tigeress

Considering the circumstances Shamsher obviously could not say no. He had his reservations about killing a tiger with a bayonet but then he just nodded his head in acquiescence. So the game was afoot and plans were made to bayonet the tiger to death. Shamsher Singh held a meeting with his JCO's and soldiers and passed instructions that the Brigade Commander had said that the tiger was to be killed but no gun or bullet would be fired and it had to be bayonetted to death. He further told the gathering that this was the best thing to do and reminded them that the great warrior Hari Singh Nalwa had killed a tiger with his bare hands. This was basically to bolster the morale of the soldiers, many of who were not happy to face a ferocious tigress only with a bayonet.

Shamsher Singh also announced that all the soldiers who take part in this exercise would not carry any ammunition. This was his method of ensuring that the orders of the brigade commander were carried out in the spirit in which they had been given. He also announced that the operation would begin at first light.

The next morning the brigade commander and select troops of the Sikh regiment formed a semicircle and began to move into the jungle. None of the soldiers carried any ammunition and all they carried was the .303 rifle fixed with a bayonet. The soldiers made tedious progress as the area had thick jungles and the terrain was rough.

As the Sikhs move forward they also shouted their war cry, "Jo Bole so Nihal Sat Sri Akaal" ( victory to the guru). This war cry resounded in the jungle and the tigress would have heard it. She was an intelligent animal and she escaped deeper into the jungle.

The soldiers reached the cave of the tigress and Shamsher Singh told two of his men to go inside. A powerful torchlight was beamed into the cave and two soldiers went inside and announced that the tigress was not there. They however found three cubs of the tigress who were taken by the Sikhs in their arms. The turban was also found there and it was duly collected and handed over to the sepoy in the Military Hospital. He was delighted to get it back.

Two of the soldiers were instructed to take the tiger cubs to the officer's mess and feed them milk. After the operation was over the tiger cubs were handed over to the Agra zoo.

The Sikh soldiers again made a semicircle and began to move deeper into the jungle led by lieutenant colonel Shamsher Singh. The officer commanding was also carrying a rifle without bullets.

One of the sepoys of the regiment named Sucha Singh was however more excited than the others. He moved a little faster than the others and went slightly ahead. This was a dangerous thing to do but in his excitement to kill the tigress with the bayonet he pressed forward.

Suddenly Sucha Singh heard a sound and then a roar from inside some bushes. In a moment the tigress appeared and leaped towards him. Sucha Singh held his rifle in the classic pose of the infantryman with the bayonet pointing forward. He saw the tigress roaring and running towards him. The sound of the roar reached the other soldiers who realized that Sucha Singh was not with them and they rushed to find him.

Everything happened in a split second as the tigress leaped towards the head of Sucha Singh. The brave soldier held his rifle steady and the bayonet sank into the body of the tigress. Later it came to light that it had pierced the heart of the tigress. However the momentum of the tigress was so much that she carried Sucha Singh to the earth with the Bennett fixed in her body.

Sucha Singh thought he would die but surprisingly the tigress began to gasp for breath. In meanwhile Shamsher and the other soldiers reached the scene and began to bayonet the tigress.

A couple of soldiers lifted the tigress from Sucha Singh and helped him get up. The bayonet was pulled out and it was found to be slightly bent. But it had done its job and a tribute to the Indian ordinance factory which manufactures them. Brigadier Danny Mishra was delighted and made a report and sent it to headquarters recommending a gallantry award for Sucha Singh and a commendation letter for Shamsher Singh.



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Epilogue

Well now I come to the last part of the story rather, the true tale. Sucha Singh made history as the first and only man in the world to have bayonetted a tiger to death. The bayonet and rifle were kept in the regimental museum and the tiger skin adorns the wall of the officers mess.

Nine years went by and Shamsher Singh rose to become the Colonel Commandant of the Sikh Regimental Centre. Sikh soldiers who retire from service make a last visit to the Regimental Centre to complete their documentation and go home. They also have an interview with the Colonel Commandant.

One day Shamsher Singh was sitting in his office and one by one the soldiers were coming saluting him for a last meeting and then going away. He was taken aback when one of the soldiers who came up and saluted him was none other than sepoy Sucha Singh, now a Havaldar.

He was delighted to see him and straightaway asked, " you are the same man who killed the tigress?"

"Yes Sir"

"Good! my man, I am not letting you go home. I am going to make you a junior commissioned officer. He instructed the staff officer to cancel the retirement order of Sucha Singh and promote him as a JCO. He sent his report to the headquarters stating that a man who killed a tigress with a bayonet certainly deserves to be made JCO.

Sucha Singh continued in service. All this is a long time back and maybe I have missed some small points but it is enough to enthuse people like me to remember that bravery has many forms.

Comments

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on July 18, 2020:

Thank you, Anupam, for sparing time and commenting

Anupam Mitu from MUMBAI on July 18, 2020:

Fascinating story. Loved the bravery of Sucha Singh and Samsher Singh.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on May 29, 2020:

Thanks, TOM, a great suggestion which I shall follow up.

TOM JOSE on May 28, 2020:

thank you sir,please describe your real life air force career like types of aircraft flown

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on May 28, 2020:

Thank you Manatita, nice of you to have commented

manatita44 from london on May 28, 2020:

Very interesting tale and told quite well. A daring man!

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on May 27, 2020:

Thank you Pamela. I also feel sad that the tigress had to be bayoneted to death. But she had become a man eater and many more villagers may have been killed.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on May 27, 2020:

A tiger is such a beautiful animal. This story you were told is really interesting. Killing a tiger with a bayonet is kind of sad actually. This is a interesting story, MG.