A 'Sher' is Born
My parents modern, educated, liberal with modest means were deeply influenced by the Arya Samaj movement in undivided Punjab. My father, eldest of 3 brothers and a sister was born in Bhulwal in Pakistan on 24 Dec1905. He was the first matriculate in his village. My grandfather, who was a cotton merchant, a Hakim and a wrestler fired, a volley from 12 bore gun and laddus were distributed in the entire village on his son's great educational achievement. My father wanted to be a doctor but premature demise of his father shattered his dream as there was no other earning member in the family then. He pursued pharmacist course in Bombay and joined a government job in Civil Hospital in Khushab. My mother was eldest of the 6 siblings-four sisters and two brothers. My maternal grandfather who belonged to Sargodha was a liberal educated young Station Master in British India Railways in Haripur Hazara where my mother was born on 5 Sep 1916. Our parents were married on 18 May 1931. My mother, though married at a very young age, not only reared seven kids but also pursued her studies to become a post graduate in Hindi, beside doing courses in stitching, embroidery and child care. In later years she pursued her passion in Vedic studies and both my parents were Presidents of the local Arya Samaj in Gurgaon. My mother also penned numerous articles that were published in various magazines on Vedic thoughts & so also on the uplift of down trodden women. While my father took great interest in construction of DAV School in the Urban Estate, Gurgaon and running of charitable dispensary, my mother used to organise collection of cloth and donations to stitch large number of clothing items for various orphanages run by the Arya Samaj. During 1962 war, our parents collected large number of donations of cash and gold for the war effort. These activities of our parents had profound effect on our entire family.
On 17 Jul 1933 our parents were blessed with their first child. When my grandmother excitedly enquired my father about the first delivery and the child, my father proudly said 'Ek Sher paida huwa hai'. From that very moment onwards Prem, their eldest child was nicknamed 'Sher' & our parents addressed each other as 'Sher Di Mata' and 'Sher De Pita' respectively as mark of respect for each other and love for their first child. In fact the entire family irrespective of age or relationship, used to address them as 'Sher de Pita? and ?Sher di Ma?.
Prem being the first eldest child in the entire family was loved and pampered immensely not only by our parents but all the aunts, uncles as well and both the grandmothers. He grew up as a very fair, smart, 6 feet tall, soft spoken, caring, handsome, well mannered young man who excelled both in sports and studies. He did his matriculation at the age of 13 « years and joined Hindu College in Delhi. He was not only good in studies but excelled in athletics, cricket, dramatics, adventure, swimming, photography and reading classics which continued to be his lasting passions in later life as well. Around this time, the partition and independence of the country took place and Prem came under the lasting influence of our awesome maternal uncle Group Captain KL Bhatia, Vir Chakra, who was not only a dare devil ace pilot but a man with dynamic and mesmerizing personality. He was not only the Hero of Burma War and Punch & Uri Battles, but one who had also landed his Dakota aircraft in Leh along with Air Commodore Mehar Singh, Maha Vir Chakra way back in 1948. Our uncle, after the 1948 Indo-Pakistan War, was posted as Station Commander Kheria in Agra, personally groomed and motivated Prem for career in the Armed Forces. Prem joined the Joint Services Wing, then popularly called as the JSW in Dec 50. He excelled in adventure, sports, academics and other extra curricular activities during the training and passed out well above in the order of merit on 4 Dec 1954 from the Military College, Dehradun and commissioned in the 6 th Battalion, The KUMAON Regiment. It was Prem who ignited the love for career in the Indian Army and the KUMAON passion in me. Nothing thrilled me more than to get a telegram from him on my passing out parade saying that I was commissioned in 13 KUMAON of Late Major Shaitan Singh, PVC of the Rezangla fame.
Prem as young Captain in the KUMAON Regimental Centre, Ranikhet
Soldiers' Officer and a Gentleman
Prem was truly a soldier first and then an officer and a gentleman with highest integrity, professionalism and human touch. He attended numerous army courses upgrading his professional and human relations skills. Once when he learnt that a sweeper of his subunit could not afford schooling of his otherwise bright son, Prem as a young subaltern sponsored scholarship from his modest emoluments ensuring the boy not only did his matric but also get a suitable job thereafter. When I was born, Prem was just 9 yrs old looking after the entire family till our mother was discharged from the hospital as our father was very busy getting tentage stitched for the war effort in his modest factory in Kanpur. One day he got late in the evening to carry home cooked dinner for the mother and finding huge gates of the Dufferin Hospital closed, he jumped over the gates with bruises over his body ensuring that our mother gets her dinner in time. He would often give lift on his bike to soldiers, officers and elderly people walking on the road side. I often in night saw him changing nappies and feeding their first baby daughter Archana so that my sister in law could get some much needed rest. In his entire service of 10 years, he served 9 years in the Regiment & the last year doing the prestigious Defence Services Staff College where he met his unfortunate death shattering the entire family, the Regiment and his Paltan 6 KUMAON. For most of his service in 6 KUMAON, he was Adjutant of the Battalion beside being a Company Commander. He excelled in sports, always wining 1 st position in long, high and steeple chase jumps. During his tenure in the KUMAON Regimental Centre under Lt Col Ram Singh as Commandant, he not only trained the recruits well but also was socially very popular. No social function in the Ranikhet Club, Officers Mess or individual officer's house was ever complete with out Prem being the Master of Ceremony. Prem was a unique blend of two extremes. At one moment you will find him well dressed in his black DJ dancing fox-trotting on his favorite tunes, while in the very next moment you could find him sitting with the jawans sipping tea in the mug. He would take no time in reversing his roles. He used to drink very moderately in social gatherings and loved books and smoking. His favorite book was 'Gone With The Wind' that he had read number of times. He was graceful ball room dancer and extensively played bridge, tennis and squash beside the troops' games like football, basketball and hockey. Prem was also instrumental in introducing cricket to recruits.
It is a matter of great pride that during his tenure in the Regimental Centre, he trained large number of recruits to get commission in the armed forces. In fact, he was the main motivational force for me, our cousin Sindhi and many of my friends joining the Armed Forces as commissioned officers. He had a very fine sense of humour. Once his senior who was very fond of him jokingly said, 'Prem one day you will be the Chief of the Army Staff but how I wish your IC No was 7777 and not 7077'. Prem replied Sir, but in that case I would have been junior to 700 officers and thus over age to miss that rank by default. Little did any one then know how tragically this brave soldier's career would end abruptly in a tragic road accident on the last day of his Defence Services Officers Course in Wellington on 27 Feb 1965..!!
Hero of Battle of Walong
6 KUMAON under the command of Lt Col CN Madiah was deployed in the Walong Sector of the then North East Frontier Area (NEFA, now Arunachal Pradesh) where they fought the Chinese at Kibtu and Ashi Hills with astounding grit and determination. During the fierce battle, 6 KUMAON was the only unit of the Indian army to launch a counter attack on the Chinese defences with limited resources but unlimited ferocity and aggression.
The enemy had occupied Yellow and Green Pimples and other dominating heights to outflank 11 Infantry Brigade's defences at Walong, an isolated area from road communication that was then only air maintained. The Paltan was ordered to counter attack and clear the Chinese from these features. The epic battle began on 14 Nov 1962 when 6 KUMAON launched the attack with half its strength without any tangible artillery or air fire support. The fierce attack continued the whole day against very heavy Chinese resistance. Once the ammunition was exhausted, hand to hand battle ensued with both sides suffering heavy casualties. To reclaim the lost ground, the Chinese counter attacked with greater ferocity at Tri junction on night 14/15 Nov. They pressed their attack with human wave after wave coming onto the tenacious hold of the gallant KUMAONIS who pushed back the Chinese during the day and 'ding dong' battle raged throughout the night.
The brave KUMAONI bullas led by their gallant young officers like Prem who remained struck to their ground till 'the last man, last round'. The unrelenting enemy suffered very heavy losses at the hands of gritty KUMAONIS but eventually the enemy succeeded as there were no able bodied KUMAONIS left to defend. Whether it was Major Prem Bhatia, the Adjutant, firing the Light machine Gun or Capt Mathur, 2 Lt AS Khatri, late Lt Bikram Singh killed in the action, Capt BC Chopra, the RMO, late Naik Bahadur Singh and score of unsung heroes of 6 KUMAON who fought like wounded 'Man Eaters' of KUMAON till there was an 'eerie silence'.
It is a matter of great pride that Prem not only kept on fighting in spite of severely wounded but during the previous day, personally hauled countless 3 inch Mortar bombs to the mortar position firing of which mounted enemy causalities that kept them at bay for a considerable period. After the cease fire, Prem though severely wounded refused self evacuation and organised an orderly withdrawal of the left over remnants of the Paltan as all officers senior to him were either taken as prisoners of war ( Ps OW ) or evacuated after having been wounded in earlier actions.
On a final muster, the causalities of 6 KUMAON were placed at 404 : 11 Officers ( killed 2, wounded 5, taken prisoners 4 ); 12 JCOs ( killed 6, wounded 1, taken prisoners 5 ); 381 Other Ranks ( killed 111, wounded 107, taken prisoners163 ). Despite the heavy odds against them, the Paltan fought with boldness that is typical of the KUMAONIs.
For the special acts of gallantry; the following were awarded Vir Chakras:
Major PN Bhatia
Capt RK Mathur
Capt BC Chopra, RMO
2 Lt AS Khatri
Naik Bahadur Singh (posthumously)
The War Memorial built at Walong to honour the fallen comrades carries the following inscription:
A SLEEP IN THE MISHMI HILLS
THE SENTINEL HILLS
THAT ROUND US STAND
WE LOVED OUR LAND
AMIDST SHATTERED ROCK
AND FLAMING PINE
WE FOUGHT AND DIED
ON NAMTI PLAIN.
O LOHIT GENTLY BY US GLIDE,
PALE STARSABOVE SOFTLY SHINE.
AS WE SLEEP HERE
IN SUN AND RAIN.
-BERNARD DOUGAL -
THE BATTLE OF WALONG OCTOBER / NOVEMBER 1962
IN UNDYING TRIBUTE TO OUR SOLDIERS WHO LAID DOWN THEIR LIVES IN DEFENCE OF THE MOTHERLAND.
Maj Prem Bhatia being decorated with Vir Chakra by then President Dr S Radhakrishnan
6 KUMAON celebrates 'Walong Day' every year on the 14 November, so that posterity continues to draw inspiration from the heroics deeds of their predecessors in the service and defence of our nation.
Abrupt Tragic Ends The Illustrious Journey
After the war, Prem was air evacuated to Military Hospital, Lucknow where he was operated upon and 28 splinters were removed from his chest. During his sick leave, a special investiture was held at Rashtrapati Bhawan where along with other awardees he was decorated with Vir Chakra. Having been commissioned in 13 KUMAON of the REZANGLA fame, I had the unique privilege to attend this investiture. This is the time his son Arvind was also born.
Soon after, Prem added another feather to his glorious professional career by qualifying for the Staff Course at Wellington. He had successfully completed the course that finished on 27 Feb 1965 and was waiting for his posting orders that for some reasons had not come. My Battalion after the famous REZANGLA Battle had moved to Gaya as our peace station. On 1 March 1965 as I stepped out of my room to appear in our Retention Examination, the world for me, our family and the Regiment shattered. The Duty Clerk gave me a telegram regretting that Prem had died the previous day of road rage accident. A truck coming down the hill with engine switched off had rammed his scooter on that fateful Sunday morning with fatal head injury around 1000 hours on his way to Ooty Railway Station where he had gone for booking his luggage. For our family specially all the brothers and sisters, our old parents, my sister in law and her kids Archana and Arvind the world seemed then had come to an abrupt unexpected and devastating end. We were indeed shattered and till date not been able to reconcile with the rudest of the shocks that hit us unexpectedly and most devastatingly.
It is a matter of great pride that Prem's son Arvind got commission in his father's Paltan, 6 KUMAON in Dec 1983, while daughter Archana got married to an officer from the DOGRA Regiment. After successful command of the 6 KUMAON, Arvind has done Higher Defence Management Course and now posted in Headquarters Delhi Area as Colonel Q, while Archana and family are well settled abroad.
Knowing Prem was the greatest treasure and losing him the sharpest shooting pain. So this is the story of Late Major Prem Nath Bhatia, Vir Chakra, Hero of Walong, soldiers' soldier, sportsman, an officer and a gentleman, an illustrious son, brother, husband, father and above all a compassionate human being with infinite integrity, patience, missionary zeal, cheerfulness, purity of thoughts, conduct, absence of animosity and vanity that will inspire BHATIA Clan and the KUMAON Regiment for generations to come
Copyright ? 2008 Col N N Bhatia (Retd). All Rights Reserved.