CHIVALRY


Story of The Sikh Light Infantry

Contributed*

The Sikh Light Infantry of the Indian Army comprising Mazhabi and Ramdasia Sikh soldiers, well known for their dauntless daring, courage, loyalty and tenacity, is one of the oldest Regiments of the Army. It traces, its origin to the middle if the nineteenth century when the first Mazhabi soldiers into the British Indian Army.

The Mazhabi, an important and integral section of the Sikh community, are the descendents of Bhai Jiwan who, lifted the decapitated body of Guru Tegh Bahadur from in front of the Kotwali in Chandni Chowk, Delhi where the Ninth Guru had been beheaded under orders of the Moghul Emperor. In recognition of his services, devotion and loyalty, Jiwan and his clan were called Mazhabis (the religious) and their descendents assumed this title. The Mazhabi Sikhs were great warriors and formed part of the Army of Guru Gobind Singh. Later, they stood in the front-lines of the Khalsa Army which was reared, nurtured and strengthened into an excellent instrument of war by Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

The first Corps of Mazhabi Sikh Pioneers, the forbearer of the Sikh Light Infantry, was formed in 1850, the recruits were taken largely from the soldiers who had been in the Sikh Army. The British had recognized the great fighting qualities and prowess of these men-at-arms. As the British steel clashed with these soldiers in the Anglo-Sikh Wars, they were amazed at the stubborn and sustained resistance offered by these Sikh soldiers who were tough and tenacious and made very few demands.

The Raising : In June 1857, it was agreed in principle to raise a Regiment of Sikh Pioneers from the Mazhabi and Ramdasia soldiers drawn mainly from the Punjab and the adjacent areas in Rajasthan. Lt. D C Home, V C, riased the 6th and 7th Companies of the 24th Sikh Pioneers (later converted into 32nd Sikh Pioneers comprising the Mazhabi soldiers, tall, tough and of proven mettle. The 8th and 9th Companies were composed largely of Ramdasia soldiers.

But the first regular Regiment originally known as the 15th (Pioneer) Regiment of Punjab Infantry was raised at Lahore on 15 September 1857 by Lt R H Shebbeare, VC. After a number of changes, this 15th (Pioneer) Regiment came to be known as the 23rd Sikh Pioneers in 1908. This was followed by the 32nd Sikh Pioneers. The 23rd and the 32nd Regiments gave such an excellent account of themselves, establishing outstanding standards, that it was decided to raise another Regiment of Sikh Pioneers. The 34th Fatehgarh Levy which  had been disbanded, was reconstituted as the 34th Sikh Pioneers on 28 March 1887. Thus, the well known trio of Sikh Pioneers which won undying fame through their deeds of glory, was complete.

While the 23rd Regiment retained the loose cotton dress in drab Khaki, with dark claret-brown turbans, the 32nd Regiment took to the scarlet uniform. The 34th Regiment followed the 32nd Regiment. The 32nd Regiment received the motto of the Sikh Pioneers in 1877. The apposite motto of the Corps was Aut viam. Inveniam Aut Faciam, meaning Either find a road or make one. It was claimed that this motto had been faithfully acted upon both in the field and peace services of the Corps. All ranks were presented with badges embodying the new motto to be worn on the pugree: the Subedars had their badges in gold, the Jemadars in silver-gilt and the Sepoys in brass.

The Regiments of the Sikh Pioneers, it has been proudly asserted by their historian, Lt Gen Sir George Mac Munn, were for three quarters of a century in the forefront of almost every campaign “from the China Wall to the Flanders Flats........” The troops of the Regiments were in China, Abyssinia, Afghanistan, Tibet, Ladakh and the erstwhile North West Frontier Province of India. A number of Battle Honours - Taku Forts; Pekin, 1860; Abyssinia; Peliwar Kotal; Charasia; Afghanistan 1878-79; Kabul, 1879; Kalandhar, 1880; and Chitral were bagged by the Sikh Pioneers.

Then came the Great War and the Sikh Pioneers; the 23rd, 32nd and 34th - which were originally one battalion Regiment - were developed into three battalions each. The indomitable men of these battalions went tramping over the battle fields of Egypt, Europe, Palestine and Mesopotamia leaving indelible imprints of their valour wherever they went. The 1/34th was in Festubert, Neuve Chapelle, Ypres and Loos in France, and later in Mesopotamia where the 1/32nd was also present. Once again a number of Battle Honours - Egypt 1916-17, Gaza, Megiddo, Sharon, Nablus, Palestine 1917-18, and Aden emblazoned the glorious record of the Sikh Pioneers. There were no less than nine Sikh battalions serving when Armistice was declared in 1919.

The 1/34th Sikh Pioneers won the coveted title of ‘Royal’ during the Great War. They made a bronze screen with shells and cartridges fired by the enemy in the Great War. The unit armourer and blacksmith made this highly burnished screen which proudly displayed the magnificent achievements of the Sikh Pioneers as epitomised in their Battle Honours. This screen was presented by the 34th Royal Sikh Pioneers to King George V in 1933. It was through the personal intervention of Brig FRK Goadby (32nd Sikh Pioneers) and Lt Gen Sir RA Savory, the first Col of the Regiment, that the historic screen was presented back to the Regiment by Queen Elizabeth II on 4th October 1975. The screen was unveiled by Brig (retd Lt Gen) A K Chatterjee, Col of the Regiment, at a special Durbar on 9 April 1977.

Some of the soldiers of the Pioneer Regiment who did well during the early campaigns and were rewarded for their acts of gallantry were : Sub Maj Natha Singh; Nk Fathe Singh; Sep Khushal Singh; Jemadar Bur Singh; Havildar Gurdial Singh; NK Hutham Singh; Sep Jhande Singh; Sep Hurdat Singh; Sep Buta Singh; Sep Jhanda Singh; Sub Sher Singh; Sub Assistant Surgeon Harnam Singh; Havildar Pala Singh; Sub Sant Singh; Jemadar Mangal Singh; Jemadar Radha Singh and havildar Teja Singh. The Regiment remembers them with pride.

Disbandment & Reraising : 10 February 1933, was a sad day for the Regiment as the Sikh Pioneers were disbanded after eighty years of glorious service. This was essentially a measure of economy especially as the Sappers and Miners were to be augmented with an increased number of Mazhabi Companies. A farewell parade was held at Sialkot on 8 December 1932, when the Sikh Pioneers paraded for the last time. A number of Viceroy’s Commissioned Officers were posted to the Royal Bombay Sappers and Miners, thus forging a close link with the Bombay Sappers Group of the Corps of Engineers.

After eight years, the Sikh Pioneers, like the phoenix arising out of the ashes, were re-raised to meet the urgent and mounting demands of World War II. The Ist Battalion was raised at Jullundur on 1 October 1941. The 2nd and 3rd Battalions were raised at Peshawar and Sialkot on 1 July 1942 and 15 August 1942 respectively.

The re-raised Regiment was known as the ‘Mazhabi’ and Ramdasia Sikhs, a nomenclature which was found uninspiring and cumbersome. No wonder, the Commander-in-Chief, General Sir Claude Auchinleck, wanted this changed and the Director of Infantry, Maj Gen (later Lt Gen) Reginald Arthur Savory was asked to find a suitable name for the Regiment. A Committee was constituted at Army HQ including the Director of Staff Duties and after some alternatives like the Sikh Fusiliers, the Sikh Rifles and the Sikh Grenadiers had been considered and examined, the Sikh Light Infantry, was chosen. This became prevalent from 23 June 1944.

The Burma Front : The newly raised 1st Battalion was flung into the battle-fronts of the 14th Army after three years of being raised. The Battalion was flown to Meiktila (Burma) in February 1945 to join the 17th Division (Black Cat). The soldiers of the Battalion gave ample proof of their mettle, boldness, bravery and valour, fighting in the jungles of Burma for eight months, covering themselves in glory and winning the Battle Honours. “Defence of Meiktila”, “Burma 1942-45"; “Rangoon Road"; “Paybwe” and “Sittang 1945", “Two DSO, one IOM, four MC, three IDSM, seven MM, seven Mentions-in-Despatches and four Certificates of Gallantry were bagged. This was perhaps the largest collection of decoration in any single operation. General Frank Messervy praised the performance of the Ist Battalion and the commendation was conveyed by the Commander-in-Chief, General Sir Claude Auchinleck, to the Commanding Officer of the Ist Battalion.

Raising and Shifting of Centre :  When the Regiment was raised it had no training battalion of its own. The Training Battalion of the Regiment was finally raised at the Jat Regimental Centre, on 31 March 1944. This moved to Lahore on 15 October 1945 and then to Ferozepur in September 1947. From Ferozepur the Regimental Centre came to Meerut where it was amalgamated with the Punjab Regimental Centre in September 1951. Finally, after 11 years of this union the Sikh Light Infantry Regimental Centre was separated and came into its own as an independent centre in April 1963. In May 1976 the Regimental Centre moved to Fatehgarh, the historic fort city, on the banks of Ganga, founded in 1720 by Nawab Mohammad Khan. This was in several ways a nostalgic homecoming for the Regiment. The circle had been completed, for the Fatehgarh Levy, comprising nine Companies had been stationed at Fatehgarh in January 1858 and was given the responsibility of improving the Fatehgarh Fort strengthening its defences and bridging the Ganga. The return of the Sikh Light Infantry was picturised with emotion in a trophy showing mounted Sikh Pioneer led by a Sikh Light Infantry soldier.

The Battalions of the Sikh Light Infantry maintained their traditions of valour and worked with enthusiasm in independent India. The soldiers were now working for their own country and were, indeed, proud of it. Once again they were on all the battle-fronts striking terror in the hearts of the enemy and winning encomiums and laurels galore.

After Independence : In the J & K Operations, the Hyderabad Police Action and the Goa Operations, during the Chinese aggression in NEFA and Ladakh; and on the Western front in 1965; and on both the Eastern and Western fronts in 1971, the soldiers of the Sikh Light Infantry fought and died for their motherland adding glory to their Regiment and winning eternal fame. Likewise, in one of the international peace missions of the Army, in Gaza (1967), the Ist Sikh LI did exceedingly well obtaining the commendation of the Secretary General of the United Nation who recorded his appreciation of the magnificent service rendered by the Battalion at the cost of considerable sacrifice particularly under the very difficult and hazardous conditions of June 1967 and in the course of the grave situation which confronted UNEF.

The 5th Sikh LI was ordered to mount a daring attack on the Chuh-i-Nar post on the November 2 1965. The troops went in shouting the war cry, Bole so ni hal, Sat Sri  Akal ! tearing through heavy artillery fire and an unabating hail of automatic weapons and grenades. NK Darshan Singh was told by one of his men that they had reached a minefield. Defying death he said: “Let us die and clear the way for others to succeed”. This is precisely what he did. His left foot was blown off but he crawled forward. His left forearm was severed but he went on. He took out his hand grenade, pulled out its safety pin with his teeth and lobbed it over into the enemy bunker silencing the Browning machine gun. The task was done. He closed his eyes on the field of glory, urging others to follow the route cleared of mines by his Section. After a ghastly hand-to-hand engagement the Pakistani position was captured under the command of Lt Col Sant Singh who moved from one another bunker to bunker, facing unrelenting artillery and automatic fire. He encouraged his men to clear another objective. Both Lt Col Sant Singh and NK Darshan Singh were awarded the Maha Vir Chakra, the latter posthumously. In the same memorable section Sub Para Singh was awarded the Vir Chakra posthumously.

Sialkot and Bangladesh : The Ist Sikh LI forming part of the 162nd Infantry Brigade spearheaded the attack of the 26th Infantry Division on the Pakistani post at Jundapur in the Sialkot Sector on the night of 7 September 1965. Moving on the Jammu-Miran Sahib-Sialkot axis, the Battalion reached the farthest point in the Sialkot Sector. It was counter-attacked heavily by the Pakistani forces but the battlefield pushed back the enemy assaults. One NCO of the Battalion destroyed a Pakistani Chafee tank, using a platoon anti-tank weapon. He was awarded the Sena Medal. The Battalion was awarded the theatre honour “Sialkot” and won one Vir Chakra (2/Lt VP Singh) three Sena Medals and seven Mentions-in-Despatches.

A number of battalions of the Regiment acquitted themselves with great credit and honour in the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971. The 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th and 10th Battalions fought in the Eastern and Western Sectors registering remarkable victories and performing great acts of gallantry. Brig Sant Singh who, as Lieutenant-Colonel, had won the Maha Vir Chakra in 1965, obtained a Bar to MVC while commanding a sector on the Eastern front where he achieved spectacular results with a mixed force, advancing 36 miles - almost on foot - to secure Mymensingh and Madhopur in eight days. He personally directed the troops exposing himself to enemy medium machine gun fire, displaying conspicuous gallantry, audacity and inspiring leadership.

The 2nd Sikh LI was ordered to capture Durgabarkati,* twelve miles north-west of Jessore, to punch a hole in the Pakistani ring around Jessore. The attack was launched in daylight to facilitate the use of mechanical elements which could break through the stranglehold before the enemy could react and read just his defences. The objective was captured in forty-five minutes. The Battalion was counter attacked four times but it would not give in. The Pakistani efforts were frustrated. The Indian forces could get to the outskirts of Jessore through the gap created by the 2nd Sikh LI. The Pakistanis vacated Jessore in panic on the night of 6 December 1971 last.

In the west, 10 Sikh LI spearheaded the advance of 85 Infantry Brigade through the Sind desert along the railway line Munbaco-Naya-Chor Kajlor the first objective, was overrun on 1 December 1971 and Khokhember Ropar railway station saw enemies blood turn to water with battle cry of Bole so Nihal. By 1700 hours on 7 December, 10 Sikh LI had reached Parche Ji Veri station.

10 Sikh LI was ordered to capture village Parche Ji Veri (Bahadur Nagar) and on night of 14/15 December 1971, the battalion launched its attack. The assaulting companies ran into a minefield and Commanding Officer Lt Col Basant Singh left his post and himself moved up along with his intelligence Officer, late Capt Bahadur Singh. While the Commanding Officer was inspiring his troops, Capt Bahadur Singh, went up to Artillery Officers post and continued to direct artillery fire until hit by an enemy bullet in the head; he died on the spot. The attack went on through the minefields and heavy enemy fire. The enemy fled leaving behind 20 dead, two recoilless guns and a jeep, besides vast quantities of ammunition. The battalion bagged five Vir Chakras, seven Sena Medals and three Mention-in-Despatches.

Also during 1971 Operations, the 4th Sikh LI assault crossing of Madhumati and the bold capture of Arpara by the Battalion led to the surrender of the 9th Pakistan Division. In these operations Sub Sadhu Singh Hira was awarded the Sena Medal while Capt DS Jhinkwan and Hav Sardara Singh were awarded Mention-in-Despatches.

Lt Col HC Pathak of the 8th Sikh LI rallied and led his men to victory in Fatehpur after tough hand-to-hand fighting. The Pakistani mounted several counter-offensives. Maj Tirath Singh was killed in one positions with dogged determination and hurled back the enemy attacks. After ten days of gruesome battles, the Pakistanis had been driven out of the area completely and their Fatehpur post had been seized and secured by the 8th Sikh LI  Lt Col HC Pathak who was awarded the Maha Vir Chakra. Five other officers and men were awarded the Vir Chakra; Maj Ravi Kumar, 2/Lt HP Nayyar (posthumous), Sep Swaran Singh, Sep Buta Singh and Sep Karnail Singh (posthumous). Vir Chakra were also awarded to Maj VK Anand and Sub Pritam Singh (posthumous) of the 3rd Sikh LI and Maj RK Aurora. 2/Lt Behadur Singh (posthumous), and Havildar Prarn Singh of the 10th Sikh LI for their gallant actions in the Punjab and Sind during the 1971 operations.

Most of the battalions have contributed towards defending the country while operating in counter Insurgency Operations, 3, 11 and 14 Sikh Light Infantry have added a new dimension by their courageous operations at Siachen Glacier while the 1st, 7th, 13th and 14th Battalions have contributed towards peace-keeping in Sri Lanka.

The Sikh Light Infantry with its regular Battalions and one Territorial Army Battalion, holding 23 Battle Honours and 521 gallantry awards, occupies a place of pride in the great fighting Regiments of the Indian Army.

 

Thoughts of Guru Nanak