Old Warrior: Subedar Major (Honorary) Capt Balwant Singh (Retd)

Col N N Bhatia (Retd)

On the onset, I seek a qualified apology without antagonizing some of my friends and readers beseeching about my writings about lesser mortals and unknown, unwept, unhonoured and unsung soldiers. Military authors generally write biographies of Generals and Marshals and their military campaigns but seldom about personnel below the officers’ rank. An attempt has been made to highlight achievements of one of the unassuming heroes of our peacetime soldiering Subedar Major (Honorary) Captain Balwant Singh (Retd) of 13 KUMAON, the Battalion where I was commissioned in 1963. The last I met him was during the Golden Jubilee Celebrations of ‘The Rezang La Battle’ in 13 Kumaon held from 15 Nov2012 to 19 Nov 2012 at unit’s new peace location that was attended by the Colonel of the Regiment and many old officers, Junior Commissioned Officers, Other Ranks and war widows.

Balwant Singh was born on 31 Jul 1929 in the village Majra Shieoraj in the district Rewari though his official date of birth listed at the time of his recruitment was 18 Mar 1930, as in the villages in those times no correct records of births and deaths were maintained. His father’s name was Ramji Lal and that of his mother Hardei Devi. They had nine siblings 5 sons and 4 daughters. Balwant was the fifth in the hierarchy and the second eldest out of the 5 sons. His parents were farmers but his great grand father had served in 94 Russell’s Brigade in Egypt. While all the four sisters were married in their early age, the sons had settled as under:-

Sub (Clk) Ram Kumar retired from the Army Ordnance Corps.

Sub Maj (Hony) Capt Balwant Singh retired from 13 Kumaon.

Master Munshi Ram- was 6’ 4’’ tall, a graduate, life long bachelor, a national level volley ball player retired as the primary school teacher and was involved in local politics and social work. 

Sub Maj (Hony) Capt Bhoop Singh retired from the Regiment of Artillery.

Balwant Singh passed matriculation in 1947 and joined college in 1st year (FA). Under the influence of his elder brother Ram Kumar, he got enrolled in the Kumaon Regimental Centre then located in Agra. During midway of their training, the Regimental Centre moved from Agra to its present location at Ranikhet under IC 1 Lt Col (later Major General) K Bhagwati Singh. Balwant was an outstanding recruit and being one of the few matriculates, very popular amongst his peers and instructional staff. After attestation he was posted to 13 Kumaon that was under raising since 5 Aug 1948 under its first Commanding Officer Lt Col HC Taylor at Kanpur and posted in the 3inch’ Mortar Platoon. After 1 year he was posted to ‘C ‘Company.

 Balwant got married with Ms Sharda Devi at very young age. He was blessed with two sons Satish, who looks after land / property and Prem who died very young. His two daughters Nirmal is Principal of Higher Secondary school in Rewari while Suman is also a teacher in Mohindergarh. Nirmal’s son and daughter both are doctors.

 Balwant did Drill Instructor’s Course in 1952 at the Indian Military Academy (then called Military Wing) and was retained there only as Drill Instructor for 1 year. He attended three Physical Training, popularly called PT Courses –Short, Basic and Long Courses, Platoon Weapons, General Intelligence Course for the Non Commissioned Officers (GICN), Field Security Course, Air Photo Interpretation Course and Interrogation Course. It is a matter of pride that in all the Army Courses that he did, he was awarded AXI grading. He had a very long tenure as instructor in the Intelligence School where he taught foreign students in English. Since only Jemadar (later rechristened as Naib Subedar) could go as Instructor in the Intelligence School, Havildar Balwant Singh with just 10 years service was   given special one time promotion by the Army Headquarters that was not to be quoted as precedent, to utilize his services in the Intelligence School. Gen RK Khanna once told me that Balwant gave him and Lieut BS Lamba (later Brig) such a tough pre course training for the Platoon Weapons Officers (PWO) Course as a Young Officers that both of them got AXI grading and they both owe their performance to Balwant only. Who so ever he gave pre course training in the Battalion, got above average grading on the courses resulting in galaxy of AXI NCOs and JCOs in the Battalion.  After long tenure in the Intelligence School, he was posted in A Company as Senior JCO in Darbuk in 1963. In 1965 he was again posted back to Intelligence School as Instructor on the request of the Commandant of the School. In between he had 3 months short tenure in the National Cadet Corps (NCC) Bhiwani to adjust his seniority for the next rank. He became the 7th Subedar Major of 13 Kumaon on 6 November 1972 during the command of Lt Col (later Brig) RV Jatar and retired from active service on 31 August 1976. After his retirement, he was appointed Assistant Recruiting Officer (ARO) in Gwalior for a few years. He also worked as the Security Officer in Sehgal Paper Mills in Dharuhera for a while and earned management’s appreciation in optimizing company’s security needs. Thereafter, he took the cause of Rezangla Shaurya Samiti with a missionary zeal and is still going strong with his commitment and conviction towards his undertaken cause.

 Rezangla Shaurya Samiti 

In the Battle of Rezangla in 1962 against the Chinese hordes, 114 Ahirs out of a total of 123 of the ‘C’ Company, 13 KUMAON were killed. The casualties on the Chinese side were estimated to be more than 1500. Most of the 13 KUMAON soldiers came from the Ahirwal region of Haryana (Rewari and Mahendergarh districts). Though Rezangla Memorial had been erected in Chushul at the site of cremation of the martyrs, a Memorial has been constructed near Dharuhera Chowk in Rewari city by the Rezangla Shaurya Samiti based at Rewari. Every year on 18 November, memorial function is held by the Samiti in collaboration with District administration and the Kumaon Regiment lest the posterity forgets ‘The Battle of Rezangla’ with great gusto and solemnity. Subedar Major (Honorary Captain) Balwant Singh is deeply involved in these activities where while the martyrs are remembered and honoured, their war widows’ are cared and their personal, domestic, financial and health related problems resolved.

To raise the celebrations to the national level and broaden its activities to cover the educational, health, financial and welfare needs of the martyrs’ families, Rezangla Shaurya Samiti was established in 1993-94. The Samiti’s first President was Colonel Rao Ram Singh, a prominent retired parashooter turned politician and social worker. Balwant Singh is one of its three dynamic founding Vice Presidents. The Samiti is doing yeoman service for the welfare of the martyrs’ families and ex-servicemen. As visionaries, the office bearers of the Samiti have widened its scope by adding martyrs of militancy with in the country and various other wars fought by the troops of the region and adopting their families for all sorts of help enumerated above. With the recent death of Colonel Rao Ram Singh, the Samiti needs to look for an equally dynamic President to accomplish its mission.

Every year Balwant Singh helps in organizing Rezangla Day celebrations in Rewari and for his age he is very, very active and meticulous in identifying pressing needs of each war widow in his area and inviting  all 13 KUMAON Officers, JCOs and men personally living in the NCR and beyond. Over the years the Rezangla Day celebrations every year on 18 November took ugly political turn where local politicians notoriously started grinding their axes for quick political gains. The martyrs and their widows who should always be nation’s prime focus were given back seat over the local politicians for escapist glory. The retired veterans of the Battalion were really disturbed and started avoiding annual celebrations on 18 November at Rewari every year. Many senior retired and middle level officers of the Battalion notably Major General Gurdeep Singh, Major General RK Khanna and my humble self and the introspection by the likes of Subedar Major (Honorary Capt) Balwant Singh, late Colonel Rao Ram Singh and other members of the Rezanla ensured that this major event in the Ahirwal belt remained solemn and apolitical as stepping out of line celebrating such solemn military functions would equally be incorrect politically. As a nation we need to demonstrate our respect, love and pride towards those who sacrificed their lives for our safer tomorrow. The nation must know that soldiers live and die for three words- Naam (Honour), Namak (loyalty) and Nishaan (Identity).

In one similar occasion a few years back, the Rezangla Shaurya Samiti had invited Marshal of the Indian Air Force Arjan Singh, DFC at Rewari and I had most memorable interaction with the living legend sharing anecdotes about my late uncle Group Capt KL Bhatia, Vr C of Uri , Leh, Badgam fame in 1948 and had served under him when he was the Station Commander IAF Agra Station in 1948.

The Rezangla Day Celebrations November 2011 

Unlike in the past, the last Rezangla Day Celebrations at Rewari was held on 21 Nov 2011. The reason being the 50th anniversary of this historic battle would be celebrated on 18 Nov 2012 and both 13 KUMAON and the Colonel of the Regiment (COR) wanted to give a head start for year full of preparations and celebrations next year.

The other reason and most important one was that the COR planned to lay a wreath at the Memorial in Chushul on 18 Nov2011 to pay homage to our martyrs. The next day, he wanted to spend with the Battalion deployed in Batalik in the same theatre. It really was most admirable that the COR who was attending an international conference in UK 2 days before 18 Nov 2011, flew over 5000 km to grace the occasion. Therefore, the celebrations at Rewari could not be earliest than 21 Nov 2011.

I had driven down to Hazira by road to be with our son and grand children on12 Nov. We drove back on 18 Nov and wished Brig Patil, who had commanded 13 KUMAON in the past and was now Commander 30 Infantry Brigade in Udaipur, greetings on Rezangla Day who made most comfortable over night stay for us in MES IB in the beautiful Udaipur Cantonment. The next day on 19 Nov we had a LONG drive from Udaipur to Noida and we reached home dead tired around 2300 hrs. I had decided NOT to attend Rezangla Day function on 21 Nov at Rewari to overcome driving fatigue.

But at 0415 hrs on 20 Nov morning Sub Maj Balwant Singh who was keeping tag on my movements, desired that I MUST attend the function being observed the very next day. Before leaving for Hazira, I had a talk with Maj Gen RK Khanna, VSM (Retd) and he desired we both travel together to Rewari on 21 Nov 2011. When I told him about our Hazira trip, he desired I shorten the trip and reach back a day early. That I did, and to check back, he too rang me around 0430 hrs early in the morning on 21 Nov 2011. Though, initially I was bit reluctant, I could not ignore ‘diktats’ of my former Sub Maj and the General Officer of the Battalion.

I and Gen Khanna drove down to Rewari in the foggy morning reaching there by 1100 hrs. Due to heavy fog, the COR could not fly by chopper to Rewari from Delhi along with the chief guest Lt Gen SK Singh, the VCOAS who till few days back was the Army Commander of the South Western Command. Being an 8 GR Officer, he as GOC 14 Corps took keen interest in the upkeep of Rezangla and 8 GR Memorials at Chushul. Also present were the GOC of 33 Armoured Division and Officers, JCOs and Jawans of 54 Armoured Regiment who had organised the entire programme at Rewari. The present CO of 13 KUMAON Col Nikhil Srivastava and his Subedar Major were present too and so was the Deputy Commandant of the Kumaon Regimental Centre Colonel Vijay Khanna who is also an old 13 KUMAON Officer. Brig Sherawat (13 KUMAON) attending National Defence College (NDC) also came. Though, there are many ex 13 KUMAON Officers in the NCR, amongst the retired Officers only me, Chandu, Gen Khanna and Shekhu (Lt Col Shekhawat, SM, ex Commanding Officer) who drove down from Jaipur, were present. In fact, I feel not only 13 KUMAON Officers but all retired and serving KUMAONI Officers in the NCRs should be invited for this national level function. Since War widows come, wives of serving and retired Regimental Officers could also join such functions. The DM and the SSP of Rewari along with late Col Rao Ram Singh with Rezangla Shaurya Samiti office bearers, prominent citizens, Sainik School Rewari and Holy Child School students and media were equally present in fairly big strength. There were many ex-servicemen and war widows too gracing the occasion. The wreaths were laid and the Last Post sounded by buglers of 9 KUMAON really stirring the souls of every one present.

The wreath laying was followed by formal function in the adjoining ground of the Holy Child School. Two girl students of the Holy Child School sang ‘Aye Mere Wataon ke logeon’ that made the occasion very solemn. Mementos were exchanged and inspiring speeches to motivate young generations were made. Lunch was laid in the spacious and well laid lawn of the Kanina House of Col Rao Ram Singh. Besides Balwant, I met many veterans of 13 Kumaon – Hony Capts Hira Lal, Chandagi Ram, Nand Kishore and likes of Ram Chander Nambardar, dholia Balbir of Rezangla Company and many whose names I may have forgotten with age but never their wrinkled faces and glowing eyes with pride and old memories of good and bad days shared together in various operational and peace locations serving together.

For a change, the celebrations were a political and well organised. The function ended with every one present for the occasion singing National Anthem and with famous gifted’ Rewari Ki Mashoor Barfi’ by Gen Khanna to me, we both drove back homes with endless reminiscences that I would have ever regretted but for the early morning phone calls of Sub Maj Hony Capt Balwant Singh and Gen RK Khanna on 20 and 21 Nov respectively.

Old age embellishes everything. It has the effect of the setting sun on the beautiful twilight of the autumn. It is by growing old that one learns to remain young. Perhaps this is the living philosophy of Balwant too… And stories like of Balwant never get outdated. For a man of high ideal, organizing capabilities and integrity, organizing Rezangla Day celebration every year is his undying commitment with a missionary zeal towards his Paltan, its martyrs and the war widows. Honouring such amazingly exceptional men whose deeds honour the martyrs, war widows and their families, always need recognition for ever.

 Writing about Balwant Singh, I wonder I need to seek any apology without antagonizing any one any more…!!!

 Col NN Bhatia was commissioned in 13 Kumaon in 1963. He commanded 2 Kumaon (Berar), which is one of the oldest Indian Army battalions. After retiring from the Army, he served in the Intelligence Bureau specializing in the industrial security & conducted security audits of large numbers of vital installations. He is a free lance Industrial Security Consultant & prolific writer on matters military & industrial security. He is deeply involved in release of 54 Indian POWs languishing in Pakistani jails since 1971 War. He can be contacted on narindra_bhatia@hotmail.com & Mob No +91 9818044762. 

One comment

  1. Brig (Retd ) Vijay Atray /

    Very well written account of a great soldier Hony Capt Balwant Singh & the Rewari Razangla celebrations.Nini ji is a gifted writer who has the gift to immortalise the subject with his writings.

    I happen to have visited the 13 Kumaon Memorial 3-4 times during 1984 -85 when my Regt was constructing pre fab shelters at Chushul.I always stopped there & saluted the brave soldiers who laid their lives at Razangla.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this:
Visit Us On FacebookVisit Us On TwitterVisit Us On YoutubeVisit Us On Google PlusCheck Our Feed