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Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Respect for the Victoria Cross: Can Indians Respect Their War Heroes Similarly?


 There is an interesting tale that is sure to stir the heart of any soldier. In 1995 a delegation of soldiers from India had visited England in connection with the 50th Anniversary celebrations of the victory in Europe during the Second World War.  The delegation consisted of four other Army officers along with a General. These gallant soldiers had taken part in the Second World War.
These four soldiers had just stepped out after attending the inaugural session and were waiting on the roadside for the traffic to ease so as to walk across the road to the vehicle park. Among those with the team was Honorary Captain Umrao Singh, a Victoria Cross winner. The brave soldier is no more.
 As these soldiers were waiting to cross the road when all of a sudden a car moving on the road came to a halt in front of them and a well dressed gentleman stepped out. He approached Umrao Singh and said, “Sir, may I have the privilege of shaking hand with the Victoria Cross?” He shook hands with him. Evidently he had spotted Umrao Singh’s medal from his car and had stopped his car to pay his respect to a winner of the highest gallantry medal of his country.

Then he looked at the General who was the leader of the team and said, “General, you are from Indian Army.” When the General replied in affirmative, he gave out his name, saying that he was Micheal Hazelstine.  The Indian Soldiers were absolutely astounded as the recognition dawned on them that he was the Deputy Prime Minister of UK.   All of them including people like me who came to know of this incident were totally overawed by such courtesy shown by a dignitary of the second highest status in the British Government and humbly thanked him for having invited the delegation for the VE Day function. Again his reply was typical of his sagacity, “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.” Suddenly the Indian soldiers became conscious that all the traffic behind his car had come to stand still. The General as head of the team hurried to thank him and politely requested him to move along to relieve the traffic hold-up. He stated, “Sir, how dare I drive off when Victoria Cross has to cross the road.”

Realizing his genuine feeling the Indian soldiers   quickly crossed the road. Reaching the other side they looked back and saw that Mr. Hazelstine was still standing waiting for the Victoria Cross to be safely across. Gentlemen and soldiers including the ladies who read this piece will appreciate how much respect should be given to any retired soldier. We must remember that soldiers who pass away go to Valhalla where their boots stamp no more. 
Can we put our hand on our heart and say that we respect our soldiers in a similar manner? Not likely considering that this BJP government has forced an agitation by ex soldiers for their rights by fasting. What a travesty and shame