Blood And Guts Aayo Gorkhali. The 4/5 Gorkha Rifles had a grand reunion. by ASHOK K. MEHTA
Blood And Guts
Aayo Gorkhali. The 4/5 Gorkha Rifles had a grand reunion.
MAJ GEN ASHOK K. MEHTA
AFP (FROM OUTLOOK 31 DECEMBER 2012)
The Gorkha soldiers don’t need a citation for their bravery. They’ve had it
thrust on them by those they have fought, by armies who have heard
legends about their prowess, the blood-curdling war cry ‘Aayo Gorkhali’,
the flash of the khukri knife, sometimes a wicked smile which says, ‘Don’t
mess with me’. To commemorate their services, recently the diminutive
Gorkhas and their veteran forebears had a grand get-together in Dehradun
for a reunion of the 4/5 Gorkha Rifles (Frontier Force).
The 4/5 was reborn on January 1, 1963, in Dehradun as part of the 35
additional battalions raised after the Himalayan debacle of 1962. In its
earlier avatar, the battalion won its spurs in Burma during WWII, winning
several gallantry awards and battle honours, only to be demobilised prior
to the Partition. At least one of its great sons, Subedar Major Indra Bir
Thapa, Sardar Bahadur, OBI MC MBE, joined the triple Victoria Cross sister
battalion, 2/5 Gorkha Rifles, in 1945 as part of the British occupation force in Japan .
The 4/5 was baptised in battle against Pakistan ’s Ghaznavi Force in 1965,
exhibiting in conclusive fashion the fine art of small unit operations. The
Battalion had the honour of being the first to be selected for the army’s
maiden heliborne operation, on December 7, 1971, to capture Sylhet, the
largest territorial division of east Pakistan. For a single battalion to be aerially
inserted into the defence fortress of Sylhet—made up of two Pakistan
infantry brigades—could qualify as the modern-day variation of the
Charge of the Light Brigade.
The shrill cries of ‘Allah o Akbar’ clashed with the nerve-jangling ‘Aayo
Gorkhali’ but the Pakistani soldiers never pressed their counter-attacks,
allowing Four Five to dictate the course of battle. The Pakistan garrison
thought the battalion was the vanguard of an Indian brigade, helping it to
hold on for nine days without any link-up. The BBC helped by announcing
that a brigade had heli-landed in Sylhet. Some 450 dishevelled Gorkhas
took the surrender of the 7,000-strong Sylhet garrison led by three brigadiers.
The reason the Pakistani soldiers gave up was because the Gorkhas’
reputation had travelled well ahead of them. Two weeks earlier, Four
Five had undertaken an incredible operation—infiltration and attack by stealth using
only the khukri and cunning to stun the enemy. For its services in 1971, 4/5 won
two MVCs, three Vir Chakras and several other awards. One other action
deserves mention here: the relief of Jaffna in Sri Lanka 1987 where Indian
commandos were trapped by the LTTE. For the rescue mission, the
battalion won an MVC, four Vir Chakras and a YSM. What is striking in all
this is the disproportionate number of officer casualties in battle,
demonstrating the battalion’s follow-me credo.
The Gorkhas are, however, not always at battle stations. For this get-
together, busloads of veterans travelled from Nepal with their families,
many returning to Dehradun after almost half a century. One centre of
attraction was rifleman Dil Bahadur Chhetri, who singlehandedly killed
eight Pakistani soldiers with his khukri at Atgram and won the MVC.
Fortified with tots of rum, the kanchhas (lads) heard stories like his
narrated like a son et lumiere show. If anyone recorded, it should be an
instant advertisement for recruitment to the Indian army.
There were others too, with rare battlefield experience but too shy to
speak. Thankfully, Hercules rum as usual provided a good facilitator.
The rest also provided for good entertainment. Some shoulders may have
drooped and a few regimental blazers faded, but you could bet their
medals were firmly pinned. Many sported Indian army welfare services-
provided spectacles and dentures, proudly talking about the introduction
of ECHS and numerous other facilities (except for the canteen rum
services. Not to worry, 4/5 was to keep the bar open 24/7 and stock
them well on return.) There were bara khana feasts, cultural shows, fusion
band displays, pagal gymkhana, picnics and the mandatory sweating
out in basketball. A memorial service followed by a sainik sammelan
brought the reunion to a close with a light and sound show
encapsulating the 50 glorious years of the Four Five. For veterans, the
reunion offered more than one recital of their favourite song:
“Aaaju ma to 4/5 jaanchhu (Today I will go to 4/5).”