Night on Fire at Kanlan Ywathit
Tale of a Dogra Warrior
On Sunday, the 18th of February 2018 a sizeable gathering assembled at a little-known village in J & K by the name of Nud on the Akhnoor-Chamb Road near a statue there, erected in memory of a soldier from the state who fell fighting in a place called Kanlan Ywathit, about 30 kilometres west of Sagaing, in faraway Burma 73 years ago. They should have been there a day earlier, on the 17th of February, as they do every year; because it was in the early hours of that day in 1945 that 31-year old Parkash Singh Chib, whose statue stands there, earned immortality as one of India’s bravest soldiers when he laid down his life in battle during the Second World War, to commemorate which act they had gathered. This year it was postponed to hold it on Sunday when more people could assemble. Jemadar (a rank equivalent of present-day Naib Subedar) Parkash Singh was the first soldier to earn a Victoria Cross, Britain’s highest gallantry award, from the state of J & K and one of the 28 Indian Soldiers to earn that award during the Second World War.
14th Battalion of the 13th Frontier Force Regiment, in which Parkash Singh had enlisted as a sepoy when an 18-year old lad in 1931 and had risen to become a jemadar, a VCO (Viceroy’s Commissioned Officer), by 1945, formed part of William Slim’s 14th Army that was in hot pursuit of the Japanese forces retreating after their rout in Kohima and Imphal. After taking Mandalay and Meiktila Slim had called a breather to regroup before he resumed his race to the port of Rangoon down south, when the Japanese Commander, General Kimura, devised a new offensive strategy to stem the former’s advance and hold him up till mid May when monsoon would set in and put paid to 14th Army’s further movement. The Japanese counter-attacked.
14/13th FF was manning the forward defences with Parkash Singh in command of a platoon holding the post at Kanlan Ywathit when the attack came. It was 2300 hours during the night 17/18 February 1945 when the fireworks started. The Japanese swarmed the post in strength throwing everything they had at the defenders, artillery, mortars, machine guns and even flame throwers. Merely half an hour into the fight Parkash Singh was wounded in both ankles by machinegun fire. Unable to walk, he was relieved, but he was back in fight in a short while when his relief too was wounded. His legs being of no use, he had crawled back on his hands and knees to the platoon position from the nearby trench where he had been taken and took over command.
At 0015 hours his Company Commander found him propped up in a trench by his batman, who too was wounded, and firing the platoon 2-inch mortar, the crew of which had been killed, shouting morale boosters to his surviving men and directing their fire. Out of ammunition, he crawled around the platoon position collecting ammo from the dead and wounded and distributing it himself to the men. Finding one of his sections completely wiped out, he grabbed its Bren gun and held the section’s perimeter single-handedly till reinforcements were rushed in. Completely exposed while firing the Bren gun both his legs were again shot up, this time above the knees by machinegun burst. Though in intense pain and weak with terrible loss of blood and his legs of absolutely no use, he dragged himself around with his hands still firing the Bren gun and cheering up his men to fight on; who rallied to his call and, regrouping, held out against incredible odds, thwarting the fierce enemy assault.
At 0145 hours Parkash Singh was wounded for the third time, at this instance on the right leg. Completely immobile now, bleeding profusely and stretched on his right side, face still towards the enemy, he kept beckoning his men to keep the fight going. His life virtually ebbing out of him he shouted the Dogra Battle Cry ‘Jawala Mata Ki Jai’, which was promptly taken up by the rest of his company who threw themselves into a fierce hand-to-hand fight at the perimeter driving the enemy out. They had won the battle, Parkash Singh’s example electrifying their spirits in no small measure.
At 0230 hours Parkash Singh was wounded a fourth time, on his chest now, from a grenade burst. He died a few minutes later, calmly telling his Company Commander not to worry about him and that he can take care of himself. He was cremated in Burma and was awarded the Victoria Cross on the 1st of May 1945. His name is inscribed in the Rangoon War Memorial amongst five Indian and seven other Commonwealth VC awardees of the campaign. No memorial was built for him in India however, until a DC of Jammu late Shri Raghunath Singh Chib, IAS, a clansman of his, took the initiative and installed the statue at their Devsthan in the village of Nud. The Chib community remains committed to keeping the memory of this war hero of theirs alive and, duly supported by the local army formation, organize a function every year on 17 February to commemorate his valour, besides establishing a Victoria Cross Charitable Society which honours all war widows of the area with gifts on that day.
Srimati Giano Devi, the widow of Jemadar Parkash Singh Chib, received the Victoria Cross from Field Marshal Archibald Wavel, the Viceroy of India, in an investiture ceremony held in Delhi. Maharaja Hari Singh of Kashmir honoured the family by awarding a war jagir to the late VCO at Rajbagh, Kathua where currently his grandchildren live. Srimati Giano Devi lived the remaining days of her life highly revered by the society; the kind of recognition and honour all our war widows deserve, so that the nation is never found wanting in producing the likes of Jemadar Parkash Singh Chib.
Source: Article by Col J P Singh, ‘JEM PARKASH SINGH CHIB (THE FIRST VICTORIA CROSS OF J & K)’ received via an e-mail forward.