Chapter 21: Back to work, 1945
After the excitement and drama of the previous few months it was good to get back to the busy and active life of the Staff College at Quetta. The course had changed little as a result of the Japanese surrender. The work of the staff officer would not change significantly and the problems of war were, in any case, an important part of the training of all officers.
The new course that started in mid 1945 must have been the most unusual of its kind. We had students with great experience from Europe, the Middle East and the Far East. Much of the instruction was given in Syndicate discussions led by a member of the Directing Staff, each with 12 students in his group. A précis on a particular subject will have been read by all concerned overnight, discussion is then led to test and broaden the understanding. By directing his questions the DS balances the responses to draw out the reluctant and rein in those who talked too readily. All the same it was a delight to have so many experienced speakers, each ready to produce a different point of view on a subject.
The student from Europe would talk about immense armoured deployments whilst one from Burma would recall the acute problems of getting one tank with engineer assistance into a position where it could bring fire on a deeply dug Japanese bunker from which automatic fire mowed down our infantry. The European would speak of ‘cab ranks’ of fighter planes which could be called down instantly on specific targets, where Burma students from the earlier days could say with confidence that any aircraft seen was bound to be an enemy one, and so it went on.
Perhaps the most telling difference for those from European theatres came from an exercise on the problems of supply of ammunition, rations, fodder and other requirements in Assam and Burma. The story was built up on what might be needed by a small but remote task force. All commodities had to be transferred from lorries to Jeeps at a point where roads became tracks. Later mule transport would have to take over. A mule has to eat. Not only does it consume a share of its load each day on the outward journey, but it must keep enough for the return journey too. Mules then reach a river and the loads are transferred to large sampans with a specified weight load. We are nearly there, but the river narrows or a branching stream has to be followed. Smaller sampans have to be used, so another transfer takes place. Unsurprisingly few of the students managed to produce a workable solution in the time allowed.
There was an increase in the number of Indian students on the course. Many of their officers, wartime commissions among them, had developed fast in positions of responsibility not given to young officers in peacetime. Wonderful career opportunities in many walks of life would be open to them as the British left India in 1948. Their response to the challenge was immediate, showing once again that it is lack of opportunity rather than lack of talent that tends to hold people back. The Indian members of the Directing Staff increased in numbers too. They were the stars of our group. Even amongst them Sam Manekshaw was outstanding. He was a great leader with the sharpest of minds and a thoroughly creative sense of humour. He was one of three officers I met in Quetta who went on to become Chief of Staff of the Indian Army. General Chaudhri, the second one, had been an instructor on the course that I had attended and the third was known as ‘K’, his full southern Indian name of Kumaramungalum being too much of a mouthful for regular use. He had become a prisoner of war in the Desert when serving under my cousin Guy Horsfield. On his release from prison camp in Italy he appeared in Quetta. I was in touch with him again on a visit to southern India a few years before he died. In this group of the three Chiefs of Staff Sam Manekshaw had the special distinction of being made a Field Marshal in 1973.
Amongst the Signals students Brahm Kapur was soon in charge of work broadly concerned with equipment acquisition and its development. His work brought him into contact with the highest political levels in his own country, even with Pundit Nehru himself. Elsewhere he found Lord Mountbatten helpful as Chief of UK Defence Staff as well as with his United States equivalent. Another close contender for this high office was Prem Singh Bhagat VC and it was not long before I was to learn that my replacement in Quetta would be his elder brother and my good friend ‘Brij’.
Those who went to Pakistan, though few, deserve mention too. There was a central policy office that wrote many of the exercises and had the responsibility for approving all the précis and other instructional material. Shahid Hamid worked in this intellectual grouping. On leaving Quetta he became the personal staff officer to Field Marshal Auchinleck at a time shortly after the latter had separated from his wife. Shahid’s family became the Auk’s family and was important to him for the rest of his long life. On visits to Rawalpindi long after my own retirement Shahid’s charming family made me welcome on several visits. Shahid had played his part in many policy matters for the Pakistan Army and was an author of repute, having produced half a dozen or more books in the English language.
An interesting addition to our staff at this time was Wing Commander Hugh Verity who, as a Lysander pilot, had played a big part in providing the dangerous service of flying SOE agents into and out of France. He remains an essential part of any television programme on the subject.
With the surrender of the Japanese, thoughts turned to what the future held for those of us serving in India. It was abundantly clear that this was no game in which a whistle was blown and we could all go home. The War would be recorded as having finished on a certain date, but there was another name ‘The Emergency’ that set in hand the call up of civilians for employment in the Services. In many ways the emergency ran on into another form of conscription which was called National Service. Started in 1947, it did not end until 1960. Wartime rundown would take place slowly, for there was much still to be done.
Early thoughts were given to the plight of those who were Japanese PoWs in unspeakable conditions. Teams were set up to be sent to the many declared locations. Efforts were made with medical aid on the ground and with sea transport to bring them as soon as possible to India for hospital treatment where needed before evacuation to the United Kingdom. Indonesia provided a problem of its own particularly for its Dutch inhabitants. The Division with which I had recently served was sent to restore some sort of order and they did not return to India until the September of 1947. A figure that I carry in my head is that they suffered 1600 casualties in their time there. So the story runs on. Chinese terrorists in Malaya were subdued with British forces involved and success called ‘Merdeka’ achieved in 1960. In Europe the so-called Cold War was not formally declared over until 1990.
My own judgement was that there was much to do in India to help the country change from its wartime organisation to the requirements for peace. I was, in any case, fond of the country and its people. We were well aware of the debates going on which would reveal the outcome about India’s future as an independent country and what this would bring for Moslems and Hindus who were in conflict.
So it was that information came that I would join the Indian Airborne Division as a Staff Officer on the completion at the end of the year.