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A Military Memoir


A.M. Vohra


By Major General A.O. Mitha
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2003, pp. 443, Rs. 695.00

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 4 April 2005

A soldier’s life is generally interesting. This was particularly so in case of large numbers of us commissioned in the early years of the Second World War when political developments on the subcontinent had brought home to the British that the end of Empire was not far. This was a psychological set back for the pre-war commissioned British officers, some of whom turned bitter.   Major General A.O. Mitha was commissioned in 1942 into 2/4 Bombay Grenadiers, Motor Battalion of an Independent Armoured Brigade stationed in South India. He experienced “racial discrimination which prevented any familiarity, not to speak of friendship”. The British officers isolated themselves in ghettos, “despising all Indians and all that was Indian, they deprived themselves of so much that would have given them joy and happiness. They despised the food, the music, the dress, the language and the literature, all of which the generations before and after them learnt to enjoy”.   One can understand old “Koi Hai’s” not being particularly fond of Indian food, music and so on. However, the war brought in a large number of young blood straight from schools and universities whose relationship with young Indians, commissioned in large numbers from 1941 onwards was friendly and comradries developed particularly in operational areas. My own experience, I was also commisioned in 1942, a few months before the author, was pleasant indeed, perhaps also because we were in an operational area; Central Burma-Kahaw Valley, 1943 onwards.   Lt. Mitha’s experiences as a company officer near Kohima, a major objective of the Japanese offensive of March 1944 make interesting reading and so does his subsequent service as a Captain at Thal in the NWFP and later as a paratrooper. The latter illustrates that to get fair treatment one had to stand upto the British. Of course, this is true of other nationalities also as his confrontation with General Raza at Batarsi-Abbotabad in 1949 demonstrates. Major Mitha’s observations on communal killings at the time of Partition in 1947 are fair but the reasons he imputes for the Partition are somewhat naïve.   In 1956 he took over command of 17 Baluch and converted the Battalion into SSG (Special Services Group), after being trained himself in the USA. In this somewhat lengthy Chapter 15, his observations of Generals Ayub and Yahya are of interest.   Colonel Mitha experienced shades of fanatical religious prejudices when as GS01 10 Division, his C-OC, Major General Hamid, “a fair and moderate man” ...


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