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Ablaze in a Blizzard

Ablaze in a Blizzard - Col.(Retd.) P. Ganesan





Organisation of Engineers in the Army



UP-Tibet Border

We saw how the Engineers were organised into three groups i.e. MEG, BEG, and Bombay EG and the functional units were organised into Field companies and Field park companies. The Field companies are the executive force consisting of 5 Officers, about 15 junior commissioned officers, about 30 Non-commissioned officers and about 250 Sepoys (they are all called sappers).

Up to 1964 the companies were independent and holding all types of Engineer equipment and moved according to operational requirements. The Field Park Company was a store holding unit and holds reserve stores and heavy equipment. A Division would have Engineers from any group for example HQ Engineers from MEG, one Field company from MEG another from BEG, another from Bombay and Field park from MEG. Since these personnel spoke their regional languages, general administration, and inter posting of personnel became difficult. Engineer Support to a Formation increased and minimum three field company support was always required. Under these circumstances it was felt that the Engineers be reorganised into Engineer Regiments having all personnel from the same group.

I was carrying out routine works and was sent on a special road recce in Oct 1964 towards Mana Pass. Surveyor and I with a jeep and driver were to be set out for a three-four days into the Himalayas. Since I was new to Army the driver was told to be totally responsible for the vehicle and the Surveyor was responsible for food and administration. The team set out on a morning and after travelling for about three hours halted for rest. Hot tea was served to me. I smilingly took it as I was not aware that tea was being brought in a flask. After the break when we were about to get into the jeep I was shocked to see one wheel went flat. But the driver with gentle smile told not to worry and within 15 minutes he changed the tyre. I was thrilled on seeing the administration arrangements and smartness of the driver. For the first time I started appreciating the Army way of works.

Around 3pm we reached a dead end beyond which there was no road. But I was to explore that area only. Locals told that I had to go back for about 100 km to reach that place by different route. The same place could be reached by walking about 30 km further in this route itself. Since this was the stretch which was to be explored, I decided to halt there itself. I further directed that I and the surveyor would walk the 30km next day and the driver would go back in the return route and meet us at that destination. We prepared to pack lunch for the next day and slept early as we had to leave very early. The next day we got ready as planned and was about to leave after giving direction to the driver. At that time I was terribly shocked to see another tyre of the jeep went flat. The one which was punctured yesterday was not yet repaired and now how to get this repaired in that remote area.

But the driver was not at all worried. He politely told that he had a new tube and foot pump and repaired the tyre by himself. He encouraged me to leave early as we had to walk up the hill. I was very much disturbed to split the team and saw the challenge of getting together back again. Leaving it to GOD, surveyor and I started along the foot path. All along the route Kumaon Regt. of the Infantry ex-service men were seen there. Though physically fit I was all the time worried about the driver whether he would be able to find us. Walking up hill was very tiring and also time was running short. All along the route plenty of orange trees were there and enjoyed the hospitality of ex-service men who were also walking along. It was getting dark and they were walking along the mighty Bageshwar River. It was pitch-dark when we reached, surveyor and I was dead tired. There was no trace of the driver. I told the surveyor that I could not stand and lied down in the veranda like place in front of a closed shop. It was very cold and I covered myself with the blanket that I was carrying and slept.

The Awakening

It was pitch dark all around and time was not known. I was dead tired and in a deep sleep. Something like in dream I heard a faint voice, Saheb!.. Saheb! I slowly woke up and opened my eyes. It was a smiling face of the driver who gently said "Saheb! Please getup....Hot Chappathi, and fish curry are ready......Please have a peg of this whiskey which will be muscle relaxing and have dinner. After words I will do massage of your leg with the mustered oil and you will be fighting fit in the morning..." I was wonder struck and asked the driver, how he could find us and who prepared all these.

A smiling, uneducated driver replied that Saheb! after we both started walking, he got the jeep ready and drove back along the route as directed by me and en-route he saw a puncture shop and got both the puncture repaired; Further as he was driving uphill along the Bageshwar river, he saw locals were fishing; so he got down and purchased some fish for us and started moving up. As this was the dead end and no road further he stopped there and looked for both of us. Almost everyone in this area was either serving army or ex-service men and they loved FOUJI. So there was no difficulty at all in locating us. Our surveyor was totally lost and did not know what to do except guarding me. Since all the stores were in the vehicle. Then the driver quickly got into action and made dinner ready. I asked him, how he got money for all these and how he did get whiskey too. Driver replied that Saheb!.. There was standing instruction in our unit that whenever an officer was on a camp, the administrative JCO would be responsible for all these arrangements and he was given Rs.1000 for incidental expenditure. Further he said he would submit accounts on return and asked me not to worry.

As tears rolling down from my eyes, I thought for a while, what gratitude I had to pay for this except keeping myself fit and capable to lead them in war and peace.

Reflections




The UP-Tibet border areas are thickly wooded with Deodar trees, which grow up to 100-150 feet. Usually this does not let the sun light to ground till the sun comes over your head and within an hour or so shade and darkness sets in again.


For the first time in my life, I started realising the role of Officership in the Army and the loyalty of Ranks and Files.