From a Family of Warriors - I


From a Family of Warriors - I
Part One – The Heady Days with Garbar Unath

The armies of Pakistan and India have a shared history in which officers and soldiers from many religions, castes and clans served and fought together for the honour of their regiments and battalions. This article recognises the valour of Anant Singh Pathania, a Rajput officer of the 6th Royal Battalion (Scinde), 13th Royal Frontier Force Rifles (FFR). It was an Indianised battalion that carried the nick name of Garbar Unath (The troublesome fifty-ninth) and was renumbered as 1st Frontier Force Battalion of the Pakistan Army.

The clan of Pathanias were originally from Rajasthan and moved north after being defeated by the Mughals. Their name is an abbreviation of Prathishthana, the ancient name of Pathankot, which was the capital of the hill state of Nurpur. They have served in the armies of Maharajah Ranjit Singh, the State Forces of Jammu & Kashmir, the British India Army and the Indian Army. Anant Singh Pathania was born in Kangra, Himachal Pradesh in 1913, just two years before his father Lieutenant Colonel Raghbir Singh Pathania was killed while commanding the 2nd Jammu & Kashmir Rifles in Tanganyika during the First World War. His mother was the daughter of General Baj Singh of the Kashmir Imperial Service Troops, who was always keen to be in the thickest of a fight. He was killed when he accompanied Captain Townsend in an assault during the Siege of Chitral in 1895. Anant Singh was raised under the tutelage of his grandfather Major General Nihal Singh Pathania, C-in-C Jammu & Kashmir Forces who led troops during the Black Mountain Expedition of 1888 and Hunza–Nagar campaign of 1891.

Lt Anant Singh Pathania, circa 1936

Soon after being commissioned, Anant was engaged to a lady who could boast of an equally strong military heritage. Her grandfather was Honourary Captain Bidhi Chand, who was the first Subedar Major of 38th Dogra for 18 years till he retired in 1909.  Her father, Colonel Bakshi Chand Katoch was awarded an IDSM in Mesopotamia during the First World War when he was the Subedar Major of the 56th FFR. He was subsequently commissioned from the Cadet College, Indore in 1919. Her father’s younger brother was Subedar Major Parbat Chand Katoch, the first VCO to be awarded a MC in the First World War. He was serving with the 59th Royal Sind Rifles (Frontier Force), which was part of the Jullundur Brigade of the Lahore Division. When all the British officers became casualties during an attack at Neuve Chapelle, Prabhat Chand then just 30 years old, took command of the remnants of his regiment and brought them out of action. A tradition then developed to re-enact the event on the remembrance day of the battle. At the end of the parade the officers would withdraw and the subedar major would take the place of the commanding officer and march off the battalion. Her younger sister was married to Ghanshyam Singh who along with my father Shahid Hamid was commissioned from Sandhurst in 1934 and joined 16th Light Cavalry. The Sergeant Major at Royal Military Academy could not pronounce his name and called him ‘Sunshine’ Singh.
The Indianised battalions were instrumental in forming the spirit of a shared history within the post-Independence officer corps of Pakistan and India. Compared to the number of British officers, the cadre of Indian officers was very small and till the beginning of the Second World War, everyone knew everyone

In the Indian Army Reforms of 1921-22, 59th Sind was renumbered as the 6/13th RFFR and Anant’s good luck that it was one of the infantry battalions that was Indianised in which the British officers would be gradually replaced by Indians.  In 1936 he passed out from the third course commissioned from the Indian Military Academy and joined the battalion in Razmak along with Bakhtiar Rana his course mate. The parents of his prospective bride were keen to quickly tie the knot but the army was preparing for a campaign in Waziristan and Anant did not want to take a chance.

Indian officers of 6/13th RFFR during the Waziristan Campaign of 1937-39. L-R: Anant Pathania, Bakhtiar Rana, VD Jayal, Shaukat Ali Shah, Yusuf Khan and KL Atal

The Indianised battalions were instrumental in forming the spirit of a shared history within the post-Independence officer corps of Pakistan and India.  Compared to the number of British officers, the cadre of Indian officers was very small and till the beginning of the Second World War, everyone knew everyone. Between 1918 and 1930, 153 of the 175 vacancies for Indians at Sandhurst were filled but the wastage rate was very high. Only 86 were commissioned of which 71 actually served, representing a wastage of 64%. With the opening of the Indian Military Academy the situation gradually improved but at the beginning of the Second World War, there were only 577 regular Indian officers against approximately 5,500 British officers.

Anant Singh Pathania and Sher Khan with their battalion, 6/13th FFR, during the Waziristan Campaign 1937-39. The location indicated is the 'Bump' - note the heliograph

Most of the Muslim officers he served with in the battalion during this campaign would rise to prominence in the Pakistan Army – General Muhammad Musa would be the fourth C-in-C, Major General Shaukat Riza authored a number of books on the Pakistan Army, Major General Nazir Ahmed who commanded the 9 (Frontier) Division in Peshawar unfortunately got involved in the 1951 Conspiracy Case as so did Major General Akbar Khan but he was one of the few Indian officers to be awarded a DSO during the Second World War. Brigadier Sher Khan who was probably the most outstanding of the lot was killed in an air crash in 1949. Lieutenant General Bakhtiar Rana commanded Pakistan’s only corps during the 1965 War and Colonel Yousaf Khan whose career had a promising start with the award of an MC during the Waziristan Campaign but he chose to transfer to the Political Service.

Similarly, the Hindu and Sikh officers would also rise to prominence in the Indian Army. Major General Mohinder Singh Chopra was the senior most Indian to join the battalion and was a contemporary of Field Marshal Ayub Khan. Lieutenant General Bikram Singh was commanding XV Corps when he died in the most infamous helicopter crash in Indian Military History. It occurred in Poonch in 1963 and the other victims were the GOC Western Command, a AVM, a division commander and two brigadiers. On the same day i.e. 22nd November 1963 John F Kennedy was shot and news of the crash was old in a day. Lieutenant General Kashmir Singh Katoch who was also awarded an MC, served as Adjutant General and in 1965 commanded XV Corps in Kashmir. Brig. Kanahiyalal ‘Bagga’ Atal was awarded the Maha Vir Chakar for clearing the Zogila Pass in 1948. He was a very promising officer but died in November 1949 of a heart attack whilst hunting. His elder brother Lt Gen Hira Lal Atal, 16th Light Cavalry was the first Adjutant General of the Indian Army.
Soon after being commissioned, Anant was engaged to a lady who could boast of an equally strong military heritage

For two years the battalion was involved in the Second Waziristan Campaign from 1937-39. It was a hard fought opertion in which the Wazirs led by the infamous Faqir of Ipi inflicted heavy casualties on the army. By April 1937, four extra brigades had been brought in to reinforce the garrisons at Razmak, Bannu and Wanna and at the height of the campaign in 1937, some 60,000 regular and irregular troops were employed to bring to battle an estimated 4,000 hostile tribesmen. Operations were also taken against the Mahsuds and according to the history of the Frontier Force Rifles, the battalion performed exceedingly well throughout.

Ajit Singh Sodhi, Bakhtiar Rana, Anant Pathania and Muhammad Musa at Razmak at the end of the Waziristan Campaign, 1939

During this period the Indian officers of 6/13th established a close bond that was tempered under fire. Anant’s son Vasu shared with me a letter from Musa to his father which reflected the spirit of comradery that prevailed. Musa writes, “You will be amazed to see the large number of your photographs in my Albums. I am trying to look after them to the best of my ability, as they remind me of the happy days we spent together in the 59th. They are of immense value as reminders of our past association.” These feelings were expressed 50 years after they had served together in Waziristan. Unfortunately, there is no trace of the treasure trove of photos that General Musa possessed. Anant Singh’s son Vasu who shared with me some wonderful photographs of his father and his martial ancestors tells me that so far he also has not been able to find a bundle of his father’s photos with the label ‘My days with Garbar Unath’.

In early 1939, the battalion moved to Secunderabad and when war was declared it was placed under the newly raised 5th Indian Division. After a year of intensive training, the division was shipped to East Africa in September 1940 to fight the Italians. The division was under-equipped because the British did not categorise the Italians as a ‘first-class enemy’. But they were in for a nasty surprise and the Battle of Keren fought in Eritrea in early 1941 was one of the toughest engagements for the Division. To a large extent it owed its success to the experience gained in operations on the North-West Frontier by a number of its battalions like 6/13th RFFR.  n

Author’s Note: I am immensely grateful to Vasu Pathania for having shared with me information, anecdotes and pictures related to his late father. My deepest thanks to Sushil Kumar for providing me the bio data as well as citations of the general as well as his relatives mentioned in this article.