For me today, G is for Generals because of my deep interest in military history. I am often asked how I developed such an interest despite never having served in the defence services. It’s not that I came from a family with a military background either though my grandfather went to Mesopotamia (as it was then known) during the First World War as a doctor with the old IMS in the British Indian Army. His son became a doctor like him and maintained the tradition, this time serving in the jungles of Burma during the Second World War. His brother served for many years in the Indian Navy being one of the earliest fliers in the Fleet Air Arm.
It was perhaps my schooling at the Lawrence School, Lovedale that ignited in me an abiding interest in things military. This school was set up in 1858 as a school for the children of British soldiers in India and therefore had many military tradiitons. It had an excellent library and I soon became a voracious reader.
The first General who I read about and stayed in my mind was Field Marshal Sir Philip Walhouse Chetwode who served in India for many years. . The credo of the Indian Military Academy at Dehradun, engraved on the entrance to the central hall, is a passage from his address delivered at the formal inauguration of the Academy in 1932 – “The safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. The honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.”
I became fascinated with the Second World War and read extensively about the Generals who commanded the armies in this momentous war. Some of the names that come readily to mind are: Field Marshal Montgomery, Field Marshal William Slim, General Eisenhower (who went on to become the President of the United States), General George S. Patton among the Allies and Field Marshals Rommel, von Manstein, and General Hans Guderain on the side of the Germans. My particular favourites and both were so very different from each other are Field Marshal William Slim and General George S. Patton. Slim had more contact with India of course.
Naturally I read extensively about the Indian Army as well and the Generals who I remember are Field Marshal Cariappa and General Thimayya both of whom came from Kodagu in our state of Karnataka. Also, Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, who commanded the Indian Army during the Indo-Pak war of 1971. A few days ago, we celebrated the 100th birth anniversary of this illustrious soldier.
If these Generals made a very favourable impression on my mind, I am afraid there were also a few who I remember for the wrong reasons. Perhaps I was very impressionable then but I do believe, based on all that I have read about the infamous Indo-China War of 1962 in which we were humiliated, the blame rests largely on General P N Thapar the weak and ineffective Chief of the Army Staff and General B K Kaul who for the first time involved the Indian Army in unsavoury politics being a favourite of Prime Minister Nehru.
Generals need to be role models as they epitomise good leadership. Reading about many of these heroes helped me understand the workings of the Indian Army and its rich and hallowed traditions.