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India honours its heroes in Israel

Last updated on: September 28, 2010 19:07 IST

India honours its heroes in Israel

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Vaihayasi P Daniel
In September 1918 the British 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade liberated Haifa from 400 years of Ottoman rule. The bravery of three Indian cavalry regiments is remembered during this campaign, says Vaihayasi P Daniel.

On September 23, Colonel M S Jodha of the Indian Army journeyed to Haifa in Israel, to lay a wreath at the special war memorial that honours his grandfather, Captain Bahadur Aman Singh Jodha, his regiment and other co-regiments.

At his side was India's Ambassador to Israel Navtej Sarna who recalled Captain Bahadur Aman Singh Jodha and his men at the touching ceremony.

Thousands of Indian soldiers saw action in this sunny Mediterranean town, in this theatre of war, during World War I.

And it was the Indians that saved the day.

Explains Ambassador Sarna, who has a special interest in history (he is the author of a biography on Duleep Singh, The Exile), "The action of the Indian soldiers needs special mention as it was the most remarkable cavalry action fought during the whole course of the First World War campaign. This has been acknowledged in the official history of the war and also in the book A History Of The British Cavalry 1816-1919 by the Marquess of Anglesey."


Image: A wreath is placed at the memorial in Haifa
Photographs: Courtesy: The Indian Embassy, Tel Aviv
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Indian cavalry regiments liberated Haifa from Ottoman rule

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"In September 1918 the British 15th Imperial Service Cavalry Brigade liberated Haifa from 400 years of Ottoman rule.

It was three Indian cavalry regiments whose bravery is remembered during this campaign."

"The Indian cavalry regiments were deployed in France from 1914 to May 1918. In May 1918, the brigade was redeployed to this region as part of the Allied forces under British General Edmund Allenby, sweeping northwards through Palestine, rolling up the remnants of the Turkish Seventh and the Eighth Armies and their German allies in the last great cavalry campaign in history," Sarna said.

The commemoration ceremony to honour these 'Indian bravehearts' on Haifa Day, 92 years after the campaign, was attended by a handful of dignitaries -- representatives from the Haifa City Council, Israel's ministry of defence, the Haifa Historical Society, the Commonwealth Graves Commission as well as defence attaches from several countries.

It was the first time a ceremony was being held to honour the Indian heroes of this battle.

Sarna underlined that the soldiers fought valiantly for the British while they were engaged in a struggle against the British for independence back home.


Image: India's Ambassador to Israel Navtej Sarna lays a wreath at the memorial in Haifa
Photographs: Courtesy: The Indian Embassy, Tel Aviv
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These heroes were part of the last great cavalry charge in history!

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Some 900 Indians lost their lives in this battle and other battles across this region.

As the Marquess of Anglesey's detailed account declares: 'No more remarkable cavalry action of its scale was fought in the whole course of the campaign. The speed and daring dash and boldness of the Jodhpur Lancers in conjunction with these skillful flanking movements were what made the action such a success.'


Image: Countries from across the globe paid their respects to the martyrs on Haifa Day
Photographs: Courtesy: The Indian Embassy, Tel Aviv
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Three Indian regiments fought in Haifa

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Says Sarna: "Three composite Indian regiments -- the Jodhpur, Mysore and Hyderabad Lancers -- fought in Haifa from June to October 1918. Apart from these, Indian soldiers also served in other Commonwealth and British regiments."

"As per the records of Commonwealth War Graves Commission nearly 900 Indian soldiers are buried in CWGC cemeteries across this region. In Haifa there are two sites maintained by the Commonwealth Graves Commission. Forty nine soldiers are commemorated at one site and the other one has some memorials from the Second World War," the ambassador said.

"However the Lancers are not commemorated here -- most of them were cremated and their memorial stones placed elsewhere. I understand Major Thakur Dalpat Singh, known as the hero of Haifa (who received a spinal injury on the battlefield and died thereafter and Aman Singh took charge), is commemorated in Egypt. We are asking for details from the CWGC."

It was the Indian troops' outstanding cavalry tactics -- and bravery -- through a successful cavalry charge that culminated in victory.

Captain Aman Singh Bahadur and Dafadar Jor Singh were awarded the Indian Order of Merit. Captain Anoop Singh and Second Lieutenant Sagat Singh were awarded the Military Cross as recognition for their bravery in this battle.

Dalpat Singh received the Military Cross posthumously.


Image: India's Ambassador Navtej Sarna speaks at the Haifa Day memorial function
Photographs: Courtesy: The Indian Embassy, Tel Aviv
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'The bravery of these soldiers has not been forgotten'

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Though the action on the battlefield took place more than nine decades ago, Ambassador Sarna feels the bravery of these Indian soldiers has not been forgotten either by their families or back in India.

"All the three cavalry units were merged to form the 61 Cavalry Regiment of the Indian Army, post Independence," he says. "The army headquarters were aware of Colonel Jodha's link as he has been researching a book on the Jodhpur Lancers for the last 10 years, which is due to be published shortly. I am fairly certain that the families of the soldiers who died here must have been aware of this battle."


Image: Indian soldiers pay homage at the memorial in Haifa
Photographs: Courtesy: The Indian Embassy, Tel Aviv
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