Battle of Haifa, 1918

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Colonel Bahadur Singh, Jodhpur Lancers

Parul Kulshrestha, July 28, 2020: The Times of India

Soldiers march through Haifa after it was captured (Pic- Wikipedia)
From: Parul Kulshrestha, July 28, 2020: The Times of India
Besides its soldiers fighting in WW-1, Rajasthan contributed in other ways. This railway wagon workshop in Ajmer was used to make armoured and hospital trains for the war
From: Parul Kulshrestha, July 28, 2020: The Times of India
Role of bravehearts in World War I
From: Parul Kulshrestha, July 28, 2020: The Times of India

A hundred and six years ago, on July 28, 1914, World War-1 broke out, and lasted over four years. One battle, the outcome of which had an important role in hastening the end of the war, was the Battle of Haifa that took place on September 23, 1918. Less than two months after that conflict, on November 11, 1918, World War-1 came to an end. For showing exemplary courage during the battle, Colonel Bahadur Singh of Jodhpur Lancers received the Order Of British India (OBI) and Indian Distinguished Services Medal.

Despite being shot in the eye while fighting, Singh kept moving forward and encouraging fellow soldiers during the battle. He was awarded for his distinguished services in the war when he was just in his early 20s.

The display of exceptional heroism and professional competence by Indian soldiers led solely by Indian officers forced the British government to break racial barriers and opened the way for the grant of King's Commission. Military historian Major Chandrakant Singh said Singh's contribution in the Battle of Haifa should be remembered. “In the Battle of Haifa, the Jodhpur Lancers demonstrated that a regiment officered entirely by Indians was equal to if not better than any regiment in the world. The contribution made by Singh and thousands of Indian soldiers should not be forgotten,” said Singh.

World War-1 started in 1914 when Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The war broke out in retaliation to the assassination of Austrian-Hungarian heir Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo by Gavrilo Princip, a Bosnian Serb Yugoslav nationalist. During the conflict, Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire (the Central Powers) fought against Great Britain, France, Russia, Italy, Romania, Japan and the United States (the Allied Powers).

The Battle of Haifa (a town that was part of the Ottoman Empire and is now in present-day Israel) saw an attack on the forces of the Ottoman Empire, which resulted in the capture of Haifa town. It forced the capitulation of Turkey and the transfer of power to the representatives of the Young Turks led by Kemal Pasha, later better known as General Attaturk, who started the process of modernising Turkish society. The defeat of the Ottoman Empire resulted in the abolishment of the institution of the Caliphate and the freedom and creation of the states of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon. Singh later on went on to become the commander-in-chief of Jodhpur State Forces and was known as ‘Kana General’ by his soldiers. “He was very strict and disciplined. Soldiers out of respect used to call him Kana (one-eye) General although he was a colonel,” recalled Sajjan Singh, grandson of Bahadur Singh.

Born into a poor family, Singh became an orphan at the age of four when both his parents died during a famine at their village in Jodhpur district. Raised by his relatives, Bahadur Singh left home for Jodhpur town and got admitted into a free school so that he could complete his studies.

When the First World War broke out, Maharaja Pratap Singh of Jodhpur was searching for physically fit boys who could enlist for the war. Singh was asked to join, but he made it clear that he would join as an officer and not as a private soldier. Sajjan Singh, his grandson, said, “He was sure of his own calibre and education. My grandfather joined as a daffadar (an army rank in British times) and was commissioned in Palestine with the Jodhpur Lancers. He retired in 1942.”

Sajjan Singh also recalled the services of his father. "In World War II, my father Air Vice Marshal Chandan Singh fought with the Allied Forces as a captain of Jodhpur Lancers. After Independence, he received the Mahavir Chakra and Vir Chakra in different wars. Not many people are aware about the contribution my family made.”

Another WW-I lionheart

During his childhood, Colonel Rajendra Rathore used to be surprised to see his grandfather’s photograph loaded with medals that he had won for his stellar role in World War-1. As he became older, he became aware of the bravery of his grandfather in the battlefield. It took him a few more years to realise the privilege of being the grandson of Govind Singh, the gallant soldier who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his action-packed role in World War I.

“My grandfather, father and I have served in the 2nd Lancers Regiment of the Indian Army. My brother and one of my cousins also retired from the army. My father was five years old when my grandfather expired in 1942, but his legacy is what we take pride in. I have grown up listening to the stories of his courage,” said Rathore, who in the picture above can be seen holding a picture of the Victoria Cross awarded to his grandfather.

Singh, who was born at Damoi village in Nagaur district, was awarded the Victoria Cross – the highest medal of bravery given to a member of the British Forces.

He was a Lance-Daffadar in the 28th Light Cavalry attached to the 2nd Lancers during World War I and was awarded for his exemplary bravery during the Battle of Cambrai, France, on December 1, 1917. According to information provided by the government of United Kingdom, Govind Singh volunteered to carry messages from the position of his regiment to the brigade headquarters three times covering a distance of 1.5 km. He passed over an open ground on a horse which was under constant enemy fire. His horse was shot on all three occasions and he had to cover the remaining part of his journey on foot.

Singh volunteered for the fourth time as well, which was denied as it was a certain death due to the injury he suffered. For his dedication towards his duty, Singh became one of the six people in India and the only one from Rajasthan to receive the Victoria Cross during World War I.

In later years, Rajendra Rathore’s father gifted the original Victoria Cross to the regiment, and, at present, it is kept at the officers’ mess of 2nd Lancers, Sikandrabad.

“My family is well-known for bravery of my grandfather. I will be retiring in September, but it will always be a part of my identity,” said Rathore with pride.

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