Col Shiv Om Rana
Time: Mar/Apr 1969
Me: Then 2/Lt Shiv Om Rana
Place: Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh
I was still a rookie in the unit having just spent about 8-9 months out of which four months were in two courses, one of them being Commando course. Returned from the course brimming with confidence having got “Q-I” (Qualiﬁed Instructor) in the Commando course.
One fine day I was called by the Adjutant, Lt Basant Singh (later Maj Gen) in his office in Dharamsala. He said “Shiv you have done well in the commando course and therefore the CO, (Lt Col Vijay Badhwar later Maj Gen) wants you to train the Battalion Commando platoon to take part in the Gen Chowdhury Trophy competition of the Division” or words to that effect. He also said that last year the Battalion was last in this competition so must work hard with the pl. He further said that a 3 Ton had been detailed to take the Pl to “Chari Camp” the following morning and I should be ready to move with them.
The competition was well 3-4 months away and that meant “Banwas” (exile) of 4 months away from the civilization till the competition was over. Chari camp is 14 Kms away from Dharamsala cantonment where the unit was. It has small arms ﬁring range with barracks to house troops who go there for ﬁring practice.
A word about the Gen Chowdhury Trophy Competition. Gen Chowdhury was the Indian Army Chief in 1965 under whom the Indian army fought 1965 war with Pakistan. Post this war, whatever he (or his staff) thought of his troops, a gruelling infantry platoon competition was devised which included 30 kms run which was to be run with full Field Service Marching Order and full load of arms and ammunition. Then the platoon was put through the full obstacle course of 10 obstacles, followed by the firing with all its small arms and the skill at grenade throwing. The last was to test the ability of the Platoon Commander in attack ex “Advance to Contact and Quick Attack”
The competition was up to the Command level where all divisions within the command fielded their platoons. In the Division all Commando platoons of all the Infantry battalions competed with each other and the winner represented the Division.
Well, as a youngster at that time, I didn’t realise what was there in store for me. On the other hand I felt relieved to have got rid of stern officers mess regimen, especially of the Fus Fus (for First Battalion of the First Gorkha Rifles) in those time; very British.
I took the training seriously. I was determined to win the competition. My training schedule began at 5 O’clock in the morning everyday with run which was 15 kms on Monday and gradually reached 30 plus kms on Saturday. It was followed by obstacle course, firing and grenade throwing in the same sequence as it would be there in actual competition. Afternoons were totally utilized for maintenance of weapons. We must have fired the training ammunition of the entire Battalion during the practice in these months. The firing started with the LMGs at 400 yards, running to 300 yards and finishing the LMG ammunition. Then rifle firing began from 200 yards, running to 100 yards and finishing ammunition. Thereafter it was the Carbines aimed firing from 50 yards and to CQB position at 25 yards. Firing at all ranges were timed and would have barely lasted five minutes for the entire course to finish.
Occasionally Commanding Officer, Adjutant, 2IC (Secon-in-Command), Maj DS Panesar (later Brig) or Subedar Major would come to Chari camp to witness our preparation, give pep talk to boost our morale. I remember that I stayed in the camp from Apr to end of Aug that year and was called to the Officers Mess only on the occasion of 15 Aug when officers and JCOs got together to celebrate the Independence Day with beer.
The final competition was to be conducted on three consecutive days with three commando platoons competing each day. Draws for the competition were drawn in the Division HQs and unfortunately we had to compete on the second day of the competition. Why I say it was unfortunate I will come to it a little later.
Day of the reckoning arrived. My memory fails me to the exact date of the competition but it was sometime towards the end of Aug of that year. Three platoons which were to compete on the first day were transported 30 kms away in the previous evening from Chari camp to a “Starting Point” which was selected by the Division HQ. Day one was nice, bright and sunny. The first three platoons completed their mission by the afternoon. But the weather God appeared to be displeased and clouds came over and it began to drizzle. (If you know Dharamsala weather) By the evening it was torrent rain. The nest three platoons including us who were to take part the next day were ferried to the “Starting Point” in the rain. There were tents pitched and we all had to sleep on the ground. It rained the whole night. One can imagine the sleep we would have had in such wet night when we should have had a very perfect and comfortable sleep a previous night of the competition.
Rain had not stopped completely when the run started at 5 in the morning. Even here we were second out of the three platoons to start after half an hour from the first. It rained while even running and only stopped towards the end of the race after about three hours. Notwithstanding we completed the run in good time. We had planned and practised it well.
Our nightmare started when our turn came for the obstacle course. Rain had stopped. Being the second to compete for the day, obstacle course became tough. Two things had happened. Firstly all ropes of the obstacle course had drenched in the rain whole night. The second was the worst in that the “Monkey Rope” had all the mud and slush on it after the first platoon had gone through it. We lost very valuable time in this obstacle which eventually hurt us in the final result.
Gorkhas have strong legs but weak arms. That’s true for all hill tribes. So “Monkey Rope” is a dreaded obstacle for all Gorkhas even in normal course. And here was the situation when the rope was wet, muddy and slushy. So going through this obstacle became impossible even for the first chap. No one was allowed to help cross it in any manner except the Platoon Commander.
Seeing the predicament there was only one thing for me to do: assist each Johnny to get on to the parallel rope. I therefore instantly took support of the tree, asked each member of my platoon to step on my thigh with one leg and put another leg on my shoulder and get to the rope somehow. Gorkha Johnny hesitated in the beginning. It was mercy of small things that all went through and at last I too managed with difficulty to cross the dreaded “Monkey Rope”. We lost lot of time in the obstacle which would not have been so if the day was not wet. We had trained well.
Rain had completely stopped and it was smooth sailing in all the balance segments of the competition. On the final score, we stood second in the competition with thin margin with the winner in the Division despite our horrific day. First was the platoon of the 12 Grenadiers who had run on the first day. I was adjudged the best Platoon Commander in platoon exercise of “Advance to Contact and Quick Attack” out of the nine Platoon Commanders.
Foot Note: This training of the Pl held us in the good stead and the Fus Fus Commando Platoon eventually won the Eastern Command Gen Choudhury Trophy in 1973.