Proverbially, the rule goes: Old soldiers never die, they fade away.
That’s what we have always heard and sung. The note has its origin in a British Army parody of the Gospel song Kind thoughts can never die:
Old soldiers never die,
Never die, never die,
Old soldiers never die,
They simply fade away.
All rules have their exceptions and it’s also commonly said that exceptions prove the rule. Late Lt Gen PS Bhagat VC, PVSM is one of those exceptions that allows the rule to retain its relevance.
on the 14 June, 2023 the Army steered an event to pay our collective homage to that great soldier at the premises of the Manekshaw Centre. It was the first “Lt General P S Bhagat Memorial Lecture” on “Legacy of Lt Gen Prem Bhagat- A Visionary and Strategic Leader”. A Chair of Excellence has also been instituted in the USI to honour the General on his 103rd birthday.
After the opening remarks by Maj Gen BK Sharma, Dir Gen USI, the current COAS in his address remarked that Lt Gen Bhagat was the first Indian soldier to have been awarded the prestigious Victoria Cross in World War II.
The British War Office Notification of 10 June, 1941 read: “During the pursuit of the enemy following the capture of Metemma on the night 31 January – 1 February 1941, Second-Lieutenant Bhagat was in command of a section of a Field Company, Sappers and Miners, detailed to accompany the leading mobile troops (Bren Carriers) to clear the road and adjacent areas of mines. For a period of four days and over a distance of 55 miles this officer in the leading carrier led the Column. During this period, he himself detected and personally supervised the clearing of no less than 15 minefields of varying dimensions.”
LT Gen Bhagat and the current COAS Gen Manoj Pandey have an umbilical connect. Lt Gen PS Bhagat was the Colonel of Bombay Sappers that the COAS belongs to. The COAS is now the Colonel of Bombay Sappers.
General VP Malik, who retired as the COAS in September, 2000 also spoke on the occasion. He was at the helm during the Kargil War. His talk was anecdotal and covered incidents and activities in Gen Bhagat’s life starting from his days as a Lieutenant to his post-retirement tenure with the Damodar Valley Corporation.
Incidentally, Gen Malik was Colonel of the Sikh Light Infantry from 1990 to 1998, and continues to be the Honorary Colonel of the Regiment for life. Late Lt Gen Bhagat was the Honorary Colonel of the SLI, also. The SLI and Bombay Sappers have a very special relationship with the seniormost officer, both regiments being taken into account, being appointed as Honorary Colonel Commandant of the other.
Some great soldiers remain embedded in the military psyche and continue to inspire the force. In an organisation that leans extensively on its history, culture, traditions and tales of courage to boost troop morale, Generals like Bhagat serve both as foundational anchors, and also beacons. As long as we carry their memories with pride and elan, so long would this country’s future be secure also.
Brig SK Chatterji (Retd)