The story of Major Chint Singh, Indian POW World War 2
Many of the readers who had their school education or even college back in India would have studied Indian history. The text books, I can recall covers history from Indus Valley civilization to Indian Freedom Movement. However there has been a vital part of our history which most of the children in India do not know, at least I didn’t, the role of Indian troops in World War 1 and World War 2. Many Indians died in the line of duty and displayed great courage for which every Indian can take pride in. Unfortunately, their stories have lost over time. There has been no attempt on the part of Indian Government to build war memorials outside India to recognize and honor our brave soldiers.
Here is a story of one soldier from Himachal Pradesh who was respected by many Australian and some of his mates still remember him. The story of Major Chint Singh, my father, who was one of the nearly 3,000 Indian POW survived to tell the atrocities and suffering he and his comrades had to go through. He became the witness in War Crime Commission after the war in Australia. His evidence was able to bring many Japanese officers to justice. I have for you his brief story.
Major Chint Singh (1917 – 1983), enlisted in the Frontier Force Regiment (now in Pakistan) in 1935. After the fall of Singapore in 1943, about 3000 Indian Ps O.W. were shipped to New Britain and New Guinea. This was the start of life which Chint Singh and his comrades would not like to remember. The reason will be evident by the following Chint Singh’s message which he sent for the occasion “Operation Remembrance”, to mark the establishment of memorial in respect of Indian martyrs, at Angoram (PNG) on the bank of the Sepik river, on 30th September 1971.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, 30th September is the day of great significance to me when I along with 10 Indian P. O.Ws were rescued by the Australian Armed Forces and saw the “New Light” at this spot.
We were feeble, sick, emaciated, reduced to mere skeletons due to the brutalities of Japanese guards. Life was no certainty. A day earlier, i.e. 29th September, 1945, Sepoy Jai Ram and Sepoy Ibrahim had breathed their last. We the remaining 11 were also waiting our turn to join them. In the meantime God sent angles from heaven (Australian and local people of New Guinea) to fetch us out from the oblivion into the new world, and put new life into us at Angoram…We were not known to the world nor the world to us. We were declared “missisng” by the British Government and our kith and kin were missing to us. We were living in absolute darkness. Our hearts had become as hard as stones, our feelings were crushed, we had turned worse than animals eating grass, jungle roots, lizards, insects….
How we passed days, months and years, through atrocities and privations and without any type of food including sugar and salt seems incredible even to me. Alas! Fate was not satisfied with all our sufferings and planned a tragic anti-climax when all 10 leaving me behind at Wewak were killed in a plane crash in New Britain…”
While all this was happening with Chint Singh and his fellow Indian prisoner of war, the Australians were running different search missions in that area.
Lt. Monk recalls in his memoirs ‘Taim Bifor’,
(not sure if this work has been published at time of writing this article) that a Japanese barge had gone down river to Marienberg carrying Japanese troops and 13 Indian PsOW. According to Lt. Monk, a Japanese runner was sent to Mareinberg to bring the Indians back to Angoram.
Just after we finished their burials, there came a prominent turning point in our life which has been expressed in the following which I wrote on 4th October, 1945 at ANGORAM: WE ARE REBORN AT ANGORAM ON 30 SEPTEMBER, 1945. It was the loveliest Sunday of 30th September, 1945, when I was sitting in a native hut at Merinberg on the left bank of the Sepik River. Suddenly a Jap boat buzzed and stopped in front of the hut. A Jap soldier came with a letter in his hand and asked for the Indian Officer. I went forward, took the letter, opened it and read as follows:
29th Sept. 1945
To O.T. Indian Troops,
I am sorry that I was not at Angoram when you called two days ago. I would like you to bring your Indian soldiers back to Angoram in the Japanese boat. We have a doctor here and plenty of good food. A boat from WEWAK will call here at Angoram on Thursday or Friday and will take you to WEWAK.
Apart from that, the Japanese officer who brought that letter also said that all Japanese should surrender themselves.
After being reported about the arrival of Indian prisoners of war, Lt Monk recalls, when he went down to see them “…it was heart-wrenching. Ten of these poor fellows were lined up in two ranks, some were sitting because the sore on their feet or their condition generally were such that they could not stand, but all were rigidly at attention despite their rags and their pitiable condition. In charge was a smart looking man, Jemadar Chint Singh, also in rags but with most military bearing, who marched up, saluted and said “Sir, One officer, two NCOs and eight other ranks reporting for whatever duty the King and the Australian Army requires of us”. I found it very hard to reply to him. I still feel much emotion when recalling it.”
After the tragic plane crash, Chint Singh became the chief witness against the Japanese at War Crimes Commission. One of his rescuers Sgt. Eric Sparke, wrote Chint Singh’s story, which was published in a Newcastle’s newspaper (April 1947), “Lieut. Mitsuba, who was awaiting trial on five atrocity charges, said: “We should have killed him”. When I told Chint Singh he smiled, showing his white teeth and said: “They will pay. They will pay”.
After the war, he retuned home to find that his parent regiment has gone to Pakistan after partition of India in 1947.
Chint Singh points out a Japanese soldier who had mistreated him while he was POW to Australian war crimes investigators, 11Sept 1945. Source: Australian War Memorial. AWM 098708.
Consequently, he got commission in 2nd Dogra Regiment in 1948. During his career in Army he excelled in training role. He was recalled on active service during 1971 Indo-Pak war. He retired in 1974 and settled in his village. During his retirement he was actively involved with welfare of ex-servicemen and war-widows. He was appointed as Vice President of his State’s ESL (Ex-servicemen League). In late 1982, he was diagnosed with cancer and he lost his battle with it in February 1983. He passed away in the Military hospital where my eldest brother was posted. So being ex-serviceman, he received a soldier’s funeral. Few days before his death my brother, trying to cheer him up, said, “Dad you will be alright soon. You have seen a lot during the War…”. Before my brother could finish his sentence, my father said, “I don’t think I will make it this time”. And he was right. When we went through his belongings we found a diary in which he mentioned all the steps to be taken after his death. One of the task was- “Inform my friends in Australia of the death e.g. Mr. Bruce Ruxton, Mr. Tony Hordern, Mr. Peterson, HQ, RSL, Canberra, Australia”. It is amazing that how well he maintained his diaries during the War which became important evidence against the Japanese and he kept that habit of writing in his diaries till the last day of his life.
In August 2002, I was interviewed on Radio National ABC (Mecca’s show on Sundays- All Over Australia) regarding my father’s story. After the interview the response I received was just amazing. I was able to contact Australian WW II veterans who knew or met my father. I was humbled by their support and kind words. At times, sitting alone contemplating my father’s story and the responses I received, I would look up at the skies and say “Dad, I have experienced true Australian mateship which you did during the War”. And that began my journey to meet those old links which my father had and put together his story which he wanted the world to know.