Madras Miscellany Chennai

A gallant defence remembered

Ambur Hill

Ambur Hill  

Dear reader, here’s wishing you, your family and friends whom you re-tell these stories to, ‘A Very Happy New Year’ and may you keep me busy with your supplementary information, queries and corrections, enabling this column to be both yours and mine. And that thought is reflected with mail from Lt Gen VR Raghavan detailing a bit of remembrance of the past displayed by an event in England but with close connections with the Carnatic.

Having taken over Mysore, Haider Ali rode against the Carnatic in alliance with the Nizam of Hyderabad, while his son Tippu Sultan’s cavalry raided the outskirts of Madras. Despite defeats in the field forcing him to recall Tippu for support, Haider took Krishnagiri, Tirupattur and Vaniyambadi. To halt his offensive, the English rushed 600 troops of 14 Battalion, Coast Infantry, later to become a part 10 Madras Native Infantry, a core unit of the Madras Regiment, the oldest regiment in today’s Indian Army, to hold a fort atop 200m Ambur hill, fortifications at its base and a walled Ambur itself, guarded by the local chieftain’s troops.

From November 10, Haider’s thousands besieged the 600 ‘Madrasi’ sepoys here, but couldn’t get beyond the lower defences to reach Captain Calvert’s infantry confined to the hill-fort that stood in the way of an attack on Vellore. But when on December 6, Haider heard that reinforcements were on their way to relieve the defenders, he withdrew.

Laying wreaths at the Gurkha's remembrance parade

Laying wreaths at the Gurkha's remembrance parade  


This gallant 27-day defence, described as “the most spectacular success achieved by British sepoys in India” till then, led to the battalion being called ‘The Amboor Battalion’. The first battle honours awarded to any Indian unit was presented to it and it bears the word “Amboor’ on its colours. A badge depicting the rock-fort was also given to be worn with their headgear. Battle honours, Gen Raghavan tells me, are emblazoned on regimental colours and are almost sacred memories. They are commemorated to remind a regiment’s men and officers of their legacies.

When the Madras Regiment was disbanded between 1922 and 1928 (to be raised again during World War II), 14 Coast as part of 10 Madras became a battalion of a Gurkha regiment. At Independence, Gurkha regiments were divided between India and Britain. 14 Coast eventually became the 2nd Battalion of 10 Royal Gurkha Rifles which now comprises all Gurkha units serving the British. Last December 6, the Battalion marked the 250th Anniversary of the defence of ‘Amboor’ in grand military fashion with a special parade and trooping of the colours.

Helping commemorate the event was David Harding, a former Gurkha officer, whose photograph of the occasion I use today. Together with it is a picture of Ambur Hill taken by him when he visited it as part of a recce for a trip by former Gurkha officers to India.

The photographs arrived by way of another Gurkha officer, Guy Stanford, who had sent them to General Garry Johnson, Colonel Commandant of the Gurkhas, who sent them on to Gen Raghavan, a batchmate of his at various courses in Britain. Gen Raghavan’s ‘thanks’ were accompanied by the thought that Ambur is no longer remembered for its battles but for its biryani.

When the postman knocked…

Tate's Beastie in Yercaud

Tate's Beastie in Yercaud  


Mohan Rajes, a Yercaud planter with whom I did a book The Magnificent Shevaroys, wonders why I didn’t last week use the picture of the Standard Vanguard in it. Because he’d told me that it was an imported station-wagon. That 1950 Standard Vanguard Estate was known in the area as Tate’s ‘Beastie’. Victor Tate and his father had worked with the Salem Electric Company which laid the electric lines from Sivasundaram and Mettur to Salem and Yercaud c.1939. Tate Junior was the last European settled in the Shevaroys. When he died, he left the vehicle to his wife with instructions that Beastie should be left in the garage till it rusted into dust. She, however, sold house and car to a Miss Wilson who then sold the car to a Madras resident for ₹8,500.When he failed to restore it satisfactorily he sold it in 2007 to Madras old car collector and restorer CS Ananth. “As far as I know, it’s still with him,” writes Mohan.

Yes, Dr T Kamal Sharif, Yakub Hasan (Miscellany, December 18) and Moulana Yakub Hasan Sait were one and the same.

The Yogiar horoscope (Miscellany, December 11) says Chitti’s life is Nityam, meaning very long life, and rightly so as Chitti passed away after his 97th birthday, writes KRA Narasiah.

And to end on a lighter note, Manohar Devadoss’ newsletter of greeting re-tells a story he had told at a Lit Fest last year in a talk titled ‘My Little Adventure with Books – from Age 3 to 80’. When he was in high school, he was fascinated with The Book of Knowledge and the pictures in it of classical sculptures and paintings, particularly of a Venus by 19th Century British painter Poynter. He had at the time made a pencil sketch of her without the swirling cloth and showed it to his father. All the good doctor would say was, “You’ve got her anatomy right”.


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Printable version | Feb 22, 2020 2:03:39 PM |

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