“Yesterday I looked at the weather in Walong and it was -4° Celsius. It was right at this time that they had gone up. They went to war in nothing more than sweaters,” says Rathin Mathur.
He speaks of the officers and men of the 6 Kumaon battalion, who fought the Battle of Walong, during the 1962 Indo-China debacle, halting the Chinese from further advancing into Indian territory in that sector.
At a height of 1,094 metres, Walong in Arunachal Pradesh, has difficult weather and terrain, then made worse with scant resources: weapons, clothing, food. “This was the only battalion that attacked and also counter-attacked the Chinese twice during the war,” says Lt Col Prem Andrews, who served in the battalion and is currently writing its history titled Grit, Blood and Glory: Saga of 6 Kumaon Jangi Paltan . “Only one-fourth of the 600-700 officers, JCOs (Junior Commissioned Officers), and men from the battalion returned — the rest were killed, taken prisoners of war, or wounded.”
History on your sleeve
To commemorate the 58th anniversary of the battle, Rathin, a culture and development coach and trainer in Guguram, who had heard stories of the battle from his father, called Mohit Jayal, co-founder of Motherland. The experience design company had, in August this year, brought out a T-shirt that paid homage to the White Tigers, the celebrated 300 Indian Navy Air Squadron. Rathin hoped they would do something similar for 6 Kumaon.
The tee, in green and grey variants, introduces a generation not born then to the story mostly confined to military history books and cantonment conversations. On the chest, is the lion insignia that the Kumaon regiment adopted from the coat of arms of Sir Henry Russell, the British Resident under the Nizam of Hyderabad. 6 Kumaon before Independence was 6/19 Hyderabad Regiment, raised in Agra on February 1, 1941, a part of Russell’s Brigade.
This was in tandem with Motherland’s own vision of ‘India proud’ — using local motifs reformulated with a slick design sensibility in functional products and spaces. “The idea was to repackage and present military symbology as a reminder of the story. Elements of the uniform are not accessible to people who may understand the badge value, but may not have access to it,” says V Sunil, co-founder.
Rathin’s father, Brigadier Ravi Kumar Mathur, then a captain (with just under five years’ service), brought the battalion back to Tezu, walking about 200 kilometres. He won a Vir Chakra for the capture of one of the key heights. In fact, the battalion got five Vir Chakras and one Mentions-in-Despatches. Once he had retired, Brig Mathur began to write a book, but passed away after he had penned the first chapter.
Lt Col Andrews says it’s important to remember both those who won gallantry awards, but also the unsung heroes, like Lt Bikram Singh, later christened the Lion of Walong for keeping the area from being captured. The young officer had tactically removed the planks of a bridge so enemy soldiers fell into the Namti Nullah, triggering the Chinese forces to switch on torches, thereby revealing themselves; Commanding officer Lt Col CN Madiah who was taken prisoner of war and refused to change out of his uniform in enemy captivity; Brig (then major) BN Singh, who led the battalion attack capturing the forward slopes of another tactical height, crucial to enemy advance; Jemadars Trilok Singh and Govind Singh who charged the enemy MMG (medium machine gun) posts, destroying them.
“Dad was one of the many heroes; the battalion was the real hero,” says Rathin, echoing the regimental motto: Valour Triumphs.
Lt Col Andrews says it is important for people to remember the Battle of Walong, because, “It was a place where the human endeavour that goes beyond motivation, manifested.”
All proceeds of the T-shirt will go towards the welfare of 6 Kumaon; for details, Motherlandmagazine.com