For entrepreneur Uday Birje and financial analyst Praveen Maney, The 1918 Battle of Haifa is much more than just another historical event. They are the descendants of the soldiers of Mysore Lancers, who won a decisive victory over the Ottoman Turks and the Germans. “My great grandfather Raghunath Rao Birje was part of the Mysore Lancers. Mysuru Maharaja Nalvaji Krishnaraja Wadiyar sent his best soldiers—the Mysore, Jodhpur, and the Hyderabad Lancers— on the promise of Independence by the British,” says Uday.
In fact, the Mysuru Maharaja sent his brother-in-law Colonel J Desaraj Urs, and relatives Risaldar BP Krishne Urs and Captain A Lingaraj Urs to Haifa in Israel.
Praveen says four of his ancestors fought in the Battle. “They were Venkata Rao Maney, Limbaji Pawar, Rajoji Kesarkar and Bhim Rao Talekar. Venkata Rao Maney passed away in the Battle of Allepo and his remains didn’t come to India. His body was buried in Israel and his name is written on the Haifa memorial in Delhi and Bengaluru. The other three descendants returned. One of the medals Limbaji Pawar won was the Indian Distinguished Services Medal for the bravery he displayed in the Battle of Haifa.”
Though much of the memorabilia has been lost, the families have maintained some of them, including medals and swords. “After the War, many people didn’t return, while some did. Those who did spread out to other villages. Some settled within Bengaluru in places around the Mysore Lancers cantonment in Munnireddy Palya (present JC Nagar), Ganga Nagar, Malleswaram, etc.,” says Uday
Uday has a replica of the honour roll by King George, which was given to his great grandmother while Praveen’s family is in possession of a medal, and a sword taken from a German soldier.
The Ottoman Turks and Germans had superior weapons such as machine guns whereas the Mysore Lancers possessed only swords and lancers. It was sheer courage and excellent battle strategy that led to the victory of the Mysore Lancers.
Once the soldiers returned, their contributions were recognised and rewarded by Nalvaji Krishnaraja Wadiyar. It was not until last year that the Battle of Haifa received national recognition. 100 years of the Battle was celebrated last year. The consequence was the renaming of Teen Murti Marg in Delhi—where there is a Haifa Memorial—to Teen Murti Haifa Marg.
At the 101st celebration held at Mysore Lancers Memorial, JC Nagar, on September 23, a formal proposal was submitted by Yashaswini Sharma, urban historian and architect, to Commissioner of Police Bhaskar Rao and corporator of JC Nagar Ganesh Rao Maney.
“The World War I memorial, which is part of the city’s tangible heritage and sets the context for the neighbourhood, is now in need of urgent attention,” says Yashaswini.
“One step of the base stands embedded inside the road, and the circle with grill barricade is too small. We have submitted a proposal for two granite plaques with the names of all the soldiers of the Mysore Lancers around an equestrian statue; and an enlargement of the Memorial circle and redesign of the grill work.
The proposed design of the grill work is inspired by the decorations of the Mysore Lancers, which includes the Mysore Royal emblem of Gandabherunda. There is bit of paint on the pillar which needs to be cleaned out—the families of the martyrs and some NGOs had earlier cleaned the Memorial, but it requires periodic maintenance. The proposed equestrian statue — Mysore Lancer soldier astride a horse — will be in metal, and we hope this can be placed in the circle right behind the War Memorial and that both the statue and the circle could be connected by a cobbled pathway. This equestrian statue will be set on a pedestal that resembles the design of the World War I Memorial and will be encircled by stone benches so that the families of martyrs can find peace and spend some time there while they pay their respects,” adds Yashaswini.