Society

Tales of battle

The story of an Army

On Madras Day, historian and war veteran Captain DP Ramachandran took Chennaiites through the centuries-long journey of soldiers of Madras

The land that is called Chennai today, has contributed numerous chapters to the tomes of history. Battles have been fought here, sieges laid, rebellions planned. All of these were outlined by military historian and 1971 war veteran Captain DP Ramachandran at the CP Ramaswamy Aiyer Foundation on Tuesday.

The talk marked the culmination of a series of seminars and exhibitions on Madras’ military heritage by the Colours of Glory Foundation and CP Ramaswamy Aiyar Foundation, as part of Madras Week.

The content of the captain’s lecture began before the birth of the Madras Regiment in the 18th Century, and ended with the deadly Siachen avalanche of 2016.

It covered aspects usually glossed over by history books, such as the importance of tactical training over weaponry and infantry numbers, and the differentiation between the “oldest” regiment of the Indian Army (Madras), and the “senior-most” regiment (Punjab).

In the packed hall, occupied mainly by college students and senior citizens, the Captain spoke for nearly two hours. He spoke of the Battle of Adyar, explaining just how the Nawab of Arcot’s 10,000-strong army dissipated before mere 1,000 foreign troops at the Adyar Estuary in 1746. He spoke of the tactical feasibilities – from the imperialists’ perspective - of training locals as sepoys instead of bringing trained soldiers from Europe to India.

The Captain spoke of the Siege of Arcot of 1751 as well as the Siege of Madras in 1758-59, explaining the power play between the British and the French for domination over India. He termed the latter more historic and decisive than the Battle of Plassey, describing it as “the last great push France made for domination in Southern India.”

Captain Ramachandran also took the audience through the war for Madurai, telling the story of a brave Tamilian soldier who held his garrison strong, resisting continued British attacks for over a year: from August 1763 to October 1764. This battle of M Pillai aka Yusuf Khan should – in Captain Ramachandran’s opinion – have been called the first war of Independence, nearly a century before 1857.

The Captain took his audience through the numbers, tactics, military alliances and battles strategies of war after war, explaining why some attacks worked and some didn’t. He also spoke of the role of Madras’ soldiers in war fought by the imperialists overseas, and their role in the Indian Army post-1947.

Captain Ramachandran also narrated his personal experience in the war of 1971, at the Battle of Hilli, a small border town between India and Bangladesh (then East Pakistan).

Numerous stories of bravery, strength and “the supreme sacrifice” found their way into the Captain’s lecture, marking Madras Day on a rather sentimental note.

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Printable version | Apr 23, 2021 6:05:30 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/society/war-stories-of-old-madras/article19594832.ece

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