Sunday, October 31, 2010

A General remembers (Excerpts from General Sundarji's book -"Of Some Consequence - A Soldier Remembers..."

Here's an interesting anecdote that I came across in General Sundarji's book, which is an autobiography, and could only be published after his death:

‘It was the winter of 1951. There was a function on a Sunday, at Headquarters Eastern Command which was then at Lucknow. General Sriganesh was to attend and an air force plane (a Devon) has been lain on. Apart form the Army Commander Major Generals Thimayya, Thorat and Chopra had requested for a lift and were promised a seat. I was to be the fifth passenger. We were all at Palam airport in Delhi on that Sunday, morning and just before take-off a brigadier from the Army Service Corps approached the boss and requested for a seat, and so I was unceremoniously taken off the plane. As a sop I was told that I need not come to receive the boss that evening, and could enjoy my Sunday! After we saw the plane off, Group Captain Rajaram, DFC who was the stations commander of Palam said to me In Tamil – “Sundar don’t be disappointed. Now that you are not required in the evening, I shall take you out to dinner. I’ll pick you up from your mess.”

That evening, Rajaram was in my room and we were having a drink, when Palam airport tracked him down and said that the Devon in which the VIPs were flying out of Lucknow, has lost contact with the control tower, soon after take off and was still out of communication. We cancelled our dinner outing and went straight back to the control tower where we got a disturbing piece of news from the Lucknow tower.

A railway signalman had seen a plane burning and down some distance away from his signal post. The railways informed the civil authorities and a few army search parties were sent out in the general area. Anxious wives of the passengers started bombarding the control tower with queries.

Air Marshal Sir Gerald Gibbs the air chief arrived and took charge. General Cariappa the Army Chief kept in touch telephonically. At about two in the morning, a message came from Lucknow that contact had been made and all aboard the crashed plane were alive and well. With a whoop, I rushed to the telephone, to give Mrs. Sriganesh and other wives the good news.

The next morning there was a message from General Cariappa to all these generals which said, I remember, “You naughty little children, so many of you should not have got on to the same pram. I as your mummy, thank the Lord that you had a competent nanny pushing the pram and who managed to save you!”

Tailpiece: Squadron Leader Suhas Biswas, the pilot got the Ashok Chakra for his handling of the situation.

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