Viyyur resident N Kunju, now 93, joined the British Indian Army in June 1947, when the nation was hardly two months away from getting its independence from the colonial masters.
He reached the then Madras in search of a job, saw the army recruitment centre there and joined the force as a sepoy clerk. He later became a sub-editor with Sainik Samachar, a publication of the army, in the rank of Subedar Major.
After 26 years of serving in the army, Kunju stepped down in 1973. Here, he reminisces about his military life, the moments before and after the partition of India, the country's independence and the exit of the British.
“My armed forces training was in Firozpur in Punjab. Right before independence, a Hindu–Muslim riot erupted in the region. The army was called in to bring the situation under control. The trainee batch, including myself, did not know how to use the gun or even march properly. We did a flag march in the area holding guns. The only aim was to frighten people. That was done. The riot ended.”
When India gained independence, the Army Unit Commander gathered all the Muslim soldiers who were with us and asked them, ‘Where do you wish to be: India or Pakistan?’ All who had their families and houses in newly-formed Pakistan said they are going to the new country. Some units which had only Muslims from Pakistan too moved there.
But our unit had Hindus and Muslims. There was one Keralite named Khader. When Khader came back after meeting the Unit Commander, we asked him, ‘What have you decided?’ He said I have decided to go to my country. ‘Which is your country?’ we asked. 'This. India', he said in a firm voice.
Like Khader, many Muslims who have been living in India decided to stay back in India.
Freedom at last
There was a strong anti-British sentiment among the army, navy and air force personnel. The British terminated those who had raised their voices against its command. There was a massive protest against it. Realising that they are losing control over the forces, the British were forced to declare India’s independence.
On August 15, as India became free, there were no celebrations in the army camps, including ours, as the heads of the defence forces were still Brits.
"We read in the newspapers about India attaining independence, Jawaharlal Nehru’s speech and the celebrations across the country. We came to know of India’s independence only through it," Kunju recalled.