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- John de Mansfield AbsolonResearcher 238443
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- John Absolon
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- 09 April 2004
Dost Going on Leave.
The war having ended in August the unit was finally withdrawn from Burma and in December 45 was transhipped to Calcutta just in time for the December 45 riots. The unit was in Alipore transit camp just outside Calcutta. The riots, fortunately, did not get bad enough to have to use our unit. (It was a policy not to use Indian Army units during civil disorder unless absolutely necessary) Although 300 were killed in Calcutta on the first day the situation improved and although we carried out defensive guard duties we took no active part as a unit. Our sepoys were not sympathetic to the rioters.
After calm was restored the unit moved down to Southern India for demobilisation. All the troops were entitled to four weeks leave with travel expenses and pay. Plus whatever travelling time they needed to ensure they got a full four weeks at home. Now we presumed that having done their duty to the Raj and the war was over they would not bother to come back. But we were wrong they did all return, as apparently official discharge papers were important (CV's useful even then)
.Dost was one sepoy we certainly didn't expect to come back. He was either a Pathan or Afridi living deep in the border lands of the North West Frontier probably deep in Afghanistan. Apparently his family had served the Raj for a number of years in one of the irregular Scout units of which there were many. Unfortunately he had been in some teenage mischief and had lost an eye with a sword cut across his face. This did not stop the elders of the tribe sending him to do his service. Not being able to join a fighting unit he ended up as a Mess Waiter in a predominantly Hindu Madrassi unit. As he worked for me I talked to him about this but his attitude was "It was the will of Allah" so he made the best of it
Dost’s term for leave came up and knowing the distance he had to travel I asked him if he would like to take his leave and his discharge at the same time as he was due for discharge if he wanted . His reply to that was that he would like to go on leave to see what situation was in his tribe. Not being able to read or write he had no idea what was happening in his village. He thought that if he went back on leave he could then see the situation and make a decision whether to stay in the army or take his discharge. As this was his entitlement I was quite happy for him to do that. Although I thought that once he got back into the mountains he would hardly feel like coming back to Southern India to an almost alien culture.
His journey from South India to deep in the Himalayas was estimated to take at least two weeks travelling time by train, bus, camel and walking and of course the same time back. Everybody thought that having got back to his tribal area and the state of India due for self government he would disappear. Having made out all his railway warrants, passes, and enough money to pay for his travel expenses he duly caught the train and left. that, thought I would be the last we would see of Dost and decided if he hadn’t turned up in three months he would have to be posted absent without leave.
Eight weeks later a phone call from the railway station would we come and collect a soldier returning from leave . And surprisingly enough it was Dost reporting back for duty
.So at the first opportunity I asked him what happened and how he got on in his village. And this was his story. He had made the trip by train and then by bus up into the North West Frontier somewhere near the Kyber Pass and then had made his way towards his tribal area on foot getting directions from local people. It had taken him just over two weeks but as he explained he wasn’t very sure of the route. He reached his village and explained to the tribal elders that the war with Japan was over and that he was on leave. They expressed the view that he had done his duty even though he had not been a fighting soldier. To his relief they were quite happy for him to return to the village whenever he wanted
He refunded the money he had not used for travelling and settled down to await his discharge. In due course his papers came through and he received his honourable discharge and a testimonial I gave him a small present that he might remember his service with the Raj and Dost disappeared from our lives.
Looking back over nearly 60 years it still seems incredible to me the loyalty and determination of these people to fulfil what they considered their obligations. The fact that they had given their word came above all else. We can only hope that modern communications and “civilisation” has not destroyed their way of life
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