Army Day, observed on January 15 every year, marks the taking over of General K M Cariappa as the first Indian Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Army. General (later Field Marshal) Cariappa took over the reins of the Army from General Sir Roy Bucher, the last British Commander-in-Chief, on January 15, 1949.
On the day Gen Cariappa took over as Commander-in-Chief, Pakistan Army Chief, General Sir Douglas Gracey, was in New Delhi. Archives reveal that Gen Gracey was in India to see off General Bucher, and had attended the dinner held in his honour at Baroda House in the national capital the previous evening.
In his speech on the occasion, Gen Bucher said that on the eve of his retirement, he had been conferred the substantive rank of General in the Indian Army and he had also been decorated with a high award from the government of Nepal.
Among the other accomplishments that Gen Bucher recounted was the ceasefire agreement which had been signed between India and Pakistan on January 1, 1949, with him and Gen Gracey as the signatories from India and Pakistan respectively. This agreement had brought to an end the Kashmir War of 1947-48.
He also mentioned the restructuring of the Army HQs, the establishment of the Master General Ordnance branch, the sitting of the Staff College in Wellington, integration of the medical wings of the Army, Royal Indian Navy, and the Royal Indian Air Force and the raising of Territorial Army and National Cadet Corps as some of the achievements during his tenure.
On December 3, 1948, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru wrote a letter to Governor General C Rajagopalachari about the government’s intention to appoint Lt Gen Cariappa as the successor to Gen Bucher whose term as Commander-in-Chief was ending on December 31, 1948.
Nehru wrote in the letter that even though Gen Bucher may stay on for a few months more in the office had been asked for, the government had been contemplating an Indian Commander-in-Chief. He added while no official date had been fixed for Lt Gen Cariappa to take over it was felt that it may be beneficial if he is associated with Gen Bucher for some time before taking over.
Nehru also said in the same letter that he had informed Gen Bucher of this decision and that he would inform Lt Gen Cariappa the next morning (December 4) and would ask them to keep the information a secret until the government makes a public announcement a few days later.
The circumstances in which these last British generals finally left the Indian Army were far from pleasant. While Gen Bucher left the office soon after the ceasefire agreement was signed with Pakistan, his predecessor, General Rob Lockhart, was reportedly ‘asked’ to leave at the end of 1947. There have been reports that Nehru was miffed with Lockhart for not keeping the government in the loop over his conversations with some British officers in the Pakistan Army regarding the infiltration by tribals from Pakistan into Jammu and Kashmir.
While Lockhart had informed the Defence Council of a tip-off on infiltration in Jammu and Kashmir that he received on October 24, 1947, from Gen Gracey, it was suspected that he did not disclose the conversations he had with some Pakistan Army British officers before October 24.
According to Robin James Fitch-McCullough of the University of Vermont who wrote a thesis on ‘Imperial Influence On The Postcolonial Indian Army, 1945-1973’, “the ignominious private nature of his (Lockhart’s) departure was concealed by two days of public spectacle, marked by dinners with Nehru and senior military officers, and his being waved off from the New Delhi train station by large crowds and an honor guard of two infantry battalions”.
Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck, who had been appointed Supreme Commander of all British forces in India and Pakistan after he demitted office as Commander-in-Chief, received an indifferent send-off. McCullough writes that Auchinleck’s departure was marked only by a review of a small guard of Royal Scots Fusiliers stationed outside his home in Delhi. “A tribute in the Times of India, placed on the sixth page between ads for textiles, stock prices and classifieds, served as a farewell to his 45 years in India,” he writes.
Coming back to Cariappa, the gazette notification of January 15, 1949, of his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of India mentioned that with a substantive rank of Lt Colonel, temporary rank of Brigadier and Acting Lieutenant General he had been given the acting rank of General and appointed Chief of Army Staff and C-in-C of the Indian Army.
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