Book Review: The POW Who Saved Kashmir

Authors Brigadier Jasbir Singh and Pankaj P Singh |Genre Military History | Publisher The Browser

I recently read ‘The POW who saved Kashmir-Unsung Saga of Sher Bacha Brigadier Pritam Singh’ written by Brigadier Jasbir Singh and Pankaj P Singh. I had never heard any book on military history before, so I was quite interested when I came across this book. I knew about the Indo-Pakistani War of 1947–1948 which was fought between India and Pakistan over the princely state of Jammu and Kashmir from 1947 to 1948. But I never knew the details of the operations. I didn’t know that the border town of Poonch was under siege for over a year. And it was due to the bravery and determination of one man that Poonch was finally relieved after a siege of over a year. This book brings to us the heroic story of Brigadier Pritam Singh, who saved Poonch.

The book tells the story of Brigadier Pritam Singh who was known as “Sher Bachha” (son of a tiger) because of his outstanding leadership during the year-long siege of Poonch. The story is basically about two main events in Brigadier Pritam Singh’s life. As a young officer, he was wounded in the battle of Singapore in 1942 during World WAR II and became a prisoner of war (POW). He escaped from the POW camp along with two fellow officers. After a gruelling journey of six months through enemy-held Malaya, Thailand and the forests of Burma, he landed in Manipur. The British awarded him the coveted Military Cross for his great escape.

After that, the book focuses on the second most important event in his life. It was in 1947 when as a Lt Col, he visited the Army Headquarters while on leave. On hearing about the grave situation in J&K, he volunteered to take his unit to Srinagar. The very next day, he landed with his unit at Srinagar after receiving orders from the Headquarter. The border town of Poonch was under siege by the Pakistani army and Pashtun Tribals for one year from November 22, 1947, to November 21, 1948. The influx of almost 40,000 refugees from sheltered in Poonch fleeing from tribal atrocities in the adjoining areas added to the trouble. There was a scarcity of food and warm clothes and the threat of enemy loomed largely.

It was at this time, the Brigadier emerged as the saviour of Poonch. Braving all odds, he built an airstrip in Poonch which facilitated supplies and ammunition till the siege broke.  He also organized the defences and repeatedly defeated the tribal invaders and kept them at bay. But soon after, the story of this brave man took an unexpected turn. He was court-martialed on false grounds by those with clear vested interests. His courageous deeds were soon forgotten and he spent his remaining days forlorn and disgraced.

The book is an attempt to recognize the bravery of Brigadier Pritam Singh. Without him, the fate of not just Poonch but even Srinagar would have been a hundred times worse. It’s an attempt to bring the story of this valiant son of India who stood firm to defend his country but was shabbily treated by his own countrymen. It’s an attempt to look into the grave injustice meted out to a war hero and to seek a Special Presidential Pardon to restore his honour.

I enjoyed reading this book. The language is simple and easy to understand. It gets a bit complex and tedious when the authors talk about the court-martial and the loopholes in the proceedings. The book has some rare pictures of that period which gives a glimpse of those times of war and unrest. The book is well researched and the authors have made sure to present facts accurately. With their depth of knowledge and an eye for detail, they have written a very readable book which provides us with a deep insight into the struggles & exploits of Brigadier Pritam Singh in a very lucid manner. It helps in joining the dots even though some of the evidence presented is circumstantial. My only complaint is that the author’s note, in the beginning, is almost the synopsis of the entire book which could have been avoided.

If you are interested in military history, if you want to know more about the first Kashmir war of 1947, if you want to know about a forgotten war hero whose story deserves to be told then this book is for you.

My Rating: 3.5/5

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