The story of Major Chint Singh, Indian POW World War 2

majchintsingh.jpgMany of the readers who had their school education or even college back in India would have studied Indian history. The text books, I can recall covers history from Indus Valley civilization to Indian Freedom Movement. However there has been a vital part of our history which most of the children in India do not know, at least I didn’t, the role of Indian troops in World War 1 and World War 2.

Many Indians died in the line of duty and displayed great courage for which every Indian can take pride in. Unfortunately, their stories have lost over time. There has been no attempt on the part of Indian Government to build war memorials outside India to recognize and honor our brave soldiers.

Here is a story of one soldier from Himachal Pradesh who was respected by many Australian and some of his mates still remember him.

The story of Major Chint Singh, my father, who was one of the nearly 3,000 Indian POW survived to tell the atrocities and suffering he and his comrades had to go through. He became the witness in War Crime Commission after the war in Australia. His evidence was able to bring many Japanese officers to justice. I have for you his brief story.

Major Chint Singh (1917 – 1983), enlisted in the Frontier Force Regiment (now in Pakistan) in 1935. After the fall of Singapore in 1943, about 3000 Indian Ps O.W. were shipped to New Britain and New Guinea. This was the start of life which Chint Singh and his comrades would not like to remember.

The reason will be evident by the following Chint Singh’s message which he sent for the occasion Operation Remembrance, to mark the establishment of memorial in respect of Indian martyrs, at Angoram (PNG) on the bank of the Sepik river, on 30th September 1971.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 30th September is the day of great significance to me when I along with 10 Indian P. O.Ws were rescued by the Australian Armed Forces and saw the New Light at this spot.

We were feeble, sick, emaciated, reduced to mere skeletons due to the brutalities of Japanese guards. Life was no certainty. A day earlier, i.e. 29th September, 1945, Sepoy Jai Ram and Sepoy Ibrahim had breathed their last. We the remaining 11 were also waiting our turn to join them. In the meantime God sent angles from heaven (Australian and local people of New Guinea) to fetch us out from the oblivion into the new world, and put new life into us at Angoram. We were not known to the world nor the world to us.

We were declared missisng by the British Government and our kith and kin were missing to us. We were living in absolute darkness. Our hearts had become as hard as stones, our feelings were crushed, we had turned worse than animals eating grass, jungle roots, lizards, insects.

How we passed days, months and years, through atrocities and privations and without any type of food including sugar and salt seems incredible even to me. Alas! Fate was not satisfied with all our sufferings and planned a tragic anti-climax when all 10 leaving me behind at Wewak were killed in a plane crash in New Britain.

While all this was happening with Chint Singh and his fellow Indian prisoner of war, the Australians were running different search missions in that area.

Lt. Monk recalls in his memoirs “Taim Bifor”, (not sure if this work has been published at time of writing this article) that a Japanese barge had gone down river to Marienberg carrying Japanese troops and 13 Indian PsOW. According to Lt. Monk, a Japanese runner was sent to Mareinberg to bring the Indians back to Angoram.

Just after we finished their burials, there came a prominent turning point in our life which has been expressed in the following which I wrote on 4th October, 1945 at ANGORAM: WE ARE REBORN AT ANGORAM ON 30 SEPTEMBER, 1945. It was the loveliest Sunday of 30th September, 1945, when I was sitting in a native hut at Merinberg on the left bank of the Sepik River. Suddenly a Jap boat buzzed and stopped in front of the hut. A Jap soldier came with a letter in his hand and asked for the Indian Officer. I went forward, took the letter, opened it and read as follows:

ANGORAM

29th Sept. 1945

To O.T. Indian Troops,

Merinberg.

I am sorry that I was not at Angoram when you called two days ago. I would like you to bring your Indian soldiers back to Angoram in the Japanese boat. We have a doctor here and plenty of good food. A boat from WEWAK will call here at Angoram on Thursday or Friday and will take you to WEWAK.
(Sgd) F.O.Monk

O.C. Angoram.

Apart from that, the Japanese officer who brought that letter also said that all Japanese should surrender themselves.

After being reported about the arrival of Indian prisoners of war, Lt Monk recalls, when he went down to see them “…it was heart-wrenching. Ten of these poor fellows were lined up in two ranks, some were sitting because the sore on their feet or their condition generally were such that they could not stand, but all were rigidly at attention despite their rags and their pitiable condition. In charge was a smart looking man, Jemadar Chint Singh, also in rags but with most military bearing, who marched up, saluted and said “Sir, One officer, two NCOs and eight other ranks reporting for whatever duty the King and the Australian Army requires of us”. I found it very hard to reply to him. I still feel much emotion when recalling it.”

After the tragic plane crash, Chint Singh became the chief witness against the Japanese at War Crimes Commission. One of his rescuers Sgt. Eric Sparke, wrote Chint Singh’s story, which was published in a Newcastle’s newspaper (April 1947), Lieut. Mitsuba, who was awaiting trial on five atrocity charges, said: “We should have killed him”. When I told Chint Singh he smiled, showing his white teeth and said: “They will pay. They will pay.

After the war, he returned home to find that his parent regiment has gone to Pakistan after partition of India in 1947.

chintsinghidentifying.gifChint Singh points out a Japanese soldier who had mistreated him while he was POW to Australian war crimes investigators, 11Sept 1945. Source: Australian War Memorial. AWM 098708.

Consequently, he got commission in 2nd Dogra Regiment in 1948. During his career in Army he excelled in training role. He was recalled on active service during 1971 Indo-Pak war. He retired in 1974 and settled in his village. During his retirement he was actively involved with welfare of ex-servicemen and war-widows. He was appointed as Vice President of his State’s ESL (Ex-servicemen League).

In late 1982, he was diagnosed with cancer and he lost his battle with it in February 1983. He passed away in the Military hospital where my eldest brother was posted. So being ex-serviceman, he received a soldier’s funeral. Few days before his death my brother, trying to cheer him up, said, “Dad you will be alright soon.

You have seen a lot during the War. Before my brother could finish his sentence, my father said, I don’t think I will make it this time. And he was right. When we went through his belongings we found a diary in which he mentioned all the steps to be taken after his death. One of the task was- “Inform my friends in Australia of the death e.g. Mr. Bruce Ruxton, Mr. Tony Hordern, Mr. Peterson, HQ, RSL, Canberra, Australia. It is amazing that how well he maintained his diaries during the War which became important evidence against the Japanese and he kept that habit of writing in his diaries till the last day of his life.

In August 2002, I was interviewed on Radio National ABC (Mecca’s show on Sundays- All Over Australia) regarding my father’s story. After the interview the response I received was just amazing. I was able to contact Australian WW II veterans who knew or met my father. I was humbled by their support and kind words. At times, sitting alone contemplating my father’s story and the responses I received, I would look up at the skies and say “Dad, I have experienced true Australian mateship which you did during the War. And that began my journey to meet those old links which my father had and put together his story which he wanted the world to know.”

Author is son of Major Chint Singh and is currently: Head Teacher Social Science, Crookwell High School, NSW, Australia. He did MA(GEOG) MPhil (GEOG), Grad Dip in Edu(Qld Uni. Australia) Grad Dip in Computer Education(QUT,Australia) email:nsp1957[at]yahoo[dot]com[dot]au

23 Comments

  • Himachal is known for its soldiers and their stories always bring the much required energy we need in these trying times! Thank you for sharing such a wonderful story of valor!

  • a moving story of true valour, endurance and grit. Where Major Chint Singh’s war time diaries ever published?

  • In Feb 1983 when Dad was in the hospital,diagnosis of cancer wasmade but I did not have the heart to tell him.Best option to me appeared to meet one of his 2nd Dogra colleague,Brig SL Kapoor who was also posted there.He told me “you can tell him the fact without any apprehension as he is a brave soldier and knows how to face the realties of life.”

    • Hello Bhaiji

      good to see your comments here. I just got here today and see comments!! I have met Sgt Eric Spark family who wrote an article “ghost of 2800 indian POW” Unfortuately i was not able to contact Eric during his life time. He just passed away before Easter. I did go to Canberra to attend his funeral and his family was very to me and did tell me that eric often used to talk about Dad!!

      regards

      Narinder

  • At last some recognition for the often forgotten thousands of soldiers from the Indian sub-continent, who perished as pows in New Guinea. In 1989 a monument to honour their memory was built on the North Coast of New Guinea, near Bogia, – close to the site where some of them had died.
    I hope this memorial has been maintained.

    • Hello Kevin

      I got Christmas card returned to me from your address in Alice Springs. How are you. Drop a line when you have time, would love to catch up with you. I have moved to Wollongong now as Head Teacher, Social Sciences.

      Regards

      Narinder

      • Hi Narinder.
        Sorry about losing touch as we had moved to a new address in Alice Springs and have recently returned to SA.I will follow up by contacting Wollongong.Looking forward to again meeting you.
        Cheers, Kevin and Meredyth.

  • A person by the name of Steven Latmar in Hawaii, is trying to get in touch with Mr Kevin Deutrom. Is there any possibility of getting in touch with Mr Kevin Deutrom. I know that his son is in the Police Service in NT.
    Your assistance will be greatly appreciated.
    Thanks
    Janaki

  • Hi Janaki.

    What a great surprise to see this message. I knew Steven Latimer in Papua New Guinea and would like to hear from him. Ask him to contact me by e-mail on [email protected]. Thanks, Kevin

  • Well our soldiers and officers are the best without doubt. And I can say with pride given a chance I would even in next birth want to be in the Indian Army. Nice to have read this.

  • During my tenure in the tea, Coffee & the palm plantations in Papua New Guinea, I was fortunate to visit practically all the islands of the country – There are cemeteries at Rabaul, Kieta in the Bougainville, & in New Ireland & New Britain – Some, merely marked “INDIAN SOLDIER” – On my return to India, I met Brig CE James who too was a POW in PNG & he gave me an account of the life the prisoners led while they were there constructing airfields & caves for mini submarines. My ‘Saalams’ to all those who were there

  • Chaminder,
    I have completed my manuscript on World War 2 in the Sepik, which, with your kind permission includes your father diary. If you can give me a postal address I shall post you a bound copy.

    Best Regards

    Laurie

  • The acronym LDRSHIP fits such soldiers so well …Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, Persinal Courage! 🙂

  • Narinder Singh Ji, Good day. My name is malki and I have worked in PNG between Feb 2006 – Feb 2009, and have read about Capt Chint Singh in a weekend article by Jim Ridges. I am reading a copy of this article as I am typing this email.

    In fact, I getting reposted to Port Moresby in Oct 2014 and come tomorrow, I am holding a prayer session for all soldiers who fought in WW2 in PNG i.e. Sikhs, Muslims, Dogras, Hindus, Christians and Japanese Buddhist. Prayer will be held on 26/08 (Tue), followed by Guru Ka Langgar at Gurudwara Sahib Hoppers Crossing in Werribee.

    A sudharan path has been completed a few days ago and this prayer is a special one for me.

    You may contact me on 03 9974 6707 or my mobile which is 0450230781.

    malki

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