Warrior, Scholar, and Gentleman: Late Major Prem Nath Bhatia’s Legacy in the KUMAON Regiment

Major Prem Nath Bhatia's Supreme Sacrifice in the Battle of Walong.

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Col NN Bhatia (Retd)
Col NN Bhatia (Retd)
Col NN Bhatia (Retd), besides being a combat military veteran is perhaps the only freelance consultant in Industrial Security. He has audited large numbers of core strategic industries in both private and public sectors such as Aeronautics, Airports, Banks, Defence, DRDOs, Mints, Nuclear Energy, Oil, Power, Ports, Prasar Bharti (AIR & Doordarshan Kendras) Railways, Refineries, Space, Ship Building, Telecom & various vital Research Centres & Laboratories and conducted numerous Industrial Security & Disaster Management Training Programs, Seminars, Workshops & Exhibitions & interacted with numerous Ministries, Departments & NGOs and undertaken Industrial Security Audits, Reviews, Training & Advice in Disaster Management & handling of IEDs & Explosives. He has vast experience in the management of the Human Resources, Training & Development, Liaison, Fire Fighting, Logistics, Equipment & Material Management, Strategic Decision-Making Process, clearance of Maps & Aerial Photography (GIS), Explosives handling, Industrial Security & Disaster Management. He is physically, mentally and attitudinally sound having good communication skills to undertake Industrial Security Consultancy, IED handling, Coordination & Liaison Assignments to add to the productivity of the Organisation. He can also organise discreet customised intelligence gathering & surveillance operations on a turnkey basis for his clients. He is a prolific writer written numerous articles on industrial security, national and geostrategic security issues and 5 books- KUMAONI Nostalgia, Industrial and Infrastructure Security in 2 volumes, Soldier Mountaineer (biography of international mountaineer Col Narender Kumar 'Bull' and Reminiscing Battle of Rezang La. *Views are personal.

Modern, well-educated, liberal, and of moderate financial means, my parents were profoundly impacted by the Arya Samaj movement in the undivided Punjab. On December 24, 1905, my father, the eldest of three siblings and a sister, was born in Bhulwal, Pakistan. In his village, he was the first to complete matriculation. My grandfather, a cotton merchant, wrestler, and hakim, fired a volley from a 12 bore gun and dispersed laddus throughout the village to recognise his son’s outstanding academic achievement. As there was no other earning family member at the time of his father’s untimely death, his ambition to become a physician was dashed. He completed a course in pharmacy in Bombay before accepting a government position at the Civil Hospital in Khushab. My mother had two brothers and four sisters; she was the oldest of six siblings.

Maj PN Bhatia being awarded Vir Chakra by the Dr S Radhakrishnan, the President of India in October 1963
Maj PN Bhatia being awarded Vir Chakra by the Dr S Radhakrishnan, the President of India in October 1963

My mother was born in Haripur, Hazara, on September 5, 1916. My maternal grandfather was from Sargodha, a young Station Master with a liberal education who worked for the British India Railways there. Our parents’ wedding date was May 18, 1931. My mother, who entered into matrimony at a tender age, managed to educate herself to earn a postgraduate degree in Hindi and complete courses in embroidery, stitching, child care, and needlework while raising seven children. She pursued Vedic studies in her later years, and my parents served as presidents of the Arya Samaj in Gurgaon.

Additionally, my mother authored many articles featured in diverse publications, covering Vedic philosophy and the advancement of marginalised women. My father was heavily involved in establishing the DAV School in the Urban Estate of Gurgaon and operating a charitable dispensary. On the other hand, my mother would coordinate the gathering of textiles and donations to sew a substantial quantity of garments for the orphanages operated by the Arya Samaj. Throughout the 1962, 1965 and 1971 Wars, our parents amassed substantial monetary and gold contributions to the war efforts. The actions taken by our parents had a significant impact on the entirety of our family.

Their first child was born to joyous parents on July 17, 1933. In response to my grandmother’s enthusiastic inquiry regarding the initial delivery and the infant, my father proudly exclaimed, “Ek Sher paida huwa hai.” Prem, their eldest child, was subsequently dubbed “Sher,” and our parents referred to one another as “Sher De Pita” and “Sher Di Mata,” respectively, out of affection and reverence for their firstborn.

As the eldest child and the first in our family lineage, Prem received lavish affection and indulgence from our parents and every aunt, uncle, and grandmother. He was a well-mannered, fair, intelligent, 6-foot-tall, soft-spoken, considerate, handsome, and athletically gifted young man who flourished academically and in sports. At 13 and a half years of age, he completed his matriculation and enrolled at Hindu College in Delhi. In addition to his academic prowess, he demonstrated exceptional aptitude in athletics, cricket, dramatics, adventure, swimming, photography, and classic literature, which remained his enduring interests throughout his later years. During this period, the nation underwent partition and achieved independence. Prem was profoundly impacted by our extraordinary maternal uncle, Group Captain KL Bhatia, Vir Chakra, an individual not only renowned for his audaciousness as a pilot but also for his captivating personality. In addition to being a hero of the Burma War and the Punch & Uri Battles, he was awarded Vir Chakra at the time. Following the 1948 Indo-Pakistan War, our uncle was assigned to the position of Station Commander Kheria in Agra. He guided and inspired Prem to pursue a military career. December 50 saw Prem qualifying in the Joint Services Wing, colloquially known as the JSW. He excelled in academics, athletics, adventure, and extracurricular activities during his training. On December 4, 1954, he graduated from the Military College, Dehradun, with an honourable rank in the order of merit and was commissioned in the 6th Battalion, The KUMAON Regiment. Prem was the one who sparked my interest in pursuing a career in the Indian Army and my affinity for the KUMAON Regiment. During my passing out parade, I had only received a telegram from him informing me of my commissioning into 13 KUMAON of the late Major Shaitan Singh, PVC of the Rezang La fame.

Soldiers’ Officer, Sportsman and a Gentleman

Prem was first and foremost a soldier, then an officer, and he was a gentleman characterised by the utmost integrity, professionalism, and compassion. He honed his interpersonal and professional aptitudes by participating in numerous army courses. Once, upon learning that a sweeper in his subunit could not afford his otherwise brilliant son’s education, Prem, a young subaltern, sponsored a scholarship with his meagre remuneration. This ensured the boy completed matriculation and secured a suitable position afterwards. Prem, who was only nine years old at the time of my birth, was responsible for the care of the entire family until our mother was released from the hospital, while our father laboriously sewed tentages for the war effort in his modest Kanpur factory. One day, he awoke late at night to deliver a home-cooked meal for our mother when he discovered that the enormous gates of Dufferin Hospital were closed. Despite bruises, he vaulted over the gates to ensure our mother received her meal on time. My sister-in-law frequently observed him changing diapers and feeding their infant daughter, Archana, so that she could obtain much-needed rest. 

During his ten-year service, he spent the final year attending the esteemed Defence Services Staff College, where he tragically passed away in a scooter accident on the last day of the course on February 27 1965. This event profoundly impacted our family, the Regiment, and his Paltan 6 KUMAON. In addition to his rank as Company Commander, he served as Adjutant of the Battalion for most of his time in 6 KUMAON. He consistently placed first in long, high, and steeple pursuit jumps in athletic competitions. During his tenure as commandant of the KUMAON Regimental Centre under Lt. Col. Ram Singh, he provided excellent recruit training and was extremely well-liked by the general populace. No social event was ever finished in the Ranikhet Club, Officers Mess, and individual officer residences without Prem serving as the Master of Ceremonies.

Prem represented an exceptional synthesis of two opposites. He could be observed at one moment elegantly attired in his black DJ, enthusiastically fox-trotting to his preferred music, and at the exact opposite moment, he sat with the jawans and enjoyed tea served in a mug. He would promptly reverse his position. He enjoyed alcohol in social gatherings in moderation and reading and smoking. Even though he had read “Gone With the Wind” numerous times, it remained his favourite masterpiece. In addition to the standard troops’ football, basketball, and hockey games, he played bridge, tennis, and squash with great proficiency and was a graceful ballroom dancer.

Additionally, Prem was a pioneer in introducing recruits to cricket. With immense pride, I recall how, throughout his tenure at the Regimental Centre, he prepared many recruits for commission in the armed forces. Indeed, he served as the primary impetus for our cousin Sindi, me, and many of my acquaintances to become commissioned officers in the Armed Forces. He possessed an exceptional sense of humour. A senior who held him in high regard once remarked in jest, “Prem, I hope you become the Chief of the Army Staff one day; however, I wish your IC No was 7777 rather than 7077.” Prem replied, “Sir, but in that case, I would have been subordinate to 700 officers and, therefore, too old to be denied that rank automatically.” 

Hero of the Battle of Walong

6 KUMAON, led by Lieutenant Colonel CN Madiah, was stationed in the Walong Sector of the North East Frontier Area (NEFA) at the time (present-day Arunachal Pradesh). There, they valiantly engaged the Chinese at Kibtu and Ashi Hills. 6 KUMAON was the sole Indian army unit to launch a counteroffensive against the Chinese defences during the fierce battle, utilising scarce resources but boundless ferocity and aggression.

To breach the 11 Infantry Brigade’s defences at Walong, an area remote from road communication and maintained solely by air, the enemy had occupied Yellow and Green Pimples and other commanding heights. It was directed that the Paltan launch a counteroffensive and expel the Chinese from these features. On November 14, 1962, 6 KUMAON initiated the epic battle by launching an assault at half its strength without tangible artillery or close air-fire support. The day was consumed by the ferocious assault against the extremely formidable Chinese resistance. After the ammunition ran out, a hand-to-hand conflict broke out, resulting in significant casualties for both parties.

On November 14th and 15th, the Chinese launched a more intense counteroffensive at Tri Junction to reclaim their lost territory. They launched wave after wave of human forces into the tenacious hold of the valiant KUMAONIS, who repelled the Chinese during the day while a ‘ding dong’ battle waged at night. The valiant KUMAONI bhullas, under the leadership of their courageous young officers such as Prem, maintained their position until “the last man, last round.” The persistent adversary endured tremendous casualties at the hands of tenacious KUMAONIS but ultimately prevailed because no able-bodied KUMAONIS remained to defend. Whether it was the adjutant, Major Prem Bhatia, despite seriously wounded manned the light machine gun, Captain Mathur, 2 Lt AS Khatri, the late Lt Bikram Singh, the RMO, the late Naik Bahadur Singh, or a multitude of unsung heroes of 6 KUMAON who fought as wounded “Man-Eaters” until a “eerie silence” descended, the event was marked by heroic deeds.

It is exceptionally proud that Prem, despite suffering severe wounds, not only continued fighting but also personally transported and fired innumerable 3-inch mortar bombs from the mortar position the day before, thereby inflicting enemy casualties that effectively repelled the enemy for a significant duration. Following the cessation of hostilities, Prem, despite suffering grievous injuries, abstained from self-evacuation and orchestrated a systematic withdrawal of the Paltan’s remaining remnants while CO & 2IC were taken prisoners of war (POW) or those who had been wounded in earlier engagements and evacuated to numerous military hospitals.

The final tally of casualties for 6 KUMAON amounted to 404:

  • 11 officers (two killed, seven wounded, and four captured)
  • 12 JCOs (six killed, one wounded, and five captured)
  • 381 other ranks (111 killed, 107 wounded, and 163 captured)

Notwithstanding their formidable challenges, the Paltan exhibited the audacity emblematic of the KUMAONIs. While many were not awarded gallantry awards in the fog of the war, those for exceptional valour were bestowed with Vir Chakras- Major PN Bhatia, Capt BC Chopra, RMO, Capt RK Mathur, 2 Lt AS Khatri and Naik Bahadur Singh (posthumous).

November 14 is annually observed as “Walong Day” by 6 KUMAON so that future generations may continue to be motivated by the valiant efforts of their predecessors in the defence and service of our country.

Abrupt Tragic Ends The Illustrious Journey

Following the ceasefire, Prem was airlifted to the Military Hospital in Lucknow, where he underwent surgery and had 28 splinters extracted from his chest. During his medical leave, a special investiture took place at Rashtrapati Bhawan, where he was bestowed with the Vir Chakra in company with other recipients. Having been commissioned in the renowned REZANGLA’s 13th KUMAON, it was an extraordinary honour for me to attend his investiture in Rashtrapati Bhawan. His son Arvind was born around this time as well.

Subsequently, Prem further enhanced his illustrious professional trajectory by completing the Staff Course in Wellington. He had completed the course by February 27, 1965, and was awaiting his posting orders, which had not yet arrived for some inexplicable reason. Following the renowned REZANGLA Battle, my Paltan was relocated to Gaya for its peace tenure. As I emerged from my room on March 1, 1965, to take our Retention examination, an unprecedented tragedy befell me, my family, and the regiment. The Duty Clerk handed me a shocking telegram that Prem had perished in a road rage accident the day before. A vehicle descending the hill with its engine deactivated collided with his scooter around 1000 hours on that tragic Sunday morning, causing fatal head injuries while en route to the Ooty Railway Station to check in his luggage. The world appeared to have ended abruptly, unexpectedly, and catastrophically for our family, particularly our older parents, my sister-in-law and her children, Archana and Arvind, all Prem’s brothers and sisters, Battalion and the Regiment. We were undeniably devastated and, thus far, have encountered great difficulty reconciling ourselves with the most egregious and abrupt shocks that befell us.

The December 1983 commissioning of Prem’s son Arvind in his father’s Paltan, 6 KUMAON, and the marriage of his daughter Archana to an officer of the DOGRA Regiment were sources of immense pride. Arvind retired as Major General and was awarded AVSM for distinguished services. Acknowledging Prem was the most invaluable asset, and his passing was the most excruciating agony. If weeping could form a staircase and recollections could form a lane, our family would ascend to the heavens to reclaim him among us. This account recounts the life and achievements of the late Major Prem Nath Bhatia, a valiant warrior of Walong, sportsman, officer, gentleman, illustrious son, brother, husband, and father, and most importantly, a compassionate individual endowed with boundless integrity, patience, missionary fervour, merriment, purity of thought and conduct, absence of animosity, and vanity. His legacy shall serve as an inspiration to the BHATIA Clan and the KUMAON Regiment for future generations…!



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