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A Publication
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The 1965 War: An Army Wife Remembers

By Asha Vombatkere

31 July, 2015

Soldiers actively participate in war, while others who are closely connected with soldiers by bonds of blood or marriage, are most often victims of the carnage of war. I was married to a soldier a few weeks before the 1965 war against Pakistan, and recall even now, fifty years later, my fears and feelings when my husband was recalled to his unit which had moved into the battle zone.

What is it like to be a “war bride”; to be parted from your husband of a few weeks when he leaves you to fight for our country? What is it like to carry a child inside you and wonder whether it will ever know its father? What is it like to dread opening the newspaper and perusing the list of those “killed in battle” or “missing in action”? Or feel the blessed relief of not finding a particular name, but the pain of finding one that you know?

Thousands of army (also navy and air force) wives would have been through similar fears with every war that we have fought, but I write particularly about the 1965 war with Pakistan, since this September marks its 50th Anniversary. The memory is vivid even though it is of fifty years ago.

OP ABLAZE was declared in April 1965. I travelled with my parents in mid-May from Dehra Dun to Madras (now Chennai) for my marriage to a soldier, then a Captain. Somebody's transistor radio on the train was playing All India Radio's hourly broadcasts that all leave for service personnel was cancelled. I wondered how a soldier travelling the length of the country to get married, could do so without any leave. A very understanding Commanding Officer made it possible. But seven days was all he got to travel from his unit to Jullunder (now Jalandhar) to Madras and get back again; we were both very lucky! From Jullunder to Delhi, the TTE in the train magically “produced” a berth for him. At Delhi, having missed his flight, Indian Airlines just gave my soldier a seat on the next flight, no questions asked. War was impending, and the whole country stood by the soldier, so the uniform was the magic which opened all doors!

My groom made it to Madras, and our marriage took place on 22 May 1965. The seven days flew by, and he returned to his unit. The situation on the borders “cooled” a bit and he returned in July for a long course in the College of Military Engineering at Pune, where I joined him.

But the situation hotted-up again in August, and OP RIDDLE commenced. The course was cancelled and my husband was ordered back to his unit, deployed on the border in J&K, and I went back to my parents' home, pregnant with our first child.

The short but bitter war was over by the end of September. Communication was a few censored letters from my husband. My husband came home only in March 1966, with memories and anecdotes, the pain of losing comrades close to him, his admiration for the courage of many soldiers, his minor injuries from a Pakistani rocket burst, photographs taken with an old camera and war mementos such as tickets from Pakistan's Alhar railway station. Yes, and Pakistani mines which he himself had lifted at night from a Pak minefield under the nose of the enemy! (I am glad I was unaware of this when he undertook this risky operation!).

It was blessed relief to welcome my husband back, but I could not help thinking of the thousands of other wives and mothers who waited in vain. I thought of the maimed, scarred and traumatised men who returned ... to what “life”? For those who didn't return, the epitaph in the World War II Kohima war memorial says it all: “When you go home tell them of us and say; For your tomorrow we gave our today”.

I realize that I am one of the really fortunate wives who got her husband back intact, and we have just celebrated our Golden Wedding Annversary. For me, it is a time to pay homage to all the brave soldiers who laid down their lives for their country, and to those wives and mothers who carried on bravely after those dearest to them had left forever.

The moving words in a war memorial of 13 Kumaon near Rezangla, Ladakh, for their last-man-last-round action in the 1962 war against China, bear repetition as long as there are wars and there are brave soldiers: “How can a man die better than facing fearful odds; For the ashes of his fathers and the temples of his gods”. With tears of gratitude, I salute you, brave Soldier!

Asha Vombatkere is married to an army officer (now retired), her brother is a Lt Col (now retired) decorated with a Sena Medal for bravery and cool courage in action on Siachen glacier, her two sons are serving officers in the Indian Navy. Her mother's late brother in the Indian Air Force, was a Maha Vir Chakra awardee in the 1971 war against Pakistan.



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