Friday, January 29, 2016


My first visit to Deolali was sometime in 1978 as a subaltern, nominated for the Young Officers course at the School of Artillery. While on a 'surreptitious outing' , which all YO's indulge in --- I with a couple of friends noticed a road sign near a cemetery which mentioned something like 'buried here are 11 Turkish soldiers' or words to that effect. My curiosity was piqued, but with gun-drill , ballistics, tactics, course-shootings and exams always on my head, I could not investigate further. Subsequently I made more than a half a dozen trips to Deolali over the next three plus decades, unfortunately, there was never time available. But I never forgot. Next time--next time ; and next time was always carried forward!! This time I was again at Deolali in October 2015 and it was ordained that I visit the cemetery.

In "Pick up your Parrots and Monkeys - The life of a Boy Soldier in India" by William Pennington there is a description of 'Doollali'. British soldiers who wanted to escape the hardship of service in India used to feign madness (Doollaly Tap---sunstroke), and were sent to 'Doollali'. As the war progressed,from a small peacetime garrison of two or three hundred, Devlali and the surrounding area eventually became an enormous Transit Camp holding at its maximum 70,000 men. Deolali also housed the Homeward Bound Trooping Depot (HBTD) for British/European soldiers waiting to embark on the journey home from Bombay, a large Military Hospital and many sanatoriums. Soldiers came from Australia and New Zealand ( as also West- Indian/African soldiers of the empire), only to be quickly on their way again to the deserts of North Africa. Regiments came from England to go always further east to Burma or Malaya.

During WW2 , Axis prisoners of War from the East African Campaign fronts (mostly Italians) were escorted to India to be held in POW Camps at Ahmednagar and Deolali.
Incidentally we YO's were billeted in the old Italian POW barracks, laid out in neat rows having toilets on either end, with barbed wire fencing all around the complex, known as 'Hampden Lines'. Eerily similar to the Auschwitz Concentration Camp I had visited a few years back. It now houses the Army School, Deolali.

Apparently Turkish POWs (including wounded Turk prisoners) were also stationed in Deolali during WW1, sometime between 1915/16, and out of that lot, eleven had died , probably of natural causes or wounds and were interred in the 'Deolali Muslim Cemetery'.
The Ottoman Turks had faced Indian and British soldiers in Kut-al-Amara and Mesopotamia. I learned from the care taker that a Turkish Colonel had come two years back and had got the graves of these ten soldiers repaired as is visible, previously they were plain mounds of earth. Names of only one or two soldiers are known and others are simply numbered (Turkish Martyr 1, Turkish Martyr 2, Turkish Martyr 3 etc). The graves have inscribed on them 'Sehit Turk Askeri' (Turkish Troops) and  'Ruhuna Fatiha' (in the spirit of Al-fatiha).

Coming on to Barnes School, Deolali and Dilip Kumar. The name Barnes School, Deolali conjures up images of a grand building and the famous BST (Barnes School Tower), which was the aiming point of many an Indian and British Gunner whether in shooting, YO's, survey, LGSC or aviation days not to forget the 'Camels Back' annual play at Barnes which many of us have attended (many a time!). Barnes School was established in 1925, primarily a boarding schools for Anglo-Indian boys and girls, mainly belonging to the Anglican Church. Later on with the passage of time, boarders and day-scholars of all castes and creeds were admitted and became alumini of BS with so many joining the Indian Armed Forces.

Yusuf Khan - - Born at Peshawar on December 11, 1922, he was brought to Deolali at age 6. His father Ghulam Sarwar Khan was a successful fruit trader and had 12 children, of which the child at number 3 was named Yusuf Khan. "In more ways than one it is Maharashtra that holds the roots of my life and career. I had my schooling at Barnes School in Deolali, Nashik, as a day scholar. The moderate climate, especially the cool summers attracted my parents to stay in Deolali since my mother was ailing with asthma. Years later, after I became known as actor Dilip Kumar, I revisited Deolali in the course of my search all over Nashik District for an ideal location to film Ganga Jamuna's outdoor scenes''.

Dilip Kumar has another connection with Deolali.
Without going into too many personal details and with all due respect to privacy , when I visited the cemetery (kabristan actually) in Deolali researching some WW1 historical facts, the care taker took me to a secluded corner where there were three neat plainly marked graves with a space between the second and third graves.
Very quietly he told me that the first grave is of Dilip Kumars 'Ammi', the second is of Dilip Kumars 'Abba' and the third one is of Dilips 'bhai'. The care taker told me that as per Dilip Kumars wishes, he desires to be interred alongside his parents (and brother) when he leaves his earthy abode. The empty space is for him as per his wishes.

Now the Tobruk Gun story. Many of the old timers will recollect that British 4.5 inch gun with a 'jugad' kind of carriage which was placed near the Commandants Office in the old School HQ building. The carriage looked as if it been modified, welded and put together by the local EME unit. It had a plaque under the barrel--'This British 4.5 Inch Gun Was Used In The Seige Of Tobruk ' or words to that effect. I often wondered about the story behind it. Recently I found this gun among the vintage guns displayed at the S of A during the ROAR 2015. How did it reach the School from Tobruk ?? I did hit upon a picture of a damaged  4.5 inch gun with British gunners atop it after the seige of Tobruk had been lifted. The Axis siege of Tobruk began on 10 April, when the port was attacked by a force under Generalleutnant Erwin Rommel and continued during three relief attempts, Operation Brevity (15–16 May), Operation Battleaxe (15–17 June) and Operation Crusader (18 November – 30 December). 390 Battery (British Artillery) had 4x4.5 inch guns, the only guns of this caliber in that theater.  One of the four guns is now with the School, probably retrieved by the returning 4 Indian Division.

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