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Tributes to late Major Prem Bhatia, Vir Chakra of Walong Fame on his 89th birthday-17 Jul 2022

Brig RV Jatar (Retd) 13 Kumaon

Prem Bhatia, 3 courses junior to me, was in Kohima Company with me at the IMA and we played cricket for the Company. In 1959-60, we were together as Captains in the Kumaon Regimental Centre Ranikhet. We spent many hours together as Training Company Commanders in Dulikhet, playing squash, cricket and billiards.

One of my lasting memories was going for long drives on Prem's mobike, while I rode a pillion. He was newly married then while Nilakshi and I had our firstborn Ranjit with us.

Prem was a good professional soldier, fun-loving, and had an excellent way of dealing with seniors, equals, and juniors. No wonder our senior, Maj Sardar Singh also from 6 Kumaon used to say that Prem would end up someday as the Army Chief.

Prem's career was cut short by the tragic accident in Wellington in 1965. I was in the 6 Kumaon Officers Mess in Meerut when Ravi Mathur broke the news. It was one of the saddest days of my life. A shining star had fallen and a dear friend was no more.

Nilakshi and I paid a condolence call on Prem's parents in Gurgaon, then a sleepy hamlet and now a booming city.

I am so glad that Prem's son, Arvind carried the torch forward by joining 6 Kumaon and had an illustrious career in the Army. Prem's younger brother Narendra (Nini), now a prolific military writer, commissioned in 13 Kumaon and served many years with me in the Battalion.

Mr Hitesh Bhatia, the youngest of 7 siblings in the family

He was the bravest of the brave soldiers, an ideal son, an affectionate brother, and a loving father. His remarkable traits were, ‘Compassion for wrath, love for malice, generosity for greed and frugality and he was ever ready to help the destitute and needy.' I have a lot to say. Fondly, our parents used to address him 'Sher ji. If he has reincarnated, I pray ALMIGHTY for his happiness and prosperity. This is about my Eldest brother Major Prem Nath Bhatia 'VrC', Hero of the Battle of Walong.

Col Narendra Singh (Retd) 4 Kumaon

Surely, Nini, a GREAT pleasure to go back in time and space in our lives. Let me recollect:-

‘We met some wonderful young bright bubbly Kumaoni Officers at Ranikhet during 1958 when my father was the Centre Commandant, Capt Prem Bhatia like Shaitan, Bull, Vishy, Jatar, Williams and the whole team were always on the ball with a bright smile. They all loved and treated Nini and me as younger brothers thus motivating us to join the ‘Renowned Kumaon Regiment’. Later Maj Prem Bhatia gave a bloody nose to the Chinks in the famous ‘Battle of Walong in 1962 War’ and was decorated with a VrC. Unfortunately, his bright future got nipped in the bud due to shocking scooter accident at Wellington. We lost a Brave heart and a future COAS. May God bless his Soul.’

Hav Ummed Singh (Retd) 6 Kumaon

मैं पल्टन में सिपाही बनकर अगस्त -सितम्बर१९६२ में आया था। भाटिया साहब एडजूटेन्ट व डैल्टा कम्पनी कमांडर थे।हमें सब आफीसरौ से डर लगता था पर भाटिया साहब से डर बिल्कुल नहीं लगता था। वो बहुत आला दर्जे के अधिकारी और कमांडर थे। उन को कोई‌ घुमंड नहीं था और सबकी मदद करते थे। लड़ाई में बहुत बहादुरी से लड़ें थे और बुरी तरह घायल हो गये थे। पल्टन लड़ाई के बाद रूपा में आई थी और वह 2IC साहब थे। उनकी अचानक मृत्यु से पल्टन और फौज ने एक आला आफिसर खो दिया। कालिका माता उनकी आत्मा को शान्ति दे।

Mrs (Dr) Santosh Chawla, PhD, Sister

वीर भोग्या वसुंधरा। धरती का लाल प्रेम अचूक लक्ष्य भेदी था। करुणामय, प्रोपकारी, अग्रज भापे को जन्म दिवस पर हार्दिक नमन। यशरूपी काया से आप सदा हमारा मार्ग दर्शन कर रहे हैं।

Mr Rajindra Kumar Bhatia, Cousin

प्रेम भापे एक अच्छे दोस्त दिलदार बड़े भाई और उत्तम मार्ग दर्शक थे। मैं उनके साथ बिताए पलों को सदैव स्मर्ण करता हूं। वह मुझ से सात वर्ष एक माह दौ दिन बड़े थे। उनके जन्मदिन को आदर पूर्वक संस्मरण और प्रणाम। राजन भाटिया ।

Mrs Aarti Gulati, Cousin-d/o maternal uncle late Mr KL Bhatia,

In 1965, I was around 8 years old. My father used to narrate endless stories of good looks, strict discipline and successful career as ace IAF pilot our Taya ji (Group Capt KL Bhatia, VrC, elder brother of Aarti’s father) who was fatherly figure to our family and Prem Bhape whom I had met a few times always with a SMILE. He was tall, handsome and everyone admired him. Suddenly, one day we all went to Gurgaon crying and grieving to console our eldest Bhua ji and Fufa Ji (Prem’s parents) who were crying constantly as we lost him forever in an unfortunate accident. As I grew up, I realized both Taya ji and Prem Bhape were very brave, handsome gems of the family awarded Vir Chakras for their bravery and both died very young leaving endless grieving family members. I am proud of them and my BHATIA legacy.

Lt Gen Vijay Madan, PVSM, VSM (Retd)-Course mate

Prem, as remember him from the IMA was a quite unassuming person. One did not realise that a very very brave soldier and solid Infantry officer, leading from the front, was in the making.

Having walked over the battle field where he fought for his Country and led them from the front, that too in October-November of 1962 very cold months, one can admire his courage and those of his men. Grievously wounded he led and fought on.

Pity his life was cut short by an accident in Coonoor while winding up the Staff Course at Wellington.

As predicted by his father, when he was born, a true Tiger or ‘Sher’as he was addressed by his family.

Prem as I knew him-Brig Kuldip Singh Brar, VSM, 4 Dogra

Gallantry Personified

On 17 July, we celebrate the Birth Anniversary of my friend Major Prem Nath Bhatia, Vir Chakra an iconic ‘Hero of the Battle of Walong’ Nov 1962.

Tall, slim, tough and wiry, leadership and soldiery oozed out of every pore of Prem, the Warrior. The first vivid memory of Prem etched in my mind is of the morning of 15 Nov 1962 when I saw Prem coming down the Avalanche Ridge with his head and shoulders heavily bandaged soaked in blood. He was Adjutant of 6 Kumaon that had launched an attack on 14 November to evict the Chinese from the Yellow Pimple (13000 ft).

When that night a massive Chinese counter attack came, 6 Kumaon fought against heavy odds to prevent the Chinese from over-running its base, the Tri Junction (13500 ft). Prem moved from trench to trench to stablise the situation. With mounting casualties amongst the jawans, Prem himself took over a light machine gun and began engaging the surging enemy. Wave after wave of the Chinese were beaten back during which Prem suffered serious wounds in his head and shoulders. Undaunted, he kept firing the machine gun and helped repulse the enemy attack. Prem was Gallantry Personified.

On the Avalanche Ridge, I saluted my friend Prem the brave heart and wished him an early recovery and good health. With steely heart and great will power, Prem recovered from his wounds.

Three months later, in February 1963, Prem and I led the Cremation Teams from our respective battalions and revisited Walong battlefield to recover and cremate our gallant comrades in arms where they had fallen fighting the Chinese.

It was a great pleasure and honour to have the gallant Prem Bhatia as my friend and equally tragic to learn his demise in an unfortunate scooter accident in Wellington. He was a true Hero of Battle of Walong.

Rest In Peace my friend Major Prem Bhatia, Vir Chakra.

Maj Nainder Singh Rathore b/o late Lt Bikam Singh 6 Kumaon, served as ECO in 6 Kumaon & later retired IG BSF

Salute to the Brave Soul of Maj Prem Bhatia, VrC.

Though commissioned in 6 Kumaon, I met Maj Bhatia only once in the Officers Mess at Rupa and the following day he left for the unfortunate Staff College Course. During his talk, D Company’s fight to finish was his main topic and Bikram as hero, who was missing in action (MIA) till that day far away in difficult western heights of Walong. I was highly impressed by his personality, soldierly bearing and brotherly feelings for Bikram whom while discussing he even became very emotional.

Sadly, he received splinter injuries at 6 AM on 15 Nov1962 and though profusely bleeding, he walked back to Walong ALG the whole day covering 20 km in tough and rugged terrain like a real brave soldier. My salutes to the brave soul.

Col SK Bhatia, (Retd), Bombay Sappers, Cousin

Remembering my mentor Prem Bhape on his 89th birth day.

It is sublime to think of Prem Bhape. We had two greats in the family. While the whole family adored our late maternal uncle Group Captain KL Bhatia, VrC' as a near divine incarnation, we loved Prem Bhape even more! Personally for me it’s difficult to decide as to who stood taller as?

He was like a jubilant stream of fresh water - pure and unadulterated! He had some sterling qualities of head and heart. He impressed every one with his elan and swagger. We always looked forward to meeting him.

In 1957, he attended Air Transportation Course at Agra. So much was his bonding, love and affection that he chose to stay with us for the entire duration while we had no luxuries and comforts to offer. We were absolutely thrilled to have him with us and he took us out for movie 'Mother India 'and gifted me my first pair of football shoes. He is seen clicked with entire family in the enclosed group photograph.

While leaving, he quietly confided that he very much wanted to buy me a pair of trousers but was left with little money. To my utter surprise, within a week there was a parcel from KRC Ranikhet with brand new woolen trousers tailored to my size that I wore for many years till I joined NDA. That was the caring and generous side of our dear Bhape! While at Ranikhet, he groomed Nini too under his wings, who was like him, proudly commissioned in the famous 13 Kumaon of Rezang La fame and I often wonder why I did not join the GREAT Kumaon Regiment while I often hum ‘Bedu Pako Barrah Massah.’

While in NDA, 1962 Sino-Indian War started and amongst the series of reverses suffered by our army, the Battle of Walong stood out as a silver lining where 6 KUMAON counter attacked the Chinese against very heavy odds and nearly captured the objective. With heroics of Prem that has a few parallels in the history and he was awarded well deserved Vir Chakra following footsteps of our GREAT maternal uncle and mentor 'Gp Capt KL Bhatia, Vir Chakra.

When the shattering news from Wellington came I had just finished running a one week engineering cadre for 96 Infantry Brigade at Meerut and 6 KUMAON was also part of it. I met Maj Jatar (later Brig Jatar (Retd), the DQ of the Brigade who was a close friend of Prem Bhai Sahib. I was devastated to learn about the accident and along with my course mate Lieut Pherwani of 6 KUMAON rushed to Gurgaon to join the family in our darkest hour! It was a very sad and sudden end of a budding General!! And he will sadly, always be missed.

Col NN Bhatia (Retd) 13 & 2 Kumaon (Berar)-Younger Brother

A ‘Sher’ is born

On 17 Jul 1933 our parents were blessed with their first child. When my grandmother excitedly enquired my father about the first delivery and the child, my father proudly said ‘Ek Sher paida huwa hai’. From that very moment onwards Prem, their eldest child was nicknamed ‘Sher and our parents were addressed as ‘Sher Di Mata” and ‘Sher De Pita” respectively as mark of respect and love and affection for the first child born in the family.

Prem, grew up as a very fair, smart, 6 feet tall, soft spoken, caring, handsome, well -mannered young man who excelled both in studies, sports and reading classics which continued to be his lasting passions in later life. Prem came under the lasting influence of our awesome maternal uncle Group Captain KL Bhatia, Vir Chakra, who was not only a dare devil ace pilot but a man with dynamic and mesmerizing personality and hero of Burma War and Punch and Uri Battles fame and personally groomed and motivated Prem for career in the Armed Forces. Prem joined the JSW in Dec 50 and was commissioned in 6 Kumaon on 4 Dec 1954 and ignited the love for career in the Indian Army and the KUMAON passion in me, my cousin Sindi and some friends.

Soldiers’ Officer and a Gentleman

Prem was truly a soldier first and then an officer and a gentleman with highest integrity, professionalism and human touch. In his 10 years’ service, he served 9 years in the Regiment and the last year doing the prestigious Defence Services Staff College where he met his unfortunate death on 28 Feb 1965 putting an end to his promising military careers and shattering the entire family, the Regiment and his Paltan. During his tenure in the KUMAON Regimental Centre under Lt Col Ram Singh as Commandant, he not only trained the recruits well but also was socially very popular. No social function in the Ranikhet Club, Officers Mess or individual officer’s house was ever complete without Prem being the Master of Ceremony. Prem was a unique blend of two extremes. At one moment you will find him well dressed in his black DJ fox-trotting on his favourite tunes, while in the very next moment you could find him sitting with the jawans sipping tea in the mug. He would take no time in reversing his roles. His favourite book was ‘Gone With The Wind’ that he had read number of times. He was graceful ball room dancer and extensively played bridge, tennis and squash beside the troops’ games like football, basketball and hockey. Prem was also instrumental in introducing cricket to recruits. During his tenure in the Regimental Centre, he trained large number of recruits to get commission in the armed forces. He had a very fine sense of humour. Once Maj Sardar Singh his senior who was very fond of him, jokingly said, ‘Prem one day you will be the Chief of the Army Staff but how I wish your IC No was 7777 and not 7077’. Prem replied Sir, but in that case I would have been junior to 700 officers and miss the rank by default.

Hero of Battle of Walong

6 KUMAON was deployed in the Walong Sector of the then North East Frontier Area (NEFA, now Arunachal Pradesh) where they fought the Chinese at Kibtu and Ashi Hills with astounding grit and determination. During the fierce battle, 6 KUMAON was the only unit of the Indian army to launch a counter attack on the Chinese defences with limited resources but unlimited ferocity and aggression. Once the ammunition was exhausted, hand to hand battle ensued with both sides suffering heavy casualties.

The Chinese counter attacked with greater ferocity at Tri junction on night 14/15 Nov and pressed their attack with human wave after wave coming onto the tenacious hold of the gallant KUMAONIS who pushed back the Chinese during the day and ‘ding dong’ battle raged throughout the night led by their gallant young officers like Prem who remained stuck to their ground till ‘the last man, last round’ but eventually the enemy succeeded as there were no able bodied KUMAONIS left to defend. Whether it was Major Prem Bhatia, the Adjutant, firing the Light machine Gun or Capt Mathur, 2 Lt AS Khatri, late Lt Bikram Singh killed in the action, Capt BC Chopra, the RMO or late Naik Bahadur Singh and score of unsung KUMAONI Bhullas who fought like wounded ‘Man Eaters’ till there was an ‘eerie silence’. Prem not only kept on fighting in spite of severely wounded and personally hauled countless 3 inch Mortar bombs to the mortar position a day earlier. After the cease fire, Prem refused self-evacuation and organised an orderly withdrawal of the left over remnants of the Paltan as all officers senior to him were either taken as prisoners of war (PsOW) or evacuated after having been wounded in earlier actions and Prem was awarded Vir Chakra for his heroic actions and combat leadership.

We are proud, Prem's son Maj Gen Arvind Bhatia did well in his career and six months back superannuated with a well-deserved AVSM.

Knowing Prem was the greatest treasure and losing him the sharpest shooting pain. If tears could build a stairway and memories a lane, our family would walk up to heavens and bring him back amongst us. So, this is the story of our ‘Sher Prem’ Vir Chakra, Hero of Walong, soldiers’ soldier, sportsman, an officer and a gentleman, an illustrious son, brother, husband, father and above all a compassionate human being with infinite integrity, patience, missionary zeal, cheerfulness, purity of thoughts, conduct, absence of animosity and vanity that will inspire BHATIA Clan and the KUMAON Regiment for generations to come….!!


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