Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Captain (later Lieutenant Colonel) Mahmood Khan Durrani (01 July 1914 – 20 August 1995)

Captain (later Lieutenant Colonel) Mahmood Khan Durrani (01 July 1914 – 20 August 1995)


Captain (later Lieutenant Colonel) Mahmood Khan Durrani (01 July 1914 – 20 August 1995)
Captain (later Lieutenant Colonel) Mahmood Khan Durrani (01 July 1914 – 20 August 1995) 

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Mahmood Khan Durrani was commissioned in the Ist Battalion Bahawalpur Infantry (now 8 Baloch Regiment of Pakistan army).  Durrani was six feet four inches tall.  The Nawab of Bahawalpur was obsessed with recruiting tall men for his bodyguard; he personally interviewed and selected Durrani.  Some officers of the state forces were trained at the Indian Military Academy (IMA) but Durrani didn’t attend, doing his training locally.  He attended the army signal school in Poona.

The Ist Bahawalpur Infantry sailed for Malaya on 3 March 1941 under the command of Lt. Colonel R. C. Fletcher.  The total strength of the battalion was 850 men; its class composition comprised Sikhs, Punjabi Muslims, Jats and Bahawalpur state subjects. Other officers of the battalion included Major Thompson, Captain McDermott, Major M. Z. Babar, Major M. S. Brar, Captain S. A. Malik, Captain I. U. Pirzai, Captain M. K. Malik, Captain K. C. Bias, Captain A. B. Mirza, Captain A. D. Jahangir, Lieutenant M. A. Jilani, Lieutenant Amin Shah and Lieutenant K. M. Malik.  Lieutenant Dr. Jan was medical officer of the battalion.  Subedar Major Abdul Qadir Shah was the senior most Viceroy Commissioned Officer (VCO); other VCOs included Subedar Ali Haider, Subedar Ghulam Muhammad Sial, Subedar Safdar Ali Shah and Subedar Haq Nawaz Khan.  Fletcher later returned to India to command an auxiliary unit and Lieutenant Colonel Harry Ernest Tyrell took command of the battalion.

In the Malayan theatre, Indian III Corps was headquartered at Kuala Lampur.  It included battalions from three princely states; Ist Bahawalpur Infantry (Sadiq Battalion) under Lieutenant Colonel Harry Ernest Tyrell, Ist Mysore commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Harvey Preston and Ist Hyderabad Infantry (not to be confused with Indian army’s regular19thHyderabad Regiment) under Lieutenant Colonel Charles Albert Hendricks. The state forces acted as support units, and were deployed in defense of air fields. In addition, two companies each from Kapurthala and Jind state forces were deployed in Singapore.

The Ist Bahawalpur Infantry was tasked to defend the aerodromes of Sungai Patani, Kuala Katal and Lubo Kayab.  It was caught up in the Japanese offensive and subsequent disintegration of the British Commonwealth forces.  Men of the Ist Bahawalpur Infantry taken prisoners were held at a prison camp at Saleter and later moved to a camp at Bidadari. Durrani avoided capture, for a time hiding in the jungle, but finally was captured.  Like many Indian officers, he found himself in a confusing environment. Many factors – the shock of defeat, the sense of helplessness as prisoners of war, the utter barbarity of Japanese, awareness of a changing world, the rise of Indian nationalism and offers of release and better conditions if one joined the Japanese sponsored Indian National Army (INA) - resulted in conflicting loyalties for many.

Durrani in his memoirs provides a window to the thoughts of many Indian officers who faced this dilemma - although at times it is confusing as he tries to justify his actions during a difficult time in his life. In his memoir published in 1955, he claims that he outwardly professed sympathy for the INA while actually trying to prevent Muslims from joining the force as he saw it as an instrument of Hindu and Sikh dominance, and that he championed the cause of the Muslim League.  He also worked with the Japanese to train Indian POWs for sabotage activities in India, but secretly told his students to surrender to British forces as soon as they landed in India.  He wanted Indian independence but gave secret lectures to Muslim prisoners that ‘the only hope for Muslim salvation lay with the British, whom they should support with all their resources in men and material’.

In September 1942, a training establishment called Sandicraft School was started at Penang to train Muslim POWs for subversive missions in India.  Lt. Colonel G. Q.  Gilani was appointed commandant and Durrani, Captain M. G. Jilani and Second Lieutenant Sanaullah were assigned to help him.  Several Non-Commissioned Officers (NCOs), including Warrant Officer Asal Nur, Havaldar Major Allah Din, Havaldar Mir Ashraf and Jemadar Jaffar Hussain Shah helped run the school.

In March 1944, 12 graduates of the school were sent to India - including Warrant Officer Asal Nur, Jamadar Muhammad Yusuf, Naik Habib Khan, Naik Mustamil, Naik Said Rahman, Naik Ghazi Khan, Havaldar Major Allah Din, Charge Hand Mir Mast, Havaldar Darvesh Muhammad, Havaldar Said Muhammad, Shafi ul Zaman and Sepoy Saif ur Rahman. Only one man, Havaldar Said Muhammad of 5/14th Punjab Regiment was from an Indian army combat unit; the others were from workshop, supply and medical units and state forces.  The men carried weapons, wireless sets and other equipment. They were landed on the shores of Pasni in Baluchistan by a Japanese submarine.  Once ashore, they reported to the British revenue officer of Kalat State.  They were taken by a sea plane to Karachi and later to the Red Fort at Delhi where they were interrogated.  Asal Nur and Jamadar Muhammad Yusuf broadcast later on All India Radio on the barbarity of the Japanese.

There were serious problems within the INA, including relations with Japanese, a clash of personalities between some of the Indian officers and religious and ethnic dissentions.  At the Sandicraft School, which had only Muslim recruits, there were conflicts between Punjabis and Pathans and among the Pathans.  Durrani played a delicate game of sometimes cooperating with the INA while at other times choosing to stay at a POW camp.  There were suspicions within the INA about his sincerity, and the fact that the school graduates surrendered as soon as they reached India.  He was finally arrested on 26 May 1944.  He was tortured, and was sick most of the time from various illnesses.


Captain Mahmood Khan Durrani receiving George Cross (GC) from Viceroy Field Marshal Lord Wavell, 1946.

Durrani was finally released after Japanese surrendered.  He was awarded the George Cross (GC) for his steadfastness during captivity.  Aukinleck invited Durrani to lunch and told him of the award.  Durrani was the sole living recipient of the GC in India.  A second Indian POW, Captain Mateen Ahmad Ansari of 5th Battalion of 7th Rajput Regiment, received the GC posthumously after being beheaded by the Japanese in Hong Kong.  After partition, Durrani served with the Pakistan army but I’m unable to find his unit.  In 1962, he visited London and met Queen Elizabeth II at Victoria Cross and George Cross Association dinner.  He retired in 1971 and died in 1995.

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