Military & Aerospace

The Making of a Field Marshal
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 23 Sep , 2015

Click to Buy: Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw: The Man and His Times

It was on New Year’s Day of 1973 that the nation got to know that the architect of India ’s greatest military victory in centuries had been elevated to the rank of field marshal. This came as a surprise to most of us. Only a couple of months earlier, the then defence minister had told the press at Chennai that India would not have a field marshal or a five-star general. I remember a friend of mine telling me at that time that if Pakistan had won the 1971 war, Yahya would have been made a field marshal the very next day. I disagreed with him, saying he would not have been made field marshal, but would have made himself one, like Ayub Khan.

My thoughts went back to 1946, when for the first time three Indian officers were posted to the Military Operations Directorate at Delhi , hitherto the exclusive preserve of British officers and British clerks. They were Lt. Col. Sam Hormusji Faramji Manekshaw, Major Yahya Khan and I in the rank of captain. Who could then have predicted the path the careers of Manekshaw and Yahya would take? Inscrutable are the ways of providence.

I had the privilege of serving under Sam Manekshaw in all the ranks that he held from Lt. Col. to Army Chief. He had a tremendous capacity for work and was a brilliant professional, contributing immensely in every appointment. He combined all this with a great sense of humour and ready wit. As a senior staff officer at Army Headquarters in 1971, I saw how meticulously he planned for the coming war during the nine months preparatory time he had managed to obtain. The resounding victory in that war was the crowning achievement of the foremost military leader of our Army.

Field Marshal never retires. He would therefore be entitled to full pay for the rest of his life.

I was functioning as adjutant-general, the Army’s chief of personnel, in January 1973 and had to work out his entitlements in his new rank. I went to his office to congratulate him and found him examining the badges of rank in cloth that had been prepared by Bastani Brothers, the tailor in South Block. Apparently Sam had been informed of his promotion a day or two earlier. To maintain secrecy, his personal staff told the tailor that a Nepalese field marshal was to come and his badge of rank had to be stitched. Sam told me that an investiture was to be held two days later at Rashtrapati Bhavan and I had to work out all the details with the government. I replied that it would be both an honour and a pleasure.

However, I told him that the cloth badges of rank would be of no use, he would have to be in his ceremonial uniform for which he would need metal badges of rank. Moreover, the badges of rank made by the tailor were not correct. The Ashoka Lion at the top of the wreath had to be in miniature and touching the top of the two loops in one badge of rank. He asked me how I knew this. I replied that when Field Marshal Auchinleck used to visit the Operations Room in 1946, I used to closely watch his badges of rank and ribbons. He said he saw more of Auchinleck than me but was not sure what I said was correct. He wanted something authentic. I went back to my office and tried to find some written authority, but nothing was available. I rang up our military attaché in London . He told me that the War Office was closed for the Christmas holidays and he would not be able to send me anything for a week. I then thought of looking up the Encyclopedia Britannica.

I was happy to find a colour picture of a field marshal’s badges of rank. That satisfied Sam. I said I would get them fabricated at the Army workshop in Delhi Cantonment. Working round the clock, our electrical engineers made a good job of it and completed the task within 24 hours.

We worked out the privileges Sam was now entitled to. A field marshal never retires. He would therefore be entitled to full pay for the rest of his life. He had to have a ceremonial baton which would now be part of his uniform. Besides, he would have to be given a small secretariat and personal staff. We also had to work out the procedure to be followed for the investiture at Rashtrapati Bhavan. A meeting was held, attended by home ministry officials, the additional secretary, ministry of defence, and me, with the home secretary in the chair. Having been an old hand in Army Headquarters, I was fully aware of the hostility of the civilian bureaucracy towards the Army.

I saw that in full force at this meeting. I found the bureaucrats opposing all our suggestions. They wanted the Cabinet Secretary, who was higher in protocol status to Service Chiefs, to have a higher place than Sam in the seating plan. I maintained that a field marshal should rank with Bharat Ratna awardees. The latter enjoyed much higher protocol status than the Cabinet Secretary.

Frederick the Great had introduced the rank of field marshal as part of reforms in the Prussian Army in the 18th century. A conquering general was from then not allowed to keep any part of war booty. This was now to go to the state. Generals who had done exceptionally well in war would be promoted field marshal, which would entitle them to full salary for the rest of their lives. That is how the tradition of a field marshal never retiring originated. The field marshal was also to be given a ceremonial baton, somewhat like a monarch’s orb. His protocol status was to be next only to the monarch. Thus originated the tradition of regimental flags dipping in salute only for a monarch or head of state and field marshal. They do not do so even for Prime Ministers. Gradually, all armies in Europe introduced this rank.

The Duke of Wellington captured a French marshal’s baton in Spain and sent it to his sovereign. He was made the first field marshal of the British Army.

Thirty-two years later, I learnt from press reports that the government had at long last taken a decision on the salary of a field marshal, consequent to the visit of President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to Staff College Wellington when he met Sam, then terminally ill in hospital.

A fortnight later, when Sam was demitting office, we had a ceremonial farewell parade for him on Army Day. For the first time we brought regimental flags on parade for the Army Day. I had kept it as a surprise for Sam. When he arrived for the parade, I mentioned this to him. He asked me in his usual manner, “Tell me, sweety, how do I respond to the salute?” He took me by surprise. I did not know how a field marshal returns a salute. I later learnt that while doing so a British field marshal holds the baton in his left hand at an angle of 45 degrees to the middle of their left thigh. However, I had seen movies in which Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering used to raise his baton in his right hand. I promptly replied, “Sir, by raising the baton in your right hand.” Sam accepted this. We started a new tradition of our own.

Thirty-two years later, I learnt from press reports that the government had at long last taken a decision on the salary of a field marshal, consequent to the visit of President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam to Staff College Wellington when he met Sam, then terminally ill in hospital. The defence secretary flew to Wellington to personally hand over a cheque of Rs 1.3 crores to Sam as his arrears of pay for over 30 years. A couple of weeks later, I went to the Staff College for a lecture. I met Sam in hospital and congratulated him for the arrears he had received. He replied, “Sweety, a babu from Delhi came and gave me a cheque. I have sent it to the bank. I do not know if it will be honoured.” That was the last time I met Sam. Soon after, Sam died. It was a national shame that we did not give him an appropriate funeral.

As per our protocol, a field marshal ranks with the Service Chiefs and below the Cabinet Secretary. Bureaucracy had its way. The government was represented by a mere minister of state at the funeral. The funeral should have taken place in Delhi with the President, the Prime Minister and the high commissioner of Bangladesh, or a high dignitary from that country, attending. When the Duke of Wellington died, several monarchs, Presidents and Prime Ministers attended his funeral and he was buried in Westminster Abbey.

This article was first published in IDR 02 May 2012.

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The views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily represent the opinions or policies of the Indian Defence Review.

About the Author

Lt Gen SK Sinha

Lt Gen SK Sinha, Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu & Kashmir.

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28 thoughts on “The Making of a Field Marshal

  1. Dear all,
    As a FAUJI and veteran, at heart and soul, with 40 years association with our valiant Army as Foot Infantry and MI officer; it always baffles me as to the reasons for denying legitimate pay and allowances to the Field Marshal Sam sir?
    My role model in writing ;and in upholding Army’s highest personal and intellectual integrity, Gen SK Sinha Sir also is silent on the reasons of denial.
    There could be any or combinations of all :-
    1. Babus inaccurate interpretation of Field Marshal never retires and gets his pay , full uniform and all HONOURS as a starving Senoir most army Offr of FM rank ( unlikely the IAS officers were ignorant of this).
    2.Or was it that SAM sir took up many Borad of Directors / Chairmansip appointments in the corporate business houses as a Fiekd Marshal ( he was serving in army as a FM never retires) ; this is never done by a serving Army man… and Babus got the legal opportunity to slam the SAM sir (most likely my guesses, unless we get all information from RTI).
    3. If SAM sir, was wronged due to vindictiveness by the political top woman or men ,then in all fairness as to give back to them in the same coin,at his last leg at the hospital … in my personal wisdom, he should have morally refused to accept the arrears Cheque of pay and allowances of 1.3 crores ₹ … He was on the death bed; and that amount was of no use to him personally.He would have acquitted himself much better as a dead Field Marshal who refused his pay arrears denied by successive Govts- UPA or NDA , not withstanding the honorable Preside Kalamji setting the wrong as right after almost 30 plus years.
    COL Manmeet, SM, Vetearn,Delhi

  2. Indeed, the govt of the day did great injustice to the man-Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, who not only broke Pakistan in to two, but also gave this nation a decisive victory after, perhaps, 2000 years.
    Civil bureaucrats with third rate politicians like jagjivan ram were the villain of the piece to thwart Mrs Indira gandhi’s plan to make Sam the CDS. If thatwas done at that time all the dirty work of the civilian bureaucrats would have halted in the matters of defence.

  3. the only thing that the bureaucrats have mastered in the 68 years of independence is
    1. how to delay thing
    2.how to deny people their due rights
    3.how not to take decisions

    they still have the hangover of the imperial rule and politicians think they are the modern day maharajah .At least the maharajahs had the people in mind Neither of the above have any one in their mind except themselves

  4. He was my Uncle’s, (Air Marshal R. Rajaram, DFC) neighbour on King George’s Avenue. My uncle was the only Air Force Officer to have a Bat Man, a Gurkha, courtesy Uncle Sam. I was a school boy and he was a GOC-in-C. During a holiday visit with my uncle, he treated me as if he was my senior in School. He had a scintillating and mischievous sense of humour (as did my Dad and all his brothers including Raja Peripa). He used to make up for pulling my leg with a sip of (my folks would have been horrified) rum. I used to call on him (not often, unfortunately) when I visited the Nilgiris for long chats. I went for his funeral. I wished him glory and joy in the after life

    • Sam Manekshaw was my maternal grandfather’s cousin. Lovely gentleman. When my parents were in Ooty they called on him and even though he hardly knew them he was very gracious. Government of India talks about respect to national flag and anthem etc but couldn’t respect a soldier who had served the nation more diligently. They need to take note of treatment of soldiers in other countries. Even an ordinary soldier is given a salute and full honour burial in Europe and U.S.

  5. Sam was a great officer who rose to the rank of Field marshal. He did India proud and help create Bangladesh. But I am afraid the Govt particularly the bureaucrats treated the rank of India’s only Field marshal to this date very shabbily. I remember his funeral. The Air Chief did not attend. About other chiefs I know not. Sad for Indian Democracy.. Baburaj in India..sad indeed.

  6. Sir, could you please tell me ..what sir sam manekshaw’s field was..??…I mean till colonel you have something written below d stars rite.. like eme, signals..etc…so I wanna know what sir manekshaw’s field was..

  7. Sir, the standard of English, the style, the research, the wry humour….this is in a master class by itself…. Gen S K Sinha could have been a very successful broadsheet editor in his own right ….

  8. sir, i have read about you. Its amazing. My father was also an army man.
    now he retired. From child hood i want to join army and want create a big name and fame in indian army but unfortunatly i did not join army.

  9. I had the the opportunity to attend his lecture in DSSC , Wellington. Generally guest lectureres are allowed one hour for the lecture. The Field Marshall spoke ex tempo for one hour and then took permission from the Commandant to continue the lecture. After so many years I don’t remember how long was the lecture, but definitely more than two hours followed by a question hour session. After the end of the lecture he got a standing ovation. The question answer session continued for another hour. The other guest who had got similar standing ovation was Admiral Periiera. Great personalities.

  10. May I request you to take the issue to name Coimbatore Airport as FM Manekshaw Airport.At least let the Govt honour one of the great Service Person.Some of the airports should carry the names of PVC.

  11. “Sweety, a babu from Delhi came and gave me a cheque. I have sent it to the bank. I do not know if it will be honoured.” No Bangladeshi Bureaucrat attended funeral for the man who created their nation…

    I am ashamed the whole nation must be….

  12. Hats off to our first Field Marshall. Its true that such man are never born but are of the stuff that legends are created from. Kudos to you Sir for writing so succinctly and yet for penning such an emotively touching memoir of a legend. It is a matter of honor to know how our history was shaped.

  13. I was working in Kashmir during your governorship & remember Kedarnath controversy. Alarming situation, people of state, had ever witnessed but handled so well. Countrymen will remember you forever.
    I request you must ink few lines about late Lt Gen Harbaksh Singh who was army commander during 1965 war against Pakistan.
    Not many countrymen know about this army commander.

  14. I am a HUGE fan of Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw. Thank you sir, for writing this excellent article on an even more excellent general. It is such a shame that – as you had said – “bureaucracy had it’s way”. I fully concur with you that Sam Bahadur should’ve been given a full state funeral. However, what happened is nothing but a sad commentary on the sad state of affairs in India.

  15. Great article Sir! Unfortunately majority of the Indian’s don’t realise the importance of military strenght or the sacrifices of men in uniform. Neither does the government of India. Its high time the military takes matters into its own hands and reenergise and reunify this divided country.

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