Military & Aerospace

Reminiscences of a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) during the India-China War in 1967
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Issue Net Edition | Date : 03 Jan , 2024

JCO Narayan Rai, 7/11 GR, 1950s. (Source: Author’s Archive)

Shri Narayan Rai, a resident of 7th Mile Kalimpong, was born in Tukvar Tea Estate, Darjeeling, on July 31, 1933, was recruited in the 11 Gorkha Regiment in 1948. After India’s independence in 1947, the British Indian Army was divided between the new Indian Army and the British Army.

Six regiments, namely, the 1st GR, 3rd GR, 4th GR, 5th GR, 8th GR, and 9th GR, were retained in the Indian Army, whereas four regiments, that is, the 2nd GR, 6th GR, 7th GR, and 10th GR, joined the Brigade of Gurkhas in the British Army. The 1-8th GR are recruited from the Magar-Gurung communities, while 9th GR is from the Khas-Chhetri community and the 11th is the Rai-Limbu, who were earlier in the 10th GR.

The 11th Gorkha Rifle regimental centres were first at Palampur and Santa Cruz, Mumbai; subsequently, they shifted to Jalapahar in Darjeeling; moved to Clement Town, Dehradun, for some time; and finally to Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.

JCO Narayan Rai’s Certificate of Service, 1950 (Source: Author’s Archive)

However, many are unaware of Narayan Rai’s participation in the Cho La clash against China as the 11th GR Junior Commissioned Officer, which gives us a front seatview of war, malevolent Chinese intentions, and the importance of GR from its histories.

Narayan Rai’s Gorkha Rifle journey begins in Darjeeling Jalapahar, where he was recruited as a Sepoy in the 11th GR in May 1948, which also makes him the founding member of the 11 GR. The 11 Gorkha Rifles is a Gorkha regiment of the Indian Army that was re-raised on January 1, 1948, to accommodate the soldiers who refused to be transferred to the British Army after India’s independence.

Narayan Rai was recruited into the 11 Gorkha Rifle at Jalapahar and sent to Palanpur for his recruit training to become a Sepoy. He was then sent to Shillong (the capital of Assam in those days) as a Sepoy and was promoted to Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) with badge No. JC-34690 from Sepoy in 21 December 1950. Junior Commissioned Officers, or JCOs, are soldiers who join the army as sepoys or riflemen at the lowest rung and rise through several promotions to become JCOs.

Narayan Rai’s Certificate of joining JC-34690, 1950 (Source: Author’s Archive)

In the year 1954, JCO Narayan Rai was transferred to Kashmir from Assam. He says that in Kashmir, his duty was most of the time given at the Palace of Jammu & Kashmir Prince Karan Singh (son of Maharaja Hari Singh), who was married to Yasho Rajya Lakshmi, a daughter of Nepal King Jung Bahadur Rana. After JCO Narayan’s tenure in Northern India, he was sent to Siliguri and later to Sikkim, where he witnessed the two wars with China.

In 1964, Kul Bhushan Joshi (K.B. Joshi) of the 5th Battalion of 11 Gorkha Rifles came to Sikkim and established the Cho La post at the border. Three years later, he would lead a group of Gorkha soldiers in the battle of Cho La as commanding officer of the 7th Battalion of the 11 Gorkha Regiment. Alongside the 11 Gorkha Regiment in Sikkim were the Grenadiers, among the most illustrious and experienced regiments of the Indian army.

The Grenadiers 2nd Battalion, commanded by Lt Col Rai Singh, would arrive in Sikkim in 1967 and later move to the border at Nathu La. All the brigades in the Sikkim sector was under the leadership of Maj Gen Sagat Singh, who was the division commander of the 17th Infantry Division based in Gangtok. While the 11 Gorkha Rifles were one of the youngest regiments, the Grenadiers were among the oldest in the Indian army.

Cho La

In the India-China border, Cho La is a smaller pass in comparison with Nathu La, with a width of about 100 feet, with rocky cliffs at its sides. Probal Dasgupta (2020) explains in his Watershed 1967, that the 7/11 Gorkha Rifles were moved to another location in the area called Man La, close to the Cho La pass. Cho La was also not connected by motorable roads as Nathu La. The Cho La area was to be guarded by two companies of the 10th Battalion of Jammu and Kashmir Rifles (10 JAK Rifles).

Narayan Rai at his residence, 7th Mile Kalimpong, 27 July 2023 (Source: Author’s Archive)

On the west of Cho La, there was a point called Point 15450, indicative of its height (in feet). On the east of Cho La, was called Point 15180. Three Indian forward posts stood along the front of the border, occupying Point 15450, Cho La, and Point 15180.

On the other hand, opposite each of these posts were the forward posts of the Chinese army. To the rear of these forward posts the Indian army had established posts called Tamze and Twin Huts, from which additional support could be made in operational exigencies.

Chinese Malevolent Intension

Meanwhile, in China, the Cultural Revolution was in its nascent stage, a socio-political movement launched by Mao Zedong in 1966 that lasted until his death in 1976. Within China, ‘the revolution was widely interpreted as an attempt to destroy enemies by unleashing the people on the Party and urging them to purify its ranks’ (The Guardian, 2016).

Moreover, at the border throughout 1966 and early 1967, Chinese incursions into Indian territory continued, which led them to patrol along the border leading to patrol clashes from time to time. The key element of the dispute was the ‘notional border,’ which was unmarked. This led an expansionist China to be obsessed in claiming India’s territory as theirs.

Tinjong Lama (in blue shirt, left) and Narayan Rai (in white shirt, middle) at Lukhnow, 2015 (Source: Author’s Archive)

On August 13, 1967, ten to twelve Chinese soldiers marched ominously towards the border, crossing over to the Indian side, and audaciously began to dig trenches in India’s territory. Indian troops arrived at the spot, and the Chinese responded by filling up the trenches and going back. This led the Division Commander Maj Gen Sagat Singh to call an urgent meeting at the headquarters of the 112 Mountain Brigade (commanded by Brigadier M.M.S. Bakshi) in Chhanggu. The officers were alerted with suspicious Chinese intension.

Advent of 7/11 Gorkha Rifle in the scene

On September 29, 1967, the two companies of the 10 JAKRif had to descend to the base in Chhanggu to celebrate a barakhana (feast) for troops planned for October 1, 1967. JCO Narayan Rai (2023) says that it was the day known as ’Maar Ko Din‘-in Gorkhali culture meaning time for sacrificing animals during the Dusshera- when we were sent from 5th Mile Gangtok to ChoLa in place of the 10 JAK Rif. Two companies from 7/11 Gorkha Rifles were ordered to relieve the two JAK Rif companies in the Cho La area.

Narayan Rai with K.B. Joshi, 2015 (Source: Author’s Archive)

On September 28, 1967, a platoon of a company called Charlie (‘C’ company) of the Gorkha Rifles battalion, along with a medium machine gun (MMG) team, led by Second Lieutenant Samuel, replaced the JAK Rif troops at Point 15180. The other two platoons of that company, along with a signal detachment, were atthe Twin Huts, near Cho La.

A small team of that company was placed at Cho La with a recoilless rifle (RCL), alongside the team of JAK Rif soldiers. The higher feature of Point 15450 was supposed to be occupied by another company Delta (‘D’ company) of the 7/11 Gorkha Rifles, led by Lieutenant Ram Singh Rathore and one platoon of that company, along with the mortars, was placed on lower ground behind Point 15450.

The next day, the 7/11 Gorkha Rifles battalion troops replaced the JAK Rif troops at the post. Naib Subedar Gyan Bahadur Limbu of the Gorkha battalion, who was reconnoitring the manned sentry post of Point 15450, along with four to five men, had walked up close to the contentious boulder to take in the view on the Chinese side.

Group photo of 7/11 GR (Source: Author’s Archive)

After seeing the Indian soldiers, around six Chinese soldiers and the Political Commissar stepped out of their post. The Political Commissar (In Chinese: zhengzhiwei yuan) is the political appointee in every army battalion of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China (Benson and Yang, 2020). They stood barely a few feet away from the boulder and looked quite serious. Gyan Bahadur Limbu placed his foot on a boulder, which led to the series of dispute.

JCO Narayan (2023) narrates, “The Political Commissar objected by saying this is our Mao Zedong’s rock (in Hindi, Ye Hamara Mao Zedong Pattharhai), while Gyan Bahadur Limbu said this is our Nehru’s rock (Ye Hamara Nehru’s Pattharhai).” JCO Narayan (2023) asserts that “the Political Commissar placed on the border with India had done a Hindi Language course.” At the disputed rock, Gyan Bahadur Limbu placed his foot several times, but each time the Chinese Political Commissar ruthlessly kicked him in his chest.

Gyan Bahadur Limbu then stood up and gave a blow to his Chinese counterpart. In those days, China had sophisticated  semi-automatic small arms compared to the .303 bolt action rifle with the Indian troops. The two PLA guards who had accompanied the Chinese Political Officer wounded Gyan Bahadur Limbu by piercing his both arms with their bayonets. In response, Devi Prasad Limbu, a Gorkha rifleman who was accompanying Gyan Bahadur Limbu, drew his khukri and cut the Political Officer, followed by slashing those two PLA guards.

50 Years Glorious Years of 7/11 GR memento (Source: Author’s Archive)

Narayan Rai (2023) says, “This incident led to firing bullets from all sides, and we were unaware of the Chinese presence. They came out from all the bunkers like a cartload of monkeys speaking in their Chinese languages.” This gradually led to the Cho La clash on October 1, 1967. The Chinese heavy machine gun (HMG) firing was continuing to dominate the lower Indian areas of the Rai Gap and the post at Cho La, demolishing the bunkers and features at will. At this point, Havildar Tinjong Lama stepped forward to change the course of the battle with his RCL gun, destroying two Chinese bunkers.

At Cho La, the clashes started around 9 a.m. in the morning and firing stopped around 5 p.m. Another Political Commissar had replaced the dead PO, who came down with a loud voice in the microphone, shouting to stop firing. Narayan says the new political commissar shouted, we are in skirmish by mistake (in Hindi, fire maatkaro, ye galti se ladaihuwahai, fire maatkaro). K. B. Joshi on the Indian side directed all to stop firing. Gradually, the Chinese new Political Commissar and Indian officials summoned and decided to bring Indian martyr soldiers from China at 8 a.m. From the Indian side, they decided to keep light machine gun (LMG) at all sides while bringing back eight dead bodies, including Debi Prasad’s body, from China, of which 16 people were required to carry each dead body in a stretcher.

Debi Prasad Limbu and Tinjong Lama were awarded with Vir Chakra. This paper also leaves few questions behind us: when almost all Political Commissar were trained in Hindi language, how far Indian officials are trained in Chinese language? If the biggest problem in 1967 was an unmarked border, is the Sino-India border still at stake. The history may repeat, but the fate is decided in the ground.

Reference

•  Jeff W. Benson and Zi Yang, Party on the Bridge: The Role of the Political Commissar, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), 2020. Pp.9-21.

•  Dasgupta, Probal,Watershed 1967: India’s forgotten victory over China, New Delhi: Juggerrnaut Books, 2020.

•  Interview with Narayan Rai, 7th Mile Kalimpong, 24 July 2023.

•  Interview with Narayan Rai, 7th Mile Kalimpong, 27 July 2023

•  The Guardian, ‘The Cultural Revolution: all you need to know about China’s political convulsion’, The Guardian, 2016 https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/may/11/the-cultural-revolution-50-years-on-all-you-need-to-know-about-chinas-political-convulsion accessed on 27 July 2023.

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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

Dr. Anmol Mukhia

Distinguished Fellow at Forum for Global Affairs,

Assistant Professor at Sikkim Manipal University, Sikkim.

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9 thoughts on “Reminiscences of a Junior Commissioned Officer (JCO) during the India-China War in 1967

  1. The British Indian Army was divided between the Indian and Pakistan armies. Only the 10 Gurkha regiments were split begtween the Indian and British armies. No other units/elements were shared with the British.
    Soldiers are always addressed by their ranks preceding their names. They’ve earned it.

  2. I am very happy to read the article written by Dr Anmol Mukhiya ji . I sometimes feel very bad that such type of people’s contributions are not highlighted. Also it is very unfortunate that only a few families contribution always highlighted as if they contributed to the Freedom Movement as well as development of the countries. Congratulations Prof.
    Prof Shankar Chatterjee, Hyderabad

  3. We salute our brave officers for protecting us ….great Gorkha of maa bharti may get what they deserve one day ….and nation will be proud of them especially Gorkha’s of Gorkhaland , India…Jai Hind ..

  4. ‘Shri”Narayan Rai, “JCO Narayan Rai, “JCO”Narayan,”Narayan Rai 2023″…every nomenclature under the sun except the correct one on how to address a soldier by his No,Rank and Name.
    “Doctor” Mukhia sahab should study details about fauj and its terminologies rather than writing like an amteur in a professional journal.

  5. Clash of 2 grenadiers has not been described it had its co Rai singh wounded and lost about 80 soldiers. Gen Sagat singh opened Artillery without permission from Delhi.
    In 67 infira was PM not nehru and SLRs had replaced .303 bolt action.

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