An India-Italy love story – Raj Mohindra

Capt. Raj Mohindra IN“I heard heart-rending stories of World War II. They narrated how when the British 8th Army comprising British, Australian, Canadian, Indian and troops of other nationalities invaded southern Italy in July 1943. The soldiers from all armies except the Indian Army indulged in rape, molestation and plunder.” – Capt Raj Mohindra

Stefano IppazioThe expression of regret by the Mayor of Taranto, Italy some time ago for the killing of two Indian fishermen by Italian marines from the Enrica Lexie, and his offer to take up the responsibility of educating the bereaved children gains significance from the city’s historical association with India.

I discovered that association quite by chance in 1967 when I was an officer on board INS Brahmaputra. My ship was diverted to Taranto owing to a coup against King Constantine in Greece, our original destination.

The ship berthed in Taranto in the early hours of a Sunday. There was no one there apart from the shore berthing party of a few men.

Brahmaputra Class Frigate of the Indian NavyAs time went by, a large number of Taranto’s residents, including several senior citizens, started congregating near the ship. They carried placards welcoming the Indians to Taranto. It was a mystery to us as to why such a crowd was building up. We were told that the news of the Indian ship’s arrival was announced on the local radio. By the evening, the crowd had swelled. Several residents held placards inviting us to dinners, lunches and picnics.

I was invited to dinner by the family of the late Ms Ines Ghosh, the Italian wife of the late Surgeon Rear Admiral J.N. Ghosh, Indian Navy. Ghosh met Ines in Taranto where he was a prisoner of war.

There I heard heart-rending stories of World War II. They narrated how when the British 8th Army comprising British, Australian, Canadian, Indian and troops of other nationalities invaded southern Italy in July 1943. The soldiers from all armies except the Indian Army indulged in rape, molestation and plunder.

One of the elderly ladies present told us how she was being chased by two Allied soldiers when an Indian soldier intervened and protected her. He told them not to harm her because she was his sister!

In another instance a posse of Indian soldiers voluntarily guarded an apartment building and prevented soldiers of the other Allied armies from entering it. There were numerous stories of heroism like this. These marvellous episodes bore testimony to the ethical standards and professionalism of the Indian Army.

Sepoy Santa Singh, British 8th Army, ItalyThe following day there was a special reception in honour of the personnel of INS Brahmaputra in the town hall. Meanwhile, invitations from the citizenry continued to flow, so much so that the late Captain Erach Debu, commanding officer of the ship, volunteered to keep harbour watch in the ship himself and let all his officers go ashore to attend the functions.

Several shops refused to accept money for the merchandise purchased by the ship’s personnel.

When the ship left port finally after four days, virtually the entire town was on the jetty with several bands in attendance to bid adieu. It was a very moving and emotional experience.

The ethics of the magnificent Indian Army and its gentlemanly officers and men is still etched in the memory of the citizens of Taranto. – The Free Press Journal, 20 March 2013

» Capt. Raj Mohindra, retired from the Indian Navy, was formerly Chief Executive, Indian Express Group of Newspapers and General Manager (Commercial) Shipping Corporation of India. His expertise lies in the establishment on international schools, vocational education institutes and rural education complexes.

2 Responses

  1. I am happy to heard such incident and heroism of our troops. it is our culture to protect and respect other

  2. Considering the spate of rape cases in India in recent time I just find it difficult to believe that just a few decades ago Indians were so much disciplined and respectful of women. I salute the great Indian soldiers who were unlike the allied forces acted according to great Hindu tradition of treating women as mothers.

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