Leading from the front

Leading from the front

In the mid 90s, my Sikh Light Infantry battalion was slated to move to the Line of Actual Control in Jammu & Kashmir from a peace station in eastern India. As the Infantry relief programme was received much before it was expected, we had to recall a subaltern, Lieutenant Barnie from leave to join the advance party, which was headed by me, the battalion’s second-in-command. The young officer happily agreed to join the duty.

We made all the preparations for the advance party to move out but on the day of travel we found that the Railways had allotted only two coaches for 130 men. These men ended up being crammed along with the huge quantity of stores. Lt Barnie volunteered to travel with the men instead of using his perk, the first class compartment, to maintain discipline during the journey. We travelled to Jammu by train and to our destination in army trucks.

Young Lt Barnie was enthusiastic and sincere in taking over operational responsibility of a sensitive forward post facing a Pakistani outpost. I had instructed him to take care of the minefields and to learn everything there was to know about it from the battalion being relieved. The lieutenant, being brave and dashing as he was, entered one of the minefields around his outpost to know the exact extent of a mine strip.
I admonished him on learning this and instructed him not to enter the minefield as the mines, most of which were laid in 1971, would have drifted from their last known location.

When the rest of the battalion joined us in the new location after a couple of months, Lt Barnie was promoted to the rank of captain. The promotion injected more bravery and dynamism into the officer. The outpost where Capt Barnie was operating came under unprovoked Pakistani fire several times. Every time this happened, Capt Barnie ordered his men to return fire till the enemy post was silenced inflicting a couple of enemy casualties.

On one occasion there was heavy fire on his outpost not only by medium and heavy machine guns but also by rockets and mortar bombs. The youngster moved from bunker to bunker without fearing bullets, bombs or rockets. But one enemy rocket rammed into a spot close to him and a big splinter ploughed away a chunk of flesh from his groin and cutting his femoral artery.

In spite of the injury he went and telephoned the Commanding Officer apprising him of the situation. The battalion doctor was rushed to the spot but by then he had bled so much that his speech was incoherent and he was getting cramps.

Soon after the doctor started giving the medical aid, the brave Captain breathed his last. The officer’s body was flown to his hometown, Jaipur, accompanied by an officer.
While the officer consoled his father, a retired Deputy Inspector General of Police, the old man said, “I am crying not only because of filial love but because I had only one son. If I had had more I would’ve sent them all to fight in the Indian Army.” The captain truly was a chip of the old block!

Much later, the President of India lauded the brave young Capt Barnie posthumously with the gallantry award ‘Shaurya Chakra,’ which now adorns our officers’ mess along with his portrait.