Last letter or will?

Last letter or will?

In Jeffrey Archer’s recent book ‘Paths of Glory’ a Lt in Royal Artillery asks his corporal “A letter to your wife, Perkins?” “No, sir.It is my Will.” My mind immediately raced back 38 years to Dec ember 10, 1971.

Having fought a ferocious battle and pulled back to east of the river, the division was consolidating. It was to be a day of lull. Suddenly at about 10 am, there was confusion, as unverified information came: ‘Huge enemy tank-column crossed the river at crossing “D” and heading towards the nearest town.’ While that was being checked, as a precaution, reconnaissance of a gun area for the artillery brigade, further to the rear commenced, we being on the possible ingress route.

Just then my friend Major Pakrasi from Corps HQ landed close to my fire direction centre in an Air-OP aircraft with a message for the division. Seeing the ‘fog of war’ and as the aircraft was urgently required back, he wanted to leave. I quickly wrote a letter (my last will and Testament?) to my young wife, then with her parents at Dehra Dun, in case the worst happened! I gave it requesting him to post it in the corps field post office for faster delivery.

I had mentioned the negligible bank-balance; advising her not to be sentimental but to re-marry for the sake of our (then) only daughter, just a year-plus (in case...)?
Information about the tank column was found to be false soon. With the arrival of the corps commander, reconnaissance rearward was stopped. A counter attack went in at D. The situation stabilised. Ceasefire came on 17th and I had my first weekend pass, after a month, on 15/16 January 72, to be with my wife then summoned to our vacant flat at Pathankot. Soon the postman delivered a forces letter (re-directed from Dehra Dun).

Looking at Corps-FPO stamp of 10 Dec, I snatched the letter from her. She insisted on reading it and cried a lot. She then told me how Radio Pakistan had announced on 7 Dec, the names of my commander, me & two others as POW....a white lie: (We had just vacated our previous position west of the river). Luckily she had got a letter from me subsequently.

It was good that this ‘Last-will cum-last-letter' from me was delayed by a month; for once I thanked the Indian Posts! We visited Durbar Sahib in Amritsar that Sunday, before I drove back to forward area on Monday morning.