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They fought German and Japanese forces

Saturday 7 May 2005, by KRISHNAKUMAR*R.

There are at least 400 World War II veterans in the Mysore region, most of them neglected

MYSORE: They are among a handful of survivors from India who played a decisive role in stalling the march of the Nazi forces; who saw action in North Africa, came face to face with the legendary General Rommel and reached the borders of Germany to halt Hitler’s army. Closer home they staved off the Japanese forces in the jungles of Assam and Burma or participated in the battle for Kohima.

As Europe and rest of the world braces to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II on May 8 and recall the heroism of their soldiers, India’s surviving veterans live in anonymity. Having warded off German and Japanese forces, these veterans now battle poverty and neglect.

"There are at least 400 World War II veterans in the Mysore region, who are languishing in neglect," M.N. Subramani of Ve-Kare Ex-servicemen’s Trust (VKET), an organisation taking up ex-servicemen’s causes. "We plan to approach the court on their behalf," he said. It is estimated that nearly two million Indians volunteered during World War II, but not much is spoken of their contribution.

P.E. Roberts, 86, who retired from the Corps of Engineers, was enlisted in 1940. He saw action in North Africa, at Benghazi and Tripoli, and was among the few Indians in the Eighth Army that locked horns with the `Desert Fox,’ Erwin Rommel, in the decisive Battle of El Alamein, which, along with the battle for Stalingrad, proved to be a turning point.

"We mined the entire area where Rommel’s army of tanks was to pass through and set up detonators to demolish the bridges. Life was hell as one had to brave the bullets and the mines and go for miles in search of water. But what mattered was that in the end we survived those gruelling months to tell the tale and witnessed the retreat of Rommel," recalled Mr. Roberts, who received the `Star of Italy’ and four other medals in recognition of his valour.

From Africa, Mr. Roberts, who also served in the Central Mediterranean Forces, moved on to Italy and reached the borders of Germany and came close to the "lair of the fascist beast" in Berlin where Russia’s Red Army, under Marshal Zhukov, had reduced the city to rubble.

Havaldar Abdul Bari, now aged about 90, was born in Mysore and enlisted for military service in 1939. He was posted to different places before he was sent to Assam. "The Japanese forces were already knocking at the doors of India, and Assam was in danger. I was part of the forces that took care of supplies and flew in the American C-47 and C-46 planes. For almost two and a half years we were stationed in Burma and all we had was .303 guns with us.

"I lost count of number of soldiers who were killed or injured. and But frequent flying at high altitudes without oxygen led to a heart problem and also affected my lungs, and I returned home after the war," said Mr. Bari, who is a recipient of the `Burma Star’ medal.

Having been decommissioned from the services, they were entitled to an honorarium in recognition of their contribution during the war. But it was only in the 1990s that Bari was sanctioned Rs. 300 by the Government while Mr. Roberts received nothing as he opted to continue in the army.

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