The POW Saga Part VI – Air Cmde JL Bhargava (Retd)

In the evenings we generally played volleyball. I don’t remember who, but one of us, got the bright idea to make use of the big iron nails which helped in erecting the volleyball net and then take the nails to Dilip’s room. Meanwhile Dilip and his team were successful in breaking the window in their room in that, if pulled strongly, it would have come loose along with the grill. To our bad luck, this was detected by the Camp guards and was properly repaired and refitted firmly. We convinced them that we had no role to play in that and the window perhaps gave in because of age.

We were back to square one. Dilip and Garry found that if any hole was made in the wall of their room, they would enter the lawns of the adjacent PAF Recruiting Office complex. That meant freedom. That is where the iron nails of the volleyball net came handy. Kamat made a compass with the help of a magnet we purchased through the peon, by paying him from our pocket-money. One day Harish Sinhji came to my room and informed me that he wanted to join the escape team. Knowing that he spoke broken Hindi and not knowing or speaking Punjabi, I felt it was out of the question, I advised him not to. But he told me that he could be Cpl Harry, from Pakistan Air Force Station, Lahore. I then wished him good luck and said he could go subject to Dilip’s and Garry’s acceptance. But his going was not yet finalized by Dilip just because he could not speak fluently in any language other than English. Gradually though, he became a part of the team and was shifted to Dilip’s room – to make a foursome for playing bridge at night. Dilip, Garry and Chati were already in the room.

Soon the making of the hole in the wall commenced. The hole was restricted to approximately two by one and a half feet so that one could barely manage to sneak out, a bigger hole would have exposed the plan. I must mention here that every month we used to get Red Cross parcels from India and the items in the not very big cartons were kept in one of the guard-room lockers. I kept vigil, as the so called Mess Secy, over these items. We even gifted some to the staff since there was plenty to spare. I have never consumed so many condensed milk tins! Mixed with rice the kheer was extremely tasty. The cartons were used to store the sand and plaster from the wall being dug. It was easy to do this job at night, but we also did it during day. Bricks were kept back in place and the entire hole was always covered with a blanket hanging from atop the cot. One cot covered this hole so that it was difficult for anyone to notice this dug portion. One day we were all tensed up when we thought that the sweeper had seen it, but luckily it was a false alarm.

One morning the Camp Commandant barged in, when we had just finished breakfast, I think all of us were present in the room. He was holding a newspaper in his hand. We thought there was some good news. He, however, was furious. He informed us that Pak POWs had been shot dead and that the Indian Govt said they were trying to escape – “I can also say that I shot you all since you were trying to escape.”  We took it as a warning and there was silence all over until he left. Soon, though, everything became normal and the digging resumed. If I remember correctly, Garry was able to break the inner wall plaster and was able to remove one brick – thereafter other bricks also got loose that were easily removed. These bricks were always put back in place only to be removed again at a suitable time. Finally, only the outside plaster was left intact. Had we broken that plaster there would have been a gaping hole. So from inside if you saw, there was a hole with bricks, placed on an absolutely temporary basis, which could be removed whenever we wanted to. That left only a strong plaster on the outside of the wall. All other arrangements had also been made. Compass, eatables from the Red Cross parcels, Pathan suits for all three and some other useful items were all put in Chati’s parachute, which was luckily still with him. It was decided that Chati will not go but be a cover up for the other three. Chati himself was no less a hero, he was entrusted the very difficult job of cover up, make dummy beds as if they were all sleeping etc etc.

There were at least three occasions when we said good-bye and good luck before we retired at night and to our surprise saw them still in the room the next morning. What happened was that it was very difficult to break the outside plaster till one day it finally gave in. Yet, they could not get out because of  good weather. In such good weather, the guards used to sleep outside and it was therefore unsafe. They needed some bad weather, which finally obliged us on 12 Aug I think. That week-end, the Camp Commandant had gone to Murrie Hills on a holiday The week-end also combined with Pakistan Independence Day on 14 Aug made for a long break, the guards were fairly relaxed and almost everyone was in a holiday mood……

© Copyright Air Commodore JL Bhargava (Retd). All rights reserved. Reproduction or distribution of this article in any form without the express written permission of the author is prohibited


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