Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon

Lal Qile se aaee awaaz,
Sehgal Dhillon Shahnawaz
Teenon ki ho Umar Daraaz

The voices rent the air outside the Red Fort,  on November 5, 1945 as the 3 men were bought to trial. The 3 men of the Indian National Army were charged with waging war against the king in violation of section 121 of the Indian Penal Code. If guilty they would be sentenced to death. A battery of eminent lawyers defended these 3 men in court, Jawaharlal Nehru, Bhulabhai Desai, Tej Bahadur Sapru and demanded that these men be treated as prisoners of war. The then commander in chief Claude Auchinleck, decided to remit the sentences and the men walked free later.

Captain Shah Nawaz Khan– A captain in the Indian Army, captured by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore during World War II in 1942. He was profoundly influenced by Netaji Subash Chandra Bose, to join the Indian National Army, hypnotized by his personality and speeches in his own words. After independence he would later join the Congress party, and serve as an MP and also a Union Minister.

Colonel Prem Kumar Sehgal-A graduate of the IMA, Dehradun, as acting captain in the Baluch Regiment fought against the Japanese in the Battle of Malaya. As prisoner of war, he was motivated by Netaji and joined the INA taking up arms against his former British colleagues.


 Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon was born in Algon Kothi, a small village located near Amritsar, to Sardar Takhar Singh, a veterinary surgeon in King George;’s 8th Light Cavalry. Due to his father’s job, he was constantly moving from place to place and studied at various schools, in Lahore, Raiwind, Dipalpore and was a polyglot fluent in Hindi,Urdu, Persian, Punjabi and English. Also a Boy Scout to boot, he completed his high school from DAV in Montgomery( now in Pakistan), in 1931, and later taught science for some time at the Gordon Mission College in Rawalpindi.

In 1933, on the advice of J.F.L.Taylor, his father’s friend, he joined the Indian Army as a sepoy in the Training Batallion of 14th Punjab Regiment and afterwards was sent to IMA, Dehradun where he was considered just average.  On the outbreak of World War II, his training in IMA was cut short, and he was posted to Sher Dil Paltan, the 14th Punjab regiment, and he moved to Secunderabad in 1940. On March 3, 1941, Gurbaksh left for Penang Island, then to Ipoh and finally to Sungei Pattani in South Kedah now a state of Malaysia.  As part of the 5th Indian Infantry Brigade, Gurbaksh, was assigned the defence of Penang during the War,  and was stationed at Jitra, in Malaysia, close to the Thailand border in Dec, 1941.

Following the US entry into the War, after Pearl Harbor, the Japanese forces destroyed the RAF squadrons at Alor Star, Kota Bharu airfields. Under his CO Colonel Fitzpatrick, Gurbaksh led a valiant fight against the invading Japanese forces at the Battle of Changlun, for 8 long hours, before it finally fell. By now it was apparent that the Japanese were taking Singapore, by February 9, 1942, two divisions had landed there. Raffles square was heavily bombed on February 13. 1942,  and Gurbaksh Singh, had the rather unpleasant task of disposing off the bodies of those killed. Finally on 15 February, 1942, Singapore fell to the Japanese, and the British forces unconditionally surrendered.It was one of the worst defeats ever for the British empire, their darkest hour as Churchill called it.

Fujiwara Iwaichi.jpg

Major Fujiwara Iwaichi


Farrer Park Address

The turning point was something called the Farrer Park address, on 17 Feb, 1942, 2 days after Singapore fell to the Japanese.  Some 45,000 Indian Prisoners of War, had gathered to listen to Major Fujiwara Iwaichi, who was overseeing the Japanese forces at Singapore. Fujiwara spoke to the surrendered Indian troops of the need for a joint Indo-Japanese collaboration, of pan Asian prosperity and Japanese interests in a free India. Fujiwara promised the Indian soldiers that they would not be treated as POWs but as friends and allies.  The next person to address the meeting would be Captain Mohan Singh, a close friend of Dhillon’s.  Mohan Singh had earlier fought against the Japanese at Jitra, and after it fell, was taken as a prisoner to Alor Star, now one of the larger cities in Malaysia.  Fujiwara was the one who convinced Mohan Singh to revolt against the British empire, and unite with the Japanese for the greater good of Indian independence. It was Mohan Singh who laid the foundations for the Indian National Army, contacting Indians serving in South East Asia, and recruiting from the prisoners captured during the War.

Mohan Singh meeting Fujiwara

Motivated by Fujiwara and Mohan Singh, Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon, joined the INA on February 17, 1942 and also took a vow not to drink till India became independent. Dhillon was placed in the Nee Son camp, around 21 km from Singapore, and later served at the Changi Camp, looking after the British, Australian prisoners of war. Falling ill at Changi, Dhillon was sent to the Seletar Camp, now one of the Singaporean Army’s main bases, and recovered at the hospital there.

After his recovery, Dhillon, attended the Biradari conference organized by Mohan Singh in April, 1942, which in a way laid down the rules for INA too. It finally resulted in the Bangkok Resolution which proclaimed the formation of an All Indian Independence League. On Sept 1, 1942 Dhillon got his commission and was posted as a Major 10 days later.  The Bangkok Resolution was not yet ratified by the Japanese, and they still did not recognize INA as an independent army. In the meantime Mohan Singh was arrested by the Japanese, in Dec 1942, after differences broke out, but Dhillon still continued in INA on the advice of Rash Behari Bose.

In anticipation of Netaji’s arrival INA, was now re organized, it’s new Head Quarters was the Directorate of Military Bureau(DMB), with Col J.K.Bhonsle as it’s Director. Dhillon was appointed as Dy. Quartmaster General in the Q Branch at Army HQ. By  April 1943, the Army HQ was gazetted, and when Netaji finally arrived on July 2, 1943, Dhillon was in charge of the 5th Guerilla Regiment as the Second in Command to Major J.W.Rodrigues. He was responsible for the training, discipline and keeping the morale of the troops too. Sent to fight on the front at Alor Star, he proceeded via Mergui, Tavoy( in Thailand) and Rangoon. He flew in Netaji’s personal aircraft Azad Hind from Bangkok to Rangoon in  1944, and also conducted the ceremonial parade on Oct 1944 to commemorate the first anniversary of the Provisional Govt of Azad Hind that had been formed.

On 15 Oct, 1944, he met Netaji at Rangoon  and was soon promoted as commander of the Nehru Brigade in INA. He was assigned the task of holding the Irrawady River, and formed an advance party from the 9th Battalion and left for Pagan in Dec 1944. On 12 Feburary 1945, the INA defenses along Irrawady were bombed by Allied aircraft, and an assault was launched on the 8th battalion that however failed. Under severe bombardment and assault, the INA neverthless managed to hold Irrawady, thanks to Dhillon’s leadership, would be their first major victory.  The other assault by the British opposite Nyaungu using motor boats was also repelled by the INA, resulting in a huge loss of life. However INA could not hold for long in the face of sustained assault and Dhillon had to eventually withdraw to Pagan.

Dhillon again was given the task of checking the Allied advance to Kyauk Padaung from the British stronghold of Nyaungu, using guerilla warfare extensively. This was to deny the British the control of the crucial Nyaungu-Kyauk-Padaullg-Meiktila road. There were reverses in March 1945, when many of the Nehru Brigade members surrendered under the British assault, leading Netaji to issue Special Orders of the Day for their execution on grounds of cowardice and desertion. The area of Mt.Popa and Kyaukpadaung  offered the strongest resistance against the British attacks, forcing them to use much longer routes, which took longer time, and also wore down their vehicles.

The sitation changed rapidly from April  1945 onwards, the British launched a 3 pronged attack on Mt.Popa and Kyaukpadaung , the area suffered heavy bombing. Under furious assault from the British tanks and armored vehicles, INA withdrew to Magwe, and by now with Burma( nee Myanmar), turning against Japan, they did not receive any cooperation from the local residents. The INA had to retreat through thick jungles , they were helped by Gen Aung San’s People’s National Army that controlled these areas. By the time, INA crossed the Irrawady and reached Prome on May 1, 1945, the war had been lost, and Rangoon was already evacuated. Moving through the jungles of Pegu Yomas, they reached Wata, a small village, and learnt that Germany had already surrendered. Pegu was already taken by the British, and Rangoon soon fell in April. The INA soldiers were by now war weary, many of them exhausted, tired and sick from the ardous trek through the jungles, many had lost their lives during the retreat.

On March 17,1945, the INA formally surrendered to the British, the POWs’s were sent to Pegu, Dhilon along with Shah Nawaz where they were taken to the No. 3 Field Interrogation Centre under the command of Major C.  Dhillon was later shifted to Rangoon Central Jail on May 18,945 and Shah Nawaz soon joined him in June.

As the INA trials, began of Dhillon along with Shah Nawaz and Prem Sehgal, riots broke out all over India, the Naval Ratings Mutiny broke out. The Armed forces which the British used to enforce their authority over India was now turning against them, mutinies were breaking out everywhere. Most of this played a major role in the British leaving India. Finally on January 4, 1946, Dhillon was released along with Shah Nawaz and Prem Sehgal after a long trial. Post his release, Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon spent his life at Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh, at Dhillon’s Den, where he passed away peacefully in 2006.




About Ratnakar Sadasyula

Blogger with a passion in movies, music,books and history. A techie by profession, and a writer at heart. Author of City of Victory a book on Vijayanagar Empire
This entry was posted in Indian Freedom Struggle, Indian History, Indian National Army, Modern India and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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