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Amchi Service in the Line of Fire

A century ago in November 1918, guns fell silent the world over with the declaration of Armistice. The global conflict that preceded it (July 1914 - Nov 1918) dwarfed all wars that had gone before it, right from the Stone and the Bronze to the Medieval Ages. In this maelstrom that churned the early 20th century world, our tiny community, though not exactly termed as ‘martial’, also featured in different areas around the world and made vital contributions to the war efforts worldwide. Much before that, however, there are stray references to soldiers in the community. Our pre Chitrapur ancestors would have occupied important civilian and military posts under local rulers in the Konkan - there is reference to one of Pandurangashram Swamiji`s relatives being 'a military officer who ended his days as a sanyasin in Pandharpur'. Though there is no concrete documentation for this, one can be imaginative and surmise that some of our ancestors might have sailed in Kanhoji Angre`s flotilla that combated Portuguese pirates and raider ships off Konkan coast in 17th -18th centuries.

World War I saw some in the community join the Services, primarily in the Medical Corps, and some in combatant sector also. There  were some who saw action in the West Asian region, and became well known in the community. Capt Kalianpur Harihar Bhat, a medico, saw action on Western front in the First World War, and became a fatality there. A Medical Relief Fund, named after him, existed for a length of time to keep his memory alive. Capt NR Ubhaya was taken a POW in Mesopotamia, but survived the travails to return home in 1919. Yet others played important roles in their fields of activity.

Many more served in the Armed Forces during World War Two (Sept 1939—Sept 1945), and many laid down their lives for the cause of global peace and stability. The KSAs of that era document such instances. In Independent India, with conflicts in Kashmir, the border conflicts with China, Pakistan brought out many heroic acts by Amchis serving in the Armed Forces. Over the years, Amchis have continued to join the combat wings of our Armed Forces in considerable numbers, many of them have reached the highest levels of command in their chosen branch, and wherever there has been action either in peacetime, disasters or conflict, we have seen them participate and keep the flag of India flying high.

Brig. (Ms) VS Taggarsi, in the 1960s, was perhaps the only Chitrapur Saraswat lady officer (Mily. Nursing Service) who headed her wing first in Northern Command, and then in Western Command, retiring from Chandimandir Hqrs in 2001. Lt Gen Benegal Mukund Rao (1902-1991) was another distinguished doctor who served in the British Indian Army, and after Independence, became the Colonel Commandant of the Army Medical Corps and was appointed as Hony. Surgeon to the President of India. He was the first Chitrapur Saraswat to be promoted to the rank of Lt. Gen in the Army.

To document this saga comprehensively, the KSA had, in 2004, embarked on a project to collate and chronicle the wealth of heritage and contemporary material on our Defence Services, focusing on the role of our community members working shoulder to shoulder with our countrymen and women in the national defence efforts... Thus, the first ever All India Chitrapur Defence Convention was organized (in cooperation with KSA) to bring together all Services personnel from the community to honour and recognize Amchi ex-Servicemen, discuss matters of mutual interest, and draw the attention of The Community, and indeed of the nation, to the role of Chitrapur Saraswats in this vital area of national security. Along with a general Directory of all serving and retired Defence personnel, a comprehensive Souvenir was brought out to mark the Convention of 2004. This Souvenir not only highlighted the contributions and lives of Defence personnel over the past century, but also that of civilians who worked in the Defence sector, the “Veer Naaris" (wives and mothers of martyrs) and families of those in Armed Forces, as also the younger generations of personnel in the Defence sector. As such it is a unique record, which will take a lot of effort to replicate and update at a later time. is proud and happy to digitize the extant record, to familiarize the community at large, and those outside the community, with the values and traditions of Indian Armed Forces and the role of Chitrapur Saraswats in it. As also to motivate younger generations in our community to serve in the Forces. The Souvenir covers almost every conceivable aspect of Defence activity from colonial days to the contemporary, and would be a valuable addition to knowledge about a very different aspect of community life. The range of writings and material collected under one cover demonstrates the result of hard work and dedication by the KSA's team led by Gen Prakash Gokarn, PVSM, AVSM and The Convention coordinating and Directory Committee coordinated by Gen BN Rao, AVSM, VSM and Bar, and individuals / institutions assisting them through the Pune Amchi Martial Clan (PAMC) and the Project AMCHIS coordinated by Sh. Mahesh Kallianpur, then Chairman of KSA.

To add special flavor to the material already existent in the Souvenir, has also added accounts of particular tasks undertaken in exceptionally adverse conditions:

The task of constructing the world`s highest bridge at Khardung La (that found mention in the Guiness Book of Records) by Gen Sudhir Vombatkere,VSM

(A Bridge And Serendipity) &

The acts of extreme bravery in face of enemy fire by Air Cmde. Ramesh Benegal during the 1965 and 1971 conflicts

(Flying With the Legend).

Accompanying vintage photographs/diagrams lend a perspective to these writings. We hope that, viewed holistically, these works would present a unique view to readers about key activities of Aamchis in a hitherto untapped and unwritten area. thanks and and acknowledges the gracious facilitation afforded by the following individuals for compiling this segment:

* Gen. Prakash Gokarn PVSM, AVSM, former President of the Kanara Saraswat Association, Mumbai
* Gen. Baindur Nagesh Rao AVSM, VSM and Bar, Coordinator, Pune Aamchi Martial Clan (PAMC), Pune
* Sh. Jairam Khambadkone, Former Chairman, the Kanara Saraswat Association (KSA), Mumbai
* Sh. Arvind Benegal from Atlanta, Georgia (US) for material on his uncle, Sh. Benegal Dinkar Rao
* Gen. Sudhir Vombatkere VSM, Mysuru, for his article on building the record making bridge at Khardung La, his collection of accompanying illustrations and additional material on Air Cmde RS Benegal.
* for permission to reproduce the article 'Flying with the Legend'

* Air Marshal Rajwar, author of 'Flying with the legend', a veteran of 2 wars, and navigator to CO of 106 Sqn. (then) Sqn. Ldr. Ramesh Benegal during the 1971 ops in The Eastern and Western sectors.

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