Of an Indian prisoner of war, his Australian liberators & friendship

By Indira Laisram
Narinder Parmar, author of 'Chint Singh: The Man Who Should Have Died'

As a child in India, Narinder Singh Parmar remembers collecting Australian stamps from the many Christmas cards sent to his father Chint Singh from his friends down under. And it took many years, though better late than never, for Parmar to migrate to Australia and bring out a book on his father—a soldier with then British army who fought in World War II, who was taken as a prisoner of war (POW) by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore, and later became a chief witness in the Australian War Crime Commission.

The idea of the book laid fallow in his mind for long. To begin with, Parmar had access to the notes his father had written. “It is amazing how well he maintained his diaries during the War which became important evidence against the Japanese and he kept that habit of writing in his diaries till the last day of his life,” says Parmar, a Career Adviser at Smith’s Hill High School, Wollongong.

But Parmar did not know where to start tracing those Australian friendships his father had nurtured until his death—to give the book its necessary finesse.

However, something unique happened in August 2002. Then a high school teacher at Broken Hill, NSW, Parmar was interviewed on Radio National ABC (Macca’s show on Sundays—Australia All Over) in connection with his father’s story. Parmar took the opportunity to read out all the names from his father’s diaries and photo collections from his days in Australia after the war. The result was phenomenal. Parmar, who had left no contact with the radio host except for his Broken Hill School address, was swarmed by phone calls at school the next few days. Finally, he was able to contact Australian WW2 veterans who knew or met his father.

Chint Singh and Lt Marsden Hordern, RANVR, attending “Return to Wewak”, Sept 1970, PNG, to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Japanese surrender. Lt Marsden Hordern was one of the first naval officers who rescued Chint Singh and his mates. Parmar visited Hordern few times in Sydney as they shared the close bond he had over the years with his father

And that began his journey to meet those old links which his father had – to put together his story which he wanted the world to know. Parmar’s book CHINT SINGH: The Man Who Should Have Died was published last month.

The book tells a compelling story of survival and courage through Chint Singh. Singh, says Parmar, joined the 12th Frontier Force Regiment (now in Pakistan after Partition) of the British army in July 1936 as a soldier. After the fall of Singapore in 1943 in WW2, he was one of the thousands of POW shipped to Papua New Guinea, where his Japanese captors subjected them to gruelling ordeal and horrific violence.

Fortunately, Singh and his 10 Indian comrades were rescued by Australian forces led by Lt F.O. Monk, who in is his unpublished memoir, recalls his meeting with Singh and his men at Angoram, a town in Papua New Guinea.

Monk wrote, ‘Ten of these poor fellows were lined up in two ranks, some were sitting because of the sores on their feet or their condition generally was such that they could not stand, but all were rigidly at attention… In charge was a smart looking man, Jemadar Chint Singh, also in rags but with most military bearing, who marched up, saluted and said, ‘Sir, one officer, two NCOs and eight other ranks reporting for whatever duty the King and the Australian army requires of us’. I found it very hard to reply him.

Chint Singh

Reading the above paragraph still gives him goosebumps, reflects Parmar.

“Monk found that my dad had accounts of Japanese atrocities as he had kept the notes. Thus, he became the chief witness in the Australian War Crime Commission around 1945,” says Parmar.

For this purpose, Singh stayed behind in Australia but his other ten comrades never made it home as the plane that was carrying them crashed. Interestingly, during their last days before they were rescued by the Australian forces, Singh and his comrades often talked about telling their story should anyone of them survive. Little did Singh know he would be the one telling the story.

Later, one of the Japanese officers Lt. Mitsuba of the 18th Imperial Army, whom Singh testified against, said, “We should have killed him”. This is how the book gets its name. Incidentally, Singh was the only one to survive out of the almost 3000 POWs.

Once the war crime trial was over, Singh went back to India. It is said that the day Singh turned up at his village Jalari in the state of Himachal Pradesh, there was massive celebration as his family hadn’t heard from him for few years and he was declared a ‘missing’ person. He joined the 2nd Dogra Regiment in 1947 from where he retired in 1974 before succumbing to cancer in 1983 at a Military Hospital in Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh.

Chint Singh in a turban, identifying Japanese who mistreated him and other Indian soldiers

After the radio interview in Sydney in 2002, Parmar got reconnected to all those missing links in his father’s story. But what also stands out in memory is him receiving a letter from a certain Tom Upson addressed to “The Indian Gentleman, Broken Hill School, Broken Hill.”

“The letter didn’t have my name, recalls Parmar. “It read: ‘I was a young teen and my dad was posted as a military police guarding the Japanese and I remember my dad invited your dad for dinner’.”

Parmar travelled the length and breadth of the country to rekindle the friendships his father had formed during the 1940s, and, interestingly, at a time when Australia still had the White policy.

Meeting the family of Doug Bruce, who was Singh’s tent mate, brought many emotions for Parmar. During the trial, Singh was attached to Bruce. When the trial was over and before leaving for India, Singh had stayed with Bruce’s family in Sydney in 1946. Bruce had since passed but Parmar met his wife and two daughters in Perth where they are now settled.

“I met Bruce’s wife and she told me ‘it was one evening when I cooked for your father and tonight I have cooked for you’. She shared so many stories of my dad.”

Chint Singh with Aussie mates celebrating Christmas in 1946

In Sydney, another of his dad’s friend Richard Youden told Parmar, “Your father was part of our battalion, now you are going to be a part of our battalion.” Youden put on Parmar his battalion pin and on the next Anzac Day Parade in Sydney, he was marching with them proudly wearing his father’s medals.

Parmar met many other friends and acquaintances of his father’s. In publishing his book, Parmar turns the attention to what prominent Australian historian Professor Peter Stanley notes, “is a remarkable and powerful story of survival in an unimaginable ordeal, illuminated by friendship and respect between an Indian prisoner of war and his Australian liberators”.

Unfortunately, everyone has passed, rues Parmar. But there is comfort in the thought that he has forged newer friendships with their next generation perpetuating his father’s ideals of love and mateship—a very Australian thing too!

On days when Parmar finds himself looking up at the skies, he whispers, “Dad, I have experienced true Australian mateship which you did during the War.” CHINT SINGH: The Man Who Should Have Died is unmistakably the work of a man stepping into his father’s shoes.

About the book (https://www.shawlinepublishing.com.au/our-titles/display/97-chint-singh%3A-the-man-who-should-have-died)

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