Colonel Harnam Singh was a battle-hardened military man from the British India days. He wore the crisply ironed khaki green uniform of the Indian military and an array of brightly colored war ribbons decorated his chest and shoulder straps. Underneath his tightly wrapped turban, a set of large, shining eyes, a heavy mustache, and a neatly netted beard adorned his gleaming round face. A short baton swagger stick with a small ornamental head and a 9mm pistol in a holster around his waist completed his elaborate attire.
But under the stern façade of a hardened military man was a kind hearted old gentleman. He was the officer in-charge of the 6000 or so refugees in the POW camps of Roorki. He set the tone and expectations right on day one.
“I ‘whant’ to tell you…that I will take care of you. You are civilians and we don’t have anything ‘againsut’ you,” he had said on the first day of our 2-year long imprisonment. “I will give you room, food, and you will be safe under my jurisdic-shun. In return, I ‘whant’ good ‘co’poration’ from you.”
But he was stern too; “I ‘whant’ to tell you if anyone of you make trouble, then my name is Harnam Singh and nobody mess with Harnam Singh!” His hands had clenched on his holster and the smile had disappeared from his face.
The prisoners of Cage #1, Camp #34 were treated fairly during the two-year long period. There were no unnecessary harassment or punishments of the civilian POW’s. Though the military POW’s were treated more harshly in the other camps.
Col. Harnam Singh was our enemy but now we were at his mercy. He showed kindness and understanding in running the affairs of our camp. The late Col. Harnam Singh will be remembered not only as our jailor but also for his sympathetic and fair treatment of the refugees. The Boy Refugee salutes Col. Harnam Singh for setting the right tone and protecting his charges.