Force Magazine

 A Lion, To the Last
 Remembering the legendary Brig. Mohammad Usman, (15 July 1912 - 3 July 1948)

Brig. Mohammad UsmanNo military commander in independent India, except one, has received a state funeral. But so overwhelmed was a nascent nation at the supreme courage and sacrifice of Brigadier Mohammad Usman 66 years ago that Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru and his cabinet colleagues turned up at the funeral of the hero — the ‘highest ranking military commander till date’ to lay down his life in the battlefield — who was laid to rest with full state honours on the premises of Jamia Millia Islamia in New Delhi.

Two memorials — one at Jamia Millia Islamia and the other at Naushera — stand as silent reminders of the man today; as the nation prepares to observe his 100th birth anniversary. It was 5.45 p.m. on 3 July 1948, Jhangar near Naushera (Jammu). The sun was about to set and the brigadier, having offered his evening prayers, was holding the routine, daily meeting with his staff officers at his command post — actually, a makeshift structure rigged with the help of a few tents. A sudden burst of shelling sent them all scurrying for cover behind a rock formation.

The brigadier sized up the situation and saw the enemy’s field guns to be too well-entrenched. Spotting an enemy observation post sited on an elevation, he shouted instructions for his field guns to engage the fortification while he himself attempted a dash, presumably in an effort to alert others. But as he stepped out, a shell from a 25-pounder landed almost next to him — its splinters killing him on the spot. Usman died 12 days short of his 36th birthday.

Hailing from a modest, middle-class family in Azamgarh, Uttar Pradesh, Usman had steel in his spine. At the tender age of 12, they still remember of him, he had jumped into a well to rescue a drowning child. He had a stammering problem in childhood, but overcame the handicap by sheer will power. One of the 10 Indian boys to secure admission to the Royal Military Academy (RMA) at Sandhurst, England, in 1932 — the last batch of Indians to do so — the feat made no less remarkable by that distinction. Usman was commissioned in the storied Baluch Regiment at the age of 23 and saw action in Afghanistan and Burma during World War II. He rose quickly to the rank of brigadier, drawing attention to himself by his firm and fair handling of the precarious communal situation in Multan.

During the splintering of the army in the wake of Partition, Usman was offered the promise of out-of-turn promotions and the prospect of becoming the army chief in Pakistan. A senior Muslim officer at the time, everyone expected him to grab the offer. But the brigadier surprised everyone by opting to stick with India. Neither Mohammed Ali Jinnah nor Liaquat Ali Khan could convince him to have a change of heart.
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