When Mahatma Gandhi donned army uniform

January 2nd, 2009 - 5:06 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Jan 2 (IANS) The fact that Mahatma Gandhi, who used the tools of truth and non-violence in the fight for India’s freedom, donned an army uniform may startle many. But it is true that Father of the Nation wore the British Army’s uniform in 1899, although as a member of a voluntary ambulance unit during the Anglo-Boer War.The Mahatma, then known as Mohandas Karamchand, along with fellow Indians in South Africa decided to join the voluntary ambulance unit. The little known fact, reported in the magazine ‘Sainik Samachar’ (Soldier’s News), formerly called ‘Fauji Akhbar’, has been archived in the coffee table book “Soldiering On” released Friday in the centenary year of the magazine.

“It might seem surprising but it is that in the year 1899 Mahatma Gandhi donned a uniform. This uniform belonged to a voluntary ambulance unit, which he created,” an article by J.P. Chaturvedi published in the Sainik Samachar edition of Oct 9, 1977 says.

Accompanying the article is a rare picture of Mahatma Gandhi sporting the British Army uniform.

The decision to form a voluntary ambulance unit was part of Mahatma’s strategy to bring the Indians settled in South Africa into the mainstream.

“The performance of his voluntary ambulance unit was appreciated by all when the Anglo-Boer war ended in 1902 after the capture of Transvaal. This unit consisted of 1100 Indians.

“The Commander-in-Chief of the Army mentioned the heroic deeds performed by this ambulance unit, whose members walked 20 to 25 miles a day to carry out their voluntary duties to help the injured,” the article reads.

When the best of the British soldiers were forced into action during the war that “the Mahatma thought of raising an ambulance unit to help the wounded.”

“The Governor of Natal was sympathetic and Gandhiji was able to secure the services of the eminent Dr. Booth to train his unit… Their (Indian volunteers’) sense of service and capacity for hard work was appreciated and won them many admirers,” says the book “Soldiering On”. The book chronicles not just the important events in the history of the armed forces but also in the history of the nation.

“Soldiering On” was released by Defence Minister A.K. Antony at a grand function here attended by Marshal of the Air Force Arjan Singh, Indian Air Force chief Air Chief Marshal F.H. Major, Indian Army chief General Deepak Kapoor and Indian Navy’s vice chief Vice Admiral R.P. Suthan.

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