World War II: An unsung Manekshaw

The Commonwealth war cemetery in Bangladesh witnessed an unusual number of visitors. Never before had visitors from one family visited the second World War cemetery to pay homage to an ancestor who laid down his life fighting the Imperial Japanese forces.

Navzar Manekshaw, a retired Assistant Commissioner of Police, who lives in Marine Lines in Mumbai flew to Chittagong with his three sons, two daughters-in-law and grandchildren to pay homage to his father, the late Lt Jamshed Maneckshaw, who had laid down his life in World War II. His memorial in the form of a plaque is here. This author was fortunate to accompany them on this moving journey.

Navzar had had no clue that the memorial of his father was raised in the Chittagong war cemetery, where the mortal remains of the over 751 Indians, British, Australian and African soldiers were placed in a row. Each plaque revealed the name and unit of the soldiers who laid down his life fighting for the British forces.

He was just 15 months old when his father Lt Jimmy (as he was fondly called) Manekshaw died in action in Dohazari in the Chittagong sector. He doesn’t remember his father’s face and later, when he was five years old, his mother Zarine took him to Dohazari where his father was laid to rest.

The world knows late Field Marshall Sam Manekshaw, chief of the Indian army in the 1971 Indo-Pakistan War following the liberation struggle, who helped create Bangladesh through his leadership. However, most are largely unaware that another Manekshaw - Lt Jamshed Manekshaw was also defending Indian territory against the Japanese invasion in the Dohazari region of the Chittagong front. While Sam survived the bullet wounds as he fought on the Burma front as Captain, Jamshed died in action in Dohazari and became an unsung martyr. Lt Jamshed Manekshaw was 33 when he passed away on May 14, 1944.

There were originally 400 burials in these cemeteries and later when the Commonwealth War cemetery was built in Chittagong the graves were transferred to the new cemetery.

An earlier visit by this author to Chittagong along with Salahuddin Ahamad, a former bureaucrat who served as the Chief Secretary of the Rajasthan government, saw us impressed by the way the cemetery was maintained with rows of plaques bearing the names of the soldiers. Each plaque also had the religious sign to which the soldier belonged like a cross for the Christian and a temple sign for the Hindu. Amidst the many plaques, I spotted the only plaque with a Zoroastrian (Parsi) signage. Fascinated, I leaned down to read the plaque… ‘Lieutenant Jamshed S Manekshaw, Royal Indian Army Service Corps, 14th May 1944, Age 44. O Rest, Dear Partner Of My Days I Pledge My Troth To Thee always…”.

After each of us took pictures of this and other plaques, I thought of sending the images to the family members of Jamshed Manekshaw. In our quest to find his family, I contacted my friend Farrokh Manekshaw, who runs a resort in Goa. After several months, Farrokh messaged that he was able to find the son of Jimmy Manekshaw. He turned out to be Navzar Manekshaw, a retired Assistant Commissioner of Police. Manekshaw could not believe that we had been able to find the cemetery where his father was finally laid to rest.

“My mother Zarine was shattered as I was still a toddler and our entire life was before us. The army general had sent my mother and grandfather a letter announcing the death of my father. My mother was a good painter and this skill helped her get a job as a teacher and she raised me,” Navzar shared.

He had no clue that the mortal remains of his father had been shifted, along with others, to the new Commonwealth War Cemetery in Chittagong until I informed him. That’s when he decided to accompany me to Chittagong along with his whole family, to visit his father’s memorial. The ceremony was well-organised with a specially made wreath of white roses and lilies placed on the plaque and a lamp lit. Navzar’s eyes were moist as he placed a photo frame of the charcoal painting of his parent drawn by his mother on the rear side of the plaque. The family joined in prayers. It was a touching moment. For Navzar it was a dream fulfilled and his family visited the site for the next two days to pay homage.

“I shall cherish these moments and the time spent at the Chittagong cemetery all my life,” vouched Navzar. “For me, this was not a cemetery visit but a pilgrimage. I salute my father.”

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