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The Man with the George Cross

Saleem Shahab

It was on a beautiful evening on March 15, 1941 when a battalion of the Indian state force, under command of Colonel RC Fletcher, landed on a beach of the Penang island of Malaya, after twelve days at sea. A young Multani captain in the battalion, Mahmood Khan Durrani, was at the time unaware that he was destined to undergo a series of hardships and miseries as a prisoner of war and that he would subsequently be awarded the George Cross, a medal for unmatched valour.

Mahmood Khan Durrani was born on 1 July 1914 in Multan, the City of Saints. After completing his schooling, he joined the Indian state forces. Durrani was a captain serving in Malaya when the Second World War broke out. During the allied withdrawal from Malaya, Captain Durrani was cut off from his small platoon. He successfully remained in hiding for three months, before he was captured by the Japan-sponsored Indian Nationalist Army and was sent to a POW camp.

Durrani refused to join the INA and instead spent most of his time in the camp conceiving and then putting into execution a plan for thwarting Japanese efforts for infiltrating agents into India. After many delays and setbacks due to falling under suspicion, he ultimately achieved much of his objective. Durrani was also responsible for the idea of a school to send Muslim agents into India to counter the Japanese scheme.

In May 1944, with the complicity of the INA, the Japanese arrested him. For ten days he was subjected to third degree torture methods, including starvation, deprivation of sleep and physical torture, such as the placing of burning cigarettes on his legs. Subsequently, he was given a mock trial and condemned to death, but the execution was postponed in order that information be extracted. Durrani was then tortured by various particularly brutal methods, continuously for several days. The exact time is uncertain, as there were periods of unconsciousness, but it certainly lasted for some days. Still, no information whatever was obtained from him. Thereafter, Durrani was kept in solitary confinement for several months, with occasional interrogations and was given little medical treatment and just enough food to sustain his life.

With the end of the war, Durrani was finally liberated. But he was found to be permanently affected in health and continued to bear the scars of his physical torture for the rest of his life. Throughout his days as soldier, Durrani was fully aware of the possible consequences of his actions and when discovered, he preferred to undergo protracted torture rather than confess and save himself, because he still hoped that he might achieve his purpose. To confess would have endangered others’ lives and might have influenced the enemy to change their plans.

Captain Durrani’s award of the George Cross was published in the London Gazette on 23 May 1946. The citation mentioned that “His outstanding example of deliberate cold-blooded bravery is most fully deserving of the highest award.”

After the end of World War II, Durrani resumed his military career in the post-Partition Pakistan army, finally retiring in 1971. As a colonel, Durrani became one of the first George Cross Committee members of the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association.

A poet and a skilled writer, Durrani spoke English, Urdu and Seraiki fluently and wrote in all three languages with ease. Skilled in the art of war, Durrani was no less a master with the pen. His one book, “The Sixth Column”, published in the UK in 1955, was based on his experiences of imprisonment and won wide acclaim, securing his name in war literature for good.

Mahmood Durrani’s domestic virtues, the purity of his disciplined life, and his role as a dutiful husband and a devoted father all combined to make him a fine soldier and a fine man.

His medal is on display in the Imperial War Museum’s Victoria and George Cross Gallery, a constant reminder to all visitors of his exemplary fortitude and courage.

Saleeem Shahab is the Editor monthly Techno Biz and a prolific write. He can be reached here.

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posted by S A J Shirazi @ 8:00 AM,


At 8:11:00 PM, Anonymous Kausar Bilal said...

I am stunned to read the story and couldn't stop wondering that what had kept him so steadfast during all the torturous period?
He seems like a person who utilized his time very effectively and earned success in every manner.
Loved the post!


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