#news Historian BEN MACINTYRE reveals Indian officer who refused to betray Britain  #WorldNews

#news Historian BEN MACINTYRE reveals Indian officer who refused to betray Britain  #WorldNews

#information Historian BEN MACINTYRE reveals Indian officer who refused to betray Britain  #WorldInformation

Yesterday, within the first a part of the Mail’s serialisation of historian Ben Macintyre’s gripping new guide about Colditz, we instructed how the notorious PoW camp was a scorching mattress of snobbery and bullying amongst its British inmates. Today we inform the shameful story of the captured British Indian officer abused, humiliated… and even neglected of escape plans. 

In September 1941, a recent batch of prisoners arrived to be part of the British contingent of officers at Colditz fortress, the formidable fortress in Nazi Germany the place troublesome prisoners-of-war have been locked up. One specifically stood out amongst all of the white faces. He was Indian.

Birendranath Mazumdar was a surgeon, and an excellent one. Born into the excessive midday of the British Raj, nicely educated, with elegant manners and fastidious tastes, he spoke English with a refined accent – in addition to Bengali, Hindi, Urdu, French and German.

He had been educated at elite colleges modelled on the English system and introduced up to observe a code of honour that was Victorian British in tone: obligation, loyalty, morality, sincerity.

Mazumdar sounded and behaved like an Englishman, however to many Englishmen he didn’t seem like one. Among Indians, he was a determine of respect, even grandeur, an informed, high-caste Hindu from a wealthy household; however to nearly all of white males, he was simply one other Indian.

He had left India in 1931 for London, intent on turning into a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. ‘To succeed, you have to be ten per cent better than the others,’ he was warned.

Birendranath Mazumdar sounded and behaved like an Englishman, but to many Englishmen he did not look like one

Birendranath Mazumdar sounded and behaved like an Englishman, however to many Englishmen he didn’t seem like one 

He was proud, humorous, formidable, often obstreperous, solemn and conflicted: a product of two distinct, entwined and more and more incompatible cultures. Most notably, as a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and radical Subhas Chandra Bose, he believed in Indian independence.

Yet regardless of his opposition to the British Empire, when conflict was declared in 1939 he joined up, volunteering for the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Despatched to France with the rank of captain, he was the one non-white officer within the corps and the one Indian officer within the British Army.

He was captured by the Germans within the fall of France and shortly made himself a thorn of their aspect.

When a German officer ordered him to have his head shaved earlier than delousing, he refused, saying that in Hindu tradition ‘you only shave your head when your father or mother dies’.

He was dragged off to the barber after which to a solitary cell.

He stored up his defiance for his fellow prisoners, complaining of insufficient medical provides and inadequate meals – behaviour that mystified the Germans.

‘You are an Indian,’ they instructed him. ‘Why should you care if a few Tommies die?’

But Mazumdar was persistent, and as his relations with the Germans worsened, he was shuttled from one PoW camp to one other, greater than a dozen in all – a tough buyer, and an anomaly.

His attentive medical care and willingness to confront the Germans ought to have endeared him to his fellow inmates, however he was all the time a creature aside, handled with suspicion, and infrequently outright discrimination.

The different prisoners known as him ‘Jumbo’, after a Victorian elephant that was as soon as the star attraction at London Zoo. It was a nickname he detested however couldn’t shift.

The prisoners could have assumed that Jumbo was an Indian elephant, and hooked up the identify to the only Indian prisoner. In truth, Jumbo was an African elephant, however within the eyes of sure white individuals, elephants, like Indians, have been all the identical.

Mazumdar was persistent, and as his relations with the Germans worsened, he was shuttled from one PoW camp to another, more than a dozen in all – a difficult customer, and an anomaly. Pictured, Colditz Castle

Mazumdar was persistent, and as his relations with the Germans worsened, he was shuttled from one PoW camp to one other, greater than a dozen in all – a tough buyer, and an anomaly. Pictured, Colditz Castle

To the Germans, although, this man handled by his personal aspect as an outcast represented a chance. They set about making an attempt to persuade him to change sides. He was requested to make a radio broadcast encouraging Indians to be part of a brand new navy unit to struggle the British and hasten the tip of the Raj.

He refused all their overtures, and because of this was despatched to Colditz. From the beginning he was handled in a different way, allotted a prime bunk in the back of the higher attic within the British quarters, which meant that if he wanted to urinate within the night time, he woke room-mates by clattering in clogs throughout the wood ground, and endured a flurry of curses.

He naturally gravitated in the direction of the one different particular person of color within the fortress, a half-Indonesian officer within the Dutch East Indies military. That alliance of outsiders solely appeared to compound his unpopularity.

But his main drawback was that phrase had unfold that, although the Indian physician could also be anti-German, he was additionally anti-Raj.

This raised suspicions that he could be tempted to make frequent trigger along with his captors.

There have been murmurings that he was a spy, and fellow prisoners averted him. The high-caste Indian had turn out to be untouchable. The most critical consequence of this was that he was excluded from the camp’s major matter of dialog: escape.

When he introduced up the topic with the Senior British Officer (SBO), saying he would really like to be thought-about in escape makes an attempt, the suggestion was greeted with derision. ‘With your brown skin?’ he was instructed. It was tough sufficient to evade seize in Germany with a white face, mentioned the SBO, not to mention a brown one. The Germans stored nagging away, making an attempt to flip him. One day, he was summoned to a gathering at Colditz with one other Indian, dressed within the discipline gray uniform of the German Wehrmacht and carrying the leaping tiger badge of the Indian National Congress.

He was a member of the Tiger Legion, a 1,000-strong unit of Indian troopers enlisted by Chandra Bose, the Indian nationalist who had now thrown his hand in with the Nazis on the grounds that any enemy of the British was a pal of his.

Having been smuggled out of India by the Germans, Chandra Bose was now in Berlin and the customer introduced an invite to Mazumdar to meet him there.

Word shortly unfold via Colditz that Mazumdar was being taken to meet the Indian quisling elevating a military to struggle the British within the Far East.

Most assumed that the Indian physician had already switched sides, confirming their suspicions of disloyalty. ‘We never expected to see him again,’ mentioned one.

On the morning of his departure, Mazumdar was cleansing his tooth within the washrooms when somebody remarked loudly: ‘That bloody Mazumdar is a spy, he’s going to Berlin.’

Mazumdar turned in a chilly fury. ‘I give you five minutes to withdraw this accusation,’ he mentioned. When the 6ft 2in Guardsman refused, they squared up and 5ft 7in Mazumdar floored his accuser with a proper hook and jumped on prime of him.

He made his journey to Berlin in a first-class prepare compartment and was ferried in a chauffeur-driven Mercedes to meet Chandra Bose, who invited him ‘to come and fight for the freedom of India, our Motherland’.

Mazumdar replied that he had pledged an oath of allegiance to the King: ‘I have given my word of honour and cannot go back on this.’

They took a leisurely lunch. Chandra Bose described assembly Hitler a number of weeks earlier; the Führer had provided a U-boat to take him to Bangkok, ‘from where the Indian revolution could be directed’.

He mentioned he had recruited a whole bunch of Indians from the British Indian Army, however not one commissioned officer. Mazumdar could possibly be the primary. Mazumdar was torn. Joining Chandra Bose would win him his freedom, not simply from the confines of Colditz however the racial prejudice that redoubled the distress of imprisonment.

He was an admirer of Bose and flattered that this nice man ought to strive to recruit him. But he was additionally insistent: ‘I am opposed to the British rule in India but I have sworn an oath of allegiance to Britain.’

He solely had to say the phrase and he would quickly be the senior medical officer of a military combating for Indian freedom. It was a painfully tempting imaginative and prescient.

Word quickly spread through Colditz that Mazumdar was being taken to meet the Indian quisling raising an army to fight the British in the Far East. Pictured, Colditz Castle

Word shortly unfold via Colditz that Mazumdar was being taken to meet the Indian quisling elevating a military to struggle the British within the Far East. Pictured, Colditz Castle

But to take that step could be to change integrity for freedom, and that he couldn’t do. In the tip he rejected Chandra Bose’s provide and returned to Colditz – in a dirty third-class railway carriage.

‘There was no doubt in my mind I had done the right thing,’ he mirrored. He believed that, having so clearly proven the place his loyalties lay, the opposite British officers should settle for him now.

But again in Colditz, he confronted recent mockery. ‘Didn’t he need you in any case?’ they jeered.

His choice to reject Chandra Bose’s provide didn’t change the best way he was seen by different officers. Instead, it widened the gulf.

With life in Colditz now worse for him than ever, he determined he had to get out. He found that the Germans had arrange a handful of camps in occupied France containing solely Indian prisoners, principally troopers of the British Indian Army captured in North Africa.

The safety at such locations was nicely under Colditz requirements. If he may get himself transferred there, he stood a greater likelihood of escape.

He requested the Kommandant for a switch, insisting he had a proper to be imprisoned with compatriots; he pretended to be vegetarian, claiming the camp meals was a violation of his faith. Nothing labored.

So he went on starvation strike.

This was the tactic Gandhi utilized in urgent his calls for for an finish to British rule in India, most lately on February 10, 1943, when, after being detained with out fees by the British, he started his fifteenth such protest, insisting he would eat nothing till he was launched.

Two days later, Mazumdar launched his starvation strike, reasoning ‘the Jerries will not find it very good propaganda in the Far East if news gets around they have allowed an Indian to starve to death’.

He then took to his mattress, declaring he would devour nothing however water and a bit of salt till the Kommandant relented and moved him to one other camp.

Food was the second most generally mentioned matter in Colditz, after escaping. The thought {that a} prisoner would possibly voluntarily forgo nourishment struck the others as weird.

The British officers mocked him – ‘Jumbo is doing a Gandhi’ – however the little physician simply smiled and mentioned: ‘I know what I am doing. We shall see what we shall see.’

The Germans have been initially shocked by this one-man protest, then mildly amused, and eventually deeply alarmed. After every week of hunger, Mazumdar had misplaced half a stone.

By the tip of the second week, he was too frail to depart his mattress, however he remained resolute.

His eyesight was beginning to fail and his coronary heart price was dropping but he continued to smile, reiterating: ‘We shall see what we shall see.’

Messages flew between Colditz and Berlin, and on day 16 of his quick, the German military blinked. A message arrived from headquarters: ‘Dr Mazumdar should cease forthwith his hunger strike and prepare to leave the camp as soon as he has regained his strength.’

With life in Colditz now worse for him than ever, he decided he had to get out. Pictured, Colditz Castle

With life in Colditz now worse for him than ever, he determined he had to get out. Pictured, Colditz Castle

He had gained and he was the hero of the hour. The different inmates immediately forgot how poorly that they had handled him up to now. As he emerged from his mattress and out into the courtyard, weak and gaunt however grinning broadly, he was greeted with loud cheers.

People who had shunned him now declared that they had all the time preferred him. They plied him with meals to construct up his energy.

The Guards officer who had accused him of spying and ended up being pummelled on the washroom ground now apologised and invited Mazumdar to stick with him and his household after the conflict.

On February 26, 1943, a yr and a half after arriving at Colditz, Mazumdar walked out of the entrance gates, heading for France and forsaking the camp that had held such distress for him – not from the Germans however his personal aspect. But Mazumdar’s conflict was removed from over. After every week in a fetid Indian camp in south-west France, he was loaded on to a prepare with a bunch of prisoners.

With the assistance of two Indian sappers, he levered out the carriage window and, whereas the prepare was shifting, jumped via and out.

With a damaged finger, he set off south on foot, hoping to cross the Pyrenees into impartial Spain.

French peasants offered meals, clothes and instructions. But in a small village close to Toulouse, his luck ran out.

‘I foolishly enquired from an old Frenchman the whereabouts of a bridge,’ he recalled. The man led him to the police station. Mazumdar was handed to the Germans – and his first contact with the Gestapo. He was interrogated and badly crushed, however he refused to reveal the names of the French civilians who had helped him. The Gestapo appeared to know all about his assembly with Chandra Bose. ‘We’ll offer you yet another likelihood to be part of us,’ they mentioned.

‘I’m not doing something of the type,’ he replied. So they beat him once more. Mazumdar assumed the Gestapo would ultimately run out of persistence and kill him.

At greatest, they may ship him again to Colditz. Instead, he was taken to a camp for ‘colonial prisoners’, the place 500 captive Indians have been guarded by a garrison of French-Algerian troops underneath German command.

As the one commissioned officer, he was essentially the most senior soldier within the place. ‘I had joined my compatriots,’ he wrote. ‘I had reason to be pleased, but I was determined to get away, come what may.’

He started planning his subsequent escape try – sawing via the bars on a window and scaling a 20ft outer wall topped with damaged glass, earlier than he was seen in a floodlight beam and compelled to give himself up.

Then, with a pal he had made, a Trooper Dariao Singh, he broke out of the camp once more, gouging via a wall at useless of night time, crawling underneath barbed-wire fences and climbing over the gate.

As daybreak broke, they hid in a clump of bushes, waited for dusk, and agreed a plan: they’d make for the Swiss border, strolling solely through the midnights.

The trek throughout France by Mazumdar and Dariao Singh is among the nice untold tales of the Second World War: two unmistakably Indian troopers trudged greater than 500 miles in six weeks via Nazi-held territory. All alongside the best way, that they had sought assist in distant peasant cottages and been provided shelter. No one turned them in to the Germans.

Near the frontier, they knocked on the door of a farmhouse. It was opened by an aged girl, who ushered the famished males inside and sat them down to a meal of bread, cheese and wine. She provided to discover them a information to take them throughout the Swiss frontier, which was a number of miles away.

And so, after three years of captivity, the Indian physician was lastly free. His trials, although, weren’t.

To start with, his time in impartial Switzerland was good. He went again to work as a physician, treating the illnesses of the varied Allied servicemen who had reached there after escaping from Germany.

The British had arrange a social membership in Montreux, the place he performed billiards and bridge. He even began a love affair, with a younger Swiss girl named Elianne.

Yet an air of suspicion nonetheless surrounded him. The British authorities remained deeply distrustful of his contact with Chandra Bose, who was now in Japanese-occupied Singapore, recruiting extra Indian troopers for his military of liberation and establishing, with Japanese assist, the Provisional Government of Free India.

MI5 arrange a particular unit to examine Indian subversion, and a file was opened on Dr Mazumdar.

He was summoned to see a senior military officer, who, like him, had escaped to Switzerland, for what felt like an interrogation.

Mazumdar described his go to to Berlin, identified that he had turned down each invitation to collaborate, after which tried to change the topic.

The officer duly reported again that Mazumdar ‘did not want to talk’ about Chandra Bose, and this was sufficient to mark him out as a possible traitor.

Some British officers who had served in India regarded Mazumdar with explicit distrust, referring to him as a ‘Bengali Baboo’, a pejorative time period for an Indian perceived as over-educated and ‘uppity’.

They made it clear they didn’t need him of their social membership. He was additionally warned off about having a white girlfriend. Eventually, a colonel – one who was satisfied he understood ‘the Indian mind’ and didn’t like what he thought he noticed in Mazumdar’s – noticed a chance to convey the Indian physician down a peg.

Many of the escaped prisoners have been affected by eye situations, and to set up a greater analysis Mazumdar ordered an ophthalmoscope, an costly magnifying software with a lightweight to see inside the attention.

Obtaining a discount from the senior medical officer, he purchased it with petty money.

A day later, he was summoned to see the colonel, who, with a torrent of expletives, accused him of theft, claiming he had embezzled the cash supposed to purchase the ophthalmoscope.

Mazumdar identified that he may produce the brand-new instrument as proof, however the colonel had by now launched right into a livid diatribe about Indian corruption and the explanation why that nation would by no means be prepared for independence.

Both males have been now on their toes, shouting. Finally Mazumdar exploded: ‘The difference between you and me, Colonel, is this: you have lived in my country for 25 years and you can’t communicate considered one of its languages. I’ve lived in your nation for 15 and communicate 5 languages, together with yours.’

Mazumdar was positioned underneath home arrest in a resort to await court docket martial on a cost of stealing. ‘I had nobody to help me,’ he wrote.

A prisoner-of-war for 4 years, the Indian physician had escaped solely to discover himself a prisoner as soon as extra, however now in British custody.

If and when he made it again to Britain, MI5 could be ready for him.

Mazumdar was held for 4 months underneath home arrest awaiting trial on fees of embezzlement.

In November 1944, he was transferred to Marseilles, and placed on a troop ship to England.

Back in Woolwich barracks in London – and now recognized as ‘Suspect Z/240’ in a file labelled ‘Indian Subversion’ – he was summoned to the War Office.

The MI5 officer who performed the cross-examination wrote: ‘Z/240 was very hard to deal with. He disliked being interviewed and expressed the opinion that he was being subjected to treatment that no British PoW had to put up with.’

Reluctantly, Mazumdar described once more the failed makes an attempt to recruit him in Berlin.

The interviewer concluded that Mazumdar posed no safety risk and deserved ‘credit for remaining loyal’.

Yet the odour of suspicion clung to him. ‘It seems impossible Z/240 has forgotten as much as he pretends,’ the MI5 officer added in his report.

He was discharged from navy service in 1946. By then, Chandra Bose was useless: his Indian National Army had fought the British in Burma, after which surrendered with the Japanese.

The following yr, India gained its independence and Mazumdar may need returned to the nation of his delivery, now not underneath British rule. Instead he selected to keep in England.

He married and labored as a GP till his retirement. Before his loss of life in 1996, he made a collection of tape recordings describing his wartime experiences – because of which, his unimaginable story can finally be instructed.

© Ben Macintyre 2022

  • Adapted from Colditz: Prisoners Of The Castle, by Ben Macintyre, printed by Viking at £25. To order a replica for £22.50, go to mailshop. co.uk/books or name 020 3176 2937 earlier than October 1, 2022. UK supply free on orders over £20. 

Leave a Comment