This summer I utilized my brief stay in London to search for regimental history. I was looking for information on two people – one a celebrated Victoria Cross winner and the other an unknown second lieutenant. Subedar Mir Dast won a VC on the battlefield in Ypres, Belgium in April 1915 and Second Lieutenant Mehboob Ahmed left the battalion in Malaya to join the Indian National Army (INA) sometime during the Second World War. While little is known about the later, the former is well documented as a war hero. His name is inscribed on a memorial for VC winners in Hyde Park.
I had seen the photographs of both of them. The portrait of the VC holder is proudly hanging in the regimental officers’ mess. A group photograph less prominently displayed at the time I joined the battalion in October 1976 was that of the officers of the 1/13 Frontier Force Rifles circa 1939. The sepia colored shot shows only one Indian officer among the British officers. He bears the name Second Lieutenant Mehboob Ahmed. There is no record of what happened to Mahboob Ahmed because the unit went into captivity in Malaya. Mahboob joined the Subhash Chandra Bose (SCB) led Indian National Army (INA) at some undetermined date. Thereafter the track goes cold. The unit was re-raised in 1945 in Rawalpindi but quite obviously Mahboob wasn’t part of it. He had forsaken his loyalty to the King Emperor. By joining the INA he had thrown in his lot with the nationalists. I remember asking the old mess waiter Abdul Rahman aka Mana, who was with the battalion during captivity in Malaya about the Indian officer in the photograph. He remained behind in India and became an ambassador was what I could remember the old man telling me. Last summer someone gave me a photocopied autobiography of Colonel Mehboob Ahmed, who had served as the secretary of Netaji. The biography written in Urdu informed me that Colonel, a native of Patna had died a brokenhearted man because his dream of an independent India was not fulfilled. It did not give any details of his military background in the Indian Army, nor was there any mention of his diplomatic career. A little research did reveal that although INA were not reinstated in the Indian Army nor in the Pakistan Army after partition but some of them were given civilian positions. One Mehboob Ahmed or Mehboob Hasan served as the ambassador of India to Canada. There is also information about Colonel Mehboob Ahmed, a former military secretary of SCB, as a senior official of the ministry of external affairs deposing before the parliament in 1972 about Netaji.
The purpose of my visiting the National Archives near Kew Gardens was to find out about both of them. The National Archives is housed in an impressive building in a beautiful suburb of London. It is at the end of the underground line to Richmond and a brief walk brings you to the National Archives. The entry is free. You get a membership card which has an extended period of validity. A short instructional tour on the computer tells you how to access the records. Further inquiries can be made with the assistants sitting in the Archives to help a visitor. I was able to access the citation of Mir Dast. On one side of the facsimile of the citation was a handwritten note stating that it had been transferred to the India Office Library. When I asked about the transfer from an assistant, I was told that all records of the Indian Army had been shifted to the India Office Section of the British Library. If I was lucky I could find Second Lieutenant Ahmed’s record there as well.
So I caught the next train to the British Library in the heart of London. I found the edifice of this world known library again very imposing. I was quickly issued a membership card and given detailed instructions of how to handle historic documents. I placed my request for the citation of Mir Dast VC and service record of Second Lieutenant Mehboob Ahmed. I was told to wait for 45 minutes before the staff searched for the records. After the mandatory wait I was given torn folio containing the London gazette notification of VC holders of First World War. The name of Jemadar Mir Dast VC of 55th Coke’e Rifles (FF) bore the entry bore the number 820328. Where is the citation asked? We don’t have it and if you want to know further about Second Lieutenant Ahmed contact the AG’s Branch of the Indian Army in the South Block of the Indian Army Headquarters in New Delhi.
So where do I go from here. It won’t be bad idea to write to South Block for Mehboob Ahmed but what about Mir Dast’s original citation? Where do I find it? Any ideas?