A Visit To Remember: A Tribute To Lt Col JJ Fonseca, The Pioneering Army Sports Specialist

The visit of Mrs Blossom Fonseca accompanied by her son Bob brought back vivid and nostalgic memories to both of them. It was my pleasure and privilege to conduct them around AIPT campus to recall and revive their nostalgic memories of 6 by gone decades!

A Visit To Remember: A Tribute To Lt Col JJ Fonseca, The Pioneering Army Sports Specialist

The Army Institute of Physical Training, erstwhile Army School of Physical Training, Pune, recently conducted the Army Physical Training Corps Platinum Jubilee and 6th Reunion from 9-11 Jan 2023. Mission Victory India gave a comprehensive coverage to this landmark event:


Mrs Blossom Fonseca, w/o late Lt Col JJ Fonseca based at Perth Australia had received an invitation for the Platinum Jubilee but could not attend the function due to her advanced age of 90yrs and the need of an escort. However, later in the month, her son Bob (paediatrician) accompanied her for a short visit to India including a few days at Pune where she had spent many memorable years of her life. The best part of her stay in Pune were the 6 years (1963- 69) that she spent at ASPT when her husband Lt Col JJ Fonseca was the Commandant and ASPT virtually became the Physical Training and Sports Hub of India.

On 20 Feb 2023 Mrs Blossom Fonseca visited AIPT campus (that was known as Eve's Estate in her times). The 6 years period that Blossom spent here was later called as the Golden Era of ASPT. This was because this institute conducted multifarious sports and Physical Training activities of Services and National level. A Tribute to Lt Col JJ Fonseca published by Fauji India Magazine has elaborately covered this period of 6 glorious years in the history of AIPT and APTC.

The visit of Mrs Blossom Fonseca accompanied by her son Bob brought back vivid and nostalgic memories to both of them. It was my pleasure and privilege to conduct them around AIPT campus to recall and revive their nostalgic memories of 6 by gone decades! There was a world of a difference in what AIPT and Pune city was in the vintage 1960s and what it is now in 2023. When taken around the well laid out and beautiful campus of AIPT, Blossom noticed the immense changes in terms of modern training infrastructure and latest facilities created during the last 60 years, i.e. from 1963- 69 to 2023.

The visit of this charming and gracious lady was enabled and facilitated with kind permission of Brig Arun Kumar Dey, Commandant, AIPT and kind hospitality extended by Mrs Bratati Dey at their residence. A few photographs shot during the visit speak for themselves and convey the symbolic importance of this rare visit of Blossom Fonseca that vivdly brought back to her several nostalgic and cherished memories treasured by her for last 6 decades. It was also a rare opportunity for   those who were fortunate to meet and interact with Blossom and Bob.

Reception by Adjt and staff AIPT
At Commandant's Residence with Brig AK Dey, Mrs Bratati Dey, Col & Mrs Vinay Dalvi
Col & Mrs Vinay Dalvi at Mrs Blossom Fonseca's residence at Ghorpuri, Pune before visit to AIPT .
With Foundation Stone of Athletics Pavilion opened on 6 Feb 1968 when Lt Col JJ Fonseca was Commandant ASPT.

On being asked what she felt before, during & after her visit to AIPT, Mrs Blossom Fonseca had this to say:

“We visited the AIPT after many years, thanks to the assistance of Col Dalvi. The institute today looks impressive and it’s well presented facilities provides great opportunity for young trainees. The gymnasium, swimming pool and training grounds looked superb. We were very touched by the warm hospitality of the commandant and his wife and all the gracious staff who welcomed us back to what was home during the 1960s. We wish the staff well for all their future endeavours"

The Tribute:

Lt Col John Joseph Fonseca was born in Pune on 11 June 1918 to Dr Ignatius and Lily Fonseca (original residents Goa). After commission he served with the British Army in the Second World War in the King’s Own Royal Regiment. After partition, he was transferred to the Mahar Regt (Infantry) and Army Physical Training Corps (APTC) in 1959. During early 60s, he served as Secretary, Army Sports Control Board/MT-8 at the Army HQ.

With Flying Sikh Milkha Singh on his right and 3rd from left

He was posted as Commandant, Army School of Physical Training (now Army Institute of Physical Training), Pune in 1963. For six years from 1963 to 1969, his sterling role/performance as Commandant ASPT, undoubtedly left an indelible impression in the minds of all those who were fortunate to witness it or be a part of those six eventful years which were later known as the ‘golden era’ of ASPT and the APTC, Pune.

During that nostalgic era of the 1960s, Pune city did not have any sports infrastructure of the kind you see today. There was no Balewadi sports complex, Sahara sports complex or the synthetic (astro turf) hockey stadium of the Pimpri/Chinchwad Municipal Corporation. BEG, Kirkee; CME, Dapodi and NDA, Khadakwasla had sports facilities, utilized exclusively for military training and not available to the civil world outside their campuses.

In fact, even local clubs, schools and colleges had very limited facilities. During that period, under Lt Col Fonseca’s able directions, the few multi discipline sports facilities that existed in ASPT Pune, were optimally developed and judiciously utilized, both for military training as well as the outside civil world of sports of schools and colleges. This provided a great opportunity and rich exposure to the young and budding youth/talent of local (Pune) schools, colleges and clubs.

That vintage period of the 1960s had very few cars and scooters and the most popular conveyance/transportation was the ‘bicycle’. In fact, Pune was then known as the ‘bicycle city’. It was then that ASPT, Pune became the central point and hub of several important army and national level sports events/meets. During these events, all roads in Pune city led to ASPT as very little was available in Pune in terms of entertainment and sports extravaganza not only for the military world but also the civil side.

The notable events and achievements of Lt Col JJ Fonseca are that many sports activities received a great boost. In athletics, several Southern Command, Services and National Open Championships were held besides All India Police Meets. National Hockey Championship for the prestigious Rangaswamy Cup was held in 1966 and followed by the Women’s Hockey Nationals. National Gymnastics Championship was also held during this period. Besides the sports events, services and national coaching camps in gymnastics, boxing, athletics and hockey were held at ASPT.

During this period, the Principal of National Model School, ND Nagarvala handed over the reins of  President MHA (Maharashtra Hockey Association) to OP Bahl, GM of Ammunition Factory, Kirkee with Abel David, founder editor of Poona Herald (Maharashtra Herald) taking over as Secretary MHA. The new team developed symbiotic relations with the ASPT Commandant Lt Col Fonseca, resulting in the first Senior National Hockey Championship being jointly conducted by them. This was one of the most memorable times in the history of ASPT, when the sporting public of Pune got the opportunity to watch not only the national championship, but also see legends like Major Dhyanchand, brother Roopsingh, KD Singh Babu in action to play during an exhibition match.

The husband and wife team of Lt Col Fonseca too took active interest in sports. The conduct of the senior national hockey championship saw them providing boarding and lodging facilities for the teams participating in the championship. In those days when ‘rationing’ was in force in Pune, this magnanimous couple looked after the basic amenities for the teams residing in ASPT.

There was also excellent rapport between ASPT and adjacent SRPF (located at foothills of Ramtekdi) for mutual benefit for military training and sports activities. The National Gymnastics Coaching camp for 1964 Tokyo Olympics was held at ASPT, Pune and the entire six-member  national team which participated in these games comprised of Army personnel, four from APTC and two from BEG, Kirkee. A rare feat indeed! Later, Lt Col Fonseca also accompanied the National Gymnastics team to Russia for international participation/exposure.

With PM Jawaharlal Nehru ( right most ) before Tokyo Olympic Games, 1964

Lt Col Fonseca was also instrumental in showcasing ASPT and APTC through the brilliant physical performances and displays of their physical and recreational training instructors in many fields of military training, especially PT and gymnastics exercises. At his behest, several PT and gymnastics displays were held not only during the yearly APTC Corps Day Tattoo shows at ASPT, where all local schools and colleges were invited but, also at many schools, colleges and even cinema halls (prior to the movie shows). This great initiative in that era not only earned accolades for the ASPT and APTC but also for the Army.

Consequently, there was a great demand for Army APTC instructors in many convent/public schools not only in Pune, but also in nearby Nasik, Devlali, Mumbai, Ahmednagar and Panchgani. This demand for APTC instructors spread to other reputed convent/public schools in the country, especially in Delhi, Dehradun, Shimla, Lovedale, Darjeeling etc. All these initiatives cumulatively resulted in many post retirement jobs/avenues being opened for the Army PT qualified instructors and which continue till date. Hence ,the APTC veterans who have since benefitted and continue to benefit even today, feel highly obliged and ever grateful to this great visionary father figure that the ASPT and APTC was fortunate to have at the helm of affairs at ASPT Pune.

The above contributions of Lt Col JJ Fonseca and many more (which cannot be penned down due to space constraints) earned for him and the APTC, first Vishisht Seva Medal (VSM) and remain etched in the memory of all those who were witness or part of these activities. ASPT and APTC will remain ever grateful to him and his family.

With Field Marshal KM Cariappa

In 1969, Lt Col Fonseca took premature retirement. He served with Kirloskar Oil Engines till Dec 1972 and migrated to Australia, where he spent the rest of his life. His last visit was to Pune during 2008/09 when he came to attend the APTC Diamond Jubilee & Reunion at ASPT Pune. He was based in South Lake, Western Australia where he died on 03 Mar 2018. His private cremation ceremony was held in South Fremantle on 07 Mar 2018.

The sudden and premature retirement of Lt Col Fonseca from the Army in 1969 was a big setback and great loss for the APTC and Army. His continuation in APTC/ASPT would surely have yielded many more gains for the Army and the nation. These sentiments are being echoed by several military veterans around the country.

I am one of the fortunate few to have seen Col Fonseca in flesh and blood during that golden era of ASPT, Pune as I was studying in the nearby ‘Bishop's School’ from 1960-68, which had access to the ASPT, Race Course and Command PT School.

Being from an army family, I had the opportunity of witnessing several services and national sports events at ASPT. Besides that, Col Fonseca was often the chief guest for select sports events like boxing and athletics in our school. Like me, many school and college going youngsters of that period in Pune were positively influenced in the development of leadership qualities through witnessing and active participation in competitive sports activities. Many of them, especially children of military personnel joined the NDA, IMA, OTA and AFMC.

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