It was such a pleasure to have the presence of Mrs and Brig Desmond Neville Devine Jones amidst us during those days when I was in Command at AIPT. We made it a point to extend an invite to the grand old couple of the Red Stockings Family, whenever a social function was held in EVES Estate. Time spent with them was worth it and more, in every sense of the word and those who interacted with the zestful lady and the Corps legend would know and remember that in good measure.
While Mrs Jones is a walking and talking historical encyclopedia about the people, happenings and goings on in the extended Red Stockings Family, and can delve into her bagful of memories to tell stories at the drop of a hat about those who were their contemporaries; Desmond Neville Devine Jones, was a typically good looking Anglo Indian with a crop of copious hair, which was puffed in the front, in the style reminiscent of the forties and fifties a' la Hollywood stars like Dean Martin, Rock Hudson, John Wayne et al. At the age of 22 years, he was a member of the Indian Football team captained by Sailen Manna of Mohun Bagan club, which won a Gold medal in the 1951 Asian Games.
He played as a midfielder with the greats of Indian football like Noor Mohammed, Chandan Rawat, Abdul Latif and Shanmugham. Devine Jones was also the boxing coach for the Indian Olympic team for the 1972 Munich Olympics as well as the country's flag bearer. He was elected secretary of the Indian Amateur Boxing Federation (IABF) in 1976 and then reelected in 1980.
He was an AIBA qualified Referee and Judge(R&J) and officiated in many international boxing championships.He was also elected as an executive committee member of AIBA in 1986. He was from the Corps of Signals and later, permanently transferred into the APTC from which he superannuated on retirement from the appointment of DDGMT (PT).
Like others, who were at the helm of APTC and had enviable credentials to establish their professional identity through their achievements, capabilities, leadership, vision and contribution; Brigadier Jones was a professional heavyweight who carried the Corps image and perception on his robust shoulders.
It was during his tenure as the DDG MT and in tandem with Brigadier Darshan Singh, who was the Commandant AIPT and OiC Records that, the APTC got a huge expansion in its strength and its officer cadre grew from a measly 17-18 officers to 69 officers. As also, the PBOR got a cadre upgrade with exponential increase in the Nos of JCOs in the ranks of Nb Sub/ Sub/ Sub Maj and proportional appointments of CHM and BHM.
It was their case that, to take the APTC forward and better serve the interests of the Army at the recruit training level and thereafter, an effective mix of indigenous SL officers from the Corps and permanent commissioned officers, who would be permanently transferred under IAST into the APTC will be ideal to offset the inherent weakness of staff work and handicap in the use of English language in the former lot, and be a foil to them in a functional professional conglomeration. This was a watershed moment in the history of the APTC and many subsequent landmarks can be attributed to the visionary thinking displayed by these stalwarts of those times.
While under training as a cadet and a GC in the NDA and the IMA respectively, I was at the receiving end of all they had to offer to build me physically and mentally, in those formative years of my life. The impact was substantial and defining, and it drew great admiration from my heart for my mentors, who had enabled me to follow in their footsteps, when I had permanently transferred into the APTC.
My choice to apply for an IAST into the APTC from my parent unit, 4 Garhwal Rifles (Nuranang) was born of circumstances, which is characteristic of my attitude to stand up for my principles at the cost of all else and hence was precipitated by my unwillingness to compromise on truth and integrity.
It was this, which was becoming a big impediment for my career growth in the mainstream Army and hence I exercised the option which became available to me, when IAST was introduced for APTC. But, as I was not eligible for the transfer on grounds of not having the requisite QR, I wrote to Brigadier Jones to consider my request for allotment of a course vacancy, as I had become overage by 2 years to do the course. This got resolved and I was on my way to ASPT (AIPT) Pune, where Colonel Darshan Singh was the Commandant. I transferred into the APTC on 05 Oct 1981 after 10 years of Infantry service.
When in command of AIPT, Pune during 2005, Brigadier Jones got my ear and wanted his grandchildren Jonathan and Natalie to be put through the grinds of some Boot Camp fitness training at the Institute. His wish was my command and soon we had the grossly overweight (82 kgs), 5' 3" tall and 15 years old Jonathon training under my watchful care.
In about three months, Jonathan lost about 30 kgs of his puppy fat and had transformed into a strapping adolescent. I remember telling him that, no matter how tall his grandfather is he cannot grow under his shadow without imbibing his traits. Jonathan, is a handsome young officer in the 11 Gorkha Regiment and as I was told by Mrs Jones his Grandmother, he speaks Gorkhali as fluently as a born again Nepali. I did speak with him while he was in 11 GRRC, Lucknow, where Maj Gaur is the PTO.
There is much we can still learn from the past of our stalwarts and achievers and it should be our constant endeavour to reach out and seek a memory recall from them to enrich our history. It was with this thought in mind that, I had requested yet another stalwart of the Corps Brigadier GS Sandhu to help me write his record for posterity to know and learn from. That he did, helped me to get my writing published in Col Vinay Dalvi's, Mission Victory India (MVI) a military think tank magazine/portal which has to its credit 8 books and a flowing stream of topical articles and writing which is thought provoking.
I remember, when during the Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the Corps, we had decided to honour our stalwarts who had made path breaking contributions in the service of the Army and APTC in equal measure; and had called upon Mrs and Brigadier Jones on the dais to accept a sterling silver salver 'In Gratitude', he in an aside whispered into my ears that this gesture of ours had literally brought tears into his eyes. Except that, being a macho Red Stocking role model he couldn't allow his emotions to take over his demeanour.
Brigadier Desmond Neville Devine Jones, didn't receive any befitting award for his outstanding service to the Army, which he was most deserving of and should have been bestowed with. But, how does it matter to a person like him, who is forever in the thoughts of those who respect and appreciate talent, skills, commitment, integrity and above all loyalty, a very dear quality in men and women of redoubtable calibre and esteem.
Brigadier Jones breathed his last on 11 July 2010 and his cremation was done with appropriate honour at Pune with the help and support of AIPT. His life and achievements were such that it elicits writing from the pen of those, who value the worth of a Champion and a leader, in equal measure. Mrs Jones continues to live in Mumbai with their daughter Beverly and retains the pep and energy, which is reminiscent of her youthful zest during the halcyon days of her life.
About The Author
Brig. Sarvesh Dangwal, VSM (Retd) is a 1971 Indo-Pak War veteran & a former AIPT Comdt & DDGPT. He is an ardent advocate of APTC reform & is a prolific writer. Views expressed are the author's own and do not reflect the editorial views of Mission Victory India (MVI)