The Army Physical Training Corps (APTC), also known by the sobriquet 'Red Stockings', has been training the Indian Army and cadets in the pre commission Armed Forces and Military Academies as well as imparting training to recruits in the Regimental Training Centers and training the trainers in its Mother institution - ASPT/AIPT, Pune. The P& RT instructors of the Corps form the cutting edge of this organization and is its backbone. The awesome visual presence of these instructors on training grounds/ fields as also playgrounds is a delight to behold and animates the environment, which is abound with youthful energy and purpose.
The red stockings, which is part of the service uniform kit of the instructors is easily picked out from afar and stands out as different in the monochromatic swathe of khaki/olive green of the physical mass of trainees on parade. It was from this 'Difference' that, the Corps adopted its anecdotal entity of the 'Red Stockings'. Since its raising on 01 Jul 1946, the rank and file of the APTC has had on its rolls P&RT instructors of great merit, achievements and fame, who have done proud to the brotherhood and won laurels in the 75 years of its effulgent history.
This has been largely and substantially possible by the dynamic leadership, which has been provided to these Adonis (s) in their appealingly carved and muscular physiques encased in vests, shorts and red stockings; by the officers or Masters at Arms who led them from the front and were shining examples of sporting achievements during their heydays. These, will forever remain a fact of institutional pride for the APTC, with their names preserved in the annals of our Corps History.
While, the most derogatory thing about time is its ability to destroy the present; yet the most profound aspect of time is its ability to recreate the past. And in doing so, I wish to remember and recollect my association and service under one of the living legends of the Corps. His robust, strong and athletic physique, which is woven into a soft hearted, up right, honest, financially unimpeachable, God fearing and an integrous quality of character; make him an outstanding specimen of humanity, which can be measured by any existing standard of empirical evaluation of virtues.
My first meeting with him was in Dharampur (HP) at the official residence of our unit's ex CO Lt Col KCL Shah, who was then commanding a Seema Suraksha Bal (SSB) Battalion. Lt Col Shah had commanded 4th Garhwal Rifles (Nuranang) in Tamalpur (Assam) and Lansdowne (Uttarakhand). We had moved into Solan (HP) from Sikkim (High Altitude Area) and our ladies and officers had been invited for High Tea by our ex CO. Lt Col Shah,who was now serving with the SSB and had earlier served under Mr Bajwa, IPS, ex DGP, Punjab and JtDirector, Cabinet Secretariat prior to this posting. The DGP’s daughter being married to the then Supervising Officer P&RT, HQ Western Command, Simla Maj G S Sandhu, they were also there.
As, I had earlier decided to opt for an Inter Arms Service Transfer (IAST) into the APTC, I was visibly excited at our meeting. Nothing much of any meaningful consequence transpired between us then and the evening was spent in a spirit of Regimental bonhomie, much back slapping and recalling old tales from the unit memorabilia. Nostalgia pervaded all around and the Sandhus could have felt out of place in a unit gathering. In the short and introductory meeting, Maj G S Sandhu didn't make much of a mark on me except the platitudinous and neutral impression of being a good person.
With my IAST into APTC in Oct 1981, we were bound and destined to meet and work with each other. This, happened in mid 1986 when I was detailed as a member in a Study Group whose Presiding Officer was the Commandant of ASPT (now AIPT), Pune. I came on 89 days Temporary Duty (TD) to Pune and officially met, then Colonel G S Sandhu. Apart from the customary welcome and pleasantries which were exchanged between us, we soon got down to business and the Presiding Officer asked of me to be prepared to discuss the schedule and manner in which the Study should proceed and progress.
As, the Study itself was a tall order, for it entailed a complete review of the then existing system of training and testing and a lot more, I was rather clueless about the intimate nature of knowledge required for the same. Hence, I requested of then Col Sandhu for two months of an unofficial sabbatical, to get myself abreast with knowledge, which would lend itself to first understand, then analyze and finally recommend a revised or de novo regimen for implementation in the Indian Army.
My request was acceded to without as much as a blink or a question asked for such a demand. The time I spent during the TD and thereafter during the 2 years of our deliberations in the Study, provided to me very insightful opportunities to know the man, I so fondly write about in this story.
Sandhu, a rustic product from rural Punjab was strong as a bull and excelled in Circle Style Kabaddi, which he played in the village games of Kila Raipur and was a champion for three consecutive years. Alongside his college education (BP ed), he continued participating in competitive sports and won the National Decathlon Championship in 1963. He was then rubbing shoulders with the greats of those times like the Flying Sikh Milkha Singh, Makhhan Singh, Gurbachan Singh Randhawa, Joginder Singh, Pan Singh Tomar, Labh Singh Sitara and such like champions of Track and Field.
He had the Midas touch in sports and he soon transited into football and was being scoped by Jagatjit Cotton Textile Mills (JCT), Phagwara and would well have been playing for them along with Jarnail Singh who captained India in the 1962, Jakarta Asian Games and won Gold; had he not got an Emergency Commission into the Indian Army in 1964. He participated in the 1965 Indo-Pak War with his Battalion 19 Punjab Regiment. The unit saw action in J&K and Gurdeep's Company assisted the attack on Haji Pir pass by Maj RS Dayal's 'A' Company ex 1 Parachute Regt.
The capture of Haji Pir is a feather in the cap of First Para and for which it was awarded the same, as a Battle Honur. Maj (later Lt Gen) Ranjit Singh Dayal was awarded the MVC, for outstanding leadership, valor and courage in the face of the enemy. 19 Punjab captured Bedori, a feature on the Pir Panjal Ranges and was awarded the same as a Battle Honor. The unit also has the singular distinction of its CO, Lt Col (later Brigadier) Sampuran Singh being awarded with the gallantry awards of MVC and a Vr C in the same War of 1965. 2nd Lt Sandhu acquitted himself as gallantly and energetically as any youngster could.
After the ceasefire in September 1965,while the unit was in Uri, Sandhu received a call to join the Services Camp at Meerut Cantt. Fatigued and tired from his essay in the 1965 operations in the Pir Panjal Ranges and thanking the Almighty for coming out alive from there, Sandhu was in no mood or frame of mind to get down to the grind and demands of training and practicing.
He was literally cooling his heels and soaking in as much rest as he could and get his mojo back after the slugfest of war. However, providence had already written a different script for him and when the main competitor of his event took ill, Gurdeep was cajoled into practicing and participate in the Nationals. He won and became a National champion once over.
A No mean feat by any standard. He was then asked to come back to his unit and was flown into Srinagar at unit expense and from there driven to Uri, where a proud CO and jawans felicitated him for his achievement in the Nationals. When Sandhu did his Officer's Physical Training Course (OPTC) at ASPT (AIPT), Pune Major (later Brigadier) DN Devine Jones, another stalwart from the Corps was his Course Commander.
Soon thereafter, Gurdeep was posted as Joint Secretary in the Services, Sports Control Board (SSCB) and from where he later went to Leipzig in erstwhile East Germany for an athletics coaching course. After permanent transfer into the APTC, as Commandant of ASPT (now AIPT), he went on Study Leave to Sports College Lucerne, Switzerland for a course in Sports Administration and came back to resume command.
It was during our most professional association in the Study Group that, I saw Brigadier Sandhu from very close quarters and understood him intimately. He was as much human as anyone of us is, with our faults and foibles and made no pretensions about himself with his inherent limitations. His qualities of character stood out and made an indelible impact upon all those who were associated with him. He was honest to a fault and did not have the heart to punish anyone who was under his charge, wherever. During his career in the APTC among many other routine achievements, he made path breaking contributions and the revival of the Boys Sports Company and the Review of PT and Evaluation System in 1991/1992 in the Army are some of these.
It was after he superannuated on retirement from the Army that, he was picked up by Shri Bindra, the President of the Punjab Cricket Association (PCA) as the CEO of the Mohalli Cricket Stadium. Brigadier Sandhu did yeoman service there and won praise and encomiums from everyone who met him. All this was premised on the sincerity, integrity and commitment, which Gurdeep has always displayed towards his responsibilities and work, whether in uniform or out of it.
The Sandhus have a daughter Navdeep, who is married and settled in America while they themselves reside in Mohalli and spend their sunset years in each other’s loving company. It was only after the sad demise of the Flying Sikh that, when Brigadier Sandhu shared a photograph of Milkha Singh with me that, I thought of punching on the keyboard of my laptop and churning out this story, to preserve for posterity the glorious achievements of our Greats; one of whom is Brigadier Gurdeep Singh Sandhu, VSM.
I do hope that our serving officers and instructors can imbibe the qualities of our predecessors, who had an enduring commitment towards the Red Stockings. It is for them that, I quote from the grand old man Ernest Hemingway, "Today is only one day in all the days that will ever be. But, what will happen in all the other days that will ever come will depend on what you do today". May you and your spouse be blessed with a long and healthy life.
About the Author
Brig. Sarvesh D Dangwal, VSM commissioned from IMA in 1971. Born into battle with 4 Garhwal Rifles, saw action in Jhangar, Naushera Sector in the 1971 Indo-Pak War. Served in APTC for 25 years, was Comdt AIPT & DDGPT before retirement in 2008. Was instrumental in revision of entire system of PT and Testing of Army implemented in 1992 and obtaining till date. An avid reader and writer who freelances on diverse issues that impact civil society and especially those which concern the people of the hills of Uttarakhand.