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Remembrance Day 2009

My son asked me a few days ago about the significance of the red poppy that he sees people wearing. I told him that this is a reminder for us to be grateful for our freedom, and to honor the soldiers who fought and died so that we may remain free.

I explained to him why the poppies are red. This is a tradition that came to us from the first World War. In the European war theaters poppies used to crop up in the fields where the men fell fighting. Due to the bright red colour, which resembled that of blood, people began to say that the poppies were being nourished by the blood of the fallen.

The red flowers remained a vivid memory for those who had experienced the great wars. It has been passed on to us as a legacy for us to remember. This was also an excellent opportunity to remind him of our family’s martial traditions.

I told him about my grandfather’s elder brother who gave his life fighting for the British Indian army, against the Nazi regime in WW2.

Lieutenant Ali Bahadur was a member of the 10th Baluch Regiment, and died in Sicily (Italy) at the conclusion of the second World War. He was only 24 years old, and posthumously awarded the rank of Captain in recognition of his service and sacrifice. Ali Bahadur was the son of Subedar Sher Jan Khan who himself had been awarded the Indian Order of Merit earlier for his own contributions. Sher Jan was himself the son of Duffedar Shahzada Khan (Duffedar is the cavalry equivalent of the Sergent).

It was unusual for a ‘native’ Indian to become an officer in those days, and Ali Bahadur had one of the highest ranks that a non-European professional soldier could attain in the British Indian Army. This was an accomplishment attained by all three generations of soldiers I named in the previous paragraph.

  1. Lt Ali Bahadur’s official record of service is partially available.
  2. A photo of Lt Ali Bahadur’s grave.

Field Marshall Sir Claude Auchinleck said that Britain ‘couldn’t have come through both wars if they hadn’t the Indian army’. Students of military history will agree, at its peak there were 2.5 million men in the British Indian Army fighting against the Axis powers. About 87,000 Indian soldiers lost their lives during this conflict. Indian soldiers won 31 Victoria Crosses during the Second World War. 37% of these soldiers were Muslims, with a large number of these being recruited from what is modern day Pakistan.

Some 7,000 Indian soldiers died in the Italian campaign, and at least 1,413 of these were Muslims. Three of these Muslim casualties were only 15 years old: Amir Khan, Mian Khan and Gulab Khan. Age restrictions applied to British volunteers but not Indian volunteers.
The graves of these soldiers can be found in the Sangro River Cemetery and Florence Cemetery in Italy.

There were so many stories of selfless sacrifice in these wars.

Today’s Toronto Star has published the remarkable story of the courageous Noor Inayat Khan which I have taken the liberty of reproducing (partially):

In the Dachau Memorial Hall, there hangs a plaque dedicated to Noor Inayat Khan, better known to the French by her code name “Madeleine” and to the British by her alias “Nora Baker.” Since she was descended from Indian Muslim royalty on her father’s side (her mother was American), she is also referred to as Princess Noor. Her father was a musician and a preacher in the Sufi tradition of Islam.

At age 26, Noor volunteered for the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force and trained as a radio operator. Noor was the first female radio operator to be sent by the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) into occupied France to help the French Resistance. Within two months of her arrival in Paris in June 1943, every other member of the network of radio operators she had joined had been arrested by the Germans. Even though she was offered an opportunity to return to Britain, she stayed in Paris at considerable danger to herself, providing the only important telecommunications link between Paris and London tracking the movement of German troops. This information proved vital in planning the D-Day invasion. The head of the SOE described her work as “the principal and most dangerous post in France.”

Noor was eventually betrayed to the Germans by a member of the Resistance. Despite intensive interrogation for more than a month by the Gestapo, Noor resisted fiercely and refused to give any information. She attempted two escapes but was recaptured. In November 1943, having refused to promise not to try escaping again, she was taken to a prison in Germany and kept in solitary confinement as a “highly dangerous” prisoner. Despite isolation and painful restraint in chains most of the time, she continued to refuse to give any information on her work or that of her fellow spies.

In September 1944, Noor was moved to Dachau. There she was stripped and brutally and incessantly beaten by the Nazis but still refused to give any information. A particularly sadistic SS officer who had participated in Noor’s torture, Wilhelm Ruppert, executed her with a gunshot to the head on Sept. 13, 1944. Her last word was “liberté!”

She was 30 years old. Her body was burned by the Nazis in the Dachau crematorium. She was posthumously awarded the French Croix de Guerre and the George Cross, Britain’s highest award for gallantry off the battlefield.

Sixty-five years later, Noor’s story remains unknown to many people. Her unflinching courage and defiance in the face of Nazi brutality speaks to the common human impulse to react against injustice.

In the frank words of Malcolm X (El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz)..

The price of freedom is death

Lest we forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice for us, we need small reminders now and then. We have to be ready to pay this price for our freedom.

The next day, my son bought a poppy from his school with the money he had been saving. I am very proud of him.

  1. Abid
    November 15th, 2009 at 12:19 | #1

    Good to read

  2. November 15th, 2009 at 14:35 | #2

    Thank you @abid. Appreciate the positive feedback.

  3. tariq fawad khan
    November 15th, 2009 at 16:20 | #3

    well done shehzad.thanks for digging up the information about ali bahadur uncle. dr tariq fawad khan saudi arabia

  4. November 15th, 2009 at 20:53 | #4

    Thank you Tariq. I actually have been searching for this information since 6 years or so (on and off as I had time). I am delighted to have found this finally.

    We should all be proud of having such an illustrious person in our family who fought for liberty in the second world war. I would love to learn more about the accomplishments of other members of our family; baba knows quite a bit and I heard that someone was writing a book on Panjpir. I would be delighted to have a copy once it is available. There are so many illuminaries who have fought for liberty and worked hard for a better life for our people.

    We have famous historical examples such a Gujju Khan Yusufzai, who led our tribe against the Mughals (who were the regional superpower in those days) and besieged Peshawar (even though they had inferior weaponry), and our innovative ancestor who introduced Virginia tobacco a hundred years ago to our village and transformed the local agricultural makeup to bring enduring prosperity to Swabi.

    There are also so many scholars and other luminaries in the family. I would love to learn more about them. I have a few stories that I heard from my father, and it would be great to see our history collected in one book.

  5. November 16th, 2009 at 23:56 | #5

    Appreciate you sharing some family history. I learned a lot from your background story of how the British Indian Army contributed to WW1 and WW2. Thanks again – I trust the future will be a bit better because our kids have learned to remember.

  6. Eng Ijaz Zahoor Khan
    November 17th, 2009 at 05:04 | #6


    It is a great job, well done, excellent. Every one in the family and especialy I am thank full for yours this achievement. My mother, NAZ (Ali Bahadur mamajee’s sister) will at-least see the picture of her beloved brother’s grave. I tried in May 2005 to locate the grave but was not successful.

    No doubt that our village Punj Pir and especially our family have a number of individuals who have great achievements in their life, that one can be proud of.

    Eng. Ijaz Zahoor Khan, (Ali Bahadur Mamajee’s nephew)

  7. November 17th, 2009 at 08:10 | #7

    Dear Ijaz,
    Thank you for your kind words. I am delighted to have done something which was a source of happiness for your mother. We should be grateful for the fine efforts of the CWCC who have maintained such comprehensive records. I’ll give them lots of credit for this.

    We can be certain also that Ali Bahadur was a shaheed (a ‘witness’ who struggled for the truth), as he fought in a just war for his country, and died an untimely death. We have many reasons to be proud of him.

    Please pass on my salaams and regards to the family.

    – Shahzad

  8. November 17th, 2009 at 08:13 | #8

    Thank you Glenn.

    Remembrance day is a fine Canadian tradition, and has special meaning for people who have relatives that fought in these wars. I have great hopes for the future because of the effort made by those in the previous generation, and those that we are making today.

  9. Dr. Hamid Awad Khan
    November 17th, 2009 at 17:22 | #9

    Assalam-u-alaikum Shahzad,
    We all really appreciate your efforts to find out further details about Ali Bahadur Uncle’s grave. I felt quiet sad to see his gravestone. He gave his life at such a young age. I pray to Allah for his forgiveness and to grant him a high place in Jannah. My mother (Nargis Aunty)was really moved to see her brother’s details and gravestone.
    Thanks once again,
    Allah Hafiz,
    Dr. Hamid Awad Khan
    Wrexham, UK.

  10. November 17th, 2009 at 18:44 | #10

    Walaikum As Salaam Uncle Hamid,
    We can pray for him insha’Allah; it is the best thing that we can do. His sacrifice is one that we should be proud of, especially considering that he was only 24.

    If I find any more information, I’ll be sure to pass it on to you and to Nargis Aunty.

    I am actually wondering where the WW2 records of the Baluch regiment would be. There should be much more information there. There should either be in the UK or in Pakistan.

    I believe there were 16 soldiers who went from Panjpir village to fight in WW2, and most of them appear to have been with the Baluch regiment.

    – Shahzad

  11. Amir Haider
    February 20th, 2010 at 14:19 | #11

    Dear Shahzad,

    Assalamu Alaikum. Feel happy and comfortable, soon you shall get the book
    on your village and I repeat it is exclusively on Panj Pir. It is nearin and so far I have covered some 470 pages.Still I need some more which I understand vital to be included in the book.
    I am confident, people like you who have their roots from PP shall feel as if they are wandering in the village, while reading it. So far, I have taken 18 months but the delay is for something goo i.e. more and more information and the quality. Wassalam & regards.

  12. Amir Haider
    September 6th, 2011 at 12:17 | #12

    Alhamdulillah, the book is finally published by now and released in May, 2011 by the name “Panj Pir – A small peep into village life” consisting of 585 pages. It is now available at Margo Super Store, opposite Islamia College, Peshawar on main Jamrud Road, Peshawar and also at village Panj Pir. Its price is just PRs. 350/- and a paper back edition with a large number of rare photographs. Short biographies of around 100 important personalities pertaining to the last two centuries are also included in the book. It covers everything about the village quite in detail after thorough research and study.

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