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Portraits of Valour: India's Highest Gallantry Awards and their recipients -
edited by S S Gandhi
Published by The Defence Review, New Delhi 2006, Price: Rs.1500, Pages: 738 Pages.
This is one book that should be on the shelves of any self-respecting military historian interested in the Indian sub-continent's military history. The book details with all individual acts of gallantry that result in one of the three wartime 'Vir Chakra' series of awards. The editor, S S Gandhi, compiled the first edition in the 1970s. Having felt inspired by the men who earned the war time gallantry awards, he undertook this massive task that no-one else has ever attempted till then, or had attempted ever after. He decided to research all the gallantry award recipients, namely those who earned the Param Vir Chakra, Maha Vir Chakra and the Vir Chakra awards from 1947 onwards. It was no easy task - There were over a 1000 awardees at that time. Gandhi spent years in the national archives and other libraries researching the gazette notifications. He followed it up by writing to the awardees, or to their units, or families. He procured the citations, photographs and personal details of all the recipients. Thousands of letters were exchanged, and knowing that the writers of that time did not have things like email and the internet, one can imagine the effort it took.
Finally in 1982, he came out with the first edition of the then-titled Encyclopedia of Soldiers with Highest Gallantry Awards, that ran into nearly 630 pages and published in large format - around 11 x 8 inches. In that edition, one got to see almost all the photographs, know the personal details and read citations of all the 15 Param Vir Chakra, 195 Maha Vir Chakra and 1111 Vir Chakra awardees till the year 1980. The book was more than just a compilation of citations for the PVC, MVC and VrC awards - it had plenty of other information of interest to the researcher interested in medals and military history. The book also carried several pages of additional information of interest to the military researcher - including analysis of the distribution of awards among various regiments, states, etc. The only thing missing in the book was some citations and photos from the early 1947-48 Operations. This is true especially in the case of the IAF Vir Chakras. The print quality was not too great when compared with today's publications, but it was the standard of those times.
A second edition subsequently came in 1995 and it was priced at Rs 1500. That covered the additional PVCs, MVCs and VrCs awarded in the interim period - mainly for the Siachen Glacier and Sri Lanka Operations. Both the first and second editions both proved themselves to be indispensable to anyone with a passing interest in the Indian military awards system. Professor Ed Haynes, well-known researcher of the sub-continental medals, has this to say about the volume "These books are (and have been since the moment of publication) extremely difficult books to locate. In all seriousness, the medals they discuss are easier to obtain than the books that give the citations. Even the Gazette of India is easier to find than these books!" Some criticism was directed at the quality of publication and the photographs but the truth remained that these books formed the basic reference sources and there were no other alternative or competing product. Thus these were stocked by many armed forces establishments and private military history enthusiasts.
But they soon became a scarce commodity. Perhaps the scarcity of the availability of the earlier volumes, or the advent of the Kargil War motivated Gandhi to finally come up with a third edition in 2006. The book underwent a drastic change in its quality. It was bought out in a coffee table format and measured __ x __. The quality of the production turned out to be excellent, and the quality of photographs in the book finally caught up with the standards of today. The book underwent a change in title - it is now renamed as Portraits of Valour: India's Highest Gallantry Awards and their recipients. Continuing with the previous format, the book now lists a total of 1557 award details. These are broken up into 21 Param Vir Chakras, 218 Maha Vir Chakras and 1318 Vir Chakras. For every single award or bar, the photograph of the recipient, the personal details of the recipient and the official citation of the award is reproduced.
I was delighted to find the details of all the 97 gallantry awards from the Kargil Operations, complete with citations. Though photographs of the Kargil awardees were not forthcoming in all the cases, the information provided is something that never before made it into the public domain. The book also deals with nearly 100 awards from the Sri Lankan - IPKF fiasco. In addition to the award details, there are several sections of interest in the book. In no particular order, the sections that stood out were:
â€¢ Orders of Precedence of the Awards, separate lists for 1952 (which list a mere 12 awards), 1961, 1973 and 1976.
â€¢ A section with the Gazette notification on institution of medals. A drawing of the medal and the description taken from the government gazette notification including the eligibility criteria is provided.
â€¢ One section that does all the statistical analysis for you, giving tables of the medal distribution by regiment, force, period, war, ranks, schools, state wise and virtually any other combination one can think of.
â€¢ The book ends with a listing of Victoria Cross winners and their photos, citations and personal details. The Victoria Cross is the only British Award so covered.
The only grouse that I could come up with was the absence of some citations. One wishes that the Indian Air Force related citations from the 1947-48 War were published. In many cases it was not possible for the editor to find these. Not surprising, for one IAF Veteran who received the Vir Chakra from that war, himself confirmed he never saw his own citation! At least one award from the Siachen Operations was missing in the listings. Then there is the case of the missing ISBN. The lack of an ISBN will create problems in the availability of the book across the world. At least popular websites will not be able to list it without an ISBN. But these are all nitpicks - given a chance I would recommend this book to any one with a keen interest in Post-1947 Indian military history. As expected, the book is quite heavy, and postage overseas will be high, but for those in India at least, the postage is included in the cost of the book.
This book can be ordered directly from the publisher by emailing them at firstname.lastname@example.org
or by phone/fax;
The Defence Review
1605, B-1, Vasant Kunj
New Delhi - 110 070