Whose House is it anyway?
Field Marshal Sir Philip Walhouse Chetwode was the Commander-in-Chief, India from 1930 to 1935.
The Retreat in Secunderabad Cantonment
‘The Retreat’, arguably the second most famous colonial bungalow in Secunderabad Cantonment, nestles in the north-eastern corner of the sprawling cantonment. Built in 1875, the building finds mention in coffee table books as well as in newspapers and magazines from time to time. But it is neither its architectural grandeur nor its commanding views that the evocatively named bungalow is famous for. The Retreat owes its current fame to one of its late nineteenth-century occupants, a young Lieutenant of the 4th Queen’s Own Hussars (4th Hussars), Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill. The very same Churchill who earned international acclaim for leading Great Britain to victory during World War II and not inconsiderable notoriety and infamy for his anti-India views and policies that led to the Bengal Famine of 1943. Winston Churchill is reported to have stayed at The Retreat in the late 1890s.
Lieutenant Winston Churchill, 4th Queen’s Own Royal Hussars
The 4th Hussars, the British cavalry regiment that Churchill served with during his brief army career from 1895 to 1899, reached India from England in October 1896 and was stationed at Bangalore, about 600 km from Hyderabad. They relieved 19th Royal Hussars (19th Hussars) who moved from Bangalore to Secunderabad Cantonment. 4th Hussars remained at Bangalore during the entire period that Churchill was in India. So, how was it possible for Churchill to stay at The Retreat in Secunderabad Cantonment while his cavalry regiment was stationed at Bangalore? It transpires that soon after 4th Hussars reached Bangalore, they despatched the regimental polo team, which included the young Lieutenant WS Churchill, to Secunderabad, for taking part in the Golconda Cup Polo Tournament, in November 1896. Churchill writes in his book, My Early Life (1930), that the soldiers of 4th Hussars and 19th Hussars were not on the best of terms owing to a thirty-year-old feud, but “these differences did not, however, extend to the commissioned ranks, and we were most hospitably entertained by the Officers’ Mess. I was accommodated in the bungalow of a young Captain named Chetwode.”
Who was this Captain Chetwode, who generously shared his accommodation with the visitor from Bangalore?
The need for an indigenous officer cadre for the Indian Army was vociferously championed by several leaders of the freedom struggle for long years, leading to the Montague-Chelmsford Reforms allowing for ten Indians to receive training at Sandhurst (UK) for induction as commissioned officers. To substantially enlarge this cadre, it was decided to establish an ‘Indian Sandhurst’. A committee was set up under the chairmanship of Field Marshal Sir Philip Chetwode, Commander-in-Chief, India to work out the modalities for the same.
Field Marshal Sir Philip Walhouse Chetwode
Field Marshal Sir Philip Walhouse Chetwode was the Commander-in-Chief, India from 1930 to 1935. He was a fervent believer in the combat prowess of the Indian soldier and devoted himself to the modernization and Indianization of the British Indian Army. It was under his aegis that the Indian Military Academy (IMA) came into being on 1 October 1932 at Dehradun. The trust and faith he reposed in the Indian soldier are amply reflected in the inaugural address he delivered at the IMA on 10 December 1932. In a stirring speech which remains embedded in the collective and individual memories of the entire officer cadre of the Indian Army, Field Marshal Sir Philip Chetwode said, “We have got the men who will serve under you in the ranks. No better material exists in the world, and they have proved it on many stricken fields…... That great task is before you and before those who will follow you here to prove you are fit to teach gallant men in peace and to gain their confidence and lead them in war.” In what has been immortalized as the ‘Chetwode’ motto, he goes on to enunciate three non-negotiables that define every aspect of military leadership: “First, the safety, honour and welfare of your country come first, always and every time. Second, the honour, welfare and comfort of the men you command come next. Third, your own ease, comfort and safety come last, always and every time.”
Here was an officer and a gentleman, who had abiding faith and immense affection for the Indian soldier, a revered figure in the annals of Indian military history and who was the actual occupant of ‘The Retreat’. And there was this house guest for a brief period of time, a man widely acclaimed as one of the chief architects of the Allied victory in World War II, but also a much-reviled figure in India, and justifiably so, being principally responsible for the only man-made famine in India, the Bengal Famine of 1943, in which millions perished.So, by whose name should ‘The Retreat’ be known? Field Marshal Sir Philip Walhouse Chetwode, one would wager. If only folklore would pay heed.