The Indian Army’s Official War History tersely states that Lt Col D A Taylor and 192 men perished in the cold in November 1962. I tried to reconstruct his last two days on earth from available sources. This is what I found.
November 1962. The remnants of the 2nd Battalion 8th Gorkha Rifles, 2 Madras and Assam Rifles detachments started pulling out of Menchuka, and commenced their withdrawal to Along. Orders were received over crackling radio from 2 Division Command by the Area Commander Lt Col D A Taylor.
Menchuka is about 30 miles from the McMahon Line, the disputed frontier on the North East between China and India. It’s a tiny little town, more a village, that lies in a valley, on the road to the nearest town called Along. At that time this was not so much a road but a bridle path, clinging to the valley as it zigzags between peaks on both sides, heavily wooded with pine. Quite beautiful on any other day but on that day, no one had eyes for the scenery. A number of small villages mark the road – you cannot call them villages really, more like small agglomerations of habitations. The track heads to the South East, determined not to be distracted or diverted by the big peaks on both sides. It winds forward and backwards, in hairpin bends, hugging the hillsides, not much wider than a cart at some places.
About 8-9 kilometers down, the road crosses a small stream called Sen Chu over a causeway. Towards the South West at that crossing point, lies a spot called Rego. Another few kilometres down towards the South East the road reaches a town called Payum. There it bends sharply right, to the South and another 15 kilometres down is the larger town of Along.
Col Taylor instructed his men to travel light. There were no porters or mules to carry anything heavier than a Heavy Machine Gun. Heavy winter clothing had not yet been issued – there were a number of plainsmen like the Madrasis who were clearly not used to the weather. Everyone was going to find it difficult but there was no choice.
The Siang Front shown on the map below is the broad green line near Menchuka. Five battalions of the PLA were ranged against the Siang Front. It was divided into three sectors, Menchuka being at the centre.
The Chinese attacks had commenced on October 20, all along the NEFA front. The attacks were simultaneous. They had obviously been months in preparation and overwhelmed the thin Indian defences.
India’s Forward Policy, put in place in July 1962, required the Army to operate very close to, and sometimes across, the McMahon line. The terrain was heavily wooded and mountainous. A distance of two kilometres on the map between two points could take up to three hours to traverse. Across the border the Chinese built up troop and supply strength. Good roads had been constructed leading right up to the McMahon Line.
By November 1962, skirmishes between Indian and Chinese patrols turned serious. As Chinese forces pushed in they encountered lightly armed Indian patrols, who sometimes engaged vastly superior forces. At Lamang the Assam Rifles patrol fought the Chinese for three hours until 9pm, until Chinese Verey lights revealed they were surrounded. They withdrew towards Menchuka.
To the right of Menchuka, towards Manigong, the results were similar. Chinese advance parties engaged Indian patrols and pushed them back to local headquarters. The Dogras posted at Manigong retreated under pressure from the Chinese, delaying them as much as possible. Under Major Pandarinath Rege, the Dogras beat back four attacks by the Chinese, causing casualties, until they retreated due to shortage of ammunition.
At Tuting, the Assam Rifles detachment just managed to delay the Chinese. Lance Naik Hasta Bahadur Gurung and Rifleman Baji Ram Thapa displayed significant heroism under fire.
The sector came under 2 Division – the GOC of 2 Division was Maj Gen M S Pathania – cousin of the more famous Maj Gen A S Pathania who was GOC 4 Division that operated towards the left of 2 Division, upto the Bhutan border. This Division was a brand new formation, raised on October 24, to create the command structure to focus the defence of Walong (see map). It was raised just after the disaster of the battle of Nam Ka Chu, near the Bhutan frontier – in the very first battles that took place on October 20, the Chinese destroyed 7 Brigade and took the Brigade commander Brigadier John Dalvi prisoner.
The disaster forced the Army to remove the erstwhile GOC 4 Div Maj Gen Narayan Prasad and bring in Maj Gen A S Pathania to command 4 Division.
The two cousins were now responsible for the defence of the Brahmaputra Valley.
By November 9th it became apparent that the Chinese were going to outflank Menchuka by cutting off its road link to Along near a place called Tato. Nevertheless, Maj Gen M S Pathania asked the Siang Front to hold at all costs.
Come mid November, repeated Chinese probes convinced the Command that Menchuka risked being cut off. The Menchuka sub area was told to be ready to pull out towards Along. Two days later instruction were that it had to be a fighting withdrawal. Col Taylor was in touch with the Brigade Major of 192 Brigade, his direct superior. They tried to get more men from Along to Menchuka but the weather was turning and no mule transport was available. It would have taken days to get there by foot.
Lt Col Taylor and the garrison stood their ground for another day. On 18th November the 2 Madras positions came under sustained Chinese artillery attack. The Madrasis replied with their mortars. Col Taylor and 192 Brigade conferred on wireless. They assumed that the Chinese had managed to cut the road to Along and determined to use hill paths to make their way back. With that Lt Col Taylor broke off wireless contact.
Lt Col Taylor and a party of 35 men started out in the early hours of the 20th, looking for a jungle track to conceal their withdrawal. Along with them went the Adjutant 2/8 GR Capt Ghosh, the Medical Officer 2/8 GR Lt Sharma, and Maj Pimple of 2 Madras. They carried no rations and wore their regular uniforms – not winter clothing, because they had none. They traveled mostly in the dark. The main party, led by Major Dar of 2/8 GR, followed a little while later.
The path Col Taylor took was little used by locals and hard to find. It started to rain and snow quite heavily, and movement became difficult.
Major Dar and his party followed Lt Col Taylor after a few hours but on the more conventional path, lower down in altitude and closer to the road to Along. They were ambushed by the Chinese. The men scattered and decided to take the more hazardous route over the snow. Some of them decided to trudge on to Dapori Jo, due south about 23 kilometres as the crow flies. Others decided to go towards Tato, about 8 kilometres on the road to Along towards the South East.
Conditions must have been terrible. The snow was steady and visibility was close to zero. The men must have had to make their way very slowly to avoid going over the hillside. Food was in very short supply- the men carried just dry rations they could hold in their backpacks. Men began to fall by the wayside with severe frostbite and exhaustion. Those who could not move had to be left behind.
The party that tried to reach Tato ran into the Chinese, who had blocked the track to Along. After a brief firefight, they were taken prisoner. They were released in May 1963.
But not Lt Col Taylor. He and his men, hearing the gunfire, decided to get off the path going South East to Along, and to cross the mountains, going due south to get to the Brahmaputra Valley, when they had reached Rego. They must have been joined by other stragglers from 2/8 Gurkha Rifles. There were now 190 men, making their way across a snow covered path, 14000 feet high, with nothing more than autumn clothes and no rations.
The invading Chinese parties were well-equipped but did not number more than two hundred. The Menchuka garrison alone had 800 men. Before setting out on this hazardous journey, Col Taylor must have received confusing orders and heard the traffic of contradictory instructions that had flowed up and down between the Corps, the Division and the Brigade. The tone of the messages was pessimistic and confused. They inspired no confidence in Lt Col Taylor that the Division would find a way to support him in case it came to battle. And so he set out on this retreat.
The men who started towards Daporijo reached their destination after a month, enduring severe hardship on the way.
Lt Col Taylor and his men never reached their destination. He and a hundred and ninety two officers and other ranks must have died of exhaustion and frostbite. Their bodies were never found.
Who was Lt Col Taylor? What are the stories of Captain Ghosh, Lt Sharma and Maj. Pimple, and of the other 190 who perished. We will never know.
The least we can do is to remember them in gratitude. May they Rest In Peace.
17 thoughts on “Looking for Lt Col D A Taylor”
A moving account. Honour and a fighting spirit… not easy to find these days. 🙏
Thanks my friend. I am so glad it touched a chord.
What bravery and composure under such adverse conditions…
Wonder what they fought for if none of them was sure of seeing another day..
Meticulously researched and written
Thanks for being such a fastidious ferret ravi
I tried to tell the story of one of the unknown. The tales of Major Shaitan Singh and Brig Hoshiar Singh are well known. Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment.
A moving story I had no idea about. I wish I knew this before I went to Mechuka 5 years ago. When I went there, I actually looked for a War Memorial as I knew of the taking of Mechuka and the sacrifice of many soldiers. I couldn’t find any. Perhaps it is closer to the McMahon Line, which is off limits to civilians.
The road you described from Along to Mechuka, was the one I travelled by when I went there. It is a fairly recent road (not more than 20 years old surely). At the time of the Chinese invasion, there was no road. It must have been only a footpath – perhaps a slightly broad footpath. Transport would only have been through mules and donkeys – motorized transport was impossible. And the Chinese invasion was at the start of winter – surely Mechuka was cut off from the outside world then. I cannot even imagine the hardships the troops would have been then. It is bitterly cold in winter there. Even now, it is a struggle to travel there by car. Walking on foot with no winter clothing ???? Almost unthinkable.
When I went to Mechuka, I couldn’t meet anybody who had actually lived through the 1962 war as an adult. Most were children then. But the collective memories are there. They speak of awful hardship. There is no sympathy for China here. If the Chinese think they can rule any of Arunachal Pradesh, they must have their head examined. The local population does not like them one bit.
Historically, Mechuka’s links were with Tibet, and not with the rest of Arunachal Pradesh. Until the 1962 war, the border was porous – the locals did not bother about the McMahon Line and had more contact with the Tibetan villages rather than with Along. The war changed all that. What a tragedy
Mechuka is a beautiful place to travel to now. There is a reasonably motorable road and the place is stunningly beautiful. It is not yet discovered by tourists other then the hardcore ones. It feels like Shangri La, and its often called that by dewey eyed visitors.
Your depiction of the Chinese attacks in this area is dead on. A distant uncle of mine with 4 Sikh Light Infantry was martyred in the battle of Walong. There are so many stories of valour and sacrifice in that war. What a tragedy.
I was not aware you had visited Menchuka though the fact that you did does not surprise me. Perhaps it is a sign that I wrote about a place you had visited and liked….I was also not aware you had a relative who died in the Battle of Walong. Along with Rezang La and Chushul, one of the places where the Indians took the fight to the Chinese. As an assessment in an American newspaper shortly after the war put it, the Indians lacked almost everything except guts.
It was profoundly sad to write this. Who was Col Taylor? An Anglo Indian officer perhaps, from the plains, used to service with the army. Must have joined up in the great expansion in 1939-40. Where did he serve? Who are his descendants. I could not find a trace of it other than in the Restricted War History published in 1993 which I could get hold of from a Chinese web site.
Thanks for visiting and leaving a comment. We should do a drive through that region sometime, and then push on from Ledo to Kunming. Then down towards Myaykyina, Meiktila, Toungguo and Yangon. It would be an experience.
Your account is as moving and informative as the author’s narrative. Thank you
I am sure there are countless acts of bravery and personal sacrifice like this by the simple Indian Jawans and their officers that we will never know. Thanks for bringing this one to us. 🙏
Thanks Uday, for leaving a comment. We know of great men and big events.I wanted to bring you the story of one man and his compatriots who are by now totally forgotten. It was a humbling experience for me to uncover these facts and bring them to you. I am so glad you liked the piece.
Thanks Ravi for bringing such nuggets of history to the notice of those of us who never had any idea. The way you detail the events is as if we are seeing events unfold in front of our eyes. Great write up. Keep going.
Thanks Srikanth! Several thousand men died in the 1962 War. I wanted to take one such un known casualty and tell the story behind it. I am glad you liked it.
The hardships endured by the men in this battle that you described is an all too familiar tale. To ask soldiers to fight without giving them the necessary resources or support is nothing short of an act of complete disregard for human lives. It is akin to a suicide mission. How much they would have suffered from the severe cold alone is unimaginable! It is such a sad story, more so because their stories and acts of valiancy died with them. You emphasised this when you very poignantly ended with the words ‘We will never know.’ It cuts to the heart! I am not sure what compelled you to write about this but I would say that you honour these brave men by reminding us of the struggles they went through; that war is not so much about victory and heroic tales but about the endurance and almost superhuman courage of every soldier who gives his life in service of his countrymen. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).
On Sun, Jul 12, 2020 at 6:58 PM The Exclusion Principle wrote:
> theexclusionprinciple posted: ” The war history carries a brief statement. > Lt Col D A Taylor and 192 men perished in the cold in November 1962. I > tried to reconstruct his last two days on earth from available sources. > This is what I found. November 1962. The remains of 2nd Battalion” >
The quote from the Bible is very appropriate and apt for the soldier who gives his life. My other favourite quote is of course the Bard himself.
“From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd—
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
As you are aware a fresh round of Indo-Chinese skirmishes has begun. It is not clear at this point where it is heading. The first of these rounds ended in humiliation for India in 1962. But while that is well known I am always looking for the individual stories that make up the whole. In this case, an officer leading a 190 men, across snow bound mountains, seemed very tragic. It was criminal to send them to battle without proper equipment.
Thanks for leaving such a nice comment!
Very well written, researched and clearly shows what the troops went through in the 62 China aggression. What Colonel Taylor and his men went through was a harsh reality those days ( sometimes today too) and the blame lay squarely with the entire political and bureaucratic machinery and establishment which showed scant regard for lives of its soldiers & in fact the entire armed forces.
Thank you Ravi for bringing us this sad, forgotten snippet of history . Your writing is amazingly good, reading it is so easy and interesting and the story clearly shows your talent and passion. Looking forward for many more from you.
Thanks for leaving a generous comment Rohit. War is a terrible business. I could not get my head around the fact that a vastly superior garrison just melted away thanks to poor equipment and confusing orders from the Division. At least M S Pathania had the Battle of Walong to be proud of. His cousin, commanding 4 Division, panicked and lost his head, causing the Division to be overrun and destroyed.
Thank you for the write up which remembers the supreme sacrifice of LtCol DA Taylor and the men under his command. I had the privilege of being commissioned in the battalion 2/8 Gorkha Rifles in
1980 and served in the battalion till 2000. It is one
of the finest fighting units of the Indian Army.
Dear Col Devasahayam, I feel honoured you read the story and that it resonated with you. The story is a tragic one but nothing in that story detracts from the honour and fighting spirit of any of the officers and enlisted men of 2/8 GR. It remains one of the finest fighting units of the Indian Army. Thank you.