World War II memorial for Indian soldiers in Italy gets an unlikely visitor | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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World War II memorial for Indian soldiers in Italy gets an unlikely visitor

ByRahul Singh
Oct 11, 2023 05:13 PM IST

The memorial is named after Naik Yeshwant Ghadge which commemorates the gallantry and sacrifice of Indian soldiers who fought in the Italian campaign during the war

NEW DELHI: Among the people who joined defence minister Rajnath Singh on Tuesday in paying tribute at a memorial in Italy for Indian soldiers who fell in World War II, one man stood out.

India’s defence attaché to Italy Col VS Salaria (centre, in uniform) with Freeman in blue shirt. (HT photo)
India’s defence attaché to Italy Col VS Salaria (centre, in uniform) with Freeman in blue shirt. (HT photo)

Roger H Freeman, a 79-year-old from Australia.

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A day ago, Singh visited the war memorial at Montone, a sleepy hill town north of Rome, named after Naik Yeshwant Ghadge and which commemorates the gallantry and sacrifice of Indian soldiers who fought in the Italian campaign during the war.

The Australian paid tribute to Ghadge, and an enduring friendship dating back to the 1940s.

Freeman’s uncle and British army soldier, HW Goodwin, fought against the Germans alongside the 23-year-old Ghadge as part of the 10th Indian Infantry Division. Ghadge served with the 3/5th Mahratta Light Infantry and was posthumously awarded Victoria Cross (VC), the UK’s highest military decoration, for his uncommon courage in one of the fiercest battles of the Italian campaign.

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Freeman travelled to England in 2017 to attend Goodwin’s funeral. The latter was 94.

It was during this trip that the nephew chanced upon a hand-written diary kept by his uncle and the Goodwin-Ghadge connection became known to the Freeman family. Freeman’s visit to the Naik Yeshwant Ghadge memorial, built in July, was possible because of the Indian Army’s help after he wrote an email last year to India’s defence attaché to Italy, Colonel VS Salaria.

The e-mail was a request.

“Would you know how and where the ashes of Yeshwant Ghadge would have been scattered at the Arezzo cemetery as I would like to place flowers at the location,” Freeman wrote to Salaria on February 7, 2022.

In a hand-written letter to Freeman the same day, Salaria, a decorated commando of the Indian Army’s 10 Para Special Forces, said, “It will be my honour to assist you in your solemn endeavour.”

“I am so happy to hear from you and admire your dedication and enthusiasm to fulfill the legacy of your late uncle. Naik Ghadge, VC, exemplified courage, selflessness and sacrifice in the highest traditions of soldiering and continues to inspire younger generations of warriors,” the colonel, a Shaurya Chakra awardee, wrote back.

This followed a series of exchanges between Freeman, a retired petroleum engineer, and Salaria.

One of those exchanges revealed the back story of an undying friendship.

It revealed how Goodwin provided financial support to Ghadge’s widow, Laxmibai, who lived in a Maharashtra village and died last year at the age of 97, till his last days even though the two never met.

Ghadge was one of the two and a half million Indian men, who fought alongside the British during World War II. VC was awarded to 20 soldiers for their heroism in the Italian campaign. Eight of them, including Ghadge, are still buried near battlefields where they fought.

“It was unusual for a British soldier to make a close friendship with an Indian soldier that was any more than a casual acquaintance. Even when I was a young boy my uncle spoke very highly of Indian soldiers and he was very disappointed, if not bitter, with how they had not been recognised adequately by the British government,” Freeman wrote in another email last year.

Goodwin’s private papers contained copies of detailed correspondence he had had over the years with the British authorities and the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association about Laxmibai’s pension issues.

On July 10, 1944, Ghadge’s unit attacked a position strongly defended by the Germans in the upper Tiber Valley.

His VC citation sheds light on his brave actions.

‘Without hesitation, and well knowing that none were left to accompany him, Naik Yeshwant Ghadge rushed the machine gun post. He first threw a grenade which knocked out the machine gun and firer, after which he shot one of the gun crew with his Tommy gun (Thompson submachine gun). Finally, having no time to change his magazine, he grasped his gun by the barrel and beat to death the remaining two men of the gun crew,” his citation reads.

“Unfortunately, Naik Yeshwant Ghadge was shot in the chest and back by enemy snipers and died in the post which he had captured single handed. The courage, determination, and devotion to duty of this Indian NCO (non-commissioned officer) in a situation where he knew the odds against him gave little hope of survival, were outstanding,” it adds.

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