Victoria Cross

I had gone to UK in 1995 as Deputy Leader of the Indian delegation to take part in the 50th Anniversary celebrations of the victory in Europe during the Second World War. 

I, along with four other Army officers, had just stepped out after attending the inaugural session and was waiting on the roadside for the traffic to ease so as to walk across the road to the vehicle park. 

Among those with me was Honorary Captain Umrao Singh, a Victoria Cross winner. 

All of a sudden, a car moving on the road came to a halt in front of us and a well-dressed gentleman stepped out. 

He approached Umrao Singh and said, “Sir, may I have the privilege of shaking hands with the Victoria Cross (winner)?” 

He shook hands with him. 

Evidently he had spotted Umrao Singh’s medal from his car and had stopped his car to pay his respect to a winner of the highest gallantry medal of his country. 

Then he looked at me and said, “General, you are from the Indian Army.” 

When I replied in the affirmative, he gave out his name, saying that he was Michael Heseltine. 

I was absolutely astounded, as the recognition dawned on me that he was the Deputy Prime Minister of [the] UK. 

I was totally overawed by such courtesy shown by a dignitary of the second highest status in the British Government, and humbly thanked him for having invited our delegation for the VE-Day function. 

Again, his reply was typical of his sagacity, “General, it is we, the British, who should be grateful to your country and your Armed Forces, who had helped us win both the First and the Second world wars. How can we be ever so ungrateful to forget your country’s great contribution?” 

Suddenly I became conscious that all the traffic behind his car had come to a standstill. 

I hurried to thank him and politely requested him to move along to relieve the traffic hold-up. 

He stated, “Sir, how dare I drive off when [the] Victoria Cross has to cross the road.” 

Realising his genuine feelings, I and my colleagues quickly crossed the road. 

Reaching the other side I looked back and saw that Mr. Hailstine was still standing, waiting for the Victoria Cross to be safely across.

 Lt. Gen. (Retd.) MM Lakhera, PVSM, AVSM, VSM, in his book`Toward Resurgent India’