A tribute to Bir Shrestho Munshi Abdur Rauf
Keeping enemy options in mind, I asked Capt. Aftab Qader to put more stress of his defences on the khal. Qader agreed with me and said that he would do so, first thing in the morning. I asked Khalikuzzaman to co-ordinate with Qader to ensure blocking of the river totally. Thirdly, I was completely ignorant regarding the vast areas across the river on to Kasalong hills.
In case the rumours regarding the Mizos were true then it would be a difficult situation as my HQ would then stand threatened of a surprise attack. Consequently, I ordered Mafuz to start planning to send out a long distance patrol to go over the area and bring back the report as soon as possible.
After we ended our little briefing, the officers had a sort of dinner with me and by midnight were with their troops. I went round the troops near me and was happy to see their morale was quite high. Though some tried to express their anxiety, but I was able to reassure them with some pep talk and returned to the dak bungalow
The night wore on. Save for the howling of some animals, it was all quiet throughout the night. On the morning of April 17, I was awakened by a soldier who informed me of the sound of gun shots coming from the direction of Rangamati. I quickly got up and stood on the bank of the river from where I would be able to hear more clearly.
Soon it was obvious that a battle was raging on either in Khalikuzzaman's or Qader's position near the river. A little later, I was informed that a launch with around 20 enemy soldiers had approached Khalikuzzaman's position while reconnoitring the area. As they neared the land, they had opened fire to draw fire from our position to confirm our disposition. Cleverly there was no reaction from our troops till the launch was almost on our defences. At that point our troops had opened up with all the weapons that they had, there was some exchange of fire but the enemy had no chance on the river, they suffered heavy casualties but managed to turn the launch round to flee back towards Rangamati. Sadly, we lost one young soldier who was hit while running to get more ammunition from the next door trench. He was buried on the spot at Burighat. The rest of the day passed peacefully without any farther incident.
On the morning of April 18, the enemy again advanced through Chengi Khal, but this time in good strength. They brought up two launches and a speedboat that was waging in front. Being beaten the previous day, they took the precaution of remaining on the far side of the river least knowing about Mafuz's position who was also on the far side of the river. As soon as they were within range, our troops had opened up with rifles and light machine guns. The enemy quickly turned away and disembarked at a little distance on the far side. They had 3-inch mortars with them and they started shelling on Mafuz's defences, however after some time they went back. Fortunately we had no casualty.
There was another incident at Kutubchari the same day in the afternoon, where Subedar Motaleb successfully ambushed a Pakistani convoy carrying six truck loads of troops on the Chittagong-Rangamati road. Pakistanis had casualties of 30 to 40 men and three lorries were damaged. I congratulated Motaleb as this was a splendid job which would certainly demoralise the enemy.
So far, the enemy activities were small and sporadic, thus it was obvious that they, at this point, were engaged in collection of information aggressively, regarding our exact positions, strength, and capability. However, the silver lining was that to collect the information they had to pay all the way in terms of casualties while we had reasonably preserved ourselves and yet were holding onto our positions.
During this period, we developed a good courier system and established regular communication within our positions and especially with Ramgarh. It was understood that Major Zia after leaving Khalurghat had opened up a new front with available troops at Ramgarh and was operating on the Comilla-Chittagong road near Kumira and Sitakund. Capt. Oli who had left us at Mahalchari was now deployed by Major Zia at Chikonchara to stop enemy advance towards Ramgarh. This was very comforting as my rear towards Ramgarh was more or less secure, hence I could concentrate fully on our battles with Pakistani troops who were operating from their base at Rangamati.
As was expected, the enemy put in a major attack at 3 p.m. on April 19. This time they zeroed in on Khalikuzzaman's position at Bhurighat. The enemy came by the river route but did not launch their attack straight away, instead they landed on the far side of the river at a distance from their objective. First they deployed their mortars on the ground and started shelling on Khalikuzzaman's position, basing on their assumptions from the previous skirmishes. After the shelling, they started advancing in major strength towards our position. Along with the mortar shelling, they employed machine guns and intense small arms fire on our position. It became very difficult for our troops to hold on to their defences. However, it was also not possible to withdraw from the position unless the position was denied to the enemy for long enough to get time to cross through water-logged area for the next position.
At this time, beyond the call of duty, to the peril of his life, Sepoy Munshi Abdur Rab, who was operating a light machine gun, volunteered to stay. Fully knowing that he would not be able to withdraw, he provided covering fire while Khalikuzzaman could withdraw our troops from the precarious situation . Thus while own troops could withdraw safely, Munshi had to sacrifice his life for his motherland.
He continued to fire on the approaching enemy and kept them from getting a foothold on our position till such time that he received a direct hit of a mortar shell. However this time the enemy succeeded in neutralising their objective with some casualties on both side. But Munshi's self sacrifice for his comrades allowed us to hold onto Mahalchari for some more time and kill more enemy. I wrote the citation of Munshi's bravery and sent it to General Osmany. After liberation, Sepoy Munshi Abdur Rab was awarded the highest gallantry award "Bir Shrestho" posthumously for his this act of bravery above and beyond the call of duty, to the peril of his own life, which saved the lives of his comrades and consequently demoralised the enemy by his example of courage and patriotism.
On April 20, Mafuz with a fighting patrol went to Burighat position and found the remains of Munshi and honourably buried him where he had died. Mafuz also collected some arms and ammunition that were left behind by own troops and reported back to me at Mahalchari.
Lt. Gen. (retd) Mir Shawkat Ali, BU is a Freedom Fighter.