Friday 12 June 2015

Short note on Madras Sappers (Thambis)

Source: Indiaclicks website
Britishers didnt think initially to arm non-combatants - Madras Sappers - the earliest engineering group of the Indian Army.

Sapper means a soldier responsible for tasks such as building and repairing roads and bridges, laying and clearing mines, etc.

But Immediately after India's independence, in 1947, the Madras Sappers had to join the action in Jammu. Most of them were south Indians who had never been exposed to such weather conditions.

Braving the weather they cleared the road blocks for the Army to move forward. In the process a Sapper detachment was wiped out in its entirety. 

The group saw action again during Operation Polo (police action) when Hyderabad was annexed.

In Tamil, the members of Madras Sappers were called thambis, meaning younger brothers. 

The group song of the Sappers in Tamil goes, "Vetri Vetri Ethilum Vetri Thambi" ("victory , victory in everything, victory younger brother"). The sappers did very well in wars.

When the British Army began awarding people for extraordinary service and heroic deeds, the first such award was given to Havildar Chockalingam, of the Madras Sappers, for his bravery in the Coorg campaign of 1834 in the battle of Carnatic. The medal was named after Chokalingam, which is its exceptionality. 

Later when the group was named Queen Victoria's Own Sappers (in short Quinsaps) the members worked and lived together, ignoring cultural and religious differences and sang their own thambi song.  Their assigned jobs included constructing bridges, laying roads, clearing mines and digging trenches, (in fact the name sapper comes from sap, meaning a kind of trench) and an important work was clearing fences for the army to move forward.

The motto of the Madras Sappers is Sarvatra (everywhere in Sanskrit) and was adopted from the motto of Royal Engineers, ubique (everywhere in Latin). 
"Thambis are arguably the best soldiers, a claim well supported by endless stories of valour and courage."

[Source: The Times of India]


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