Registered with the Registrar of Newspapers for India under R.N.I 53640/91
Vol. XXVIII No. 10, September 1-15, 2018
Continued from last fortnight)
Accounts of his life in the INA hierarchy during the Bose days are scarce (his family considered him lost or dead!) and Eric agrees: It was at this stage that Cyril played a prominent part as its Adjutant-General. We never questioned him about his motives, for as a family we respected each other’s personal privacy, and what notes he left behind about his INA days were only brief and purely descriptive. He rose through the ranks to become a colonel. Dr. R.M. Kasliwal, who was Netaji’s physician states, Stracey was a smart Anglo-Indian officer, a staunch nationalist, who joined the INA and became the Adjutant General and Quarter Master General with a rank as Colonel. He was a great organiser and a good friend and he and I shared a bungalow in Singapore. Stracey met Bose a few times and interacted with him personally.
Two incidents relate to Stracey in the INA, one indirectly and one directly. The first is the case of M.K. Durrani, an Indian POW who later turned out to be a British agent. Durrani was implicated in manipulating the newly trained spies from the Penang spy schools (they were trained and inserted in India by submarines, but as it turned out, they gave themselves up to the British, influenced by Durrani’s covert actions) and were eventually caught. Bose who was furious with this, sentenced Durrani to death. Dr. Kasliwal and a few other Indians asked Bose to show some mercy and, finally, Bose agreed that Durrani’s life would be spared if he confessed and provided details of his mission. Durrani was arrested in 1944 and tortured. Some British investigators felt that Stracey and Kasliwal knew about this and perhaps condoned it (the case at the Red Fort involving them was dropped due to political reasons) as it was under Stracey’s watch. But, the Bidadari camp where Durrani was intered was administered by others.
The second event was the construction of the Shaheed Smarak, or INA martyr’s monument in Singapore, where INA officers and contractors led by Stracey built a marble memorial on Connaught Drive, an obelisk 25 feet high, honouring the INA personnel who died. As is quoted often, Stracey, produced a number of models for the memorial. Bose approved one of the models and asked Stracey if he would be able to complete a sea-facing structure before the British forces landed in Singapore. He built it in a record three weeks, racing against time to finish it before the Allied forces retook Singapore in 1945. The words inscribed were the motto of the INA: Unity (Etihaad), Faith (Itmad) and Sacrifice (Kurbani). The monument was built on the Esplanade just before the Japanese surrender.
As soon as British troops reoccupied Singapore in early September 1945, they blew it up.
Stracey had this to say about the Japanese and the INA. The Japanese found in the Indian army POW’s a very useful weapon to help them achieve what they were setting out to do: the greater co-prosperity sphere of Asia. They were of course very tactful and they always quoted Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian freedom movement under the great and recognised leaders. He implies that on the ground, where it mattered, the Japanese never really treated the INA as equals and that Mohan Singh was perhaps right in breaking up the first INA.
As Adjutant and Quarter Master General, Stracey, then reporting to Gen. Kiani in the INA, was also responsible for coordinating the INA surrender to the British. By this time, Col. Stracey was, in British parlance, a JIFF (Japanese Indian or Japanese inspired fifth column). After the British had routed the INA and the Japanese, their task was to round up the JIFFs and prosecute them to the extent possible.
Coincidentally, Cyril’s brother Eric was at that time partly responsible for interrogation of JIFF suspects! He explains, By a twist of fate, I myself was engaged towards the end of the war with security intelligence at our Main Forward Interrogation Centre in East Bengal, where there was a large camp for INA prisoners captured during the fighting in Burma. Though Cyril was flown direct to Delhi from Singapore, and so did not pass through my hands as a prisoner as did some of the other INA officers after Japan surrendered, I had access to his file and classification before that, followed his later INA career up to the time he was retaken, and was personally the subject of considerable interest to my Intelligence colleagues.
Stracey was taken to Delhi in January 1946 and together with a number of others put on trial. It is a long and convoluted story but proof was hard to come by, much of the documentation had been destroyed or lost and several communities pressure on the administration to disband the INA trials. Most of the INA officers were dismissed from service or de-mobbed. Colonel Prem Sahgal, Colonel Gurbaksh Singh Dhillon, and Major General Shah Nawaz Khan were court-martialed. Many others were charged for torture and murder or abetment of murder. These trials attracted huge publicity, and public sympathy for the defendants, who were considered patriots of India and fought for the freedom of India, ran high. Outcry over the grounds of the trial, as well as a general emerging unease and unrest within the British, ultimately forced Field Marshal Claude Auchinleck to commute the sentences of the three defendants in the first trial.
Cyril was dismissed from the army and upon release from the Red Fort, worked for a year as Secretary of the INA Relief and Rehabilitation Committee in New Delhi, which proved of help to many refugees during the large-scale carnage at the time of partition. It was during the trials and this work that Cyril caught the eye of Nehru who impressed with the officer and his bearing, stated that he could provide him a job in the Indian Foreign Service IFS.
Perusing the Nehru papers, I came across substantial correspondence between Stracey and Nehru during the 1946-48 period. Nehru mentions him to Patel, about Stracey’s request to archive all collected INA material, of Stracey’s request to induct all INA officers for training in the IMA (Nehru replied that that would not be advisable as they were over age, but that he would recommend to Patel and Baldev Singh that they be appointed into State forces). He was involved with the refugee relief operations connected with the disasters of Partition. Stracey was also the secretary of the goodwill mission to Ethiopia under Ammu Swaminathan (Lakshmi Menon’s mother).
Stracey repaid his debts to his family and friends from the back-pay he received after the war for his army services and POW period, and he even had a little extra. He himself accepted, Nehru gifted a marble fragment, a part of the demolished INA monument which read ‘Subhas Ch’ after the dust had settled and India was free. This was retrieved by a local Indian in Singapore. What happened to it later, is not known.
As promised, Nehru gave him a position in the IFS where Cyril did very well. His diplomatic career spanned postings in Karachi, Bonn, Jakarta, as Consul-General at San Francisco, First Secretary at Washington and Chancellor in Paris, finishing with spells as Ambassador to Finland and Madagascar. Reports mention him as being considered a ‘most eligible bachelor’ while in San Francisco and also of his amusing complaints about his lodgings and landlady while in Washington DC.
Eric and Cyril had purchased a small retirement home Charleston in Coonoor, to which Cyril moved after retirement from the IFS. He continued with philanthropic work and was an active member of the Coonoor branch of the AIS. His 78 rpm records, his piano and his garden gave him the solace he sought.
Eric’s retelling of his brother’s last days is sad and poignant. Cyril lived on at “Charleston” until his death in November 1988, enjoying his music and his books, but keeping much to himself. Apart from a bachelor friend or two, his only company was a Marwari family, the Simrathmulls, who lived near-by. They were generous and open-hearted friends – husband, wife and five bright sons, who had him over for dinner every Sunday night and ran errands for him. (He did not keep a car in his later years and did not like going down to the bazaar in person). As a humorous sidelight, when their business ran into trouble, Cyril helped them with a loan which they duly repaid – a strange case of an Anglo-Indian, a member of a notoriously prodigal community not known for its wealth, lending money to one whose people constituted the traditional bankers and money-lenders of the north! When Cyril had a sudden and fatal heart attack, it was they who rushed him to hospital and later helped carry his coffin in a last gesture of friendship.
Eric had by then retired from his IPS position in Madras and moved to Australia. In 1989, he returned to India to sell Charleston and with that the last link the Straceys had to India was broken. A few educational scholarships and the Stracey Memorial School in Bangalore provide faint memories of that family.
While Cyril states, I decided that I will join the INA, this thing has become a reality and why should not an Anglo Indian be part of it as well? Eric explains it differently. In Cyril’s case, predilection would have been reinforced by the pressure of his regimental peers. He was not the sort of person mindlessly to follow the natural course expected of Anglo-Indians and side automatically with the British, nor would he have wanted to incur the sneers and contempt of his other Indian colleagues for a member of a community they already regarded as lackeys of the Raj. It was these factors rather than any special feeling of nationalism that would have moved him to join the INA along with most of the other Indian officers of his battalion.