This book is an important source from the point of view of giving a true state of events and the persons relevant to the freedom of Gilgit and Baltistan in 1947-48.
[William Alexander Brown, 1922-1984]
William Alexander Brown, Willie to his friends, was born in Melrose in the Scottish Borders on 22 December 1922. His father, William Neilson Brown, had served with distinction in the Gordon Highlanders during World War I, and had been awarded the Military Cross. His grandfather, Alexander Laing Brown, had been Liberal MP for the Border Burghs from 1886 to 1892. The Brown family had played a prominent part in the development of the woollen trade in the Borders: they were responsible for building some of the first mills in Selkirk, Galashiels and Hawick.
William Brown was educated at St Mary’s Preparatory School, Melrose, and George Watsons College, Edinburgh. In April 194l, on leaving school, he enlisted in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders.
In December 1941 he sailed for India. Here, he attended the Officer Cadet training unit at Bangalore and was then commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant into the 10/12 Frontier Force Regiment. He transferred almost at once to the Frontier Corps of Scouts and Militia, serving initially in the South Waziristan Scouts on the Afghan border of the North Western Frontier Province. He soon became proficient in Pushto, the language of the Pathans.
In early 1943 William Brown was posted to the Gilgit Agency where he spent the next three years, for a time serving as Assistant Political Agent in Chilas (when he was responsible for the construction of the Chilas Polo Ground still in use today). He travelled widely throughout the Gilgit Agency in Hunza, Nagir, Yasin, Ishkoman, Punial and Guh Khizr, gaining experience which was to stand him in good stead when he had to face the Gilgit crisis of 1947 which is described in detail in this book. While in the Gilgit Agency during this time he learnt Shina the lingua franca of the region, as well as some Burushaski, the language of Hunza. Some impression of his first time in the Gilgit Agency is conveyed in Chapter 1 of this book.
In 1946, after Gilgit, William Brown served briefly in the Tochi Scouts, based in North Waziristan, and then in June 1947 he was posted to Chitral as Acting Commandant Scouts there.
In Peshawar, enroute for Chitral, he was told by Lt.—Colonel Roger Bacon, then Political Agent in Gilgit, that the Viceroy Lord Mountbatten, had decided (for reasons which were not clear to Bacon and which are still not clear) that the 1935 British lease of the Gilgit Agency fiom the Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir (a lease which still had 49 years to run) was going to be terminated and that the Agency, with a 99% Muslim population, was going to be returned to the Hindu rule of the Dogra Maharaja Sir Hari Singh. The actual transfer would take place, Colonel Bacon told him, on 1 August 1947 two weeks before the recently announced end of the British Indian Empire on 15 August. It was put to him that he would be a suitable candidate for the position of the Commandant of the Gilgit Scouts during and after this period of transition. William Brown while fully appreciating the difficulties and dangers involved, and angry that the British could so callously return without any preparation or warning the Muslim people of the Gilgit Agency to by no means congenial Hindu rule, volunteered for the task even though it meant leaving the British service and become in effect a mercenary employed by the Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir.
After a very brief period in Chitral the position of Commandant of the Gilgit Scouts was indeed offered to him. He accepted at once. He was given the acting rank of Major. On 29 July 1947 he arrived in Gilgit just in time to witness the formal handover on 1 August, when the British flag was lowered and that of Jammu & Kashmir raised in its place. Colonel Bacon, the last British Political Agent, departed: his place was taken by Brigadier Ghansara Singh the representative of the Maharaja of Jammu & Kashmir.
What followed between August 1947 and January 1948, when William Brown was finally withdrawn from Gilgit (now part of Pakistan), is described in considerable detail in Chapters II to V of this book. One must always remember that when these events took place William Brown was only 24 or 25 years old (he celebrated his 25th birthday in Gilgit). One must also remember that once William Brown had embarked upon the process which resulted in the Gilgit Agency declaring for Pakistan he was technically in a state of mutiny against the Government of State of Jammu & Kashmir. Had he been captured by the Maharaja’s forces, he would almost certainly have been put to death, as he well knew.
After his return from Gilgit in 1948, William Brown was transferred to the Frontier Constabulary, the police force of the North Western Frontier Province (by now, of course, of Pakistan) in which he served in various capacities for the next two years.
In July 1948 William Brown was awarded the MBE (Military) with a citation so unspecific that it was not clear what lay behind this acknowledgement of his merits. He assumed that somewhere within the British military establishment there were those who approved of what he had done in Gilgit to ensure that this region went to Pakistan rather than to India. He was only too aware that there were other leading British figures, not least Lord Mountbatten, who were far from pleased by his intervention in the affairs of the post British Subcontinent.
William Brown felt deeply attached to Pakistan and did not wish to leave the country. He sought therefore, some position there in commerce after leaving the Frontier Constabulary. Sir George Cunningham, formerly Governor of the North West Frontier Province (and who figures in this book, as the reader will see), obtained for him a position in Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI) as a Sales Executive. Unfortunately, in this capacity his first posting was for Calcutta in India. During his time in Gilgit William Brown had evidently made a number of determined enemies among the Sikhs, perhaps because of his involvement (described in the book) in the destruction of the Sikh component of the 6th Kashmir Infantry in Bunji. In Calcutta he was set upon by Sikhs and left for dead in the street. Miraculously he was found by a doctor and he recovered. He was then posted to Karachi in Pakistan.
In early 1957 William Brown met Margaret Rosemary Cooksley, who was serving with the UK High Commission in Karachi. They married. In 1958 a son, William, was born.
William Brown was a keen sportsman. While at school he had become a good marksman, having shot at Bisley where he captained the school team. When; with the War, cartridges became scarce, he became interested in falconry. While in Gilgit, the local national game of polo captured his enthusiasm and he became very skilled at it: he had already become a superb horseman. In later years in Karachi he played polo using at times Gilgit tactics which did not always win universal approval. Also in Karachi William Brown took up racing as an armature jockey and as a trainer, in both capacities with some success.
During these Karachi years he did not lose touch with the mountains of the old Gilgit Agency. He became the local secretary for Pakistan of the Himalayan Society and helped many expeditions coming to Pakistan to climb in the Karakorum, Hindu Kush, Pamir’s and Himalaya.
In 1959 William Brown and his family returned to the United Kingdom. He felt that the day of the expatriate in the commerce of the subcontinent was passing and that it was time to head for home. As by this time he could not imagine a life without horses, in 1960 he established livery yard and riding school, Glenside Stables, in the village of St Boswells in the Duke of Buccleuch’s Hunt country. Here he remained respected as teacher and judge of horses for the next twenty-four years. During this time there were four more children Frances, Timothy Katy and Helen.
On 5 December 1984 a week before his 62nd birthday, William Brown died after a sudden heart attack. Few of his wide circle of friends had appreciated quite what an impact on the history of South Asia he had had during his time in Gilgit in 1947 and early 1948 since he never spoke of his adventures in those days they were surprised when accounts of the Gilgit Rebellion the subject of this book, appeared in obituaries in The Times, The Daily Telegraph and various local Border newspapers. Indeed it was only after his death that the full truth about what he had achieved in Gilgit made his enormous contribution to the future success of Pakistan began to come to light. Hitherto for a variety of reasons, which need not concern us here, there had been a tendency to minimise, if not ignore entirely, his part in the great events of 1947 which are the subject of this book. In the end, justice to his memory was to some measure, done with the awarding, on Independence Day 1993, of the medal Sitara-i-Pakistan as a posthumous recognition by Pakistan of his great contribution. His widow Margaret received the medal in Islamabad from the hands of President Leghari on Pakistan Day, 23 March 1994.
William Brown is buried in Benrig churchyard, in the heart of the Border country, which he had loved so much. On his gravestone is engraved the Ibex head badge of the Gilgit Scouts and the legend, DATA KHEL. 31.10.47 (the significance of which will become apparent to the readers of this book).
A word about this book. William Brown kept a diary until at least until his return from Gilgit in January 1948. The actual diary has been lost (apparently it was stolen) but at some point before 1950, probably as early as 1948, William Brown wrote it up in narrative form, perhaps intending to publish it. In the end it was not published and the top copy was lost. A carbon copy however, survived. This is what is reproduced below. There has been the absolute minimum of editorial interference. A few pages have been omitted, mainly because they digress from the main thrust of the narrative. Spelling has, we hope, been standardised and there have been minor alterations in schemes of punctuation. Otherwise, this is what William Brown wrote when the events described were still fresh in his mind after the passage of no more than a year or so and with his diary before him. In many ways it is a unique document, the story of an adventure of a kind which William Brown may well have been the last Briton to experience in the Indian Subcontinent with the passing of the British Raj. It was an adventure, moreover, which changed the course of history to an extent that few other individuals can have achieved. Without William Brown it is more than likely that in the end the Gilgit region would have passed into the hands of India. Pakistan would have been cut off for ever from Central Asia. India would have been in direct contact with Afghanistan, in many respects at least, is hostile to Pakistan as ever India has been. What would the fate of Pakistan have been in I best, circumstances?
Many people helped in the preparation of this memoir for the press. We would particularly like to thank Shah Khan for his assistance in the verification of material relating to the Gilgit region in the years 1947-48. Crown copyright material from the British Library (India office Records) is reproduced with the permission of the Controller of Her Majesty’s Stationary Office.
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