In the nation's service

Pooja Mahesh Jan 8 2018, 20:57 IST
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While the museum is largely dedicated to the achievements of the men who served in ASC, the Animal Transport Memorial is dedicated to the yeomen service done by the mules who served alongside. DH PHOTO BY S K DINESH

As I approach the quaint white structure that houses the memories related to Army Service Corps (ASC), an important wing of the Indian Army, I take a moment to enjoy the vast green expanse around me. The ASC Museum was set up as a way for people to familiarise with the history of ASC, one of the oldest serving corps of the Indian Army. The Army Service Corps (ASC) was established by the British as a Commissariat Department in 1760. Its main role is to offer ration, fuel, transport and other requirements for the fighting troops. Every division has an ASC battalion attached with it to give logistic support. The Corps got its present name, Army Service Corps, in 1950.

The idea to establish the museum was first mooted in 1962 by Major General GS Gill. The museum was established at the ASC School in Bareilly in 1965. Then, in 1999, the museum was moved to Bengaluru and was opened in a British-designed building in 2000.

Visual record

The museum acts as a visual record of the history and traditions of the Army Service Corps. The 'Footprints and Milestones' installation, at the lawn of the museum, provides a glimpse of the many roles that the ASC has donned over the years. While the footprints, used in a metaphorical sense, show ASC's journey: from walking barefoot to marching - in sandals, in hob-nailed ammo boots - and to the present DMS boots. One that stands out here is a footprint dedicated to the mule, Pedongi, which had served the ASC for 35 years. The milestones are inscribed with the names of places of importance to the ASC, starting from 1838.

The galleries of the museum seamlessly take the visitors through the Corps' history. While nine are inside the building, one is located in its backyard. "Initially, we had 600 artefacts in the museum. Now, we have over 2,000 artefacts on display," reveals the museum's official. Each gallery presents artefacts that are associated with the ASC in different periods of time. For instance, as one enters the museum, one can see a stone inscription that reads 'Sergeants Institute and Liquor Bar 1892' on the right. This section also happens to house the first gallery, which showcases the history of ASC to date.

The second gallery, which has artefacts related to the pre-independence era, contains one of the oldest artefacts - the medal of Scinde Camel Baggage Corps. Apart from this, it also displays artefacts and documents related to the Army mess, such as a book that contains all of the items that ASC had procured after partition, and prizes of war such as the ham radio instrument and telephone used by the Japanese during the First World War. Notably, the gallery showcases models of the first few mechanical vehicles that ASC used. The third gallery is dedicated to martyrs who have sacrificed their lives in various operations and wars since 1947. Gallery 4, the post-independence gallery, has a model of the railhead depot that ASC used to operate to give fuel for the vehicles. Of particular interest here are the various buttons and medals that were donated to the museum by former ASC personnel. Here, one can also see a small statue of a rabbit - the ASC's symbol. Each regiment in the Army is given a symbol to represent the work they do. The rabbit was chosen for the ASC to symbolise their expertise in logistics.

Sports and adventure

If you thought that those in ASC don't play much, you are wrong as many of them have excelled in various sports and adventure activities. This is what one can see in Gallery 5. Many have gone on to break records and have their name entered in the Limca Book of Records and Guinness World Records book. One of the most recognisable faces one can see here is the Indian hockey player, S V Sunil, who had served with the ASC briefly.

It is not just through sports that the officers have brought a good name to ASC, but also by displaying bravery in times of need. This has led them to win many awards such as the Ashoka Chakra, Maha Vir Chakra, Vir Chakra and the Sena Medal. Photographs of those who have won these laurels have been displayed in Gallery 6.

Gallery 8, which is dedicated to the band, is of importance as the band plays a crucial role in uplifting the army's morale in times of war. This gallery displays items such as the uniforms they wore and the different instruments they used. What catches one's eye here is the photo of the jazz band with Mahendra Kapoor, a popular playback singer who sang and recorded the Corps' song when it was first made. Being the archives section, the ninth gallery has various documents, magazines and books that ASC has published on its journey so far, and photo albums as well.

Perhaps the most interesting artefacts are located in the backyard, where the last gallery is located. Here, one can see the various kinds of vehicles such as a carriage and an airplane that are no longer in use. However, among all those displayed here, it is the microlight aircraft used by Major H J Singh (now Major General) during his flight from Srinagar to Kanyakumari that is of interest.

While the museum is largely dedicated to the achievements of the men who served in ASC, the Animal Transport Memorial is dedicated to the yeomen service done by the mules who served alongside. Located a few kilometres away from the museum on the same campus, "The Animal Transport Memorial is one of the only two that exists (with the other one located in the UK) in the world as far as we know," says the official. This memorial has a seven-foot tall statue of two soldiers guiding four mules. This was inaugurated in 2006. "The mules played an important role in all the wars that India has been in. In particular, they are life saviours to the soldiers stationed in high altitude places as they carry all the essentials they need," he adds.

Around the memorial, various vehicles that were once in use by ASC are on display. Known as the Mechanical Transport Museum, it houses vehicles such as a three-tonne Shaktiman truck, a Nissan Patrol (JONGA) and a Tata-Mercedes Benz (TMB) truck. These were some of the vehicles that were used by the army in many terrains and operations since Independence. However, these vehicles are now not in use and have paved the way to new generation vehicles.

The museum acts as a learning space not only for the public but also for all ranks of the ASC. "It gives an opportunity for those working in different units of ASC to learn its history and acquaint themselves with the variety of work that it engages in," reveals a training supervisor at the ASC Centre & College.

This is also something that is echoed by the senior overall incharge of training at the ASC Centre & College. He says, "The museum allows them to connect better with the work they are doing. By extension, it also instils a sense of duty and patriotism among the officers who visit." As they also have many school children visiting, he hopes that the museum acts a stepping stone for them to learn more about ASC, and inspires them to join ASC.

With much to see and learn, the museum allows one to get a brief yet insightful look into the crucial role that ASC has played for the Indian Army. So, if you are looking to visit the museum, one must seek prior permission. One can contact the museum on 080-25591949.

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