Nicknames in the British Indian Army

An oldie from Dr Hamid Hussain

Hamid Hussain
In British army, officers were sometimes given nick names.  This tradition continued in British Indian army when Indians were commissioned as officers.  The trend continued in present day Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi armies with addition of some native touch.  Some nick names were simply abbreviations of original names.  Lieutenant General B. M. Kaul (5/6 Rajputana Rifles) was nick named ‘Biji’.  His first name was Brij Mohan which was abbreviated to ‘Biji’. Brigadier H. D. Bilimoria was nicknamed ‘Russi’ while some friends called him ‘Billi’ and Major General Iftikhar Khan (7 and 3 Cavalry) was nick named ‘Ifti’.  Some modified abbreviations of original names were also used.  Lieutenant General Altaf Qadir (4/12 Frontier Force Regiment) was called ‘Toffy’ probably transformation of his first name Altaf while Lieutenant General Habibullah Khan Khattak (Baloch Regiment and 1 Bihar Regiment) was called ‘Beebo’.
Many Indian officers had long names that were difficult to pronounce therefore they were given Christian nick names by their fellow officers as it was easy to pronounce.  Field Marshal Kodandera Madappa Cariappa (1/7 Rajput Regiment)) was nick named ‘Kipper’, General Kodendera Sumaya Thimayya (4/19 Hyderabad Regiment) was called ‘Timmy’, Field Marshal Jemi Hormusji Framji Manekshaw (4/12 Frontier Force Regiment & 2/8 Gorkha Rifles) was called ‘Sam’, Lieutenant General Atiq ur Rahman (4/12 Frontier Force Regiment) was called ‘Turk’, Major General Yusuf Khan (7 Light Cavalry) was called ‘Joe’ and Major General A. A. Rudra (28 Punjabis) was nick named ‘Jick’.
Some nick names originated as a complement of a quality of the officer or some weak point.  Others got weird nick names for different reasons.  Lieutenant General Amir Abdullah Khan Niazi (1/14 Punjab Regiment) won his Military Cross (MC) in the killing fields of Burma, pinned by Viceroy Lord Wavell.  He fought well and his superior British officers were impressed and nick named him ‘Tiger’.  He was known in the army as Tiger Niazi.  When he landed in East Pakistan in 1971, he announced that ‘Tiger Niazi’ has arrived.  A Bengali commander Kadar Siddiqi (a non-commissioned officer of 2 East Bengal Regiment) quipped that “there are no tigers in Mianwali (referring to Niazi’s birth place).  Here you are among tigers”.  Kadar fought against Pakistan army and earned for himself the nick name of ‘Tiger’ and later popularly known as ‘Tiger Siddiqi’.

Major General Nawabzada Agha Muhammad Raza (Rajput Regiment) was nicknamed ‘Windy’.   Major General Mian Hayauddin (4/12 Frontier Force Regiment) was called ‘Gunga’.  I think as his name Hayauddin rhymed with Kipling’s famous character Gunga Din therefore he got nick named ‘Gunga’.  General Jyontho Nath Chaudhri (16 Cavalry) was nick named ‘Mucchu Chaudhri’.  I don’t know why he got this nick name as though he had a moustache but it was a normal size and not extraordinary which usually some Rajput officers sported.   Major General Som Dutt was nick named ‘Dodgie’ and Major General Rajindar Singh Shergill (7 Cavalry) was nick named ‘Sparrow’.  His two sons became Lieutenant Generals in Indian army.  Lieutenant General M.S. Shergill was commissioned in his father’s regiment 7 Cavalry and Lieutenant General T.S. Shergill was commissioned in Deccan Horse.
There is a famous joke of Sam Manekshaw.  When he became Field Marshal, he visited England and had a reception in his honor at India House.  His old Commanding Officer (CO) was also at the gathering.  His CO asked him, ‘May I call you Sam’.  Naughty Sam quickly replied, “Please do Sir. You used to call me bloody fool before.  I thought that was my Christian name”.
p.s. 4/12 Frontier Force Regiment (now 6 FF) & Toffy.   I think, Tofffy’s great act was saving his battalion from disbandment.  Today, battalion owes its existence to Toffy.  In 1947 mayhem, some JCOs & VCOs disgraced themselves.  I think they looted poor Hindu and Sikh refugees under their charge.  Furious GHQ decided to disband the battalion.  Toffy rushed to Rawalpindi and showed up at Chief of Staff (COS) Major General Douglas Gracey’s house without appointment.  He pleaded the case of the battalion and the decision was reversed.
 I heard recently there was a great ‘pow wow’ of 6 FF on celebration of ‘Shabbir Day’ on December 06.  Shabbir Sharif was the most decorated soldier of Pakistan army (winner of sword of honor, Sitara-e-Jurat and Nishan-e-Haider). Some with red lipstick on their collars also showed up at the ceremony.  Major General Sajad Ali Khan (unfortunate end of his career though no fault of his own), Major General ® Ghaziuddin Rana (son of Lieutenant General Bakhtiar Rana) and Major General ® Zahoor Malik were also there.  I’m not sure whether Lieutenant General Raheel Sharif (brother of Shabbir Sharif) was there.  He was commissioned in 6 FF but later wandered to another PIFFER unit.
Pretty good number of senior brass of India, Pakistan & even Bangladesh armies came from this fine battalion; Field Marshal Sam Manekshaw, Major General Niranjan Prasad, Major General Suresh Misra (his brother Dinesh Misra nick named Danny also became Major General), Major General Sardar Harnarain Singh (served Military Secretary to India’s president) , Major General Amreet Singh, Major General Dewan Gupta, Lieutenant General Atiq ur Rahman, Lieutenant General Khalid M. Shaikh, Lieutenant General Altaf Qadir, Major General Mian Hayauddin, Major General Fazal Muqeem Khan, Major General Ghaziuddin Rana, Lieutenant General Raheel Sharif, Major General Sajjad Ali Khan and Major General ® Zahoor Malik.  Major General ® Chitta Ranjan Dutta was a Bengali officer of the battalion.  He was on leave in East Pakistan where he fought from Bangladesh side and rose to become Major General in Bangladesh army.
Warm Regards,
December 12, 2012

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Omar Ali

I am a physician interested in obesity and insulin resistance, and in particular in the genetics and epigenetics of obesity As a blogger, I am more interested in history, Islam, India, the ideology of Pakistan, and whatever catches my fancy. My opinions can change.

6 thoughts on “Nicknames in the British Indian Army”

  1. In my school there were four “houses” (teams) . Cariappa, Thimaya, Mountbatten and Manekshaw. The only name we were familiar with was Mountbatten (because of History books) , and we all assumed that the other 3 were also Britishers. Since these sur-names were so non N-Indian and it was a convent school.

    1. My Roman Catholic, Christian school in Delhi had 4 houses named – Ashoka, Akbar, Chanakya and “Pope Paul”.

  2. Why the hell did you have a house name after Mountbatten? Residual fondness of the British among the Catholic clergy? ( I am sure some of them of foreign origin as well)

  3. LOL, who is Pope Paul ?

    Don’t know y they had Mountbatten, perhaps they didnt find any generals apart from these 3 worthy, so just to fill up the 4th spot went for Mountbatten. I guess the guy who set up the school had retired from Indian armed forces around WW2.

  4. Pope Paul might be Pope John Paul or the original founder of Christianity & apostle of gentiles St. Paul or as Jews call him Saul.

  5. Hamid Hussain:

    I am sure that these anglicized nicknames have become less common in all South Asian armed forces over these last seven decades. I am curious if more local (native ;-)) nicknames have proliferated?

    Have nicknames which have association with Islamic history become more common in Pakistan?

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