Late Lt. Col. Sir Nilkanth Shriram Jatar, CIE, DSO (and bar), from the IMS (Indian Medical Service) was the son of Shriram Bhikaji Jatar and was born at Pune on 26 May 1887. He was also known as Bhausaheb.
Bhausaheb was educated at Pune High School, Pune; G. S. Medical College, Bombay; and University College, London. Obtained LM&S in 1911. He went to England in January 1913 to appear for the examination for admission to the Indian Medical Service (IMS) and was commissioned in the IMS on August 1, 1914. Acquired MRCS (England) and LRCP (London) degrees in 1914.
He was shorter than his brothers (they are six-footers!). He was five feet eight inches tall and fair of complexion, with a moustache.
He arrived in India in September 1914 and was posted to Lucknow and served as a Medical Officer with British Station Hospital, 28th Pioneers and 16th Cavalry. He went with the 16th Cavalry as a Captain as part of the Indian Expeditionary Force in Mesopotamia in February 1915.
From 29 April 1916 to November 1918, he was a POW (Prisoner of War, when he was imprisoned by the Turks at Kut-El-Amara. The total number of Indian prisoners was 7 medical officers, 6 assistant and sub-assistant surgeons and about 4000 men. The treatment meted out to the prisoners by the Turks was inhuman, especially to the Indian Hindus.
More than 50% of the officers and men who were captured died due to epidemics of Typhus and relapsing fever mainly during June to December 1916. 20 % of those who recovered became unfit for any future work as there was permanent damage to their health. Many of them died in the first winter due to lack of shelter, food and clothing. Most of the prisoners were kept half-naked.
The Turks used to throw raw beef at the Hindu prisoners. It was a cultural and religious shock to most Hindus who had never eaten meat before, leave alone beef. Almost all the Hindus came from orthodox families. The prisoners were also forced into hard labour like constructing railway lines. The medical personnel did not get to do any medical work. Dr (Captain) Jatar survived only because he was mentally and physically very robust.
Bhausaheb was a highly decorated officer. One of these awards was the Distinguished Service Order [(DSO), equivalent to the Indian Mahavir Chakra (MVC), in 1917, and was Mentioned in British Despatches several times. Bhausaheb got this in Mesopotamia as a member of General Townsend’s Army. The reference to this is in the British Medical Journal. (BMJ) and it says:
THE following awards are announced for distinguished service in the field with the Waziristan Force, India:
Bar to D.S.O.
Captain Nilkanth Shriram Jatar, D.S.O., I.M.S., attached 2/76th Punjabis, Indian Army.
For gallantry near Kotkai, on 5th January, 1920, when, during a withdrawal under heavy fire, he rendered valuable assistance in bringing in wounded, and, whilst doing so, was himself severely wounded. (D.S.O. gazetted 4th June, 1917.)
Bhausaheb was also decorated by the Serbian Government with the Serbian Order of the White Eagle with Swords [equivalent to the Military Cross (the Indian Vir Chakra)]
When World War I ended, Bhausaheb returned to India on posting in December 1918 to the Indian Station Hospital, Jubbalpore, only to have another taste of war. He was called upon to serve with the Waziristan Field Force in October 1919.
Seven bullets wounded him in his leg and two on his hands at Kotkai, Waziristan, on 5 January 1920. In the action, he was awarded a Bar to his DSO. Being an Indian, he was deprived of the highest gallantry award – the Victoria Cross.
The bravery of Capt. Jatar was something of a legend. It was said in the IMS that Jatar was like a tiger and was found where the fire was the hottest. After his right leg was amputated above the knee on 5 May 1921, he came back to India and was seconded to the Jail Department at Nagpur. in the erstwhile Central Provinces & Berar in 1922.
You can read all about his awards here.
He was promoted to the rank of Major on August 1, 1926, and was promoted to the rank of Lt. Col. on 1 August 1934 and appointed as the Inspector General of Prisons, CP & Berar. He was stationed in Nagpur, and you can read about his house in Nagpur.
Bhausaheb was awarded the Order of the Companion of the Indian Empire on 9 June 1938. He was “dubbed” a Knights Bachelor by Lord Wavell, the Viceroy of India at New Delhi on 9 March 1946.
About his personal life, his first marriage was to Bhagirathi alias Durga, daughter of Mr G. R. Moghe of Sion, Bombay on 15 May 1907 at Pune. They had three children, two girls and a boy. The boy passed away in infancy. The elder daughter was called Indira and the younger one was Leela. Both are now deceased. Bhagirathi Jatar died at Nashik Road on June 3, 1922.
He married again, this time to Vimala Dixit Golwalkar, daughter of Mr B. S. Dixit of Saugor and Allahabad, on September 2, 1922, at Nagpur. She was popularly known as Jiji. Jiji or Vimalabai died at Union Mission Tuberculosis Sanatorium Arogyavaram, Madanapalle, then in Madras Province, on May 4, 1941. She and Bhausaheb had six children, four boys and two daughters. Arvind (Brig. Jatar), known as Baba, Jairam (Air Vice Marshal Jatar), known as Bhaiyya, Balu (Deputy Secretary in Maharashtra government), Sudhir (Maj Gen. SCN Jatar), Usha (Dr Usha Thakar) and Sheela (Dr Sheela Bhagvat).
Bhausaheb married for the third time, this time it was to Mainabai, widow of Mr NS Bhagwat of Gwalior, and the daughter of Mr Goti of Dewas, on September 24, 1941. Bhausaheb was on a wheelchair, having lost a leg in the war, and had several young children to look after. Therefore he felt that it was appropriate to marry again. Maina was known as Mai in the family and died on April 12, 1986, at Pune. They had no children.
There is also a reference to him being awarded the DSO in the book “The Indian Army: A Brief History.”
Inputs by Maj. Gen. (Retd) S. C. N. Jatar and Shrirang Raddi.